Monday, 2 May 2016

The Terror of Topsham?

Fairlynch Museum was glad to be able to help out one of our sister museums in Devon when the fragment of flag shown here was lent for an exhibition at Topsham.

A model of HMS Terror on display at Topsham Museum

 The item is cherished as a possible relic from HMS Terror, the bomb vessel constructed for the Royal Navy by the Topsham shipbuilder Robert Davy.

Some of my American readers who know their history will recognize the name of this vessel as belong to one of those ships which took part in the unhappy Anglo-American conflict of 1812-14. It was during that war that the White House was burned down by the British. 

HMS Terror, under her captain, John Sheridan, took part in various actions against the Americans including the bombardment of Stonington, Connecticut in August 1814, and the Battle of Baltimore the following month. 

HMS Terror thrown up by the ice. Engraving after a drawing by Captain George Back (1796–1878)

The ship later took part in the Arctic expedition of 1839 to 1843 commanded by the naval officer and explorer Sir John Franklin. The expedition was ordered to gather magnetic data in the Canadian Arctic and complete a crossing of the Northwest Passage. Both Terror and its companion ship HMS Erebus became ice-bound and were abandoned with the loss of their crews.

In 1857 an expedition led by another British naval officer, later knighted as Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, led a search expedition to the Arctic to endeavour to trace HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. 

One of the items he found was the fragment of a flag which may well have been from one of the ships.  Francis McClintock was the great-uncle of a founder-member and steward (docent for my American readers) at Fairlynch Museum. 

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