Famous Explorers

25 Famous Explorers and what they discovered

Whether the intrepid pioneer or the innovative voyager, we can thank the men and women who explored the globe over the ages for the world we know today. Without them, who knows where or who we would have been in this world they contributed towards discovering. These men and women were so much more than simply well-travelled. They went where no man had gone before, opening routes along the Silk Road, and voyaging around the world in 72 days. What follows is a brief glimpse into some famous explorers whose names will definitely be familiar to you, as well as some less well-known ones – all trailblazers in their own right.

Marco Polo

Born into a Venetian merchant family c. 1254 in Venice, Italy, Marco Polo was bitten by the travel bug journeying with his father to China as a boy. As a merchant and traveller, he made the trip from Europe to Asia between 1271 and 1295 and remained in China for 17 years. He and his father took the Silk Road ending their journey around about 1274 at the court of Kublai Khan. The Mongol emperor had Marco explore far-off lands on fact-finding missions. Marco may even have governed the city of Yangzhou between 1282 and 1287.

Father and son made their way back home, sailing from eastern China to Persia and then continuing overland through Turkey to reach Venice in 1295. Marco Polo was not home long before taking command of a Venetian galley against Genoa during the second Venetian-Genoan War. While incarcerated at the Palazzo di San Giorgio between 1296 to 1299, he regaled tales of his travels through Asia, of black stones that could be burnt, and Chinese money made out of paper. His cellmate, writer Rustichello da Pisa, penned the tales as he told them and when he and Marco Polo were released, they had a manuscript of the Travels of Marco Polo titled Il milione.

Giovanni Giustiniani, a priest of San Procolo, was summoned by Marco Polo’s family on 8 January 1324 to write and certify his will. Marco had been confined to his sick bed since the year before and succumbed at the age of 69 despite physicians’ best efforts at treatment.

Juan Sebastián Elcano

Juan Sebastián de Elcano, the Spanish navigator who was the first to cross the Pacific Ocean, also remarkably led the expedition to first circumnavigate the globe. He was born in 1476 in Guetaria in Basque, tucked between Spain and France, and succumbed to scurvy in the Pacific Ocean at the age of only fifty.

Elcano moved to Seville after having taken part in Cardinal Cisneros’ campaign that led to the conquest of Oran. In 1519 he joined Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition to sail five ships west in search of a route to the Spice Islands around southern America. This led to the fleet discovering, after struggling through much hardship, what we know now as the Strait of Magellan.

Juan Sebastián de Elcano took over command of the Victoria, the only ship of the fleet to have survived, after the death of Magellan during an attack on a native settlement in the Philippines. Late in 1521, the Victoria and its men reached Moluccas and went on to cross the Indian Ocean and reach the Atlantic.

The Victoria made its solo appearance in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 6th, 1522, arriving two days later in Seville. So it was that the Spanish navigator made history by successfully circumnavigating the globe. The first historically documented circumnavigation was completed very nearly three years after the Victoria departed as one of a fleet of five ships. The ship travelled a total of 14,000 leagues, fruitfully reaching its destination laden with spices but with only 18 starving and exhausted surviving seamen out of the original crew of 285.

Elcano and his surviving crew were received by the Emperor Charles V at Valladolid, who bestowed upon Elcano a crest depicting a globe with the motto Primus circumdedisti me – translated as ‘You were the first to circumnavigate me,’ together with an annuity of 500 gold ducats as monetary reward.

As a lasting tribute, the Spanish Navy’s training vessel bears his name to this day, in honour of his role in what was an epic voyage forever remembered.

Hernán Cortés

Born Hernán Cortés in 1485 in Medellín, near Mérida, Extremadura, Castile, he became known later as Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, the Spanish conquistador who saw Spain take ownership of Mexico.

Cortés sailed to the New World in 1504, and in 1511 he had joined Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar in the conquest of Cuba.

The year 1519 saw him on Mexico’s south-eastern coast, where he burnt his ships in commitment to the conquest of Mexico. Together with 508 men, 16 horses, and thousands of Indian allies who resented Aztec dominance, he reached the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, current day Mexico City. Here he was welcomed by the emperor Montezuma II, who took Cortés to be the god Quetzalcóatl. Cortés and his men responded by taking him prisoner. News reached Cortés that a Spanish force was on its way from Cuba to relieve him of his command, which spurred him to depart from Tenochtitlán under the command of a captain, with the aim of defeating these expected opponents.

