THE likes of Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein and now Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are uncomfortably discovering that what may have gone down a long time ago can still inconveniently ooze from the tomb.

Only Cosby's case has so far had the full court treatment, but the others' respective sagas are also sweaty-palm reminders of how worms can turn and inconveniently re-emerge from the woodwork.

Of course, the ooze needn't be all bad. Take Tiger. Many had him long dead and buried, interred in a grave partly energetically dug by himself. But, Terminator-style, next thing he's back up-and-running, with mass fan hysteria not seen since the days of Rudolf Valentino.

Then there's the Endeavour – Cook's ship for the first of his epic Pacific jaunts in 1768-69. They reckon they've found it quietly snoozing in the mud somewhere around Rhode Island, scuttled in 1778 during the American War of Independence. It, too, may soon be resurrected from its gloopy grave.

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And then there's also the Erebus. Shivers still run down the spine when we hear the name, images of doomed airliners and volcanoes springing to mind. What usually doesn't come to mind is the origin of the volcano's name. It was named after the flagship of Capt. James Clark Ross, who – supported by HMS Terror – led the first expedition to sight the Antarctic continental land mass in 1841.

The Ross Sea, Ross Island and the Ross Ice Shelf are other legacies of the resourceful captain's intrepid four-year journey. Both ships had anchored in New Zealand en route, and of course we now claim territorial jurisdiction over the Ross Dependency.

The Erebus had more in store. Again alongside the Terror, it ended up under the command of Sir John Franklin on his fateful 1845 expedition to chart an elusive Northwest Passage through Arctic waters between Europe and North America.

Tragically, though, both ships were beset by the Arctic ice, with their eventual loss together with all 129 crew.

However, although down, they too were not entirely out, as the wreck of the Erebus was found in 2014, and that of the Terror in 2016. The Terror was particularly well preserved, even down to intact cans of preserved food. Use of tin cans to preserve food had been in its infancy, with each can having to be individually sealed with lead solder.

Between them, the two ships were provisioned with approximately 8000 cans, about three years' supply.

Frank Greenall
Frank Greenall

In 1981, exhumation and analysis of three crew members, who had died and been buried on land prior to the ships' entrapment in the ice, showed extraordinarily high levels of lead. It's speculated a combination of lead poisoning and botulism from imperfectly sealed cans may have exacerbated the crews' deteriorating health, and thus also helped doom their subsequent decision to abandon the ships and try to reach known settlements overland. Nearly two centuries later, evidence from the recovered cans may yet still have something to offer the narrative.

British attempts to navigate a Northwest Passage cost them dearly. Ironically, it was the man who thwarted their later dreams of being first to the South Pole who eventually forged a northwest passage in 1906 – the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen: triumphant in the wake of Erebus at both polar extremities.

When fellow members of the tragic 1910-12 British Antarctic expedition eventually found the frozen remaining three of Captain Scott's polar party out on the Ross Ice Shelf, they quietly collapsed the tent on the bodies, and erected a cairn on top for their memorial.
For 106 years, the memorial remnants have been steadily inching towards the Ross Sea, along with the shelf itself.

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In due course, this tomb may also re-reveal its contents – fittingly, near the very spot where Erebus and Captain Ross first encountered the immensity of the Great Southern Land.

Note: Many thanks to the anonymous reader for the Roland Huntford book, Scott and Amundsen.