By THE CANADIAN PRESS
Parks Canada scientists are already panting with impatience to return to the “dramatic, pristine” wreck found in the Arctic earlier this month that has now been positively identified as the second ship from the doomed Franklin expedition.
“It’s going to be a long winter,” said archaeologist Ryan Harris.
Three dives to the HMS Terror discovered Sept. 3 off Nunavut’s King William Island suggest the vessel lost more than 160 years ago during Sir John Franklin’s search for the Northwest Passage is in excellent shape, said Harris.
“It appears to be intact from stem to stern.”
The ship was discovered in about 24 metres of water in Terror Bay after a tip from an Inuit hunter who recalled seeing a mast sticking through the sea ice seven years ago.
Since then, poor visibility has hampered dives at the site, Harris said. But there was still plenty to see.
“On the first dive, we could see the flue pipe from the ship’s furnace (and) features like the stern davits for deploying the ship’s boats. The team that went around the stern was able to peer at the stern gallery windows and the cabin that would have been Capt. Crozier’s cabin.”
But the fact the Terror seems to have gone down in such a trim, shipshape fashion — the bowsprit still points proudly forward — holds out the possibility of archaeological treasure within its oaken hull.
“In terms of the contents of the ship, that offers opportunities that just boggle the imagination,” Harris said.
“With intact cabins and all the partitions potentially still in place, and with gallery windows closed and hatches shut up, it’s largely a sealed environment that could preserve remarkably well otherwise-delicate materials, including organic materials, written documents, charts, and all manner of material like that.”
It’ll be a while before divers are inside the wreck, though. First, it has to be mapped, pictured, filmed and extensively tested for structural integrity.
Nothing inside must be disturbed.
“What we stand to learn is dependent on artifacts being identified within their context,” Harris said.
“We’ll be quite conscious to ensure the physical relationships between artifacts are carefully documented. There’s every possibility of intact mess tables — even the social groups within the lower decks might be recognizable.”
The wreck of the HMS Erebus, Franklin’s other ship, was discovered in 2014 and divers still haven’t entered it despite tantalizing artifacts such as apparently intact crewman’s footlockers and the remains of Franklin’s own cabin, said Marc-Andre Bernier, Parks Canada’s chief underwater archaeologist.
“We’ve spent 2015 and this year trying to complete an assessment of the wreck which will guide future actions and this is critical to the process,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
There’s a lot of paperwork to do, too.
Environment Canada says it is working with the government of Nunavut and Inuit organizations on an agreement for joint ownership of the ship’s artifacts.
Parks Canada and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association are negotiating an impact and benefit agreement. In the meantime, the Franklin Interim Advisory Committee manage the site.
While the Royal Navy ships and their artifacts remain property of Great Britain, Parks Canada officials are currently in discussions with the Government of the United Kingdom over the transfer of the recovered artifacts under the joint-ownership of Canada and Inuit in Nunavut.
Parks Canada first began searching for the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition in 2008.
— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at ↕row1960