Hello, everybody, welcome to Dan Snow's history hit, everybody is currently talking about the terror, everyone's watching it. When I say everyone, I mean some of the people that I see on social media, the terror is hugely powerful. Drama series, horror series and is a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin's expedition to the Arctic, where they got lost in the 40s.
Now, friends of mine have watched it and are disappointed because there are monsters in it, which seems to me unnecessary and not to be historically all boring and prudish about things. But if you've got a story as dramatic as Franklin's expedition, why didn't the monsters you know what? I walked out of Pirates of the Caribbean. I couldn't believe my excitement. Hollywood is doing a big budget, 18th century maritime history film. I mean, I'm keen. And then there's a ghost turned up.
Why? No need for it. Anyway, we thought to accompany this TV series, we'd repeat one of our best episodes in the past. Michael Palin, you'll know, is a national treasure is one of Monty Python. He's a legend. He travels around the world, most successful and brilliant television broadcaster of our lifetime. And he's a total legend. And it's a huge honor to have him on the podcast. We interviewed him because he wrote a book on the Erebus, which was one of the ships on Franklyn's expedition.
He wrote the biography of that ship. And obviously we talked to him about the expedition to find the Northwest Passage. And the fact that the wreck has recently been found, so great fun to have Michael playing on the podcast, a huge honor, you can go back and listen to all these back episodes, the podcast without any ads at history hit Dot TV. Please go and check it out. It's a digital history channel with thousands of podcasts and documentaries and everything you need if you love history.
Someone said to me today they like the ads on these podcasts. They think they are amusing to listen to.
Well, I'm flattered, but I'd rather unsubscribe district dot TV, to be honest with you. There's plenty of funny and amusing and interesting things over there, so please head over and do that. Lots of wonderful content dropping this week, including a wonderful documentary we made interviewing some remarkable female veterans of World War Two for Women's History Month. So please go and check that out.
In the meantime, everybody, enjoy Michael Palin talking about Erebus and Terror, its accompanying ship on the Franklin expedition.
I don't think you asked him on the podcast what a book this is. Well, it was sort of something that came completely out of the blue.
And for a long, long time I thought, I'm not I'm not a historian. I'm certainly not a naval historian.
I just love the idea of the life of this ship and what it had done and the places that had been and the fact it was rediscovered.
All those things sort of combined to make me feel that a great narrative here. But there were a lot of traps on the way.
You know, a lot of people have written a lot of material about especially about the Franklin expedition. Would I be up to to, you know, that scholarly standards. But, yeah, it seems to have worked out.
It's worked out very well. And of course, you bring your not just your sort of historian writing skills to it, but that of a traveller. You've seen the world. So and this book took you all over the world, we should say. Right. So Erebus, when was the ship built?
Whether when the story begin, it was built in? Well, it was commissioned in 1823 and built at Pembrook Dockyard in Wales, which is on the edge of Milford Haven.
So it was actually launched into Milford Haven, where there's now a big oil refinery. And it was one of the newer dockyards the Admiralty had commissioned. They commissioned it probably while they were still fighting the Napoleonic wars. And in fact, after the wars ended and Britain's Navy ruled the world, we just didn't need a navy of the size they had at that time. So quite how Pembrook survived, I don't know. But it did continue making warships, of which Airbus was originally one.
And what was the job it was intended to do? It was called a bomb ship, the class of about six or seven of them. And they employed mortars, heavy sort of tenma mortars on on board the ship, which were used for bombarding coastal positions, laying siege to places without having to make a landing. So there were quite heavy mortars and that's why the ship's decks were diagonally planked and made stronger than they would normally be, which is, I suppose, why they ended up as being chosen for polar exploration.
But that was a it was a bomb ship as a warship originally. Yeah.
Because so those bombs that they were firing mortars, high trajectory. So there'll be enormous sort of kick from those that would go with the whole hull had to be designed to sort of not fall apart. And did that mean that they were also why would those be used for high latitudes? They wouldn't be crushed by the ice?
Well, that was that was the thing. I mean, obviously, they they would meet ice. They would meet sort of quite light ice. It wasn't really an ice breaker. But of all the ships in the Navy at the time they were there, they were the strongest in terms of holes and being able to withstand that kind of pressure. So they thought, I mean, you know, the Antarctic journey went further south and any ship had ever been encountered, conditions that no ship had ever been into.
