Bill Horner | Devon
In 1812 under their 4th President, James Maddison, the USA invaded Canada. This was in retaliation for the British seizing of US shipping, as well as a number of other issues unresolved since the War of Independence. During the resulting War of 1812-15 the British counter-invaded (with troops released from Europe after the first defeat of Napoleon), and briefly captured Washington in 1814. The White House and the Capitol (Parliament building) were burned - the last time the Capitol was stormed before the events of earlier this month! The British army and Royal Navy went on to attack Baltimore, an important city and base for US privateers, but were held off by the defenders of Fort McHenry. That seige saw the writing of the US National Anthem:
O ! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the Rocket’s red glare, the Bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our Flag was still there;
O ! say does that star-spangled Banner yet wave,
O’er the Land of the free, and the home of the brave?
For over 24 hours those Rockets and Bombs were being fired at Fort McHenry from several Royal Navy bomb ships. These included HMS Terror which had been launched in 1813 at Davy’s Shipyard, Topsham near Exeter, Devon. Terror went on to be refitted as an Arctic and Antarctic exploration vessel. Between 1836 and 1843, alongside another converted bomb ship HMS Erebus, she was the first dedicated exploration vessel to penetrate the Arctic and Antarctic ice. In 1837, after being damaged by ice while mapping the Arctic coastline, Terror was run ashore on the beach near Buncrana, Lough Swilly, Co. Donegal. Then taken for repairs at Chatham Docks, Kent.
Both ships sailed from the River Thames in 1845 to undertake zoological, biological magnetic and geological surveys in the arctic. They were also trying to find a north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In 1848 the expedition and both ships were lost, trapped in the ice off northern Canada. Despite numerous search missions they were not found until the wreck of HMS Erebus was discovered in 2014 in shallow water off King William Island (Arctic Archipelago), and in 2016 HMS Terror was found, well preserved and upright on the sea bed at Terror Bay (bit of a clue!).
There is a display on HMS Terror at Topsham Museum, Devon. She also features in an exhibition at the Inishowen Maritime Museum, Greencastle, Co. Donegal.
Bill Horner, County Archaeologist & Historic Environment Manager at Devon County Council.