When he returned as conqueror of the opposition forces, it was to find the city in revolt forcing him into a hasty and costly retreat under cover of night. In 1521, he made his return to successfully conquer the city and, along with it, the empire. As such he became the absolute ruler of an expansive territory but was forced into early retirement following his less-than-triumphant expedition to the Honduran jungles in 1524. He saw out his remaining years in a haze of misfortune, struck down with dysentery on his return to Seville, and succumbing at the age of 62 to pleurisy in Castilleja de la Cuesta, Seville province, on 2 December 1547.

Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake took his first breaths in Devonshire, England sometime between 1540 and 1543. He grew up to become an English admiral as well as the most celebrated seaman of the Elizabethan Age. He left for sea at 18, having been raised in Plymouth by his wealthy Hawkins relatives. His reputation as an exceptional navigator was well-earned but his wealth was attained through the raiding and plundering of Spanish colonies.

Starkly similar to his forerunner, the Spanish navigator Juan Sebastián de Elcano, he embarked in 1577 with five ships to sail to the Americas. Like Elcano, only one ship, his flagship the Golden Hind, made it up the coast of South and North America via the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Magellan. He circumnavigated the globe, claiming for Queen Elizabeth the area as far north as current-day San Francisco, before heading to the Philippines in the west and traversing the Cape of Good Hope on the Southern tip of Africa. His circumnavigation successfully completed; he arrived home to Plymouth in 1580 as the first captain ever to sail his own ship around the world. Added to this achievement, he was also weighed down with treasure. He was knighted in 1581 and appointed vice admiral in 1588. In this position, he destroyed ships and supplies meant for the Spanish Armada, effectively delaying the Spanish attack for a year without taking any actual role in the eventual battle. He saw his end dressed by his own request in his armour during what was to be his final voyage. Dysentery took him on 27 January 1596 in the Panama harbour of Portobello. Despite requesting to be buried on land, he was buried in a lead coffin at sea at the same time as Admiral Sir John Hawkins, his second cousin.

Sir Walter Raleigh

English adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh was born in 1554, so it is believed, in Hayes Barton near Budleigh Salterton in Devon, England. He was known to be favoured by Queen Elizabeth I.

He began his adventures in 1578 alongside his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert on a piratical expedition against the Spanish. He went on to fight the Irish rebels in Munster in 1580, at which time he was noticed by Elizabeth I because of his outspoken views on English policy in Ireland. As her favourite at court, he was sent in 1584 to explore the coast north of Florida. Here he established what was to be an unsuccessful colony at Roanoke Island in Virginia. Elizabeth I knighted him in 1585 but by 1592 he had fallen out of favour at court. It was around this time that he went in search of gold as leader of an unsuccessful expedition up the Orinoco River, which later in 1596 he described in The Discoverie of Guiana.

Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London under accusation of plotting against James I. He was released in 1616, but James I had his way eventually when Raleigh’s men burned a Spanish settlement under his leadership during an unsuccessful expedition to search for gold in Guyana. Raleigh was summarily rearrested by James and beheaded on 29 October 1618, outside the Palace of Westminster under his original sentence for treason.

His last words of “Strike, man, strike!” were said to have been spoken to his executioner while waiting for the axe to fall.

James Cook

James Cook, the British sailor and explorer better known as Captain Cook, was born in Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, on 27 October 1728. Having joined the Royal Navy in 1755, he charted the St. Lawrence River and the coast of Newfoundland between 1763 and 1767, In 1768 he became commander of the HMS Endeavour to lead the first scientific expedition to the Pacific.

During this expedition between 1768 and 1771, Cook found and charted New Zealand and travelled the east coast of Australia. The scientific material amassed was of immense value and Cook made great leaps in preventing scurvy on board. He was duly put in command of two ships on a mission to circumnavigate and penetrate the Antarctic. The expedition between 1772 and 1775 was the first successful west-to-east circumnavigation in high latitudes and ranks among the greatest of all sailing-ship voyages.

He did not return from his third voyage, departing in 1776 to find a Northwest Passage around Canada and Alaska. On Valentine’s Day 1779 he was killed by Polynesian natives in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii.

