The Terror

April 2021

Inspired by the recent BBC series ‘The Terror’, a chilling tale based on one of polar exploration’s deepest mysteries, Dr Sam Willis explores the history HMS Terror. The TV series is set on the Terror’s last and fateful voyage when, in 1845, under the command of Sir John Franklin and alongside another ship, HMS Erebus, Terror sailed into the ice off the west coast of Greenland in search of the Northwest passage. Both ships were beset by ice but the crew stayed with the ships, only abandoning them in April 1848. By then Franklin and more than 24 sailors had died. The survivors attempted to walk to the Canadian mainland and were never seen again.

The TV series is a fictional and fantastical account of what might have happened to the men; the truth is that we know very little indeed about their plight and it remains one of the biggest mysteries of maritime history. The Terror and Erebus were last sighted by Europeans on 25 July 1845, two years and nine months before the final and failed attempt to reach land.

In this episode Sam Willis speaks with Ed Williams-Hawkes, an expert navigator of powerboats, historian, and resident of Topsham in Devon where the Terror was built, and they discuss the fascinating history of HMS Terror, which had enjoyed a long and extraordinary career before she entered the ice with Franklin.

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    Sam Willis

    From the Society for Nautical Research, in partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, I’m Sam Willis and this is the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history. Before today’s episode on the Terror, we begin as ever with an extract from the logbook of the whaler Swan of Hull, she’s trapped in the ice of the west coast of Greenland, in the spring of 1837. These readings that begin each of our episodes come from a transcription of the logbook held in the archives of the Caird Library in the National Maritime Museum. The transcription has been made especially for this podcast; you were the first people ever to hear these words read aloud. This podcast episode is then itself a little piece of maritime history. The last we heard they had sent a boat party across the ice in a bid to secure help from a Danish settlement. But then, just five days later found only two of those fifteen men alive, struggling to get back to the ship. They are now in shock at that failure; one of the party Daniel Knight has a severe injury to his leg. The ice is as dangerous as ever, though there are more signs of spring.

    Whaler Swan

    Friday 7th of April. Strong breezes with the same intent. The ship drifted south through a thicket of immense bergs. Some of them which lie to the southward of us give us greater uneasiness, the ship driving right in that direction. A 250 and 120-gallon shakes cut up this day. Monday 10th of April, forepart of this day continues with light variable winds and clear weather. Latter part strong, the ship driving off to the west. Several seabirds Mallemuks – i.e fulmars, Fulmarus glacialis – we’re seeing this evening being the first we have seen since September last. A 280 and 90-gallon shakes cut up for fuel this day. Thermometer eight degrees below zero. Latitude by observation 70 degrees by 21 north. Tuesday the 11th of April. Strong breezes the whole of the day with clear weather. The ship driving through a thicket of bergs, round one of which she has made a complete circle and at some time was only a few ships lengths off, yet providentially we have escaped uninjured. During this night the mercury sunk into the bowl of the thermometer, the greatest altitude during the day being 10 degrees below zero.

    Sam Willis

    Today we are exploring the history of the Terror. I hope you’ve all been watching it on the BBC recently; a chilling tale based on one of polar explorations deepest mysteries directed by the excellent Ridley Scott. That TV series is set on the Terror’s last and fateful voyage when, in 1845, under the command of Sir John Franklin, and alongside another ship the Erebus, the Terror sails into the ice off the west coast of Greenland in search of the Northwest Passage. Both the ships were beset by ice but the crew stayed with them for more than a year until abandoning the ships in April 1848. By then Franklin and more than 24 sailors had died, the survivors attempted to walk to the Canadian mainland and were never seen again. The TV series is a fictional and fantastical account of what might have happened to the men. The truth is that we know very little indeed about their plight, and it remains one of the biggest mysteries of maritime history. The Terror and Erebus were last sighted by Europeans on the 25th of July 1845. That’s two years and nine months before the final and failed attempt to reach land. Today I’m talking to Ed Williams-Hawkes. Ed lives in Topsham in Devon, a village on the banks of the Exe river that was once a busy shipbuilding centre. Ed has been an amateur and professional navigator on high-speed record and race boats for many decades. When he’s not driving at breakneck speed, Ed likes nothing more than talking about his one passion, the life and career of HMS Terror. I met him in Topsham to find out a little more and in particular regarding Terror’s career before the Franklin expedition. Here he is.