So no one quite knew what they were going to get. But they they were as strong as as any ship around at the time.
I didn't know anything at all about that Antarctic history there. So please tell me about that before, though.
What was it in that period was driving the British and other people to high latitude exploration, North and South Pole? What did what was the prize?
Well, it was really down to a man called John Barrow, who was the second secretary at the Admiralty, and he was obsessed with polar successes, polar exploration in the north, because they just wanted to really find out whether there was a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
But also whalers had said there's there's open sea beyond the ice up there. And so just just curiosity. And in the south, that was largely driven by the need to make a magnetic map of the world is very, very important at that time to understand how magnetism worked and how the magnetic field of the earth worked. And this really involved lots of observation places being sort of erected around the world to test the measurement. Once they understood magnetism, then navigation would become much easier, much easier to steer ships, understand about currents and everything.
So that was the main motive for the Antarctic journey.
But I suppose you could also say that that that they did it because they could because after the Napoleonic war, Britain's Navy really did rule the seas and they were the sort of, if you like, they worked for clients like von Humboldt was the great German explorer and Gauss and people like that.
A lot of a lot of European research had been done, especially in Germany, into into terrestrial magnetism. So the British Navy was, you know, working for these clients, as it were, taking the ships down there, which they couldn't themselves afford. So, yeah, it was it was Britain was at that time reasonably settled. They had a strong navy. They could do it. So they did.
And these tell me about the human what sort of sacrifice of the humans on the ships the crews have to bear.
I mean, how long would they be away for tonight?
Well, tell me about the Airbus is journey down to the South Seas, the Airbus journey to the Antarctic waters.
I mean, they had instructions from the Admiralty to stay for at least two Antarctic summers exploration. Best time for exploration. In the end, they made three separate voyages right into deep Antarctica. So the men were away for almost four years. They had time ashore. Tasmania was very important to Van Diemen's Land, as it was then called.
It was in Hobart that they had time ashore.
But apart from that, it was either at sea or in the ice or in the Falkland Islands, where they spent quite a considerable amount of time. But none of them seemed to like it there at all. And terrible things happened down there. But these were the Tasmania and the Falkland Islands were the sort of stop off point of Antarctica. So, yeah, four years away on that journey.
And it's worth remember, I mean, was anyone volunteering for that mission or would they be impressed? Men, did anyone have any choice go and spend four years away?
No, they all had a choice. In fact, press gangs disappeared right after about 1815 because the Navy had so many people, so many sailors that could not be employed. I think the numbers employed in the Navy went down from about 140000 to about 20000 within a period of about four or five years. So a lot of sailors around wanting a job so they could pick and choose the men they wanted.
And someone pointed out all the all the sailors were Able Seaman, which was slightly one degree up from the common deckhand, as it were.
So they all had they all had some qualifications. They were paid well.
They were paid double for going to the Arctic or the Antarctic. So, you know, you made money out of it.
I mean, it does seem odd that they should volunteer for something like that. But know, this was they they had a captain who was prestigious. They had the backing of the Admiralty. The ships were well stocked, well looked after. You weren't going to get killed because it wasn't hopefully weren't going to get killed because it wasn't just a military expedition. So it was actually very attractive.
The Antarctic expedition and on this Antarctic expedition, what special provisions were made? What special arrangements? I mean, you know, thick coats, gloves.
What what what were the what were there any innovations at the Admiralty introduced to keep the sailors alive and slightly more comfortable in that climate?
Well, they did have they have a special sort of Arctic outfits which were like that thick sweaters, coats, socks, boots, scarves, which were issued when they got beyond a certain latitude to the south.
So we've got a very cold day before that. I think Pembrokeshire I'd probably need that in Pembrokeshire. Yeah.
Now that that was they would get a special kit. Usually at the you know, once they'd gone south of the Antarctic Circle, beyond that, you know, nobody knew quite what they were going to encounter.
They had heating on board ship, that they had a sort of heating apparatus and everything was sort of heating was recycled so that we knew what you cooked from the, you know, the steam that was generated and that warmed the ship as well.
So they had they had something to warm the ship.
Yeah, but the ship is still made of wood. No steam engine propulsion. This is this is sail powers.
It all sail power on the Antarctic journey. And this is what makes it completely remarkable. I mean, no, I don't think any other vessel in history has gone further south than they did purely on wind power, which meant when they were in the ice, they couldn't turn very, very difficult. They were stuck, just had to hope to get through them.
