Our Ocean Blog

Erebus & Terror Bay, Beechey Island

There were already two boats anchored in the bay when we arrived –
Manevaï and Lillian B. They were, like us, waiting for the ice to melt
so the Northwest Passage might become navigable.

Sailors' graves on Beechey Island

Sailors’ graves on Beechey Island

Beechey Island was first visited by Lieutenant William Edward Parry in
1819; he named the island ‘Beechey’ after his fellow officer, Frederick
William Beechey. In 1845, Sir John Franklin chose Erebus and Terror Bay
to overwinter. That is one of the reasons it is so well known and many
of the ships who decide to transit the Northwest Passage are interested
in visiting the island.

Compared to the other harbours and bays our boat had nestled into over
the past weeks, Beechey Island looked rather desolate. Of course, that’s
what we said when we set eyes on all the others as well, but there
wasn’t even any green spattering of meadows like in Dundas or Cuming
inlet. Even when we reached the beach, it turned out to be fossilized
coral and grey, white rock. Not that this meant there wasn’t wildlife, a
seal bobbed its head above the water and watched us curiously with beady
eyes. There were also of course gulls and we even spotted Gyrfalcons
nesting on the cliffs.

On the beach lie five graves, one completely unmarked by any
gravestone, three from Franklin’s time in the bay and the other from one
of the rescue voyages sent to find Franklin’s ships – Erebus and Terror
– in the ice.

Along with the graves, if you walk towards the end of the cliffs there
is the ruins of the Northumberland house which was set up for anyone
staying in the bay, and also a memorial for Franklin. We’d read in one
of the many books on board that polar bears used the large white, wood
pillar – at the back of the plaque about Franklin- as a scratching
post. We looked and sure enough found a score of long scratch marks.
Running your fingers along them, it was daunting to think that that
animal had touched there too.

Franklin memorial

Franklin memorial

I thought it was a little eerie that at the same time I was coming to an
end of the book I’d been using as my diary, we decided to turn back due
to the uncertainty of the Passage as the ice wasn’t melting in the
centre. Either way, it was now our turn to turn our bow around and head
back east.

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