    So, Ed, we’re sitting here in a wonderful room above the Salutation inn in Topsham surrounded by pictures, of magnificent pictures, of ships; you’ve just pointed out a wonderful one of a vessel box hauling. Such a deep maritime heritage here but there’s no shipbuilding going on now. So, what do we know about the history of shipbuilding in Topsham?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, to correct you, there is my son, who is actually building boats at the edge of Topsham. But the history of Topsham shipbuilding goes back many times. But, you know, one way I look at history is voices from the past. And I’ve spent a long time in the past listening to my grandmother. And she was born before the aeroplane, before the Titanic, now her grandparents would have been alive the time I’m interested in which is the Napoleonic time, and onward a bit. But shipbuilding went on long before that, even the Armada, but Robert Davy, whose son owned this building, built (with the family business) hundred and twenty-one ships.

    Sam Willis

    Wow!

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    And many of them as what they call the merchant yard, building for the Royal Navy.

    Sam Willis

    Do we know where abouts in Thompson they were built?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, they had six yards. At the bottom of town, they had Riversmeet, what we call – what I call – Bishop’s Quay, which was called now called Strand Court. There were yards up through; they had the Passage House yard, just upstream from here.

    Sam Willis

    All along the seafront, you’re describing all along the Topsham

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes. But also, Glass House and Gulpit up at Countess Wear, which was part of Topsham.

    Sam Willis

    So that’s much further up the river up towards Exeter.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    And the origin was lime-burning. James Davy and Robert Davy were lime-burners and made a lot of money out of it. And they started maintaining stone boats, getting agreements and purchasing quarries and St Mary church and Brixham and bringing limestone in and they started building limestone boats. And Davy started building ships at Lympstone, actually – Exeter Whaling Company off Greenland, you know, where they used to store the whalers in the winter. And then he moved up to

    Sam Willis

    So Lympstone’s just further up the river, sorry downstream, for those people who don’t know, don’t know the Exe. So, we’ve got kind of a sense of shipbuilding going along right from almost up by Exeter all the way down, down towards Exmouth.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    But the Davys were a family who were above the sort of amateur triers, one-off boats, they built big time, and the Admiralty respected them. And they were the only local family in that era, who didn’t, weren’t penalised by the mulct.

    Sam Willis

    What’s the mulct?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    The mulct is – the Admiralty were very fair, they made a contract to build ships, sometimes commissioning six ships in a go, you know, locally. And they would pay a big sum in advance. And they would have a retainer of, I believe, around 10%. But if you didn’t hit the contract date, you were effectively fined heavily. And it could go on to even a negative fine below what they should pay you. And it bankrupted many, many builders. Virtually all of them other than Davy of that era.

    Sam Willis

    Right.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    But one of them was the good old Topsham ship HMS Terror, whose motto is ‘Vobis non Nobis’, and that means, and it summarises the whole era of the ship (and it was the most amazing ship) ‘for you, not us’

    Sam Willis

    Nice. Isn’t that wonderful?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    It is. Anyway, she was launched, along with two other ships at the same time, Adder, Clinker, Terror; they would take them down in convoy, well in this case to Portsmouth to be, you know, finally rigged up and sorted out. First skipper to be appointed of our Terror was a chap called Sheridan. And he was ordered to join the War of 1812 fleet. There was a Bermuda fleet under – I’m terrible on pronunciation, Cochrane is he called?

    Sam Willis

    Cochrane, yes. So, this is a British fleet operating for the War of 1812, but sailing out of Bermuda.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    The War of 1812 is a bit of a misnomer because she was launched 13th of June in 1813 and she went off in 1814. And they’d spent about seven and a half grand building; final fitting six grand. But in her total life to summarise, over 70 grand was spent on that ship, which is an absolute fortune.

    Sam Willis

    She was an unusual ship, wasn’t she? She was unusually big, unusually strong.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Not totally unusual, but she was built as a bomb vessel and in Terror’s instance, I think she had a 10-inch and a 13-inch mortar just centrally placed in the ship, and almost double scantling, you know, all the timbers and everything would be doubled up – 200-pound projectile.

    Sam Willis

    So, the force that must exert, it would be immense. So, you have to build a ship that’s strong enough to handle it.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes. And she was strong, strong.

