Equipping HM Ships Erebus and Terror, 1845

This paper ‘Equipping HM Ships Erebus and Terror, 1845’ was co-authored with Peter Carney, whose independent blog is here, and the paper can be accessed here (££). Its abstract reads as follows:

HM Ships Erebus and Terror, the ships of Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 expedition to discover the North-West Passage, are undoubtedly among the most significant lost ships whose resting places remain undiscovered to this day. Built originally as ‘bomb vessels’ for bombardment of coastal targets, their modification for service in polar seas embodied decades of prior experience and the most cutting-edge technology of mid-nineteenth century Victorian Britain. The paper outlines their service as warships, describes
their background by reference to the development of specialist polar ships by Sir Edward Parry, then details the principal modifications made to equip them for the final, and ultimately fatal, phase of their career. Many notable engineers and innovators had a hand in these modifications including: Oliver Lang, Master Shipwright at Woolwich Dockyard; Joshua Field, who headed the celebrated engineering firm of Maudslay, Sons & Field; Francis Pettit Smith, the inventor of the scheme of screw propeller adopted by the Royal Navy; Heating Engineers Angier March Perkins and Charles Sylvester; and James Fraser, who made economical galley-stoves
particularly favoured for discovery ships. Among the many modifications made were: former railway locomotive engines fitted as auxiliary power units with demountable funnels; Smith’s propellers installed in wells so that they could be uncoupled and drawn up into the ship to reduce the risk of ice damage and water drag; massive strengthening of the ships, including diagonally cross-planked decks, a second layer of stout planking to double the thickness of the wooden hulls, water-tight bulkheads and iron-reinforced bows; warm-air heating systems and modifications to the ships’ galleys to provide not only a comfortable
environment below decks but also a supply of fresh water when the ships were frozen in for the winter. Some of these innovations were highly experimental and were unique to these ships, never to be seen again, while others would become standard features of the Royal Navy’s steam fleet for a generation.

Peter and I had met following the publication of my first paper, and in particular as a result of Peter’s identification of the flaws in it.  We decided to collaborate and continue to do so, and this paper was the fruit of that collaboration.  We had found that the ships’ plans were confusing to read and that a number of ‘facts’ had been assumed by the secondary literature which we did not feel were justified by the evidence.

We hope that this paper is still a useful resource for researchers, although of course the fact that Parks Canada can now survey and conserve one of Franklin’s ACTUAL ships means that in future we can expect a lot more to be found out about how Franklin’s ships were built. One of the best sources of information at the moment is the plans and discussions on ‘Ship Modeller’s’ blog here, which I would direct any reader of this paper to for the latest information.