Roald Amundsen

Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, infamous for leading the first group to reach the South Pole, was born on 16 July 1872 in Borge, near Oslo. As a member of the Belgian expedition of 1897, he joined those to first winter in the Antarctic. Between 1903 and 1905 he became the first person to navigate the Northwest Passage.

After finding out that Robert E. Peary had successfully reached the North Pole in April 1909, he abandoned his planned North pole expedition and in 1910 left for the South Pole. He reached the South Pole in December 1911, having set out in October 1911 with four men, 52 dogs, and four sledges. His achievement was only one month ahead of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated attempt.

Amundsen went on to start a successful shipping business back home in Norway. He joined Umberto Nobile, the Italian aviator, aeronautical engineer, and Arctic explorer, to fly over the North Pole in an airship in 1926.

On 23 May 1928, Nobile and 15 colleagues embarked on a flight to the North Pole in the airship the Italia. They successfully reached the North Pole but experienced some difficulties returning home afterward, crashing into the ice pack during a blizzard. Roald Amundsen left in September 1928, aged 56, together with his five aircraft crew members to join the search missions to find Umberto Nobile and his 15 expedition companions.

Amundsen and his party disappeared while on flight to rescue Nobile on 18 June 1928. Their aircraft was believed to have gone down in the Barents Sea, where its gasoline tank and wing-float were later found.

In 1941 reports followed optimistic speculation in 1931 that Amundsen was alive and living in a remote Alaskan village at Folk Bay. These were never verified.

Edmund Hillary

New Zealand Mountain climber and Antarctic explorer, Edmund Hillary was born on 20 July 1919 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tibetan mountaineer, Tenzing Norgay, were the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Before this and after the Second World War II, Hillary took part in a New Zealand expedition to the central Himalayas and later also a British reconnaissance expedition. After a failed attempt by a pair of climbers to reach Everest’s summit on May 27, Hillary and Tenzing began their ascent early on the 29th of May 1953, reaching the summit by May 30. Soon after the expedition’s return to London in 1953, he was knighted. He never made another attempt at Everest but in 1955 he did describe the experience in High Adventure.

Sir Edmund Hillary led a New Zealand party on tractors to the South Pole on 4 January 1958. They were the first since Scott in 1912 to complete a successful overland attempt and the first to reach it by motor vehicle. He was also the first to scale Mount Herschel in the Admiralty Mountains in Antarctica.

Sir Hillary was New Zealand’s high commissioner to India, Nepal, and Bangladesh between 1985 and 1988. He was known to take a great interest in the welfare of the Himalayan people, notably the Sherpas. He succumbed to a heart attack on the 11th of January 2008 in Auckland.

David Livingstone

Scottish missionary and explorer in Africa, David Livingstone was born to working-class parents on 19 March 1813 in Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was ordained in 1840 after studying theology and medicine in Glasgow. He undertook to work in Africa, to spread the Gospel, end the trade in slavery, and open the continent’s interior for colonization.

Livingstone produced a venerable wealth of geographic, technical, medical, and social knowledge and excited the imagination of English-speakers worldwide. As an intrepid explorer, he succeeded by 1842 in being the first white man to penetrate so far north of the Cape Colony frontier. By 1849, he was the first European to reach Lake Ngami. In 1854 he became the first white to traverse the interior to Luanda. In 1855 he named Victoria Falls and went on to cross Africa to reach eastern Mozambique in 1856. Between 1861 and 1863 he explored t region surrounding Lake Malawi and later in 1867, Lakes Mweru and Bangweulu, penetrating by 1871 farther east of Lake Tanganyika than any expedition before. He set out between 1867 and 1871 in search of the source of the Nile but failed. Instead, fellow explorer, Henry Morton Stanley found him in failing health in 1871 but nonetheless intent on remaining in Africa. On 1 May 1873 African aides found his body in Chitambo, Barotseland, in the region of present-day western Zambia.

Erik The Red

Viking, Erik the Red – so named for his flaming hair – was born in 950 in Norway and was the founder of the first European settlement on Greenland c. 985. His son, Leif Erikson, was among the first Europeans to reach North America.