    Sam Willis

    So, you’ve got this bomb vessel then – she’s been sent out to Bermuda to take part in the War of 1812. And what do we know about her during that war?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, the first job she had was to go along the eastern seaboard of the States and lots of prize money was earned by the officers. They were getting 40 grand a piece, first-class officers, and there was plenty of prizes awarded to Terror. And

    Sam Willis

    That’s interesting that she’s earning prize money as a bomb vessel because she’s

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes.

    Sam Willis

    How does that work?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Even if the admiral isn’t in sight of the fleet, but anybody in sight of an action, if there’s a prize that sold, and anything that survives the prize agent (because they used to nick it all), goes to the crew in varying amounts of rank.

    Sam Willis

    So, they did very well there and took part in some really important actions.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes, and McHenry, was the famous one, Baltimore, and the evening before the bombardment, Francis Keys came on board the flagship the Tonnant. And he gave a good argument to free a lawyer mate of his who was been imprisoned, in fact, for arresting two British soldiers who’ve been drunk and disorderly. But he showed letters from the British saying how he’d supported them, and he wasn’t political or a member of the side, and the tribunal said, we’ll release them, but I’m sorry, Mr Keys, we can’t release you just yet because we’re about to bombard, you’ve got to stay on board. And he watched the bombardments from where the bridge is now going across the river, you know, the flagship obviously had to keep safe and kept back. And Terror was alongside a boat called Erebus. Erebus was on her last voyage, and she was an interesting boat; built by Thomas Owen at Strand Court in Topsham, as a fireship then converted to what they called a Congreve rocket vessel, where sliders for rockets were put in instead of gun ports. And she was one of only two made. And the other one never crossed the Atlantic. So, she was the only rocket vessel over there, alongside of, I think, five bomb vessels, and they bombarded and Congreve rockets, and they were firing them, and you could say the action was a complete disaster. Mary Pickersgill made a 30-foot silk flag and raised it up, and they never shut it down. And, you know, that’s still hanging in New York.

    Sam Willis

    So, we’ve got the Terror meeting Erebus at Bolton.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes. And Erebus was on her last voyage and the one that is not nearly as warranted praises Terror. So, the one that books have been written about and everything was built in Pembroke. And anyway, Keys wrote a poem, and that was later put the music and then it became the American national anthem. And anyways Erebus came back to be broken up. And when Sheridan got back to Bermuda, he was Captain of the fleet and the chap called Moorson took over. He was a very interesting chap became a prime member of the anti-slavery council and big railway man – director of a lot of railway enterprises which were just beginning to start up. And she came back, and she was put in ordinary and then in 1821, she was back working. And a Topsham family the Luscomes, the commander William Frank Fletcher, became skipper, and he was married to Elizabeth Luscombe, a big Devon family. In 1824 Captain Arbuthnot became skipper, and he took Terror on an interesting voyage during the Harry Neale’s Mediterranean Fleet. Harry Neale was known as the King of Lymington. He had negotiated the Nore mutiny peace

    Sam Willis

    1797

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    And he was a good negotiator but known as a bit of a wally by some, but he wasn’t. Now they were summoned to sort out the corsairs, Algiers. Terror became part of the second Siege of Algiers.

    Sam Willis

    So similar to her work at Baltimore, you know, standing off, bombarding

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes, with a bit of difference because she was towed in onto the battlements after – it was all caused because the Kabyles were racially hated Arab group by the corsairs, and they ended up working in the French consulate and the British consulate. And there was a bit of uprising often promoted by the leader, the Dey of Algiers. And they went to the French consulate and demanded the Kabyte, the console came out with them, let them through the gate. So, they were all [unclear]. So, they go to the British console, the console goes to the gate. And he said you’re not coming in here. This is British property, and we’re not giving stuff away. And they said, Oh, yes, we are. And he said, Well, you know, the consequences, and they did. And anyway, a fleet of vessels was under Harry Neale went there and Terror went into bombard. And she was towed by HMS Lightning, and it was the first ever action of a naval steam vessel in a war situation, first ever, and she towed Terror under the battlements to bombard.

    Sam Willis

    So, a very effective strong-arming vessel for bombarding and the threat of sea power.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    And the most important thing was the Dey apologised to the King of England. So, 1828 she, again was involved in the Lisbon fleet. And she was loaded up under David Hope, skipper. 29th of January 28, she left to go to the Mediterranean. And they had overloaded her, and she was wrecked 70 miles south of Lisbon. There’re some very interesting stories there. There was, I think £27,000 and then value of gold specie to go to Malta, which was worth like 20 million plus a colossal amount of money. And they had to get all the ships boats were lost. The back was broken, the rudder stock and everything was pushed up.

