Read British Empire: Expansion & Exploration Part I HERE:
The other great region of exploration, albeit in a limited form, for most of the leading western European states was the coastal areas of the African continent, where gold, ivory and slaves could be purchased by sea-borne traders and then sold at home, or in the New World, where Portugal, Spain, Britain, France and the Netherlands were beginning to establish their overseas empires. One of the earliest English explorers of the region and therefore one of England’s first slave traders was said to be John Hawkins, who was thought to have followed the example of other merchants, John Lok and William Towerson, who were reported to have purchased a small number of Black African slaves during the middle of the 16th century. However, Hawkins was said to be different from these earlier traders, in that he purposefully set out to purchase slaves, with the expressed intent of making a profit from each leg of what became commonly known as the Triangular Trade.
Setting out on his first voyage in 1555, Hawkins was reported to have directed his three ships towards the west coast of Africa, with the intention of purchasing slaves, gold dust and ivory from the region later called Sierra Leone, although in the event he was said to have captured a Portuguese slave ship carrying some three hundred or so Black African slaves, which he subsequently stole from the unfortunate Portuguese traders. Setting off across the Atlantic and having reached the New World, Hawkins was reported to have sold his human cargo to the Spanish authorities in Santo Domingo, making significant profits, both for himself and his financial backers in London. As a consequence of his having arrived in the New World with a cargo of slaves, a business dominated by themselves and the Portuguese, the Spanish authorities in the West Indies were thought to have later banned their American colonies from trading with visiting English merchants.
Reportedly making a second voyage across the Atlantic to trade for African slaves in 1563, Hawkins returned to the Americas with his second human cargo, which he was said to have sold to planters in the Caribbean, before beginning the long voyage home to England, where he was warmly welcomed by his financial supporters. In the following year, the English seafarer was said to have organised yet another voyage to West Africa, this time with the support of the Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, who was equally keen to benefit from this new and highly lucrative trade, even providing Hawkins with a 700 ton ship called the “Jesus of Lubeck”, which could be used to carry an even larger human cargo. Once again though, rather than trading for African slaves directly, Hawkins was thought to have simply waylaid those Portuguese slave ships that he came across on the west coast of Africa, relieving them of their cargoes, which he later transported and sold in Venezuela and Columbia, making himself and his backers a tidy profit in the process. On at least one occasion, local Spanish officials were said to have tried to prevent Hawkins from selling his slaves for a profit by threatening to impose swingeing taxes on the transaction, although the English captain’s subsequent threats to burn down their town, were thought to have resolved the issue in the Englishman’s favour, allowing him to retain his ill-gotten gains, which he later returned with to England.
Following in the footsteps of the likes of Drake, Raleigh, John Smith and the many others, a new generation of British maritime explorers and traders came to replace them, although not always achieving the level of public recognition, or acceptance that these earlier, much more notable seafarers ultimately received. As time progressed and attitudes changed, so the status of Britain’s privateers became inexorably altered, putting them outside of the law and thereby lessening their contribution to Britain’s maritime expansion and the country’s knowledge of previously unidentified and unclaimed lands. One of the earliest of these late 17th and early 18th century explorers was William Dampier, who was reportedly born at East Coker, Somerset in August 1651 and who went on to be acclaimed by some, as the greatest post Elizabethan explorer of his age, a title he was thought to have held until the later voyages of the legendary Englishman, James Cook.
Beginning his naval career as a teenager aboard a merchant ship sailing to North America, Dampier later travelled to Java in modern day Indonesia before returning home to join the Royal Navy as a twenty two year old, although his service was said to have been temporarily cut short after he became seriously ill and was forced to return home to recuperate. However, rather than immediately returning to sea, Dampier was thought to have travelled to the Caribbean where he had relatively short and unsuccessful careers as a plantation manager and then as a logger in the forests of Mexico. In 1679 he was reported to have returned to the sea, joining the crew of the English buccaneer, Captain Bartholomew Sharp, who was said to have been operating in and around the Caribbean and South America, targeting Spanish ships that were travelling in and out of the region. Having spent some years with Sharp, Dampier was then said to have made his way north to Virginia, where he became involved with another band of privateers and buccaneers, including Edward Davis and Charles Swan, during which time he was said to have travelled as far as the East Indies, where they visited the islands of Guam and Mindanao, as well as navigating the coasts of China, Indonesia and Australia.
Almost instantly Dampier’s tales were thought to have attracted the interest of the British Admiralty, who were eager to employ the former buccaneer in their service, offering him command of the ship “Roebuck” in 1699, with a commission to explore the east coast of New Holland, the lands, which were later to become known as Australia. Setting out in January 1699, Dampier had originally planned to reach New Holland (Australia) via Cape Horn, at the tip of South America, but given the date of his departure he was forced to travel by the more conventional route, via the Cape of Good Hope in Southern Africa. Following the usual trade routes of the time, the “Roebuck” and its crew were reported to have reached the southern Pacific by the middle of 1699 and on 26th July were said to have arrived at the mouth of Shark Bay in Western Australia. Within days of their arrival Dampier was said to have gone ashore and began documenting the various flora and fauna that existed in these new territories, before beginning a voyage northward, collecting examples of the numerous plants, shells and wildlife that he could find, all of which were meticulously recorded by Dampier and his assistants.
