Skip to Content

Why Should We Care About the Erebus (or Terror)?

Tina Adcock

On the morning of Tuesday, September 9th, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced some unexpected and astounding news: that the wreckage of one of Sir John Franklin’s ships, either the Erebus or the Terror, had been located via sonar on the bottom of Queen Maud Gulf, which lies southwest of King William Island in Nunavut. In 1845, Franklin, a captain of the Royal Navy, led a crew of 128 in search of the Northwest Passage. All later died in circumstances that remain unclear to this day, despite many British, American, and Canadian searches over the last century and a half for evidence regarding the expedition’s fate. Locating one of the ships was a major triumph for the latest band of searchers, a coalition of public and private agencies led by Parks Canada that had travelled north on a near-yearly basis since 2008.

The Prime Minister declared this “a great historic event… a really important day in mapping together the history of our country.” So-called historic events provide good opportunities for historians to observe how our fellow citizens react to the history in question. I study northern exploration, and so I was more than a little interested in the reception of this particular news. Here I’d like to trace and explain one of the principal responses that emerged on conventional and social media websites that day.

My attention was caught by those who saw the announcement, and shrugged. “Who cares?” they said, in tweets and comments underneath articles. This sentiment was apparent even among groups who might be expected to care, for reasons of profession or location. Some historians and archaeologists, for example, were not particularly enthusiastic about the news.