When his father, Thorvald, was exiled from Norway for manslaughter, Erik left with him to go to western Iceland. Erik went on to be exiled from Iceland in or around 980, which prompted him to o explore westward. He journeyed from a westernmost point of Iceland known as Snæfellsjökull in 982, to reach the opposite shore of Greenland with a small party of men. They rounded the southern tip of Greenland to settle on an island at the mouth of Eriksfjord from which they spent the next two years exploring the west and north. They named places as they went, and Erik chose to name the country Greenland as a way to attract settlers. He built his manor house, Brattahlid, meaning Steep Slope, on the inner area of Eriksfjord.

After returning to Iceland in 985/986, he influenced many to follow him to start a new colony in Greenland. They left Iceland aboard 25 ships but only 14 ships found land at Eystribygd – “Eastern Settlement”. What started with between 400 and 500 settlers grew to a colony never exceeding 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants. Erik’s colony remained in contact with Europe until the mid-15th century when it died out.

Erik the Red was invited to voyage with his son Leif Erikson, but legend has it that Erik took falling from his horse on his way to the ship as a bad omen and did not take up the invitation. Leif became the first Viking to explore the land of Vinland on this voyage. This part of North America is likely near present-day Newfoundland.

During the winter after his son’s departure, many of the colonists, Erik among them, died in an epidemic.

Francisco Pizarro

The conquistador who made the Inca empire Spanish, Francisco Pizarro was born c. 1475 in Trujillo, Extremadura, Castile. In 1510 he was part of an expedition to explore the New World. Just three years later he was with Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s expedition that discovered the Pacific. His two voyages of discovery down the Colombian coast between 1524 and 25 and later between 1526 and 28 saw him explore and name Peru.

In 1531, together with his 4 brothers, 180 men, and 37 horses, he returned to Peru where he arranged with emissaries to meet Atahuallpa, the Inca emperor. Pizarro’s men massacred the emperor’s unarmed retainers before holding the emperor hostage took him hostage. Instead of going ahead with releasing Atahuallpa, having accepted a rich ransom, Pizarro had him suffocated to death.

Pizarro’s life work was consolidating Spain’s hold on Peru. In 1535 he founded Lima, which proved to be his final resting place after he was murdered by the fellow Spaniards he had betrayed.

Zheng He

Zheng He was born c. 1371 in Kunyang, Yunnan province, China. As a Eunuch admiral and diplomat, he promoted Chinese maritime and commercial influence throughout the region along the Indian Ocean, earning him the title of Zheng commander in chief of missions to the ‘Western Oceans’ from the Yongle emperor.

His first mission at sea began in 1405, to Champa – now southern Vietnam, Siam – present-day Thailand, Malacca, and Java, and through the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka. He returned to China in 1407 but voyaged again to Arabia, the eastern coast of Africa, Southeast Asia, and India. These missions saw increased Chinese emigration to Southeast Asia and resultant tributary trade to China until well into the 19th century.

His seventh and final voyage between 1431 and 1433 saw him buried probably off the coast of India. Among his descendants, however, is the belief that he returned to China to die soon after.

Richard Francis Burton

English scholar-explorer and Orientalist, Sir Richard Burton was born on 19 March 1821 in Torquay, Devonshire, England. Burton left for India as a subaltern officer having been expelled from Oxford in 1842. He reported in detailed accounts on merchant bazaars and urban brothels here, conducting his research disguised as a Muslim. He also used this disguise to become the first non-Muslim European to penetrate the forbidden holy cities of Arabia. He gave a classic account of Muslim life regaling these adventures in Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Mecca in 1855–56.

His expedition between 1857 and 1858 with John Hanning Speke to find the source of the Nile River saw him having to turn back after being taken down by malaria. But not before reaching Lake Tanganyika as the first European to do so. He managed 43 accounts of subjects among them the Brazilian highlands, Iceland, Mormons, West African people, and Etruscan Bologna. He learned 25 languages and a good many dialects.

He managed 30 volumes of translations including ancient Eastern manuals on the art of love and included ethnological footnotes and daring essays to his famous translation of Arabian Nights. These were not well received by all of Victorian society.

He succumbed to a heart attack early on the morning of 20 October 1890 in Trieste, Austria-Hungary. His devout catholic wife Isabel burned his diaries and journals.

