Breadalbane (ship)

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Breadalbane (left) and Phoenix off Beechey Island from the Illustrated London News
United Kingdom
Name: Breadalbane
Operator: McNeil & Co
Builder: Hedderwich & Rowan
Launched: 1843
Fate: Crushed by ice on 21 August 1853
General characteristics
Type: Wooden merchant ship
Tons burthen: 428 bm
Length: 38.1 metres (125 ft)
Beam: 7.3 metres (24 ft)
Depth of hold: 5.5 metres (18 ft)
Sail plan: Barque

Breadalbane was a British three-masted barque, a mid-19th century merchant ship that was crushed by ice and sank in the Arctic.

Notable as one of the northernmost shipwrecks known,[1][2][3] she is also considered one of the best-preserved wooden ships ever found in the sea due to slow deterioration in the cold Arctic water.[4] Historically, Breadalbane is considered to be a time capsule.[1]

On 21 August 1853, she became trapped by an ice floe and was crushed. She sank to the bottom of the Northwest Passage near Beechey Island in Lancaster Sound, approximately 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle.[5][6] Her entire crew of 21 abandoned ship in time, and were rescued by her companion, HMS Phoenix.

In August 1980, the wreck was discovered by a five-man team led by Dr. Joe MacInnis working from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Sir John A. McDonald. Three years later it was designated a national historic site of Canada because the ship was used in the search for John Franklin’s lost expedition.[7]


Breadalbane was built by Hedderwich & Rowan for a Scottish merchant consortium[8] in a shipyard on the Clyde River,[7] in Scotland in 1843.[4] The ship was originally used to transport wine, wool and grain to Europe, and spent her first ten years sailing between England and Calcutta carrying various goods.[7]


Breadalbane was a 428-ton,[7] wooden square-rigged sailing ship. The design was similar to hundreds of other trans-oceanic ships used in early Victorian times. She was 38.1 metres (125 ft) long, with a beam of 7.3 metres (24 ft) and a hold depth of 5.5 metres (18 ft).[8]

Call to Arctic service

In the spring of 1853, the Royal Navy called the ship into service to transport coal and other supplies to the North Star, a depot ship.[8] She left the Thames River in 1853, accompanied by HMS Phoenix (the first propeller ship in the Arctic),[8] and arrived at a rallying point at Beechey Island later that year.[7] Her new mission would be to carry supplies to Sir Edward Belcher's high Arctic search expedition in the Resolute Bay area (now part of Nunavut). Since 1852, Belcher's expedition had been searching for the Franklin Expedition. The ship and crew had gone missing while searching for a passage through the Arctic seas. Belcher's expedition both the largest, and the last sent by the Royal Navy.

Trapped in the ice

On 21 August 1853, Breadalbane was anchored to an ice floe[8] half a mile south of Beechey Island in Lancaster Sound, approximately 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle.[2] It had become surrounded by slow-moving ice.[7] Shortly after midnight, a slab of ice penetrated the starboard bow.

The crew quickly salvaged as many supplies and personal items as possible.[7] The 21-man crew then abandoned the ship. Within fifteen minutes, the vessel sank to the floor of Barrow Strait[7] in an approximate position of Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.. The crew was rescued by HMS Phoenix.[2]

Discovery and exploration

The wreck of Breadalbane was first discovered in August 1980 by a five-man team led by Joseph B. MacInnis. The Canadian government and National Geographic supported the search. Using side-scan sonar towed by the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker CCGS John A. McDonald, the ship was found in 100 metres of water 1.5 kilometres south of Beechey Island in the Northwest Passage. She was lying intact on the seafloor with two of her three masts still standing and her bow pointing east. Gary Kozak (Klien Associates) operated the side-scan sonar. Emory Kristoff (National Geographic) used a drop-camera to take the first video and 35mm. photographs. The images showed parts of the foredeck, foremast, starboard railing, main deck, and a capstan.

Two previous attempts in 1978 and 1979, also led by Dr. MacInnis, failed to find any trace of the ship.

In September 1981, Dr. MacInnis, working on the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker CCGS Pierre Radisson, led a six-man team that used a remotely operated vehicle to record video and 35mm. color photographs. Chris Nicholson (Benthos) managed the remotely operated vehicle in tandem with Emory Kristoff (National Geographic). More than one thousand images revealed a debris field with the fallen mast, the ship’s copper-sheathed lower hull, and a flat-roofed deckhouse. A small cabinet on the aft end of the deckhouse held a compass and signal light. Below the cabinet was the wooden steering wheel. The ship was wrapped in soft, pink coral. This expedition was documented by the CBC’s Fifth Estate in a segment hosted by Bob McKeown.

In 1983, after waiting two years for the polar ice pack to stabilize over the site, Dr. MacInnis led a 24-man team that built an eight-structure camp, cut through a meter of ice, and made four manned dives and six remotely operated vehicle dives. The expedition lasted 20 days. The manned dives were made in the one-atmosphere WASP suit. Phil Nuytten (Can-Dive Services) led the dive team, Emory Kristoff (National Geographic) the underwater camera team, Chris Nicholson the ROV team, Pete Jess (Dome Petroleum) the logistics team, and Steve Blasco (Bedford Institute of Oceanography) the science team. On the last dive, the ship’s wheel was recovered by Doug Osborne in the WASP suit and turned over to Parks Canada for preservation and display.

The 1983 expedition was documented in a National Film Board production The Land That Devours Ships (1984), a National Geographic cover story (Exploring a 140-Year-Old Ship Under Arctic Ice, April 1983) and a book written by Dr. MacInnis. CBC Enterprises published The Land That Devours Ships in 1985. The 1980, 1981, and 1983 video images are archived at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and Ryerson University. The 35mm. photographs are archived at National Geographic Society in Washington.

The sinking of Breadalbane (left)

In April 2014, an expedition returned to film Breadalbane for the first time in 31 years. The seven-member team used ROVs to take a series of high-definition pictures of the wreck, which is apparently still well-preserved.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 MacInnis, Joseph B. "Breadalbane". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2011-12-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "The Farthest North Known Shipwreck: the H.M.S. Breadalbane | Arctos Canadensis". 2009-03-08. Retrieved 2011-08-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Archives & Special Collections". Retrieved 2011-08-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  5. Anchorage Daily News – Sep 15, 1981
  6. Andrew H. Malcolm (1982-01-03). "A Find That Would Shiver Anyone's Timbers". Arctic Regions: Retrieved 2011-08-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 "". 1983-06-13. Retrieved 2011-08-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Paine, Lincoln P. (2000). Ships of Discovery and Exploration. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 26–27. ISBN 0-395-98415-7. Retrieved 2011-12-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Illustrated London News, 22 October 1853
  10. Eerie new underwater footage shows historic Arctic shipwreck — the northernmost known — in fresh detail by Joe O'Connor, National Post, April 25, 2014.

Further reading

External links