Arctic archeologists find long-lost wreck

Archaeologists have found a ship lost in the Arctic Ocean more than 150 years ago.

The HMS Investigator, abandoned in the ice in 1853, has been found in shallow water along the northern coast of Banks Island in Canada’s western Arctic, the Globe and Mail reported.

The ship is standing upright in very good condition, said Marc-Andre Bernier, Parks Canada’s head of underwater archaeology, adding that it sits in about 40 feet of water.

“This is definitely of the utmost importance,” Bernier said. “This is the ship that sailed the last leg of the Northwest Passage.”

In addition, not far from the wreck on shore are what scientists believe are the graves of three British sailors, thought to have died of scurvy during the expedition.

The Investigator was one of many American and British ships sent out to search for the HMS Erebus and the Terror, the vessels commanded by Sir John Franklin in his doomed search for the Northwest Passage in 1845, according to the Globe and Mail.

Franklin, a Royal Navy officer and experienced explorer, departed England in 1845. His fourth and final Arctic trek, the journey was meant to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage.

However, the expedition’s two ships became icebound in the Victoria Strait near King William Island. The entire complement of 129 men was lost.

The Investigator departed in 1850. That year, Capt. Robert McClure sailed the vessel into the strait that now bears his name and realized that he was in the final leg of the Passage.

But before he could sail into the Beaufort Sea, the ship was blocked by pack ice and forced to winter in Prince of Wales Strait along the east coast of Banks Island.

The following summer, McClure tried again to sail to the end of the Passage, but was again blocked by ice. He steered the ship and crew into a large bay on the island’s north coast he called the Bay of Mercy.

There they were to remain until 1853, when they were rescued by the crew of the HMS Resolute. The Investigator was abandoned.

The Parks Canada team arrived at Mercy Bay on July 22. Three days later, the ice on the bay cleared enough that researchers were able to deploy side-scanning sonar from a small inflatable boat over the site where they believed the wooden ship had eventually sunk, the Globe and Mail reported.

Within 15 minutes, the Investigator was found.

The masts and rigging have long been sheared off by ice and weather. But the icy waters of the McClure Strait has preserved the vessel in remarkably good condition, the publication added.

Archaeologists at the site have also been uncovering a trove of artifacts on land left behind by the stranded sailors, who unloaded everything that was usable and portable before abandoning the Investigator.

(Above: Two ships, probably the Enterprise and the Investigator, ice bound in Baffin Bay off Devil’s Point in the Arctic. Source: Library of Congress.)

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