Ranulph Fiennes

British adventurer, writer, and pioneering polar explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes was born on 7 March 1944 in Windsor, Berkshire, England. He led the first north-south (along the meridian) surface circumnavigation of the world between 1979 and 1982.

But this was not his first gig leading expeditions, having led his first in the 1960s. He led expeditions on a hovercraft in 1969 up the White Nile, in 1970 on Norway’s Jostedalsbreen Glacier, and the Transglobe Expedition between 1979 and 1982. It was during this expedition that he and Oliver Shepard and Charles R. Burton travelled solely by surface transport around the world on its polar axis. This has never been attempted again.

Fiennes and Burton also completed the Northwest Passage during this expedition, in an 18 ft open Boston Whaler. They left Tuktoyaktuk on 26 July 1981 and reached Tanquary Fiord on 31 August 1981. This was the first journey of its kind, in an open boat from West to East. The route took them through Dolphin and Union Strait along the south coast of Victoria Island and King William Island, by the Franklin Strait and Peel Sound north to Resolute Bay, around the south and east coasts of Devon Island, through Hell Gate and across Norwegian Bay to Eureka, Greely Bay, and the head of Tanquary Fiord. This was a 3,000 mile/2,600 nautical mile/4,800 km journey. But Tanquary Fiord was not the end of the road for these ‘intrepids’. They continued another 241 kilometres/150 miles to Alert via Lake Hazen to set up a winter base camp.

Fiennes was not yet done with expeditions, though.

  • In 1992 as the leader, his expedition in Oman discovered a suspected outpost of the lost city of Iram.
  • A year later, he and Mike Stroud were the first to cross the Antarctic continent unsupported, taking 93 days.
  • In 1996 his solo walk to the South Pole in aid of Breast Cancer was cut short by a kidney stone.
  • A 2000 solo walk unsupported to the North Pole failed after his sleds fell through thin ice, causing severe frostbite to the tips of all the fingers on his left hand. Fiennes went on to amputate his own dying fingertips using an electric fretsaw. His surgeon had been waiting on the necrotic fingertips to regrow healthy tissue before amputating. But Fiennes was in too much pain and impatient to wait several months.
  • In 2003, Fiennes and Stroud completed seven marathons in seven days on seven continents in the Land Rover 7x7x7 Challenge for the British Heart Foundation. This after a heart attack and double coronary artery bypass surgery just four months before.
  • In June 2005, Fiennes abandoned his aim to be the oldest Briton to climb Mount Everest because heart problems had forced him off a mountain during an earlier climb for charity.
  • In March 2007, Fiennes climbed the Eiger by its North Face. He suffered all his life from a fear of heights.
  • In 2008, Fiennes made it to within 400 metres/1,300 ft of the summit of Mount Everest during his second attempt at the climb. Inclement weather brought the expedition to an end.
  • On 20 May 2009, Fiennes became the oldest Brit to reach the summit of Mount Everest. This also saw him become the first person to have climbed Everest and crossed both polar ice caps.
  • On 25 February 2013, as leader of the Coldest Journey expedition – the first attempt to cross Antarctica during the southern winter – Fiennes was evacuated from Antarctica because of frostbite.

Ernest Shackleton

Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton was born on February 15, 1874, in Kilkea, County Kildare. Although born in Ireland, he was raised in London and signed up for the merchant navy at 16. Shackleton showed an interest in exploration while still at sea and joined the Royal Geographical Society. His passion for Antarctic exploration took root when he joined Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s first Antarctic expedition in 1901.

Shackleton led an Antarctic expedition in the Nimrod in 1907, returning to England as a hero to be knighted. Members of his expedition climbed Mount Erebus and reached the south magnetic pole whereas Shackleton’s party got as near as 97 miles short of the South Pole.

In 1914 he was in command of a party on the ship Endurance when it set sail in August 1914 on a mission to cross the Antarctic from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. He saw this as the last great challenge since Amundsen and Scott had both reached the South Pole and the North Pole had been claimed by the Americans. On 19 January 1915, Endurance was locked in the ice of the Weddell Sea. It took nine months for the ship to be slowly crushed, eventually sinking in its icy grave on the 27th of October.