    Sam Willis

    Do you know, did she hit a reef, did she run ashore – what happened?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    She hits a beach with two other ships, all wrecked on the same night. And it was recommended she was sold as a wreck. The nearest Navy was Lisbon, and the Lyra came round and the name that’s come up on telly recently, James Fitz James, very interesting character, who ended up on skipper of Erebus. And the carpenter refused to leave the ship and he said I can repair this and ended up for 100 guineas, she was repaired and thank goodness she was bought back.

    Sam Willis

    So, a close scrape there – nearly lose the Terror.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    And then there were 12 (well some people say 20 but I’ve got records of 5) but there was a lot of whalers lost in the ice. And they hadn’t heard from them and it was decided to set up a rescue mission. And Captain Belcher was ordered to get her ready for artic work to do this rescue. And Ross actually was going to lead Erebus; this is the Pembrooke Erebus, which is going to be broken up, and they stopped the breaking up, and said do both of them. And this was the Terror and Erebus that went on to Franklin’s expedition. And Belcher, along with a lot of other Arctic officers, was a fascinating character. He was quite unpopular in parts of the Navy along with quite a few other Arctic officers. But known as a real ladies’ man and a bit outspoken and all the rest of that but innovative and he sorted cold sidings to Terror.

    Sam Willis

    What does that mean?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    That they put three-inch fur in a wall and they put coal dust and special lightweight coal then to act – the specific gravity was lighter than water so it gives flotation – but it would give huge compressive strength and a bit of insulation and all other positive things but what it wasn’t for was the fire any boilers or later engine signal. It was done as a safety thing. It was one of the first vessels to have watertight bulkheads put in under Belchers. It had laminated wood where they put planks in with, like the consutor system that Saunders became famous for, you know, 80 years later.

    Sam Willis

    And what was that?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well to have sort of glued and fixed planks with waterproof membranes in, a laminate system. Because shipbuilding was changing and one of them became iron ships – before that was called iron composite building. And they put iron frames in Terror as well to give her extra strength. And things like – they had to triple strength sails. But

    Sam Willis

    I’d love to know how they were built!

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes. Especially when they were frozen with ice.

    Sam Willis

    Triple strength.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    They had double glazing; the officer’s cabin was double glazed. I reckon that could have been the first ever vessel to be double glazed.

    Sam Willis

    But still have a sailing vessel.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Totally a sailing vessel. The same engine wasn’t dreamt about then; they put in a useless steam boiler to heat it. But the other thing was, I put my hands out and from fingertip to fingertip is six foot. They made her bows eight-foot solid wood thick.

    Sam Willis

    Wow!

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    She was the first ever icebreaker. Anyway, Ross ended up taking another ship up to try and rescue – the whalers escaped themselves. The first time Ross got into the ice pack he broke the bass sprit

    Sam Willis

    But not in Terror?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Not in Terror.

    Sam Willis

    But Terror has been prepared for the ice and she’s waiting for her time.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    So, then Terror was sort of put in ordinary then. And she ended up as the tender for HMS Howe in Portsmouth I believe.

    Sam Willis

    I wonder why they spent all of that money and time getting her ready and not taking her up?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, because it was too late. It took too long to get her ready [lost] reason. In 1828, 1829, Captain Back became skipper. His nickname was beck and call. He had been with Franklin – did the pack river expedition when a bit of cannibalism went on. And he was involved in a duel with a midshipman. And it was over an Eskimo girl called Greensleeves, who ended up pregnant with the other party, Hope. Hope, in fact, was murdered in the end, and the doctor executed the Canadian voyageur who did it.

