Monday, 2 July 2012


Perim is a volcanic island strategically located in the Strait of Mandeb at the southern entrance into the Red Sea, off the southwestern coast of Yemen, at 12.66°N 43.42°ECoordinates: 12.66°N 43.42°E. It has a surface area of 13 square kilometers and rises to an altitude of 65 meters. The island has a natural harbour on its southwestern coast, but there is only scarce vegetation. The absence of fresh water on the island has always been one of the major difficulties impeding permanent settlement. The island of Perim measures 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi) long and 5.02 kilometres (3.12 mi) wide. From 1869 onward, the island was used as a coaling station for ships using the Suez Canal until 1936.

Some commentators have stated Lowry visited the island on his 1927 voyage to the Far East. However, the Blue Funnel records for Pyrrhus's voyage for 1927 do not record a stop at Perim. Lowry may have known that Blue Funnel line ships stopped at the island.

Lowry refers to the island in his first novel Ultramarine based on the voyage- Dana Hilliot thinks; "I am on a ship, I am going to Japan - or aren't I?" then he lists all the places he is due to visit including Perim.(Ultramarine Pg. 18); "...Hilliot had seen him once or twice up for a spell from the stokehold, his hair blowing in the fresh wind that had come after they passed Perim." (Pg. 159); " Perim in the Red Sea, they have red-headed n...... I don't know if any of you fellers ever been ashore there. There's one pub, the Red Lion.. And its as flat as a flipper and bloody hot. We took a chap out there once to be a signalman”. (Ultramarine Pg 175.). Later Lowry says that they called the signalman Perim (Pg. 175); in the poem 'The Lighthouse Invites The Storm': "In port: And terrible at night of Perim." (Collected Poetry Pg. 85); "Because Perim belonged to India while so remote from it, that island had always fascinated him. Yet they stood off the terrible place a whole forenoon without his grasping the fact…" (Under The Volcano Pg. 166). 

The reference by Lowry to Perim belonging to India is incorrect.  In 1799, the island was briefly occupied by the British East India Company in preparation for the invasion of Egypt. It was reoccupied by the British in 1857 and attached to the colony of Aden. Lowry may be referring to the fact that the island was manned by soldiers from Indian regiments. There were also Indian mechanics and operatives working in the ship repair facility. Read more Last Colonial Outpost. Chris Ackerley states; "The island is mentioned in the anonymous Greek Periplus Maris Erythraei of the first century AD, but Hugh's statement that it once "belonged to India" seems dubious: the island was known to Egyptian, Greek, Arabian and Indian traders of antiquity, but despite its strategic location on the spice route its total lack of water precluded settlement, and there is little record of it "belonging" to anyone until it was explored by the Portuguese in 1513 and garrisoned briefly by Britain in 1799. Malcolm Lowry Project

Read more about Perim on Malcolm Lowry @ The Nineteenth Hole

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