Erebus, The Story Of A Ship

Michael Palin
2018, Arrow Books

Erebus is not a well-known name or ship, despite achieving amazing feats in exploration. In the early 1840s Erebus was dispatched to discover the south Magnetic Pole and travelled further south than any ship before her. Later, in 1846, on a voyage to discover the Northwest passage, she vanished, lost to the sea with all hands. She was rediscovered by chance in 2014.

Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, is a writer and explorer in his own right, having travelled across the globe ‘both sideways and up and down’. Many of his own travels have been recorded in books and subsequent films. Always relayed in an easy-to-read style, his stories are both entertaining and informative. Erebus is written in much the same manner.

Extensively researched, the voyages of Erebus and her sister ship Terror have been recreated in this book, but despite the immense detail, facts and figures, their stories still stand out as exciting adventures. And that’s what they must have been to those first explorers, seeing the great mass of Antarctica for the first time. And all in spite of the dangers of ice floes and the storm-ridden southern oceans. In Erebus, Palin brings the historical characters to life, delving into their motives and aspirations, their successes and failures.

The more we rely on modern technology, the more incredible it is to think that these ‘Captains Courageous’ were able to navigate the southern oceans completely under sail. Even more astounding is the fact that they returned from Antarctica without loss of life or limb, and relatively healthy! And they did it all with none of the modern navigational aids that we would employ today, none of the safety systems or technology that we wouldn’t dream of being without. For these early explorers, there was no Plan B. It was a case of succeed, survive, or die trying!

An enjoyable book for armchair sailors, particularly for those interested in the amazing feats of navigation accomplished by early explorers. Yes there is a lot of detail and historical background but remains a book that is relatively easy to read, absorb and admire.


michael palin erebus