Sunday, 31 January 2010

Forthcoming paper on HMS Erebus and HMS Terror

Blogging has been a little quiet lately but interesting research into the Franklin Expedition continues in the UK, Canada and elsewhere.

I'm looking forward to reading the forthcoming paper which Peter Carney and I have co-authored on the technology incorporated into HMS Erebus and HMS Terror in 1845 to the Newcomen Society on Wednesday, 10th February, 2010. The reading will take place at the Fellows' Room at the Science Museum in London. Full details are on the Newcomen Society website:

As the Newcomen Society is the world's oldest learned society devoted to the study of the history of engineering and technology, founded in 1920, Peter and I feel very privileged to be able to do that.

What's in the paper? Well, that would be telling, but Peter and I have synthesised very carefully what is known about the ships currently and hope that will be useful for other researchers. We have also come up with one or two surprises, too. As always the two lessons are the critcal importance of primary sources, and the value of open collaboration. Whatever merits the paper may have derive very largely from the process of our two minds looking at the same material with different perspectives, and then debating its meaning until we arrive at a better understanding. We have also found (as if we didn't know already...) that secondary sources cannot be relied upon even for quite basic 'facts' about the Franklin Expedition - always go to the source!

If you are in London and would like to come to the reading, check out the Newcomen Society website and Peter and I will be most glad to meet you then. And if you live in the far North (of England that is, not Nunavut), then the paper will also be read at the wonderful Manchester Museum of Science & Industry in Liverpool Road on 30th March, courtesy of the Newcomen Society.


  1. Will your paper be available on the web after presenting it to the Newcomen Society and the Manchester Museum?

  2. Yes, after the paper has been published it will be available for download from the Newcomen Society website.

  3. I wonder if your paper will address the uncertainty as to whether Erebus and Terror had copper sheathing on their hulls?

  4. Hi Russell,

    Sorry for the delay in publishing your comment.

    The answer I'm afraid is 'no'. The reason is that there is simply no more evidence to discuss. Written accounts exist which state that the ships were not coppered. Nowhere is it stated that they were coppered. This is not proof either way. And even if the copper was stripped off for this voyage (as I believe it was), that does not mean that every single last piece was removed from everywhere on both ships.

    On the positive side we do believe the paper takes the evidence on heating, propulsion and water systems forward.