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About the book
  • Published: 4 June 2019
  • ISBN: 9781784758578
  • Imprint: Arrow
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $28.00

Erebus: The Story of a Ship

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Michael Palin brings to life one of the greatest adventures of all time

In September 2014 the wreck of a sailing vessel was discovered at the bottom of the sea in the frozen wastes of the Canadian arctic. It was broken at the stern and covered in a woolly coat of underwater vegetation. Its whereabouts had been a mystery for over a century and a half. Its name was HMS Erebus.

Now Michael Palin – former Monty Python stalwart and much-loved television globetrotter – brings this extraordinary ship back to life, following it from its launch in 1826 to the epic voyages of discovery that led to glory in the Antarctic and to ultimate catastrophe in the Arctic. He explores the intertwined careers of the men who shared its journeys: the dashing James Clark Ross who charted much of the ‘Great Southern Barrier’ and oversaw some of the earliest scientific experiments to be conducted there; and the troubled John Franklin, who at the age of sixty and after a chequered career, commanded the ship on its final, disastrous expedition. And he vividly recounts the experiences of the men who first stepped ashore on Antarctica’s Victoria Land, and those who, just a few years later, froze to death one by one in the Arctic ice, as rescue missions desperately tried to reach them.

The result is a wonderfully evocative account of one of the most extraordinary adventures of the nineteenth century, as reimagined by a master explorer and storyteller.

  • Pub date: 4 June 2019
  • ISBN: 9781784758578
  • Imprint: Arrow
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $28.00

About the Author

Michael Palin

Michael Palin has written and starred in numerous TV programmes and films, from Monty Python and Ripping Yarns to The Missionary and The Death of Stalin. He has also made several much-acclaimed travel documentaries, his journeys taking him to the North and South Poles, the Sahara Desert, the Himalayas, Eastern Europe and Brazil. His books include accounts of his journeys, novels (Hemingway’s Chair and The Truth) and several volumes of diaries. From 2009 to 2012 he was president of the Royal Geographical Society. He received a BAFTA fellowship in 2013, and a knighthood in the 2019 New Year Honours list. He lives in London.

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Praise for Erebus: The Story of a Ship

“Beyond terrific. I didn’t want it to end.”

Bill Bryson

“Thoroughly absorbs the reader. . . Carefully researched and well-crafted, it brings the story of a ship vividly to life.”

Sunday Times

“[Palin’s] narrative is driven by a deep sympathy for explorers and adventurers, while also being illuminated by flashes of gentle wit . . . It’s a fascinating story that he brings full-bloodedly to life, stripping away the barnacles of the past to reveal the hidden history of a ship.”

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Guardian

“With this irresistible and often harrowing account, Michael Palin makes a convincing case that one heroic little ship embodied the golden ago of polar exploration better than any other: HMS Erebus.”

John Geiger, co-author of Frozen in Time

“[Written] with a wry enthusiasm, bolstered by his own experiences as an eminent explorer and film-maker . . . His moving account of the discovery of abandoned items, taken on board as comforts of home by the officers – silver cutlery with their initials indented, scattered on a frozen shore – affected me the most.”

Colin Greenwood, Radiohead bassist, Spectator

“Everybody’s talking about it . . . A brilliant book.”

Chris Evans, BBC Radio 2

“I absolutely loved it: I had to read it at one sitting . . . Fascinating.”

Lorraine Kelly, ITV Lorraine

“Magisterial . . . A natural storyteller, [Palin] captures beautifully the sense of awe experienced by Ross and his men as they encountered the wonders and terrors of Antarctica . . . He brings energy, wit and humanity to a story that has never ceased to tantalise people since the 1840s.”

The Times

“Michael Palin is a cracking good companion on this journey of ambition, longing, triumph and tragedy . . . Palin’s contagious spirit of exploration proves that the age of adventure lives on in us still.”

Alanna Mitchell, author of The Spinning Magnet

“This is an incredible book. I couldn’t put it down. The Erebus story is the Arctic epic we’ve all been waiting for.”

Nicholas Crane

“A timely account of Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to find a way through the Northwest Passage . . . [Palin] does an admirable job of recounting the life of this doughty ship, from construction at Pembroke dockyard in 1826 to her last days stuck fast in the ice . . . vivid, evocative stuff . . . pulls together very effectively much of the work that’s been done to establish the truth about Franklin’s fate.”

Erica Wagner, Financial Times

“What a book this is! . . . [Palin] brings not just a historian’s and writer’s skills to it, but those of a traveller.”

Dan Snow, Dan’s History Hit

“Extraordinary . . . Thoroughly sifts through the many varied and often contradictory theories about what happened to the 129 men aboard Franklin’s two ships.”


“Compelling . . . HMS Erebus embarked on two of the most dramatic Polar expeditions in history . . . Michael’s historical non fiction debut charts both journeys and brings back to life all those who sailed on her.”


“I’ve been mesmerised . . . Palin’s book charts the 1845 voyage of Sir John Franklin, who sought the Northwest Passage with HMS Terror and HMS Erebus.”

Scottish Daily Mail

“[Palin] successfully reanimates the corpse, bringing Erebus back from the depths of time so her funnels once more blast smoke as she forges through new and wondrous seas.”

Sunday Express

“Combines a fascinating episode of naval history with [Palin’s] flair for storytelling.”

Radio Times

“Palin’s experiences, including a voyage on a Russian ship to the channel where the wreck of Erebus was discovered, give a sense of immediacy and proportion to his narrative . . . Michael Palin has done full justice to [John Franklin] and all these remarkable men. This truly is a marvellous book.”

Allan Massie, Scotsman

“This lively account reveals much about both exploration and the Royal Navy in the 19th century . . . Palin is a diligent researcher who has trawled the primary sources and, largely in the course of filming his television series Pole to Pole, has visited many of the key sites here.”

Sara Wheeler, Observer

“Nicholas Crane, current president of the Royal Geographical Society, has described Palin, one of his predecessors, as “the world’s most appealing practitioner of geographical curiosity”, and it’s that curiosity which drives his stirring new book . . . His account is written in crisp, unshowy prose.”

Four star review, Daily Telegraph

“A great story . . . Told in a very relaxed and sometimes – as you might expect – very funny Palin style.”

David Baddiel, Daily Mail

“Palin has seized [the story] with relish: the distinctive dry humour familiar to his television audiences finds plenty of opportunities to emerge, and his easy assurance as a writer . . . keeps the pace sprightly.”

Times Literary Supplement

“Fascinating. Exciting. Authoritative.”

All About History

“A delightfully granular description of ship-board life, all told in a brisk, breezy style . . . A very readable and fascinating tale from the early years of polar exploration.”

Book of the Month, Geographical

“A great read . . . You feel you’re sitting in the pub with Michael Palin himself as he regales you with tales of the mighty seas.”

The People’s Friend

“The nicest Python with yet another deeply fascinating project”

Northern Soul

“Everyone’s favourite Python tells the story of Erebus in his cheery prose style”

Daily Mirror

“Palin, a skilled writer, makes extensive use of diaries, letters and other sources to anchor his story in clear detail in this highly recommended read.”

Irish Times

“Palin’s personality – that of a rather beloved Uncle who knows something about everything – can’t help shining through, but he never lets it over-shadow the weaving of this, the very definition of a ripping yarn.”

Hot Press

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Watch Michael Palin discuss his new book, Erebus.

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