What better first time traveller than Sir Michael Palin? Palin is a hugely admired figure in British public life. A Python, an actor, a traveller, a writer, a former president of the Royal Geographic Society and also a history graduate from the University of Oxford.
In this first episode of Travels Through Time, Palin guides us back to the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. The 1840s comes at the tail end of what is known in the West as the Age of Exploration. This is usually considered to have begun with Christopher Colombus’s voyage across the Atlantic to the Americas in 1492.
By the 1840s much of the world’s surface had been mapped by successive generations of explorers. A few mysteries remained, though. What exactly happened at the southern-most tip of Planet Earth? If there was land, then how vast was its span? More puzzles remained in the north too. The most pressing of these was the long rumoured existence of a North West Passage that would offer European ships a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.
One particular ship was sent to investigate both of these riddles in the 1840s. HMS Erebus was a 350-ton bomb ship: stout and small. Over the course of a decade she was involved in two fabled voyages – one a success, the other a tragedy – that took place at either end of the globe.
It is onto this ship, HMS Erebus, that Palin guides us to witness the contrasting fates of Sir James Clark Ross and Sir John Franklin.
Click here to go to the Travels Through Time website to listen to the podcast.