11/06/2014 03:27 EST | Updated 01/06/2015 05:59 EST

HMS Erebus ship's bell recovered from Franklin expedition

A brass bell from HMS Erebus, one of the two doomed ships from the Franklin expedition that came in search of the Northwest Passage, is now in the hands of scientists in Ottawa.

Sealed in a water-filled glass container, the bell was unveiled Thursday by Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

The bell was found in mid-September, shortly after the Erebus was discovered on the Arctic seabed.

The bell would have been struck every half hour both day and night, to mark the passage of time on board the vessel. 

Marc-Andre Bernier, chief of Parks Canada's underwater archeology service, said he was on the boat above listening over an intercom to the divers exploring the wreck.

"At one point, all we heard was, 'I found the bell, I found the bell,'" he said.

"The objective was not to recover artifacts, but in this case here, because of the iconic symbol that a bell has … it was decided that this object should be recovered."

In addition to bearing the broad-arrow mark of the Royal Navy, the bell is emblazoned with "1845," the year the Franklin expedition began its ill-fated voyage.

The bell was wrapped underwater and sent to the lab in Ottawa for conservation treatments.

"This is the crowning achievement of an incredible, successful 2014 search campaign that has captivated Canadians and the entire world," said Aglukkaq.

The Erebus, on which it's believed that Sir John Franklin died, was lost some 168 years ago.

Bernier said several other artifacts were found around the site, including pulley blocks, ropes and two brass cannons, but they have been left there until dive teams can resume their inspection of the sunken vessel again next year.

Parks Canada scientists say they need to carefully clean the bell to remove all traces of sea salt from its surface before any other historical clues can be revealed.

The respective crews of the Erebus and its companion, HMS Terror, perished after the ships went missing in the mid-1800s.

Bernier said it's believed the ships became locked in sea ice and eventually sank as their wooden hulls became waterlogged and cracked apart.