But engines were fitted for the Arctic expedition, the Franklin expedition at the very last minute, and everything was done at the very last minute to get the Franklin expedition going. They said, oh, yes, we should we should have some auxiliary power. So they got 25 horsepower railway engines off a railway company down in south London, put them in the ship, lowered them into the ships. A brilliant man called Oliver Lang was in charge of the conversion of the ships of the Arctic, featured a special retractable propeller and and installed the motors.
But they weren't you know, they were only to be used in extreme circumstances. But I mean, 25 horsepower is not much good in the eyes. Present icebreakers, it's about sort of 40000 horsepower or something like that.
It's finished. The Antarctic, once they come back, they spend they spend four years on that excursion. And is it a success?
It was really it was very successful. And most of the success came in the first expedition, which is when they discovered that there was a continent of Antarctica and they actually set foot on it. No one no one really knew that for sure before. They also discovered there was a volcano, which was named by James Clark Ross. After the ship at Mount Erebus, they discovered the ice shelf, the rock, which became known as the Ross Ice Shelf, which was 200 foot high and stretched for miles and miles.
No one had ever seen that before.
They they laid claim to various islands.
They also found islands on the way to Antarctica all the way back from Antarctica where they went ashore. They made magnetic observations. They also checked out flora and fauna. In some cases, they had livestock aboard, which they would put on onto the island because there was a great colonising feeling at that time that an empty island was an unproductive island and had to be productive.
So we're going to put some put some livestock on me. They had chickens, goats, sheep, and they landed a few in the hope they would breed and then, you know, a few years time and people would come along and say, this is a very habitable island, jolly good. And so there was a sort of crusading spirit that we we were civilised in the world as we went along.
It was that and in terms of sort of mapping the Antarctic continent, it was it was hugely successful. And I mean, right until Shackleton went 60 years later, that was the what Erebus and Terror discovered was that was the the official sort of map of of Antarctica and and with a I mean, are there great diaries and accounts and ship's logs?
Was it was it a really exciting one to research this book?
Yes, there were there were the official logs which all the officers and the main officers had to keep. They became the property of the Admiralty after they came back.
So actually, you had to be careful what you said.
Sir James Clark Ross's Journal of the Voyage is actually quite dry for a sea story.
That's what you want, but you know what I mean.
It's actually very fairly formal, although he occasionally he does go over the top when they nearly hit by an iceberg near the Falklands. He had a marvellous description there. There's a man called MacCormick who was the surgeon, and I really loved his his his journals because they were kind of quite eccentric.
And he would talk about all the wonderful wildlife he saw and how quickly he could shoot it, you know, oh, I saw the lovely birds.
I do love birds. And I shot for this morning and I got 14 and I got four ptarmigan.
So he was busy shooting anything I could find to put it get it on board ship because of course, they had no photography at that time, no way of recording other than bringing the creatures back. Yeah.
And in terms of sort of the the what they brought back for the naturalists, it was very, very productive.
So McCormick was good. Great, fine. Which I was given by some people in the Falkland Islands that the dockyard museum in the. Auckland was access to a diary kept by a man called William Cunningham, who was a Marine on board HMS Terra and Cunningham was a less educated man. So it was not writing such a formal diary, but he kept an entry every single day. And he would have he would just have wonderful things, other great you know, his description of seeing the volcano, what was was just marvelous, ecstatic description.
But he also talks about, you know, people getting drunk and having to be dragged back on board when they're in South Africa or something like that, how they killed a shark, which he calls Jack Shark, and they dissected that. They all ate a bit.
And so there's there's a real feeling of sort of below stairs activity in Cunningham's diary.
And how close did the expedition come to disaster?
Because obviously what we remember so many of these polar and Antarctic expeditions for the terrible endings and the privations, did it go fairly smoothly?
I mean, hitting, I suppose, being caught in big storms. But I mean, that's all run of the mill.
The Antarctic journey was amazingly successful in terms of, you know, they lost about four men in four years.
They were swept overboard mostly very, very little, actually no instances of scurvy or the normal things that that would affect people on board ship for a long time. So they're very, very healthy.
But they did have this well, they went into some storms, which you kind of amazed that any little ship like that could survive these sort of just going across the Southern Ocean.
