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The History Behind BBC 2’s The Terror

What is The Terror?

We love it when history, modern story-telling and television collide. The Terror, a new historical drama, arrives on BBC 2 this March to our screens.

The television show’s first series is based on Dan Simmons' 2007 novel which has been inspired by the true-life unexplained fate of the Royal Navy’s exploration vessels HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

These Royal Navy ships became stuck in the Arctic ice while seeking the fabled North-West Passage.

What are the real connections to history?

While The Terror is a fictionalised account of what happened, the lost expedition led by Captain Sir John Franklin to the Arctic in 1845-1848 was real.

We took a look at the collection to discover if we have any information and artefacts relating to the history shown in the show that we can share with you.

We ‘re-discovered’ details about the ships, people and artefacts to share with you.

Real People - Sir John Franklin

Born on 16 April 1786, Sir John Franklin was a Royal Navy officer best known for his Arctic exploration.

Franklin joined the Royal Navy in 1800 and went on to fight in wars against the French and the United States. In 1819 he led the first of three arctic expeditions, the final being in 1845 with the aim to search for the North-West passage, an important sea route.

Tragically Franklin’s ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus became icebound off King William Island, the crews tried to escape on foot but succumbed to the cold.

Franklin’s legacy lives on and many geographical locations are named after him, including Franklin Island, Antarctica.

Real Ships

Here’s some facts about the two ships that went on this expedition back in 1845.

HMS Erebus

Launched on 7 June 1826, HMS Erebus, named after the dark region of Hades in Greek mythology, was a Hecla-class bomb vessel.

She saw two years’ service in the Mediterranean before being refitted as an exploration vessel.

Between 1839 and 1843, Erebus, Captained by James Clark Ross, took part in an expedition to explore Antarctica.

Alongside HMS Terror, the crews of both ships collected botanical and ornithological specimens and oceanographic data.

In 1845, Erebus and Terror sailed from England to explore the North-West Passage, a vital sea route, led by Sir John Franklin. Franklin sailed on board Erebus.

HMS Terror

Constructed in 1812 and launched the following year, HMS Terror started her career as a bomb vessel, seeing action during the War of 1812 against the United States of America.

In the 1830s Terror’s career as a bomb vessel came to an end and so was converted into a polar exploration ship.

She took part in George Back’s Arctic expedition from 1836 to 1837 before joining Erebus on the successful Ross expedition.

Terror and Erebus were last sighted on 28 July 1845 during Franklin’s ill-fated attempt to force the North-West Passage.

A message left by Captains Crozier and Fitzjames tells us that both ships were abandoned on 22 April 1848.

Tragically, both ships were lost and all 129 men on board perished.

Real Artefacts

We also have a number of artefacts from the time, relating to the real history behind The Terror.

Join us on our social channels every Wednesday at 9pm, when the episode airs, to see some real artefacts that relate to the history of the Terror. The first artefact will be shared from 10 March.

Visit the NMRN’s Twitter Account

Visit the NMRN’s Facebook Account

You can see episodes on BBC 2 on Wednesdays at 9pm from 3 March 2021 or you can catch up after the episode airs on BBC iPlayer.

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