HMS Terror (1813)

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HMS Terror in the Arctic
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Terror
Builder: Davy shipyard, Topsham, Devon
Launched: 1813
Fate: Abandoned in Victoria Strait, Canada, 22 April 1848
General characteristics
Class and type: Vesuvius-class bomb vessel
Tons burthen: 325 tons (bm)
Length: 102 ft (31 m)
Beam: 27 ft (8.2 m)
Draught: 22 feet 6 inches (6.86 m)
Installed power: 20 hp (15 kW)
Propulsion: Sails
steam engine
Complement: 67
Armament: 1 × 13 in (330 mm) mortar, 1 × 10 in (250 mm) mortar

HMS Terror was a bomb vessel designed by Sir Henry Peake and constructed by the Royal Navy in the Davy shipyard in Topsham, Devon. The ship, variously listed as being of either 326 or 340 tons, carried two mortars, one 13 in (330 mm) and one 10 in (250 mm).

War service

HMS Terror saw service in the War of 1812 against the United States. Under the command of John Sheridan, she took part in the bombardment of Stonington, Connecticut on 9–12 August 1814 and of Fort McHenry in the Battle of Baltimore on 13–14 September 1814; the latter attack inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner". In January 1815, still under Sheridan's command, Terror was involved in the Battle of Fort Peter and the attack on St. Marys, Georgia.

After the end of the War, Terror was laid up until 1828, when she was recommissioned for service in the Mediterranean. On 18 February 1828, she ran aground on a lee shore near Lisbon; eventually refloated, she was withdrawn from service after repairs.

Arctic service

Bomb vessels were strongly built in order to withstand the enormous recoil of their three-ton mortars, and this made them suited to Arctic service. In 1836, command of Terror was given to George Back for an expedition to the northern part of Hudson Bay, with a view to entering Repulse Bay, where landing parties were to be sent out to determine whether the Boothia Peninsula was an island or a peninsula. However, Terror failed to reach Repulse Bay and barely survived the winter off Southampton Island, at one point being forced 40 feet (12 m) up the side of a cliff by the ice. In the spring of 1837, an encounter with an iceberg further damaged the ship, which was in a sinking condition by the time Back was able to beach the ship on the coast of Ireland at Lough Swilly[1]

Ross expedition

Terror was repaired and next assigned to a voyage to the Antarctic in company with Erebus under the overall command of James Clark Ross. Francis Crozier was commander of Terror on this expedition, which spanned three seasons from 1840-1843 during which Terror and Erebus made three forays into Antarctic waters, crossing the Ross Sea twice, and sailing through the Weddell Sea southeast of the Falkland Islands. The volcano Mount Terror on Ross Island was named for the ship.[1]

Franklin expedition

Erebus and Terror were both outfitted with 20 hp (15 kW) steam engines, and iron plating added to the hulls, for their voyage to the Arctic, with Sir John Franklin in overall command of the expedition in Erebus, and Terror again under the command of Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier. The expedition was ordered to gather magnetic data in the Canadian Arctic and complete a crossing of the Northwest Passage, which had already been charted from both the east and west but never entirely navigated.

The expedition sailed from Greenhithe on 19 May 1845 and the ships were last seen entering Baffin Bay in August 1845. The disappearance of the Franklin expedition set off a massive search effort in the Arctic and the broad circumstances of the expedition's fate was revealed during a series of expeditions between 1848 and 1866. Both ships had become icebound and were abandoned by their crews, all of whom subsequently died of exposure and starvation while trying to trek overland to Fort Resolution, a Hudson's Bay Company outpost 600 mi (970 km) to the southwest. Subsequent expeditions up until the late 1980s, including autopsies of crew members, also revealed that their canned rations may have been tainted by both lead and botulism. Oral reports by local Inuit that some of the crew members resorted to cannibalism were at least somewhat supported by forensic evidence of cut marks on the skeletal remains of crew members found on King William Island during the late 20th century.

The remains of the ship have yet to be found, but are listed by Parks Canada as a national historic site.[2][3]

On 15 August 2008, Parks Canada, an agency of the Government of Canada announced a CDN$75,000 six week search, deploying the icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier with the goal of finding the two ships. The search is also intended to strengthen Canada's claims of sovereignty over large portions of the Arctic.[4]

In fiction

The 2008 novel Arctic Drift uses the Terror and the Erebus as part of the plot as well as the establishing backstory.

Terror features heavily in Dan Simmons's 2007 novel The Terror.

The Terror and the Erebus are featured in the Doctor Who Audio Drama story Terror of the Arctic.



  • Martyn Beardsly: Deadly Winter: The Life of Sir John Franklin. ISBN 1-55750-179-3
  • Owen Beattie: Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition. ISBN 1-55365-060-3
  • Pierre Berton: The Arctic Grail. ISBN 0-670-82491-7.
  • Scott Cookman: Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition. ISBN 0-471-37790-2
  • Elizabeth McGregor: The Ice Child.
  • Dan Simmons: The Terror (Fictionalized account of the Franklin expedition). ISBN 0-59305-762-7 (UK H/C)
  • Captain Francis Crozier: The Last Man Standing? by Michael Smith. ISBN 1-905172-09-5

External links

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