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Book Review: Erebus – The story of a ship (2019)

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In a title of six words, Erebus: The story of a ship, Michael Palin tells us precisely what his book is all about. Through a comprehensive analysis of the Ship’s Logs and crew reports, personal letters, private and naval journals, books, papers and newspaper articles he documents the life of the ship and its crews. He traces their histories from the launch of the ship at Pembroke dock in 1826, via unremarkable Mediterranean patrols, lengthy voyages to Australia to bone chilling Antarctic and Arctic expeditions. They culminate in the last crew abandoning the ship, trapped in Arctic pack ice, in 1848.

However, Erebus: The story of a ship is more than a mere chronology of dates, actions and events. Michael Palin tells us a complex story. It’s an evolving story of the interpersonal relationships of those men serving on the ship; relationships that blossom and those that deteriorate. It includes accounts of influential men and women who shaped the voyages and crew selection. It also notes the impact of sponsors and suppliers who may have contributed to the final tragedy. It’s a story illustrated by Victorian photographs, other colour photographs and paintings, sonar images, maps and sketches. They all serve to provide a picture of the life and death of those on board HMS Erebus.

In 1846, during the heroic but ill-fated Franklin Expedition, HMS Erebus, her companion ship HMS Terror, captained by Francis Crozier, and a total of 129 men, “vanished off the face of the earth whilst trying to find a way through the Northwest Passage” (ppxii – xiii). This was the prized northern route to China and India via Arctic waters. HMS Erebus wasn’t seen again until one hundred and sixty-nine years later under thirty-six feet of Arctic water. Divers found the wreck remarkably intact as their description and photographs reveal.

Palin describes how the search for Erebus and her crew extended over decades – often suggesting missed opportunities as well as shocking findings. His summary account of the last desperate months and weeks of their survival, as the expedition disintegrated, is poignant in the extreme.

It’s tempting to describe the book as a slow burn that builds into an inferno – but words like ‘burn’ and ‘inferno’ are at odds with Palin’s descriptive account of the mind numbing cold of Arctic winters and a ship entombed in pack ice for years. Certainly, the pace of the early chapters appear relatively slow when compared to the final crescendo – but they provide an invaluable background to an understanding of the unfolding drama.

You don’t have to be a historian or a marine archaeologist, a sailor or traveller to marvel at the story of HMS Erebus and her crews. You don’t have to be a sentimentalist to read: ‘The one comfort from the whole unmitigated disaster was the news that bodies had been discovered far enough south to prove that Crozier had led his doomed men to the last link in the chain of marine connections that made up to Northwest Passage’ (p. 261).


Erebus: The story of a ship (2019)

  • By Michael Palin
  • London: Arrow Books        
  • ISBN 9781 784 758578     
  • 334 pp

Michael Palin has written and starred in numerous TV programmes; perhaps Monty Python is one of the most famous. He has made several acclaimed travel documentaries to the North and South Pole as well as the Sahara desert and the Himalayas. His books include Hemingway’s Chair (1998) and The Truth (2013). Between 2009 and 2012 he was President of the Royal Geographical Society. Michael Palin was knighted in 2019 and lives in London.


Find out more about Professor Fred Lockwood, who is also a published author, at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.

Dr Fred Lockwood is Emeritus Professor of Learning and Teaching, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. He is also a PADI Master Scuba Diver and dived in the waters of Central America and Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, Australasia and the Pacific Islands. Follow Fred at www.fredlockwood.co.uk.

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Dive Training Blogs

14 Divers You Do Not Want To Be On A Scuba Diving Charter Boat! (Watch Video)

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We’re counting down some of the scuba diving etiquette faux pas that I see week in, week out on dive charter boats. I’m giving you my best advice to not become ‘THAT’ diver and stay in the good graces of you Charter Boat Scuba Captain and Crew.

This is stuff they just don’t teach you during your PADI Open Water Course! The unwritten rules of scuba diving. Good behavioral habits to develop to be the scuba diver that everyone looks forward to having on their dive boat.

I’m drawing from my experience as a charter boat Captain, but also asked a whole bunch of my friends in the Scuba Diving business for their input on what divers do to drive them crazy! Thanks for your input!

I’ve been asked for this video a bunch. Let me know in the comments which diver stereotypes I missed!

Thanks for watching!

D.S.D.O

James


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Dive Training Blogs

My Dive Buddies Episode 3: Jimmy Gadomski’s Sunken Treasure (Watch Video)

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My Dive Buddies Episode 3: Jimmy Gadomski’s Sunken Treasure! I’ve brought in my good dive buddy Jimmy Gadomski to the dive locker to regale you with stories from his treasure hunting exploits. We’re also talking the difference between being a recreational dive boat captain and a technical dive boat captain and discussing what has gone wrong with so many near-misses/almost-accidents.

Jimmy is one of those great guys who can’t walk past a muddy puddle without wondering what is at the bottom of it. He shares his insight on how he decides if a student is ready to start tec training and how to train a dive master to run tec trips. He also makes me killer jealous with his stories of diving the wrecks of the Great Lakes – something I was supposed to also do until COVID-19 got in the way!

And as always, Jimmy faces the 10 questions we ask everybody.

Here are the timestamps:

  • Intro: 00:01
  • Jimmy’s jobs: 01:03
  • How Do You Decide If A Potential Student Is Ready For Tec? 02:15
  • Considerations for running a Tec Charter boat: 04:18
  • Service and Safety in Tec Diving: 05:47
  • What’s happening with all these near misses this summer? 06:46
  • How can the Tec Diving community identify safety concerns? 10:12
  • Show and tell! 13:51
  • Gold and silver coins: 16:36
  • Great Lakes diving: 18:52
  • 10 Questions We Ask Everybody: 20:50 Cheers! 22:48

You can connect with Jimmy on Instagram: www.instagram.com/fl_tekdiver/

I really hope you guys enjoy watching this series of videos as much as I enjoy making them or else it wouldn’t be fair!

Thanks for watching. D.S.D.O James


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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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