'Perilous position of H.M.S. Terror, Captain Back, in the Arctic Regions in the summer of 1837'

This shows an episode during Captain George Back's voyage in the 'Terror' in the Arctic regions during 1836-37. It was his last expedition to find a sea route from Hudson's Bay to the Polar Sea, tracing the coast of the Polar Sea between Repulse Bay and Turnagain Point, the farthest point reached by Franklin on his first overland expedition. 'Terror' was a bomb, a type of ship which was exceptionally strongly built to fire heavy mortars, and therefore used extensively for exploration in the polar regions, often with extra strengthening. She was caught in pack ice at the entrance of Fox Channel, west of Baffin Island, and stranded for 118 days on an ice floe, where she drifted 200 miles taking a severe battering. 'Terror' was eventually brought out by passing chain cables under her keel. Beached on the Irish coast on her return voyage, but she was repaired in Ireland and sent out again with the 'Erebus' to the Antarctic under the command of Captain J. C. Ross. As a naval officer Back (1796-1878) helped to trace the Arctic coastline of North America. He wrote a narrative of the expedition in HMS 'Terror' in 1838 and was knighted in 1839.

The painting is set in Hudson's Strait and shows 'Terror' positioned at a steep angle in the centre. The ship sits in a vortex of jagged ice and with dark clouds in the sky. She has a canopy over her deck and lights glow through the port-holes in the stern. Groups of figures are shown trying to save the boats and provisions in the face of freezing conditions. Thirteen men in the foreground are tugging on a rope to haul a ship's boat onto the ice, with five men steadying it. Others are taking supplies off the ship and in the foreground a man holds a harpoon. There are barrels, planks, ropes and other objects from the ship arranged on the ice. The artist entered the navy at the age of thirteen and in 1836-37, he was the First Lieutenant of the 'Terror' on this expedition. Smyth was a good artist, who kept sketch-books of views made during his service afloat, and lithographs after his drawings were used to illustrate Back's book about the expedition.

The title of the painting given here is that supplied on Smyth's original label (since the writing matches other examples of his hand), which was still fixed to the back when the Museum acquired it in 1952.

Object Details

ID: BHC3655
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - Polar Worlds Gallery
Creator: Smyth, William Henry
Events: Arctic Exploration: Back's voyage, 1836-1837
Date made: Mid 19th century
Exhibition: North-West Passage
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Frame: 1015 x 1405 x 80 mm;Overall: 29.4 kg;Painting: 838 mm x 1219 mm

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