Wreck of HMS Investigator found in the high Arctic

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Wreck of HMS Investigator found in the high Arctic

July 29, 2010 - 09:50
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Canadian archaeologists have found the HMS Investigator- a British ship abandoned in the Arctic while on a 19th Century rescue mission.

HMS Investigator was a merchant ship purchased in 1848 to search for Sir John Franklin's lost expedition. She made two voyages to the Arctic and had to be abandoned in 1853 after becoming trapped in the ice. Now her wreckage was found on Banks Island, in the Beaufort Sea.

HMS Enterprise (left) and HMS Investigator (right)

Canada's government says the discovery bolsters its claim to sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, which is feared threatened by increased shipping.

The Investigator was abandoned while searching for the Franklin expedition, itself lost with all its crew during a mission to discover the passage.

"It's an incredible site," Canadian Minister of the Environment Jim Prentice told the BBC by teelephone from Mercy Bay. "You're looking at what people have not seen in 156 years, which is a remarkably intact British sailing vessel."

The Investigator, captained by Robert McClure, left Britain in 1848, ultimately making two attempts to find the Franklin expedition.

She was purchased by the Admiralty in February 1848 and was fitted for Arctic exploration at the Blackwall yard of Greens She accompanied HMS Enterprise on James Clark Ross's expedition to find the missing Sir John Franklin. Also aboard HMS Investigator on this expedition was the naturalist Edward Adams.

She was commanded for the return voyage by Robert McClure, but became trapped in the ice, and was abandoned on 3 June 1853 in Mercy Bay on the western side of the Canadian Arctic, where she had been held for nearly three years. The following year, she was inspected by crews of the Resolute, still frozen in, and reported to be in fair condition despite having taken on some water during the summer thaw.

Running low on supplies and food, Capt Robert McClure and his men were eventually rescued by another party from the Royal Navy. Capt McClure is credited as the first European to discover the western entrance to the Northwest Passage.

'Largely intact'

Archaeologists discovered the ship under about 25ft of pristine, icy arctic water this week using sonar and metal detectors.

"You could make out all the planking on the deck, the details on the hull, all of the detail of the timber," Mr Prentice told the BBC. "It's sitting perfectly upright on the floor of the ocean."

The Canadian researchers also found three graves of British sailors who died of scurvy on the 1853 expedition.

Parks Canada, a government agency, will inventory and study the ship and other artefacts but will not remove them. It has been in touch with the British government regarding the sailors' remains.