In May 1845, HMS Erebus and her sister ship HMS Terror set sail for the Arctic, never to be seen again. Erebus, named after a Greek god of darkness, was herself cast into oblivion for the next 170 years, until she was found in 2014, by sonar, submerged off the Arctic coast of Canada.
Immediately after her disappearance, ten years and £28 million (in today’s money) were spent looking for her. It was during a golden period for British exploring, between the end of the Napoleonic Wars of 1815 and the Crimean War of 1854, with a Royal Navy that had shrunk from 145,000 men to 19,000. Instead of fighting battles, it was now battling the elements, in the cause of scientific discovery and imperial expansion.
Erebus had been tasked by Sir John Barrow, 2nd Secretary of the Admiralty, with looking for a way through to the Pacific from the North Atlantic; the ‘North West Passage’.