Shackleton and his 28 men remained drifting on the ice, unable to drag their boats and stores across the frozen sea. They finally launched three boats and made it to Elephant Island after the ice began to break up. Although now on an island, it was barren and rocky, and over 1280 km/800 miles from, the nearest inhabited land and assistance.

Shackleton set off with five men on the James Caird, leaving the rest of his party on Elephant Island, aiming for the Norwegian whaling stations on the north side of the island of South Georgia. It took the James Caird and her crew 15 exhausting days before South Georgia was finally sighted.

Shackleton succumbed to a heart attack at Grytviken, South Georgia on 5 January 1922 while on route to the Antarctic, on board the Quest.

Robert Peary

Robert Edwin Peary was born on 6 May 1856 in Cresson, Pennsylvania, and went on to become the U.S. Arctic explorer credited with leading the first successful expedition to the North Pole in 1909.

Peary enjoyed a full naval career with the U.S. Navy from 1881 until his retirement, having been granted leaves of absence for his Arctic exploration. In 1886, he and the Dane, Christian Maigaard, along with two native Greenlanders journeyed inland for 161 km/100 miles from Disko Bay over the Greenland ice sheet, eventually reaching 2,288 metres/7,500 feet above sea level.

Peary and his assistant, the African American explorer Matthew Henson, took many expeditions together from 1887. In 1891, Peary was accompanied by seven people, his wife Josephine, Henson, and Frederick A. Cook among them, on an expedition to Greenland. The expedition saw Peary sledge 2,100 km/1,300 miles to north-eastern Greenland, discover Independence Fjord, and justify Greenland as an island. The Arctic Highlanders were an isolated Eskimo tribe who assisted him on future expeditions and whom he studied in depth.

He travelled to north-eastern Greenland again in an expedition between 1893 and 1894, this time in an attempt to get to the North Pole. During his summer excursions in Greenland in 1895 and 1896, he transported meteoric iron to the United States. He explored routes to the North pole from Etah in Inglefield Land, north-western Greenland between 1898 and 1902 and also from Fort Canadian Northwest Territories’ settlement of Conger on Ellesmere Island. His second attempt at reaching the North pole was made with an especially built-to-specifications ship named the Roosevelt. He sailed the Roosevelt in 1905 to Cape Sheridan, Ellesmere Island but adverse weather and ice conditions stopped his party from reaching farther than 87°06′ N.

In 1908, Peary made his third attempt at the pole, leaving Cape Columbia for this successful expedition in March 1909. An expediti0on consisting of Peary, Henson, and four Inuit professed to have reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909. Their enjoyment of the achievement was hampered though by Cook, his former colleague, who claimed to have independently reached the North Pole in April 1908. This claim was discredited but the damage was done. Then during the 1980s doubt was cast on whether Peary had in fact reached the North Pole. Investigations of his 1908–09 expedition diary and documents released around the time of the investigation showed that they might have reached a point 50 to 100 km/30 to 60 miles short of the pole. Navigational errors and record-keeping blunders may have been the reason for the mistake but the truth behind its success is not yet proven.

Peary retired as rear admiral of the navy in 1911. He published Northward over the “Great Ice” in 1898, The North Pole in 1910, and Secrets of Polar Travel in 1917.

Robert Peary died at the age of 90, succumbing to cancer on 20 February 1920 in Washington, D.C. President Warren G. Harding presided over his funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1988, Peary’s assistant, Matthew Henson, was reinterred at Arlington in recognition of his role in Peary’s Arctic expeditions.

Aloha Wanderwell

Canadian American Internationalist explorer, aviator, author, and filmmaker, Aloha Wanderwell was born on 13 October 1906. Wanderwell’s around-the-world drive between December 29, 1922, and January 1927, departing and culminating in Nice, France made her the first woman to achieve this feat. She undertook the journey in a Model T Ford, taking on the roles of driver, translator, and filmmaker for Wanderwell Expeditions. Harriet White Fisher was in fact the first woman to circumnavigate the world in an automobile. She however did not drive the car herself in her journey between 1909 and 1910, as she made use of a chauffeur.

Aloha Wanderwell died on June 4, 1996 in Newport Beach, California at the age of 89.

Robert Falcon Scott

British naval officer and explorer, Robert Falcon Scott was born on 6 June 1868 in Devonport, Devon, England and went on to lead the disastrous second expedition to the South Pole between 1910 and 1912.

