Page 178. " Frederick A. Cook "
Frederick A. Cook
Public DomainFrederick A. Cook - Credit: Chicago Historical Society

An American doctor of German descent, Cook is a controversial if fascinating character who continues to confound. His claims to have reached the summit of North America's highest mountain, Mt McKinley, in 1906 were widely believed then swiftly discredited due to a lack of evidence and disputed photographs that showed a lower summit. The first official ascent wasn't recognised until 1913 when Walter Harper, Robert Tatum and Harry Karstens reached the summit on an expedition led by Hudson Stuck.

Cook's claim to have reached the North Pole in April 1908 ahead of Peary is even more shrouded in mystery and continues to inspire investigation:



That he took Bridges's Yamana Dictionary whilst in Tierra del Fuego and tried to 'pass it off as his own work' is beyond question, and Chatwin, clearly not a fan, compares him to Irving Washington's fictional henpecked husband Rip Van Winkle who goes up a mountain, falls asleep for 20 years, misses the American Revolution and returns claiming to be a loyal subject of King George III.

Page 179. " because of the beavers "

Large rodents (the size of small dogs), beavers are more commonly found in North America and are known for their dam-building abilities. They use the dams to protect themselves against predators and to store food in the resulting flood ponds. They can fell trees in a matter of hours, leading to blocked pathways.


Page 182. " their Chilean lands had vanished in land reform "

Under the presidency of Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964-1970) a programme of land redistribution was instigated called Cora (Corporación de Reforma Agraria). It was slow to take effect, but his successor Salvador Allende (1970-1973) acclerated a system of land expropriation designed to build collectivist farms, return land to the Mapuches and put an end to the domination of large-scale landowners. 

Page 184. " three Alakalufs "

Also known as the Kaweskar, the Alakalufs were a sea-faring, nomadic tribe from Chile that settled Wellington Island in the south-west of Patagonia.

Page 193. " the yarns of San Francisco's Barbary Coast "

The infamous red-light district of San Francisco during the Gold Rush, it took its name from the pirate-infested Barbary Coast of North Africa and is full of salty yarns.

Page 193. " Chilean nitrate ports; pisco vendors "
Pisco bottles
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePisco bottles - Credit: Felipe Menanteau

The nitrate industry became a major source of revenue in Chile at the end of the 19th century, displacing copper. Cargoes were collected from designated Nitrate Ports, predominantly located in the Norte Grande region.

Pisco is a grape-based liquor and the prime ingredient of the Pisco Sour cocktail, almost a national drink in Chile.

Pisco Sour recipe:

Mix three parts Pisco, one part lemon juice, half an egg white, Angostura bitters and sugar syrup to taste.  Shake over ice.

Page 194. " on the starboard quarter "
An 1870s ship
Public DomainAn English ship from the 1870s

Charley Milward's story employs a bewildering array of nautical terms:

backstay: rigging running from the mast to stern (back) of a ship

broached to: when a ship loses control and is forced to make a sudden turn

gear: rigging

halyards: rope used for hoisting sails

helm: the wheel

hove to: a ship that has been halted by the wind

keel: the central structure of the hull

lee side: side of the ship sheltered from the wind

mizzen: the third mast

port: left-hand side of the ship, facing forwards

squaresail: a four-sided sail used to drive a ship downwind

starboard: the right-side of the ship, facing forwards

staysail: triangular sail secured to the bow (front) of the ship

tackles: ropes

top-gallant: the mast above the topsails

Page 196. " stinkpots "

The Giant Petrel is a native bird of New Zealand and the south seas and feeds off the dead carcasses of seals, penguins and whales. It earned the nickname stinkpot, however, as it emits a foul-smelling oil if it senses its nest is under threat.