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The HMS Investigator – A Ship Frozen in Time

23rd June 2012   |   Jackie Hutchings

Sitting in just 11 metres of water, high above the Arctic Circle in Mercy Bay, lies the HMS Investigator. Mercy Bay, 800 km north of Inuvik in Canada’s North West Territories, is a punishing environment.  160 years ago, the Investigator, a British vessel, became trapped in the ice after being despatched to search for the explorer Sir John Franklin who had gone missing looking for the North West Passage.

They never did find Franklin but they did find the North West Passage.  But their discovery came at a huge cost – they became stuck in the ice.  The ship’s destiny was sealed from that moment on. She never would escape the ice and her crew were stranded for 2 years before being rescued by another British ship, HMS Resolute.  During those 2 years, the crew of 69 endured unimaginable hardships but, amazingly, only 3 were to die and their simple graves can still be seen on the tundra.

Once the crew had been rescued, Investigator was abandoned and left to sink to the bottom of the Beaufort Sea where she has been ever since, her secrets being frozen in time.

Until 2010, that is, when a team of Canadian archaeologists from Parks Canada, traveled to Mercy Bay to find Investigator and unlock her secrets. What did they find? They found a majestic ship, untouched over time.  They found artifacts which they mostly left other than a few select items which were brought up to be analysed and preserved (including an amazing musket) .

Their story was captured by CTV W5. It makes fascinating viewing.  It tells of their journey north to dive this unique wreck and the hazards they encountered along the way.

As Senior archaeologist, Ryan Harris said “It was a truly surreal experience to come across a wreck site of this exceptional nature, in this incredibly remote location. It’s something I’ll never forget.”


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