In 1880, Scott joined the Royal Navy and made rank of first lieutenant by 1897. He was promoted to captain after competently commanding the HMS Discovery on its Antarctic expedition between 1901 and 1904. He left in June 1910 for a second Antarctic expedition to study the Ross Sea area and reach the South Pole. On 24 October 1911, with ponies, dogs, and 11 men, he left overland from Cape Evans on motor sledges, destined for the pole. The motors broke down soon after embarkation, the ponies were shot before getting to 83°30′ S, and the dog teams were subsequently sent back. The party on three man-hauled sledges began their ascent of Beardmore Glacier on 10 December. By 31 December, seven men had returned to the base. Scott, E.A. Wilson, H.R. Bowers, L.E.G. Oates, and Edgar Evans formed the successful members of the party to reach the pole on the 17th of January 1912. The exhausted party was bitterly disappointed to be faced with evidence that Roald Amundsen had beaten them by a month.

Their return journey was hampered by severe weather and low supplies of both food and fuel. Evans died at Beardmore on the 17th of February. Having reached 79°50′ S on March 17, Oates crawled out into a blizzard, his strength sapped, with the aim of disappearing in order to help his companions to survive. The three survivors were prevented from continuing, having made it only another 16.1 km/10 miles, by yet another blizzard that kept them inside their tent for nine days. There was nothing for them to do but to wait for death just 18km/11 miles from their goal.

Scott made his last entry in his diary on 29 March. Their frozen remains were discovered on 12 November 1912, together with Scott’s diaries and records providing a full insight into the expedition and geological specimens from Beardmore.

Scott was posthumously celebrated as a national hero. In recognition of his courage and patriotism, the knighthood he would have received had he lived, was bestowed on his widow in his stead.

Henry the Navigator

Henry the Navigator, a Portuguese prince and patron of explorers, was born on 4 March 1394 in Porto, Portugal. In 1415, he and his father, John I, captured the city of Ceuta in Morocco where the son became governor, going on to be the governor of the Portuguese province of Algarve later. He was the money behind voyages of discovery along the western coast of Africa and in the Madeira Islands, having established his own court at Sagres. He was granted money to fund voyages to convert pagans, in his position as grand master of the Order of Christ. Through his support, navigational instruments were improved upon, cartography advanced, and the Portuguese caravel, a light sailing ship used throughout the 15th to the 17th centuries, saw remarkable development.

Henry died of natural causes in 1460 in Sagres, Portugal.

Christopher Columbus

The Italian Christopher Columbus was born sometime between 26 August and the end of October 1451 in Genoa. He went on to become the navigator and explorer who opened the way for European exploration, exploitation, and colonization of the Americas through his Transatlantic expeditions. As a youngster, he began a career in the Portuguese merchant marine. In 1492, the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella I sponsored a westward expedition to reach Asia over what they believed would be the open sea. He embarked on his first voyage in August 1492 with three ships, the Santa María, the Niña, and the Pinta. During this voyage, the Bahamas was sighted on the 12th of October. He returned to Spain in 1493 having sailed along the northern coast of Hispaniola.

His second voyage between 1493 and 1496 was made with no fewer than 17 ships in Spain’s first effort to encourage Christianity. During this voyage, La Isabela was founded, the first European town in the New World in what is the present-day Dominican Republic.

His third voyage between 1498 and 1500 saw him reach South America and the Orinoco River delta. He was accused of maladministering this expedition and sent back to Spain in chains.

His fourth voyage between 1502 and 1504 took him back to South America to sail the coasts of present-day Honduras and Panama. Whatever else he was accused of, he was indubitably an intrepid and excellent navigator who never attained nobility or great wealth as was his want.

Columbus suffered what was thought to be a severe attack of gout at the age of 41 while on his first voyage. Over time, he suffered from what was thought to be influenza and fever, prolonged attacks of gout, bleeding from the eyes, and temporary blindness. At times, Columbus was rendered bedridden for months at a time as a result, eventually leading to his death 14 years on.

Vasco da Gama

Portuguese navigator and 1st count da Vidigueira, Vasco da Gama was born c. 1460 in Sines, Portugal.

