Home About Membership Contact Despatches Supplies Forum Gallery News
A review of the book written by Michael Palin

by Jeff Herbert

I recently bought my copy of Erebus by Michael Palin. I enjoyed the read, although I think he should have done it in two volumes.  He undoubtedly had a lot more data that could have gone into the content and Appendices.  Saying that, not a bad balance.  This is more a Review of the event than the book.

I would say the Disaster was a product of its times.

The North Trip was planned like the South Trips but apart from ice and snow they had little more in common.  The North Trip should have included Hudson Bay Men and some Inuits, although the latter could have been recruited on arrival.  The men that perished encountered native Inuits but none had been told to help or report.  No doubt Royal Navy Brevado, "we don't need any stinking civilians".   They loaded live animals for the voyage, many of which had died by the time they reached the Orkneys.  It would have been more sensible to pick the animals up at the Orkney's or even further North at an established base camp.   Infact 2 or 3 established basecamps further along the passage may have worked well. Seamen are superstitious but whilst in the Orkneys they did not go to see the famous old woman who could give them a good wind.   At that time every ship passing stopped to consult her.
Franklyn was clearly not the right man for the task, he was chosen due to his previous reputation. He was greatly imbittered by his 'shocking' treatment as Governor of Tasmania. and egged on by a young forceful wife. He was so stuck on the subject that the Captain of the Terror, which accompanied Erebus declined many invitations to dine with him.  He was also past his prime and died early in the expedition.                                                                                                                                                       
They loaded a lot of the new-fangled canned food; this may have caused early deaths due to botulism as the Company that produced it was unable to produce the amount required.  Secondly the cans were sealed with a huge amount of lead.  Ironically, the old RN barrels of salt pork and beef might have been a safer bet.   They took no dogs and when they did drag stuff across the ice, they did so themselves.  This was seen many times and is no doubt a reflection of the law in the UK banning dogs from being used to pull things.
I am of course writing with hindsight and 180 years after the voyages.  I believe though that had it of been planned better it would not have been the disaster it was.
You could make a great board game out of the rush to find the South Pole, The North West Passage. and magnetic points.  Including Politics, funding etc, plus the actual journeys 

back to despatches