Further north again, by December 1699 the “Roebuck” was said to have reached New Guinea, where Dampier recorded and charted the coastlines of the various islands, as well as collecting whatever specimens he could manage, which were added to the already vast collection stored onboard his vessel. Although he had intended to explore the east coast of Australia, as per his original commission, the rotten state of the “Roebuck”, allied to an incompetent ships carpenter prevented this, forcing him instead to begin the return journey home, well before he had intended. Unfortunately, by the time the ship had rounded the Cape of Good Hope and sailed into the Atlantic the vessel was said to be leaking heavily, leaving Dampier with little option but to deliberately run the “Roebuck” aground on Ascension Island, stranding the crew and its precious cargo. With the carpenter unable to make the ship seaworthy again, Dampier and his men were reported to have been marooned on the island for well over a month, before a passing ship called at Ascension and was able to return the crew to England, where they arrived in August 1701, some two and a half years after they had first left there.
Although much of his cargo and many of his records were thought to have been lost as a result of the ships poor condition, enough were saved to make the expedition worthwhile, especially the charts and records he had made regarding trade winds and tidal currents in the South Pacific. Sadly for Dampier, his earlier removal of a crewman from the ship, which resulted in the man being jailed, came back to haunt him, as the seaman in question returned to England and made a formal complaint regarding Dampier’s action. As a consequence, when Dampier returned home in August 1701 he was charged with cruelty by the Admiralty, found guilty and dismissed from the Royal Navy, leaving him with no wages for his work and with no immediate prospect of a career. However, once again he was able to publish stories of his expedition to the Pacific, particularly his adventures in Australia, which he titled “A Voyage to New Holland”, although according to some reports the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1701, also provided a new form of employment for the unemployed mariner, who was said to have simply resumed his career as a British privateer.
As for Dampier, as the war progressed, he was reported to have been employed as sailing master aboard the “Duke”, under the command of Woodes Rogers and was thought to have been responsible for rescuing the abandoned Alexander Selkirk from his uninhabited island, as well as taking prizes worth in excess of £200,000, which Rogers and his crew would have shared once they returned to England. Sadly for Dampier though, he never received a penny of his share of the prize money, as he was reported to have died in London in 1715, just before the monies were awarded. Although he failed to gain the level of public recognition that was lavished on the likes of Raleigh, Drake and later Cook, Vancouver, etc. Dampier’s voyages and his skilful recording of the flora and fauna of the Pacific region, were thought to have informed, inspired and underpinned the later expeditions of people such as Charles Darwin and James Cook, as well as causing the voyage of the HMS Bounty, famous for its commander William Bligh and his mutinous assistant, Fletcher Christian, who initially set out to find specimens of “bread fruit” from the Pacific region.
Ultimately, the Age of Discovery is thought to have simply resulted in the widespread exploitation of the planet’s natural and human resources, in part through the foundation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the growth of the spice and drugs trades, as well as the extensive exploitation of the earth’s naturally occurring mineral deposits. It also said to have marked the introduction of new and previously unknown crops into Europe, such as maize and molasses, potatoes and tobacco, which would ultimately earn great wealth for those involved with their cultivation and importation.
Sadly, this period also marked the start of large scale land seizures from the native tribes of the various subject countries and the spread of Christianity which would go on to supplant many of the native religions that had existed in their home countries from the beginning of time. For England’s seafarers, by the middle of the 17th century many of the world’s previously unknown regions had already been discovered, if not fully explored, although many would continue to be fought over in the following centuries, as the competing leading European powers sought to extend their influence over as much of the known world as possible. The only region of the world that was reported to have remained largely undiscovered by the first half of the 17th century was the far southern ocean, where it was speculated an unknown continent existed. For hundreds of years, scientists, explorers and cartographers had claimed that unknown lands existed in these faraway waters, although in most cases there was little to support the claims, other than legend, speculation and even mathematical calculations.
However, in 1603 the Dutch explorer, Willem Janszoon, was thought to have been the first European to have sighted the coastline of Australia for the first time, although he made no attempt to investigate the local waters, or to land there. Three years later though, Janszoon was said to have returned to the region, with the intention of mapping this previously undiscovered coastline, beginning his journey around the modern day region of Queensland, where he and members of his crew were reported to have landed. Unfortunately, it later transpired that the Dutchman ultimately failed to recognise the territory as being part of an entirely separate continent, but simply believed that it was a yet another part of the New Guinea chain of islands.