But also at the very end of their second expedition around Antarctica, they were heading for the Falkland Islands. They were nearly home when suddenly they found themselves in the middle of the night, confronted by a wall of ice with a very narrow gap in it and.
So they all woke up and and in order to avoid avoid each other and get through the the gap at the same time, the opposite happened and terror hit Arabesques, its anchor, was embedded in the side of the ship. Two ships actually collided and crushed. And there are a lot of descriptions from various people on board at the time saying this was the end. There was no way out of this terror slipped through the gap in the ice. But Arabs were stuck and all the their their cells and their rigging were all ripped apart by the collision.
But Captain Clark Ross did this extraordinary maneuver, which is called a stern board maneuver, which is when you almost put a small chip into reverse, then asked me quite how it's done.
But it's very, very difficult to do and in those sort of circumstances, perilous. But he managed to just get them through at the very last minute. And so, I mean, they just they avoided death by inches there.
But I think on a number of the storms, you can't believe how they survived. And they all say the next morning, gosh, you were lucky to still be here.
Listen, Dunston's history talking to Michael Palit, big time or after this. They got back to Britain, but that's not the end of the story for these ships now. Far from it they proved themselves to be. Stout, survivors of polar conditions and John Barrow, the great man who had been sort of the impresario of explorer of Naval Exploration during the early part of the 19th century was approaching his 80th birthday. He was about to leave the Admiralty. He said, we can have one last chance to do what I've always wanted to do, which is get an expedition through the Northwest Passage, get ships through from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and we now know enough.
We've got the ships, we've got the technology. And all we need now is a leader for the expedition. Well, let's go now. James Clark Ross was the obvious man. The obvious choice was actually quite shaken by what had happened in the in the Antarctic. In fact, there's a there's a wonderful little passage I found of a diary kept by a woman called Sophia Baghat, who was the sort of I think she was the daughter of the man who ran the naval base in Cape Town.
And she had dinner with them when they just come back from the Antarctic. And she said, you know, your hands are shaking and they're both both Crosio of Terror and James Clark Ross said your hands are shaking. And apparently Clark Clark Ross just said, yes, this is what one night in the Antarctic did for us. So it was probably that collision has shaken them all so much. And Clark Ross said, no, he wanted he'd got married, he was having children and didn't want to go to sea again.
So they approached John Franklin. It wasn't everybody's choice. He was 59, going on 60. And most people thought he was too old for the expedition.
But his wife was very, very vigorous sort of networking Lady Jane, Jane Franklin. And she was determined that she should get the post because he'd been sacked as Governor-General of Tasmania. And she wanted to make sure that history did him proud by leading the expedition. So he became the leader.
And in a very, very short time, it's about sort of three or four months from the end of 1844 to May 1845, they got the Airbus and Terror ready. They had to do some more work, strengthening of the ships, putting in the small auxiliary engine, getting all the crew together. And it was all it was all a mad rush. But they left in May 1845 on one of the most sort of best equipped and most sort of prestigious expeditions the Royal Navy had ever launched.
And all the modern advances you mentioned, like they sort of had preserved food and they began to feel like a really quite a modern kit that they sailed with. Yes.
The issue of the food was it was always a big one in the story. They had canned food. I mean, tinned food had been I think a Frenchman had sort of established the technology in the about 800 hundred, something like that. So even on the Antarctic, they had some canned food, a lot of canned food on the Arctic expedition, all supplied by a man called Stephan Golden, who was not the Admiralty, his first choice. It was a second choice, but he put in a cheaper bid.
And there's just a lot of talk and a lot of research being done as to whether the tins themselves were contaminated when there was too much lead in them and all that. There's there's no actually no evidence in the end. In fact, the most recent the most recent research suggests that there was no more lead poisoning in those in there would have been in the you know, in pipes in people's homes generally. But it was a big issue, the cans of food.
But, yes, they had they had canned food. They they they were they felt utterly confident. And in the the the few writings you get before they actually set off from Greenland to cross into the into the heart of the heart of the Arctic, this great optimism from all the officers. This is just going to be wonderful. Also happy with terrific enthusiastic. See you next year in in Hawaii. You know, they weren't really thinking that the only only time you hear any doubts are usually from the crew.
