HMS Terror


Admiral Sir George Back (1796-1878)
145mm x 225mm

   Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau, Canada
EMu user since 1997

HMS TerrorFew vessels have played so important a role in Canadian history and Arctic exploration as HMS Terror. Painted by its captain, George Back, in 1836, this dramatic watercolour depicts an encounter with an enormous iceberg off the southeastern coast of Baffin Island. It was acquired at auction in Britain by the Canadian Museum of History in 2011.

“This painting has great significance in Canadian history,” explains Dr David Morrison, Director of Research for the Museum’s Canadian History Hall. “Admiral Sir George Back is among the first tier of British Arctic explorers who helped lay the foundation for Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. He was also a skilled artist.”

The subject of the painting, HMS Terror, was built for the War of 1812 as a bomb vessel, and participated in the Battle of Fort McHenry. In that battle she was one of the British vessels responsible for the “rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air,” immortalised in the American national anthem The Star Spangled Banner. She was later refitted for Arctic exploration and took part in a number of important Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, including Back’s expedition of 1836. HMS Terror last sailed with the third Franklin Expedition in 1845, which ended with the death of all hands three years later. Her sister ship, HMS Erebus, was recently discovered in eleven metres of water in Queen Maud Gulf, west of King William Island, in the central Canadian Arctic. The location of HMS Terror remains a mystery.

HMS TerrorFunds for the painting, which measures approximately 14.5 by 22.5 centimetres, came from the National Collection Fund. The Fund is supported by donors who help the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum acquire important artefacts of Canada’s cultural and military history that might otherwise be purchased by private collectors or museums outside Canada.

Acknowledgements: Canadian Museum of History