    Sam Willis

    So, let’s get back to Back. And then where did he go?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    He was commissioned to go up to the Arctic and there were lots of stories for reasoning. One of them was the Admiralty had a big belief of the inner warm sea; there were people like Scoresby who

    Sam Willis

    What does that mean? What is the inner warm sea mean?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, if you look at early maps, it’s like four islands and the North Pole and the South Pole are warm seas; they thought the Northwest Passage went over the top and it’s called pollinia fascinating stories and

    Sam Willis

    So, let’s get back to it. She’s up in the Arctic with Back and they have, she has a successful career up there.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, it wasn’t really successful. It was a bit of a disaster. She was stuck in the ice for eleven and a half months. But they had good go-between with the Eskimos. She got completely pinched up in the ice and broke her back. Her whole back end came up and they had to chain her up. And she was saved really by Lieutenant Smyth who was first officer and he had prevented a lot of scurvy by getting them exercised; he had entertained the crew; he was the prime mover. Back was a bit sit in his cabin and give the orders and they call them ‘beck and call’ is a fascinating go-between in the Times, well when she ends up going out of Lough Swilly, completely broken with chains around the bottom she was taking up eight foot of water an hour

    Sam Willis

    This is her return to Ireland after the [lost] ice.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    And Smyth got them through the endurance wall many times and one of the ways was by singing – they had a guy who had worked on the plantations and knew some Negro slaves’ songs and there’s that famous song ‘Round the Corner Sally’, which I love, and it’s actually recorded in the Times, they were singing ‘Round the Corner Sally’, but it was illegal to sing on duty in the Navy. But Back did condescend because Smyth said it’s the only way we can survive. And they got her into Lough Swilly, and again she was classified as a wreck, but she wasn’t

    Sam Willis

    Talking about the chain and breaking her back, what was going on there?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    The back end of the boat in the ice became completely crushed and moved like 10 inches, and to keep it all in place, they put chains around. And if you study (there were some good artists on board Terror over the years) and if you look at some of the pictures there are some good pictures of her coming back across the Atlantic with asymmetric sails, she had stunsails at one side, on port side, nothing at starboard side. That was because there was no rudder; they had a spare rudder which they put on but it was completely useless. That is, say use the asymmetry of the sails to steer her.

    Sam Willis

    And that was all because of being crushed in the ice. It kind of raises the question what actually happens to a vessel like Terror when it gets stuck in the ice?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, there’s big sort of growing compressive forces and the best ones are designed to try and pop up

    Sam Willis

    their [lost] to pop up so they

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    But there are limits and Terror did pop up and they actually made forges on the ice to make saws, 30 foot long, to saw her out of the ice. The endurance and work down [lost] he only lost two or three men, but just the endurance and survival were incredible. Yes, pitch blackness for weeks on end.

    Sam Willis

    So, with no rudder, a broken stern leaking

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Heading for Sheerness. Smyth pleaded said look, we’ve just got to hit shore and they went into the west coast of Ireland and hit Lough Swilly.

    Sam Willis

    But then that the Terror survived to fight another day – she was back out again.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    With Ross, she did survive. Yeah, thank goodness. And after that voyage, you had some fascinating things. A chap called King, who had worked under Ross and others, he made a bit of a living giving lectures on the Inuit, because at stages around Terror they had 30-40 kayaks the Inuit. And they didn’t know the difference between bartering and taking. But they traded everything they could with them some other clothing or artefacts, Inuit work.

    Sam Willis

    I wonder if they sailed with items that they were going to trade? Do they go prepared to trade?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, that came later when they went to the Antarctic, they had lots and lots of mirrors to trade in the Antarctic.

    Sam Willis

    That’s interesting. That was with Ross’s expedition. We’ll talk about that in a sec. But maybe they learnt something from Back and their experiences with the Inuit.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, that’s why they took him. And they learned things like – because the Terror had some great characters and entertainers on board. And one thing the Inuit did – the kids had a passion for ventriloquist. The offices [lost] and this all came out in the winter; they would have RAT performances. Do you know what a RAT is?

     Sam Willis

    A rat?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Something that runs around the bottom of a boat. Well, it’s the Royal Arctic Theatre.

    Sam Willis

    So, it comes to Ross and then the

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, it still comes to John Barrow. And he was secretary, the Boss Man of the Admiralty, and believed in Polynya, along with a lot of academics and scientists, about the inner sea theory. And Scrosby had found out with soundings that the sea was warmer down below than up top, and they were convinced that there was an inner warm sea, and he set up the Antarctic Expedition. And they set off and they weren’t to return to Blighty. for over four years, they made three voyages into the Antarctic.

    Sam Willis

    This is under Ross.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Coming out of the Antarctic to the southern winter to winter either in Tasmania, where Franklin was the boss and Lady Franklin or they went to the Falklands on the way out as well.