And there's a very touching letter by a man called William Thompson, who writes from Stromness, which is the last place in the before they actually set off for the Arctic and just writes to his wife and says, do look after the children, do OK after that, you know, things could go wrong. I may not see you again. Very, very touching, but none of that in amongst the officers. They couldn't failure was was failure was not an option.
Here we come. Honolulu.
And so they were going to go over the north of Canada to into the into the Pacific.
Where where is the where was their last contact with other human? Where's the last place we know they were at?
It's it's a a few miles to the west of a place called Waifish Island, which was and that's on the western coast of Greenland. And that's where they did their final got their final stories together. They had a boat which had come to them from London all that way to carry stores which are then loaded onto the two ships. Before they left, they left well, Fish Island sort of mid-July, 1845.
At the end of July, two whaling ships recorded seeing Erebus and terror. In fact, one of the ships boarded Arabistan. Franklin being the sort of affable, capable man he was, said always was, come and have dinner and all that, and then they found that the weather conditions change. The next day they had to move on back south to England. So they left him and that they were the last people to see the ships and the masts were last sort of seen on the horizon the very end of July 1845.
And do we think 1845 was a particularly cold? Was it a particularly cold snap? So where were they unknowingly going into a even? It would've been a difficult task the best times, but they are knowingly going to a particularly frozen North Arctic sea.
Well, we do know that the year 1846 to 1849 were amongst the coldest recorded in the Arctic. There were very, very, very severe. They actually managed to get across Baffin Bay, which is the one that can freeze that can be difficult anyway. They got across Baffin Bay because we do know from discoveries in 1850 that they got to a place called Beechey Island, which is the end of Lancaster Sound, very much in the heart of the Northwest Passage, because three of the men, three graves were found there, men who died in 1846.
So we know they got that they got that far quite easily.
What happened was that after that, they they were they were asked, well, they were sort of commissioned by the Admiralty, instructed by the Admiralty to go due west for the Bering Strait, not to go north, not to go south. They were found eventually in the south, down near the Canadian mainland. So something must have happened in 1846. And some of their they sailed down. We do know they settled down. They were beset by the ice in September 1846, and that was further south than anyone expected them to have gone.
So that's why the expeditions to look for them didn't find them. And they were stuck in the ice there for two and a half years. And that's when they decided to leave the ships and head south and take as much as they could with them. And they all perished.
So they were stuck in the ice for two and a half years, living on the Erebus cheek by jowl, slowly, their supplies running down. Yeah, I mean, this wasn't unprecedented.
There had been other Arctic expeditions where ships had got caught in the ice. Was Edward Parry's expedition in 1824.
They were stuck for up to two winters and they sort of survived. Parry sounds like a great character.
I'd love to write a book about him. He organized for plays and sort of shows. All have to get out and do things and put on costumes, all that.
James Clark Ross was actually on one of those expeditions and play the part of a girl in two of the dramas.
And it's great, wonderful sort of handsome hero that she'd been in drag 1824.
But no, they were they were stuck and the in 1847.
There were many, many search expeditions, 36 were commissioned between 1848 and 1858, and one of them discovered much later on, 10 years after they deaths a record of in a in a in a canister and a can, which had been left by the ship saying that in 1840, May 1847, they were fine, but they drifted south. There were stuck in the ice, but all was well.
And Franklin was commanding the ships around the side of this same document and added 11 months later. It was a completely different story, which is that we were stuck in the ice for yet another summer. We decided to leave. Franklin died in June 1847, fairly soon after the first message. Fifteen officers, fifteen men and nine officers had died. No one was quite sure of what, and we were abandoning ship. So that's how we know that they they left and tried to head south.
And that's the only document left behind by this expedition. And, you know, the Navy was absolutely obsessed with document.
They kept records of everything so that they're there somewhere, so that you think that they could be in canisters hidden dotted around the Canadian Arctic.
Well, they could be or they could be on board. There could be records on board the ship. Both both ships now have been discovered under the wrecks of both ships have been discovered. So there could well be material on board the ships. The rest of it, no one, really.
And no one knows what what what has happened to the papers will have blown away, the Inuit were not particularly interested in gathering records, written records, they believed in oral history and all that. So people didn't mean much to them.
But there is quite interesting in your oral history, isn't there, about what isn't there about what might have happened to the last survivors?
Yes. I mean, almost all the evidence is from Inuit history because they say there's only one document in English left behind. And this was gathered by various people, including John Ray, who was an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company, came from Stromness in the Orkneys. He was surveying up in the Canadian high Canadian Arctic when he met Minuit. Talk to them and they said yes for four summers ago, four winters. I can't remember what they said.
