Thursday, February 18, 2010

Trapped in the Arctic: Captain Crozier and the HMS Terror

Hi folks. In today's Spotlight post, I'd like to talk about the historical facts upon which my current read (The Terror, by Dan Simmons) is based.
The Terror tells the tale of what happened to the crew of HMSs Terror and Erebus on their arctic expedition to force the Northwest Passage in 1845-1848. This novel is best described as a work of historical fiction. However, no one knows what became of the failed expedition, so Simmons has plenty of room to play around with the story and what might have happened. Part historical, part science fiction, part horror; The Terror is a unique read.

The Northwest Passage is the name of an ocean rout through the north Atlantic and waterways of northern Canada. Since the 1500's, explorers jumped at the opportunity to discover a safe way through the Northwest Passage, since it represented a possible trade route between western Europe and eastern Asia. This was no easy task, however, as the Arctic waters of the Passage were plagued with icebergs and often frozen into a solid pack ice that would crush ships if one was not careful. As it happens, the Northwest Passage was not successfully navigated until 1903, some four hundred years after the first attempts. The Terror tells the tale of one ill-fated expedition to force the Passage.

The British expedition including HMS Terror set sail in 1845. The ship began her life as a bombing ship, first commissioned to fight against the Americans during the War of 1812. Because she was so sturdily constructed, she was a good choice for exploration in sub-zero temperatures. Her hulls were reinforced with the strongest oak available, and she was outfitted with a coal-powered steam engine to both add thrust and to heat the vessel in the cold. Terror first explored the Arctic in 1836 under the command of George Back, when she came in contact with an iceberg and had to be sailed back to Ireland before she sank to the frigid depths of the northern Atlantic. After that, she sailed to Antarctica with HMS Erebus under the command of James Ross and Captain Francis Crozier.

Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier, born in 1810, joined the Royal Navy at the age of 13 and quickly became a Mate and then Lieutenant. After taking part in two failed attempts at forcing the Northwest Passage on other ships, he found his final berth on Terror.

In 1845, HMSs Erebus and Terror set sail once more, this time bound for the Arctic Circle and the Northwest Passage. The expedition was last sighted in 1845, entering Baffin Bay. The ships and crew would never leave those frozen waters. After losing contact, the world had no idea what happened to the expedition until a message was recovered from the snow in 1848.

The ships are trapped in the ice. The crew is abandoning their ships. They are seeking shelter in the ice-coated plains of northern Canada.

Later: artifacts, graves, and bodies are found in the snow. No one survived.

What happened to the crew of Terror and Erebus? Why did they leave the shelter of their ships and risk certain death of exposure in the unforgiving Arctic? Dan Simmons tries to answer these questions in his epic novel, The Terror.

No comments:

Post a Comment