A Parks Canada diver inspects HMS Erebus, one of two ships that took part in the doomed Franklin Expedition. Britain has said it intends to retain ownership of some artifacts but is still negotiating what to pay to Canada for the recovery and restoration costs.

A Parks Canada diver inspects HMS Erebus, one of two ships that took part in the doomed Franklin Expedition. Britain has said it intends to retain ownership of some artefacts but is still negotiating what to pay to Canada for the recovery and restoration costs
Photo Credit: Parks Canada

Franklin expedition shipwrecks; who owns what

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Sir John Franklin set out to find the fabled Northwest Passage to China and India.

Setting out from England in 1845, it was the last he, and the crew would be seen.

The lost mission sparked many search and rescue attempts but to no avail. Although searches for the mission continued, it was only when Canada mounted a concerted multi-year effort that the two sunken ships were found.

The British military broad arrow marking clearly seen on the bell of HMS Erebus. The ship was found in 2014.
The British military broad arrow marking clearly seen on the bell of HMS Erebus. The ship was found in 2014. © Parks Canada

Technically the ships were still British property but in 1997 long before the ships were finally found, Canada had signed an agreement with Britain that stated Britain would turn them over to Canada but Britain would keep some artefacts determined to be of significance to the Royal Navy, and Britain, and Britain would give financial compensation to Canada for the cost of their recovery and restoration.

The actual words were artefacts of “outstanding significance”.

Showing where HMS Terror and Erebus were reported abandoned. It is believed Erebus was carried by ice, but suspicions now are that Terror may have been re-boarded and sailed to its location
Showing where HMS Terror and Erebus were reported abandoned. It is believed Erebus was carried south by ice, but suspicions now are that Terror may have been re-boarded and sailed to its location © CBC

Several items recovered have been on display in Britian, but now negotiations for a determination of the meaning of those words and who owns or would own what continue as the Royal Navy says it’s against a “full transfer” and wants ownership of some items.

Ceramic plates and tunic buttons recovered from the wreck of HMS Erebus. Scratch marks from cutlery can be seen on some dinner plates, said curator Karen Ryan.
Ceramic plates and tunic buttons recovered from the wreck of HMS Erebus. Scratch marks from cutlery can be seen on some dinner plates, said curator Karen Ryan. © Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

The Inuit and territorial government of Nunavut also want to claim ownership, but that has been resisted by the federal government to date, although the current Liberal government says it will share ownership and management of the wrecks and artefacts with the Inuit Heritage Trust in the future.

Official say only of the negotiations between Canada and the U.K, that they are continuing.

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