‘The Terror': Were the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus Ever Found?

The real-life Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest passage has been a mystery for almost two centuries

AMC’s “The Terror” tells the story of the Franklin Expedition, an 1840s attempt by the British Navy to find an Arctic passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The show tells a fictional story of what happened to the expedition, but a lot of the setup elements are true: The two ships really did vanish in the Arctic, along with their crews.

What happened to the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus has been a mystery for almost two centuries. “The Terror” gives a fictional take on what might have happened to the two ships, but nobody knows for sure. But while the crews disappeared, the wrecks of the Erebus and Terror were eventually found — in the case of the second ship, a full 170 years after it was trapped in the ice. In fact, the final resting places of the two ships were discovered only a few years ago.

The Erebus was discovered in 2014, located in the Queen Maud Gulf south of Canada’s King William Island, a public-private partnership led by Parks Canada, country’s national parks service. Two years later, in 2016, the wreck of the Terror was found north of the Erebus’ location by Canadian private charitable organization the Arctic Research Foundation.

While locating the wrecks answered the question of where the ships wound up, they haven’t shed much more light on the mystery surrounding the fates of the Erebus and the Terror. Evidence in the wrecks might help explain what happened to the expedition, but recovering it is a difficult process thanks to the northern weather.

It’s also not clear exactly what happened to Sir John Franklin, the expedition’s commander, played by Ciaran Hinds. In 1859, the British Royal Navy recovered a short note the crew left in a cairn on King William Island before abandoning the ice-locked ships in Victoria Straight in 1847, which said that Sir John died in June of that year. Whether he died aboard the ship, was buried at sea, or something else happened to him, though, still isn’t clear.

Of course, in “The Terror,” Sir John and many of the other crew meet a worse fate as they’re hunted by a strange and deadly creature they come to know as the Tuunbaq.

The fates of the other 129 men in the expedition are still an open question as well. Historians suspect they suffered starvation and disease at the end, and some might have turned to cannibalism.