New Michael Palin book on doomed 19th-century British expedition

New Michael Palin book on doomed 19th-century British expedition

Cornerstone has acquired a new book by Michael Palin documenting the maritime adventures of the HMS Erebus, part of a doomed 19th-century British expedition in northern Canada.

Susan Sandon, managing director of Cornerstone, and Nigel Wilcockson, publishing director at Random House Books, acquired world rights to the book from Steve Abbott at Mayday Management.

Only recently found after 170 years at the bottom of the ocean in 2014, Palin will outline in the book the construction of the ship in the naval dockyards of Pembroke, the part it played in Ross’s Antarctic expedition of 1839-43, and its abandonment during Franklin’s ill-fated Arctic expedition, as well as its final rediscovery on the seabed in Queen Maud Gulf. Franklin's disastrous 1845 expedition, in search of a Northwest Passage across what is now Canada's Arctic, saw the sinking of both the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror after they became trapped by ice, resulting in the deaths of Franklin and his crew. 

Palin will explore the careers of the men who shared the ship's journeys, from the "organisational genius" James Clark Ross, who mapped much of the Antarctic coastline and oversaw some of the earliest scientific experiments to be conducted there, to the "troubled" Sir John Franklin, who, at the age of 60 and after a chequered career, commanded the ship on its final journey.

He will also describe what life on board was like for the dozens of men who stepped ashore in Antarctica’s Victoria Land, and for the officers and crew who froze and starved to death in the Arctic wastes, driven to cannibalism and poisoned by the food they had hoped would sustain them.

The book will be illustrated with maps, paintings and engravings, as Palin travels to Tasmania, the Falklands, the Canadian Arctic, to search for local information, and to experience at first hand the terrain and the conditions that would have confronted the Erebus and her crew.

Palin said: "HMS Erebus was the flagship on two of the most significant maritime journeys in our history. One reached the furthest south any ship had ever been, the other met with disaster in the search for the Northwest Passage. Both journeys took enormous risks to challenge the perception of what was possible at the time. The discovery of HMS Erebus beneath the waters of the Canadian Arctic just two and a half years ago adds yet another twist to this extraordinary story. It’s a story of courage and folly, of staggering success and terrible suffering. A story motivated by a refusal to accept that there should be such a thing as the Unknown."

Sandon said: "I am privileged to count Michael as a friend and have been struck for some time now by his interest in and enthusiasm for this extraordinary tale.  Erebus is a perfect match of subject and author and I couldn’t be more delighted to be announcing its publication."

Wilcockson added: "No tale of human endeavour is more stirring and epic than the voyages of the Erebus, and I can’t imagine anyone telling it better than Michael Palin. This will be a wonderful tapestry of a book, combining history, biography, travel and adventure."

Random House Books will publish in hardback, trade paperback, audio and e-book editions in September 2018, with a mass-market Arrow paperback edition following in 2019.