Four years ago, we saw about 40 Kabletown as a name, their name for foreigners dragging a sled with a ship on the boat on top of it south. And they also said, we found bodies at various places. They gave a one or two artefacts, which had obviously come from the ships. And that's when he knew he brought the news back, that they had probably all perished were still the Inuit said that it was clear from the bones, the state of the bones, bones in pots and all that, that they had kept alive by cannibalism, which, of course, was received as a horrific, horrific shock back in this country.
But the Inuit tell them that the Inuit also said that it wasn't to the north. They actually had gone south. They said they had sightings of both the ships on one of the ships. They found a man.
But nearly all of this was sort of discounted because there was no written record as it was all oral history. But live events subsequently have shown that they were almost exactly right about everything, even where the ships were eventually were eventually found. But the problem was that nobody, as far as we know, nobody on board either ship had a working knowledge of Inuit and speak the language. So when they did leave the ship, there's a sort of the Inuit.
Record or oral record of meeting a group of men. And there were obviously they said they were in a bad state, but they traded some food with them, but then neither side can understand the other.
So in one way and the men went on further south, if they you know, if at any stage they had actually been able to to speak the local language, they could have they could have gone out of the mess they were in. And this could have happened a lot earlier. But no, the ships were just self-contained worlds where everything they needed was there. They had books. They had, you know, teaspoons with their initials on it. They had wine.
They had you know, they had organs to play music on. They had all that sort of thing. But they nobody knew how to deal with the local Inuit. And once they were off the ship, they were just open targets, really, for the cold.
So you are a famous traveller and you made sure during this book that you went everywhere. You been north. South. Well, tell me some of the highlights, the places you've been.
Well, I went to I went to the Northwest Passage.
And if that was kind of quite ironic, I went in in August of last year and it was a it was an expedition with about 90 people on board and called in Franklin's footsteps. So we went to we went to Beechey Island, which is where the three bodies were discovered. And there are the graves are still there now. And that was that was an extraordinary sort of feeling to be walking this bleak shore, knowing this was the very first winter and three of them had died.
And the ships, this is where they'd wintered. They must have looked out on this incredibly sort of bare exposed landscape for months and months before even going on.
We then tried to get and what I wanted to do most of all was to get to the wreck area and be able to at least see where it was. Ideally, I would have loved to put on a scuba dive down with the archaeologist, but that didn't seem to be possible. But we did hope that we get down to King William Island where the ships were found.
We got through almost to the Victoria Strait, and that's when the captain said we can't go any further because the ice is so thick that we don't know when we'll be able to get out. So it was actually just a kind of reworking of what had happened to Erebus and terror. But of course, the Arctic is warming much more now. It's that there's much less that much more open sea, less ice. But, you know, the ice that gets trapped in these narrow channels, you can see that Erebus and terror were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And we got so close to their graveyard, I suppose you could say, but but we understood why they why they were stuck.
Well, y y you certainly haven't lost your or your love of travel. What is it what is it that visiting these places be the natural wonders or place where history has happened? What is it that makes you keep wanting to visit these places and new places all the time?
I think it's partly the adventure and the drama of a new experience. I mean, I don't have to travel far. I'm going to Manchester and find a bit of a city that I've never seen before and that excited, I find that very exciting. And you have to it opens your eyes. It forces you to look around, not just stay in your hotel or stay on board. And, you know, that was the spirit of all these guys who went off to the Arctic and the Antarctic, especially to the Antarctic.
They they wanted to see these places. They never been to these places before. They wanted to record them. They wanted to get out and walk around them. And that's what I always feel that I want to do, because I learn something each time I learn something about myself and my own ability, my curiosity, my my understanding of places, my ability to sort of sort of absorb new impressions, that's that's really important.
That keeps my brain ticking over. But the other thing is that I think the sort of continuity of history, that's really why I was so, you know, happy to go to to Tasmania and just see the area. There's not much to it.
That area, the bay just outside Hobart, where the two ships moored for several months when they came back from the Antarctic and feel like they were there. And this is what they would have looked out on. And there's the same lighthouse about ten miles down the street, a few miles down the street. So it's that sort of feeling that there's some spiritual connection is putting it a bit far. But but just sort of observing what they would have seen as they left the area.