On route to India on his first voyage between 1497 and 1499, he traversed the Cape of Good Hope on the Southern tip of Africa with four ships, stopping at trading cities in Mozambique and Kenya. After the massacre of the Portuguese in India, Portugal’s King Manuel I dispatched a fleet of 20 ships led by da Gama in 1502, with an aim of stamping Portuguese supremacy in the region. Da Gama as an admiral used force and attacks on Arab shipping to enforce allegiance from local rulers along the journey. He returned home having secured obedience to Portuguese rule.

The sea route from western Europe to the East was opened as a result of Da Gama’s voyages to India.

In September 1524, he arrived in Goa after a troubled journey during which he lost 4 or 5 ships. He was in India to take up his new appointment as Portuguese viceroy but succumbed to malaria three months later on Christmas Eve, in the city of Cochin.

John Cabot

John Cabot was born Giovanni Caboto c. 1450 in Genoa. The Italian navigator and explorer travelled to the eastern Mediterranean for a Venetian mercantile firm throughout the 1470s, becoming a skilled navigator. After moving to Bristol in England in the 1490s, he led an expedition to find trade routes to Asia in 1497, thanks to the support of city merchants.

He arrived in North America and took possession of the land for Henry VII, exploring the coastline extensively. During his second expedition in 1498, he was lost at sea, and it is not known whether he ever reached America. Thanks to his two voyages for England, the British later successfully laid claim to Canada.

Cabot probably died around 1499 or 1500, but it remains anyone’s guess as to his actual fate.

Pedro Álvares Cabral

Portuguese navigator and nobleman, Pedro Álvares Cabral was born around 1467/68 in Belmonte, Portugal and went on to found Brazil. Manuel I of Portugal sent him with 13 ships on the second Portuguese voyage to India in 1500, taking Vasco da Gama’s route. The quest was to strengthen commercial ties and advance Portugal’s conquests.

Cabral sailed southwest on a route that hugged those lands already sighted and claimed by the Portuguese. On 22 April 1500, he set foot on present-day Brazil, formally claiming the country for Portugal. His onward voyage to India as well as the return voyage were plagued with mishaps, with only four ships eventually succeeding onto Portugal.

Cabral succumbed to unspecified causes, presumably in 1520 and was buried in Santarém in the São João Evangelista chapel of the Convento da Graça.

Amerigo Vespucci

Italian-born Spanish navigator and explorer of the New World, Amerigo Vespucci was born in 1454 in Florence. While working for the Medici family, he was sent to Sevilla in 1491 to outfit the ships for Christopher Columbus’ expeditions. By 1496 he was managing the Sevilla agency.

He sailed in either two or four voyages to the New World, depending on which account you believe. He was the navigator on a Spanish expedition in 1499 and 1500 during which the mouth of the Amazon River was probably discovered. He was the leader of 1501 to 1502 Portuguese expedition that discovered Guanabara Bay – present-day Rio de Janeiro – as well as the Río de la Plata. Accounts of the voyages published in 1507 first use the terms America and New World when mentioning those lands visited by Amerigo Vespucci.

From 1508, using information from ships’ captains, Vespucci in his position as chief navigator for the Sevilla-based Commercial House for the West Indies, prepared maps of newly discovered lands. Vespucci died on 22 February 1512.

Ferdinand Magellan

Portuguese navigator and explorer, Ferdinand Magellan was born to the nobility c. 1480 in Portugal in either Sabrosa or Porto. He took part in expeditions from 1505 to Africa and the East Indies. King Manuel I refused when he asked to be paid more and Magellan responded by offering his services to King Charles I of Spain in 1517.

He suggested sailing west to the Moluccas or Spice Islands with the aim to verify that they were Spanish territory and not Portuguese. In 1519, with five ships and 270 men, he left Sevilla to sail around South America, founding the Strait of Magellan and suppressing a mutiny to boot. With the remaining three ships, they crossed the Sea of the South and renamed the Pacific Ocean as a result of their calm crossing.

After Magellan’s death, two of his ships reached the Moluccas. The Victoria went on to Spain under the command of Juan Sebastián del Cano and went on in 1522 to complete the first circumnavigation of the world.

On 27 April 1521, Magellan was killed by a poison arrow on the island of Mactan, present-day Philippines.

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