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'Erebus' and the 'Terror' in New Zealand, August 1841

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings, Maritime Art Greenwich
Gallery locationNot on display
VesselsErebus (1826)

Object details:

Object ID BHC1214
Description (Updated, July 2014) One of a pair with BHC1215, both of which have received identifications in terms of subject, as showing the scientific expedition of James Clark Ross (1800-62), to Antarctic waters, 1839-42, with two ships; his own ship 'Erebus' and the 'Terror', under Commander Francis Crozier. However, this does raise some issues, since the ships shown do not at all closely resemble 'Erebus' and 'Terror' in many respects. Ross attempted to reach the South Magnetic Pole, also undertaking many scientific studies such as the first extensive series of deep-sea soundings. Influenced by the earlier discoveries of Dumont d'Urville and Charles Wilkes, Ross decided to sail further east before bearing south. He discovered the Ross Sea in January 1841, claimed Franklin Island, and named Mounts Erebus and Terror on Ross Island. His advance was finally stopped by the Ross Ice Shelf, which Ross called the Victoria Barrier. Knighted following his return to England in 1843, he published 'A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions', in 1847. The expeditionary ships 'Erebus' and 'Terror' are shown under light airs in a bay, probably in New Zealand, where they wintered in 1840 and returned in August 1841. The nearer ship has lowered several open boats containing sailors preparing to meet the local craft positioned in the foreground. One Maori boat sails towards the British ship proffering gifts of fish, fruit, local produce and goods. Four of the Maori craft are rafts; the two with high backs are war canoes with ornately carved sterns, and bearing warriors and important local dignitaries. A third craft on the far right shows warriors standing up holding spears. The artist has created an air of calm and peaceful stillness, tinged with a golden glow indicating that the meeting between the visiting British ships and local people is one of friendship. The smoke on the hills in the distance denotes habitation, palm trees evoke the exotic, yet in the distance the land appears barren, mountainous and hostile. In Ross's 1847 account he observed that instead of the friendly reception anticipated, the Maori were prepared to 'seize any opportunity of regaining possession of their lands and driving the Europeans out of the country'. Carmichael was a prolific artist who also produced drawings and engravings for British newspapers. However, since he did not accompany Ross on the expedition, this painting is not an eye-witness account but - assuming it is intended to represent the Ross expedition despite technical anomalies - it may be a response to the publication of Ross's book. The painting has been signed by the artist.
Date made circa 1847

Artist/Maker Carmichael, John Wilson
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 1227 x 1836 mm; Frame: 1470 mm x 2000 mm
  • 'Erebus' and the 'Terror' in New Zealand, August 1841 (BHC1214)
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