    Sam Willis

    And then going back into the ice.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    [lost] return back from the Falklands, but

    Sam Willis

    During the summer. So, Franklin’s Governor-General of Tasmania, and Ross is down that way, because he’s exploring the Antarctic in the Terror.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes. And one of the first things he hears is the Americans have been down there, and the enemy of the only Navy that [lost] have to say where it comes from the Royal Navy. But anyway, Ross sets off on the most amazing voyage of exploration ever into the Antarctic. And at the end of it, it was the last ever voyage of exploration under sail alone.

    Sam Willis

    Wow!

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    And it achieved an awful lot. And on success, it was Terror’s probably biggest plus points. In experience it was just all part of the long stories. But you know, one of the first things they do in 1839, they start – they’re into the circle, the Antarctic Circle – and they come across icebergs. And on the 3rd of January, they do another innovation, they do soundings two and a half miles down.

    Sam Willis

    Wow!

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    And sophisticated sounding, so temperature and salinity. And they also see a Ross seal. And there are lots of – I just love the concept of maritime history – but if ever you see a picture of Ross’s voyages, you’ll see a little seal in the picture. And that’s a Ross seal because one of the first things the naturalist found was a new type of seal, which they named the Ross seal. And there they were leaden up with mirrors to go and see the southern Eskimos,

    Sam Willis

    I’m desperate to go and find a painting of the Ross voyage now; I want to see that seal. And the soundings extraordinary as well, just the technological change. But you said that they travelled down with mirrors to trade with

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    One of the prime reasons they went was Gouse’s worldwide thing. The magnetic poles. And they were after – Ross had already been to the magnetic north pole not with Terror or Erebus, but he was after the – and again, coding, if ever you see a portrait of Ross, you’ll see a dipper, you know, I was going to bring one over, that shows the magnetic depth and where the pole is.

    Sam Willis

    So, they are measuring magnetic field down in the Antarctic.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes, where the magnetic north is [lost] moving. And they did all sorts of discovering – they went where no one had been before, and they knew it when they were going there. And the knowledge – at that point of time, it wasn’t known if – even up to 50 years later – they didn’t know if Greenland was an island; they didn’t know if the North Pole or the South Pole were land or water or in fact, the North you could say is an island it’s floating; and they were the first to actually barge in. And people like Amundsen and Scott, if you read their books, they say Terror and Erebus, the men on there were the true heroes.

    Sam Willis

    They were the ones who really got to lay the foundations, they did things

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Focusing on [lost] ‘for you, not us’, and that was the attitude. They were all eccentrics. They were on double pay, you know £600 per annum for a skipper, you know Crosier and Ross, was a lot of money; the chap who made the exhibition in London with the big Crystal Palace, he only earnt £500 a year; you could afford five servants and a big house on £500 a year.

    Sam Willis

    And it’s coming with, well, extreme risks.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Of course, yes, they were going into dangerous water. But where Amundson is very complimentary, was the fact that they were going into the unknown, and everybody preceding them had been scared. And it was another 50 years before any other ship went in to – I think we’re coming on to Shackleton’s time before anybody went into the Weddell Sea.

    Sam Willis

    Would you say quite simply, they’re deliberately sailing a wooden vessel into an ice pack.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes.

    Sam Willis

    But that had not been, you know,

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    The best, most uncelebrated, but should be the most celebrated ship of the Navy. So, they come back into Blighty more than four years out

    Sam Willis

    Where are they getting their extra stores from? Is that from Franklin in Tasmania, or in the Falklands?

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes, there are a few stories about them shooting beef in the Falklands. But on the way back, you know, you mentioned box hauling, there’s a picture of Wickham here with the Madina, built in Topsham, box hauling. But Ross did a box haul to rescue the Erebus, which, sailing towards the Falklands after the third Antarctic voyage, sailing home. The crew, when they got to the Falklands Ross considered going back, and the crew were almost mutinous, we’ve done it three times we aren’t going to do it four. But they had a bit of an experience as they left the ice – they were sailing at night and suddenly both ships came across a huge great iceberg and Terror collided with Erebus, and there were serious consequences, the bough sprit came down, which meant the foremast was in jeopardy, the whole sides of the ship were virtually wrecked and Terror found a hole the ice, and Ross was bashing up on a lee shore of ice and he box hulled the ship out which sailed backwards and

    Sam Willis

    Let’s explain what a box haul is for people who don’t understand it’s like

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    To go through the wind, to get into the wind, you got three chances: you’ve got you can jib brandt, go downhill, but you lose a lot of ground or you can tack round. But those ships got caught in irons and the tacking angles with too big or you can box haul, a bit like parking backwards is so much easier. You would set the sails up backwards, you’d get her sailing backwards, then you’d bring the bow over with asymmetric sails again, and you’d sail off on the other tack.

