sir john franklin's ships
One of the ships of Sir John Franklin's last expedition Wikimedia commons

The prime minister of Canada has announced one of two British explorer ships that disappeared in the Arctic more than 160 years ago has been found.

Stephen Harper could not say which of Sir John Franklin's ships had been found but images confirmed it was one of them, according to AP reports. The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were last seen in the late 1840s.

Franklin and his 128 officers vanished on an expedition begun in 1845 to chart the fabled Northwest Passage. Their disappearance soon after became one of the great mysteries of the Victorian era -prompting one of history's largest rescue searches from 1848 to 1859.

The route runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago.

"This is truly a historic moment for Canada. Franklin's ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada's Arctic sovereignty," said Harper.

"Finding the first vessel will no doubt provide the momentum – or wind in our sails – necessary to locate its sister ship and find out even more about what happened to the Franklin Expedition's crew."