It's like being in Stromness and looking out to sea and seeing the two capes, and that would be the last they would have seen of Britain. And beyond that, it's just the roughest some of the rough seas in the world. And this is what they would have gone through.
So I was kind of experiencing their own butterflies, you know, by my by my own sort of by looking at it myself.
Now that we've stolen you away from comedy and from travel. You're a historian now. I'm glad to say we've got you into the we've got you inside the tent. How did you find writing history and researching it? Was it did you find exciting?
Well, I did. I mean, I was trained as a historian and that's what I did at Oxford. Unfortunately, I do history in the evening and comedy and acting during the day. So I was I just did enough to get by getting. You chose the right.
I think you went down the right path.
What history. Comedy. But I mean, it's always been a farce.
It's always been interested me of mine.
And in fact, when we were doing Monty Python, we we wrote Holy Grail, which is sort of based on sort of a version of history. So is life of Brian. So historical research was always there in the back of my mind. This is the first time I'd actually done a book involving pure research. And I just was very, very nervous of getting into someone else's territory. And I know people have spent years and years working on some tiny aspect of the voyage.
And what I did was just take an amalgam of all that. I was very much dependent on a number of very good correspondence, a number of very good books about the period I took these all in and decided the best thing I could do is to try and write a sort of thriller. I mean, it's it's it's got to be a story which carries you through and doesn't suddenly drop you in a massive detail. And so, you know, one's one's one's sort of attention span sort of goes off.
I wanted to keep the keep the tension there, as well as the information about what was happening. So that was a tricky thing to do. And if I pulled it off, then I'd be very happy.
I mean, ask any one of those absolutely infuriating questions, like people come up to me, are you tall? And what's your favourite history? What bits of the world haven't you been to yet?
And you want to go to I haven't been to any of Central Asia the stands. And I really would like to go to the area around the Altai Mountains. I think they're in either Mongolia or one of the stars. You've probably been there, you know, anyway, just because in all the histories of Europe, so many invasions have come from Central Asia. I don't know what it's like up there. Why did they want to leave or why?
Why didn't make them such fearsome, fearsome warriors where the Kublai Khan come from and all that? So there's an area there that I would I would love to see.
I don't know about you, but I feel I haven't scratched the surface. I mean, do you do you feel you've seen lots of stuff or do you still the more you travel, the more you think, well, there's a whole valley, there's valleys and mountain ranges that just because you're walking through one area, you don't get you can't see everything.
Yeah, no, absolutely. I totally agree with you. People tend to say, oh, Michael, you've traveled the world. I mean, I've been to many countries, but, you know, I've been through this country sometimes four or five days. I haven't I haven't been up the side roads. I haven't seen this mountain in the canyons and the far, far regions of the country because you can't get there. There's always something more to see.
And I think that's the great thing about travelling, is that it just. Ask many more questions than it gives answers and people thought, oh, what's the word like, well, go and see it, you know, which bit do you mean? So there's always something there's always something else to see. And I think the to me, the ticking off of countries is unimportant.
That doesn't mean anything. It's where you go to in those countries.
And I could go back to all the places I've visited, which happened to be, I think, 98 countries or something like that, and and see something that I had never seen before.
Well, when I competed with you, I find Britain and I walk. I walk everywhere. I explore things and I'm finding new things out about this country that I've crisscrossed 100 times. I'm finding out new things every day. So it's good to have you can have adventures at home as well, you know.
Absolutely. And and the more I read researching this, what the what the scientists were looking for and you listen to Attenborough and you read. You read books like The Earth Forty's book, you realize that just under your feet, there's things that keep you there for sort of two days just to understand that place you're standing in. So it's it's an endless task. And I'm I just I know I'll never, ever complete a task like that, but you complete little tasks, and that's the main thing.
Mike, thank you so much. The book is called Arabised The Story of a Ship. And it is out right now going by its everybody. Thank you, Michael.
Thank you for your help. History is about in the history of our country. Oh, my God. And. A quick message at the end of this podcast, a little tiny favor to ask if you could go to get your podcasts, if you could give it a five star rating, if you could share it, if you could give it a review. I really appreciate that. But from the comfort of your own homes, you'll be doing me a massive favor.
Then more people listen to the podcast. We can do more and more ambitious things and everything will be awesome. Thank you.