    Sam Willis

    A bit like a handbrake turn; it’s a kind of an extreme manoeuvre for a square-rigged sailing vessel, neither a tack nor a wear.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    This would be two ships, the night watch on. I’d just like to read Jack Davis, some considered the best artist who went on Terror, but I wouldn’t necessarily agree, and he’s writing to his sister Emily, not the slightest idea of what he did during the time or how we got through, “The men, on the whole, behave very well throughout”. Now you got to bear in mind these guys have been called up sort of semi-naked, not we went to closing on a real action stations alert. Plus, they would have heard all the noise and they wouldn’t have been, needed to hear the ship’s [lost]

    Sam Willis

    Pretty terrifying.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    “The men, on the whole, behave very well throughout. Only one was running about out of his senses. But two or three were crying. It was truly the time when shrieked the timid and stood still the brave.” You got to bear in mind these chaps have done three voyages to the Antarctic: they’ve seen a bit in that time. “I looked around me when the first blue light was burnt”, and that was the warning signal vessel to vessel they realise they’re both got through the gap in the ice. And when they burnt the blue light, he saw “the ghastly appearance of everyone’s face in which horror and despair were pictured the half-naked forms of the men thrown out by the strong light. Oh, it was horrible, truly horrible. That time will never be effaced from my memory. After daylight, and we had signalised with the Erebus, I went to my cabin and never did a sinner offer up to the throne of the Almighty more sincere thanks for the reprieve granted to us. Vobis non Nobis – for you, not us.

    Sam Willis

    So, after Ross then Franklin gets sent up to try and find the Northwest Passage, and

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Well, he virtually gets the sack as Governor-General. And then, you know, over 50, old man he does get called up because he’s got artic experience; Ross refused to do the job. And they’ve got this idea of Erebus and Terror being fitted with steam engines. And having extra thick copper and iron put in her. They still had the same stove system as Ross had. They still had the same tin cans. They left again. Terror was towed by the first steam paddle steamer in the Navy up right up the east coast of England – part of the voyage. The three of them went there was a freight ship went up as well. They went to Disko in Greenland, sent letters home

    Sam Willis

    So, Disko’s an island off the west coast of Greenland. And they sail from there into the pack and are not seen again, more or less.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    But one of the reasons they were summoned up there was reports of whalers at the time that all the ice was melting. Because it’s cyclical. You know, it comes in it goes and you’ve always got to treat it with respect.

    Sam Willis

    Well, a magnificent career for a fascinating ship. And I still can’t quite believe that she was built in Topsham. I’m often asked, you know if you want to go back in time to where would you go? What would you like to see? I think I’d like to come to Topsham in about the early years of the 19th century and look at all of the amazing shipbuilding, it’d been so different.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Yes. And we’ve got Exeter canal. If you go up the canal, I think Stewart line are doing trips up there fairly regularly or once a week. And other than the electric pylons, when you go up through the canal, looking at the Georgian terraces in Exeter and the cathedral, you could put your mind back to those days.

    Sam Willis

    That’s the first canal built in England.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    It was the first canal but the bottom bit 1827 James green extension, was an extension.

    Sam Willis

    Well, we’re going to bring you all some interesting facts about the Exeter ship canal in the next few weeks as well. That’s it. Ed, thank you so much for telling us all about the Terror.

    Ed Williams-Hawkes

    Thank you.

    Sam Willis

    Thanks so much for listening. Everyone do please find us on social media. The Society for Nautical Research has a Twitter account @nauticalhistory and a Facebook page and the Mariner’s Mirror Podcast has a YouTube channel and Instagram; it’s all full of the most wonderful material, got some very exciting animations already up there, and more stuff coming soon. Please do leave us a review on iTunes. It makes a huge difference as to how we rank on the history podcasts. And best of all, please join the Society for Nautical Research you can do so @snr.org.uk and your subscription fee will go towards nothing less than publishing the most important maritime history and towards preserving our maritime past.

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