COMEDIAN, actor, writer and television presenter and a thoroughly nice chap, Michael Palin, has many faces, but in the Falklands this week he was in research mode, investigating the journeys of two ships that happened to pass through the Falklands in 1842.
Penguin News journalist Peter Young is, like many of us, a long time Palin fan, but he also has a fascination for ships, history and the Antarctic. Peter describes his conversation with the British comedy icon.
Part 1 of a conversation with Michael Palin
If anyone is reading this hoping for a hard-hitting critique of the famous man's long career, they will be disappointed. By sheer coincidence, I am currently reading a volume of his diaries ‘The Python Years’, and in any case, I had long been a fan of his inimitable travel documentaries. I wanted to know why he was here; what he thought of the place; and what he was doing next?
Michael explained that he was in the Islands to research a book on the ship called the Erebus, and another the Terror, two tough little vessels that undertook two of the greatest Polar journeys of the early 19th century.
One of those was to Antarctica which lasted about four years and went the furthest south that anyone had ever been. In the course of that voyage they became quite damaged as a result of journeys through the ice-fields. As such they called in to Port Louis (the then capital) for repairs and to prepare for another voyage south to Antarctica.
Here they remained for several months in 1842, hence Michael’s interest in the story of the crew and the ship.
Michael told me how he’d travelled to South America before, including Punta Arenas, and also to Antarctica four times but had never been to the Falklands: “It's a research trip, really, but also I want to put a personal angle into the book, myself..... what I can see now, and what it might have been like then.”
He said he had hoped to get close to where the wreck of the Erebus was, “but the Canadian Government is really protective of the find. They don't want too many people from outside.
“They are not yet ready to show it to the world, because they are doing a lot of research work on it themselves. And there's a very short window for them to get access to it themselves during the Arctic summer.”
But he is still hopeful: “I'm a Gold Medal holder of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. So, you know, I have a few contacts there. But I shall certainly be up in the Arctic in the summer, as part of following the spirit of the Erebus and Terror. But that will be the sad end of the story.”
Speaking of the successful Antarctic journey he explained: “When they came here, they had been away for about two and a half years, and there had been hardly a single serious illness in the crew.
“Two people had been swept overboard in those two and a half years, but it must have been a very well-run expedition. And they must have been fed well.