|Captain William Bligh|
Born in October 1728, in the village Marton, North Yorkshire, James Cook was the second child of a local farm labourer, who was fortunate enough to catch the attention of his father’s employer, the local landowner, who paid for the young James to attend the local school, thereby guaranteeing him the benefit of a formal education. Having been employed as a farm worker, then as a shop assistant, around 1746 the young James Cook was said to have made the acquaintance of a local ship owner called Walker, who owned a fleet of vessels in the port of Whitby. Having taken a liking to the 18-year-old James, Walker subsequently offered him a position as an apprentice on one of his colliers that regularly shipped coal up and down the English coast, allowing James the opportunity to escape the drudgery of his previous employment. Over the period of the next few years Cook was said to have served on a number of the company’s vessels, learning the practical skills that would serve him so well in his later naval career, along with the vitally important subjects of astronomy, trigonometry, geometry and navigation. Having completed his three year apprenticeship with the company, Cook was then able to serve on bigger, more widely ranging vessels that operated in and around the Baltic region, allowing him to gain even greater experience within the British merchant marine service. However, by 1755 and with the prospect of war with France looming on the horizon, Cook was said to have made one of the most important decisions of his life and applied to join the Royal Navy and was accepted into the service in June 1755.
Progressing quickly through the ranks, Cook was said to have successively held the post of master’s mate, boatswain, as well as temporarily holding the position of master on a number of occasions, when he was put in charge of smaller naval vessels. During the Seven Years War, which was fought between 1756 and 1763 and that was generally waged in and around the territories of North America, Cook was thought to have distinguished himself through being involved in several notable engagements against the French. His own particular skills in navigation and cartography were also thought to have been noted, allowing British forces to identify possible lines of approach in their attacks along the St Lawrence River, for which Cook gained significant personal recognition. With a peace treaty signed in 1763, Cook’s abilities as a map maker, navigator and surveyor were thought to have been put to good use when he was asked to map the entire coastline of Newfoundland, a task that he was said to have completed so well that he quickly came to the attention of the Admiralty, who were keen to obtain as many detailed maps of the world as possible. As a direct result of his work in North America, in 1766 Cook was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and was given command of a Royal Society expedition to the Pacific Ocean, principally to track the transit of Venus across the Sun, although it was clearly a voyage that would also allow him to map the coastlines of the South Atlantic and Pacific islands as he travelled to his ultimate destination. Setting out from England in 1768, the Royal Navy expedition was said to have travelled south across the Atlantic, down past Cape Horn and west to the island of Tahiti, where they arrived in April 1769, just in time for their astronomical observations to be made.
However, although the observations they made were later reported to be inconclusive, it was whilst they were in the Pacific region that Cook was said to have mapped the entire coastline of New Zealand, as well as the whole length of Australia’s east coast, the first time the region had ever been recorded by a European explorer. It was said that it was during these initial investigations into the coastline of Australia that the first sightings of the indigenous peoples, the Australian Aborigines, were reported, although it was only after he landed in Botany Bay on the 29th April 1770 that they had their first full encounter with the native tribes of the new continent. Having spent a brief time exploring the area around this first landfall, during which various specimens were collected for the British societies, Cook and his crew turned the HMS Endeavour northward and began the long journey home, although they were subsequently delayed after the ship was accidentally grounded on a reef, requiring some remedial work to be undertaken. However, with the vessel repaired they were said to have resumed their voyage, stopping briefly in Indonesia, before rounding the Cape of Good Hope and sailing northward to England, which they were reported to have reached in July 1771, some three years after they had first set out.
|Captain James Cook|
For his part, Cook was said to have continued with his Antarctic explorations, once again sailing to the ice bound continent, but turning back to Tahiti just before he reached the frozen wastes. However, determined to put an end to the rumours of an unknown southern continent, Cook subsequently returned to the icy waters of Antarctica, if only to satisfy himself that no such place existed, which he was finally able to do by 1774, having charted and mapped most of the region. As they set their course for home the crew of the “Resolution” was reported to have stopped at a number of the Pacific islands, where the ship was re-provisioned and their charts updated.
Having returned safely to England aboard “Resolution”, such was the scope, accuracy and length of his well charted voyages that James Cook was said to be regarded as the foremost European explorer of the age, an accolade that earned him yet another naval promotion, this time to the rank of Captain. However, simply because of his public value and his age, the British Admiralty were thought to have retired him from active service, although Cook himself was said to have been keen to carry on with his career. As a result, when in 1776 a new expedition was planned to try and discover the fabled Northwest Passage the great explorer was eager to be the man to lead it. Commanding “Resolution” once again, he was accompanied on his third voyage by “Discovery”, which was captained by Charles Clerke, a seasoned mariner who had previously sailed with Cook on his earlier journey to the Pacific. Travelling first to the Pacific to return his Tahitian guide to his home island, Cook then turned north, visiting the Hawaiian Islands, becoming the first European to do so, before travelling on in search of his objective. Turning northeast, the two ships were reported to have travelled along the west coast of America, north towards the strait leading to Vancouver Island, where the crews were said to have spent several weeks exploring the hinterlands. Whilst they were there Cook and some of his men were thought to have made contact with the local Yuquot people, who although pleasant enough were not entirely trusted by all of the English crewmen. Having left the area after about a month the vessels then proceeded along the Bering Straits, which Cook and his officers mapped, creating some of the most complete maps of the region and helping to fill in some of the gaps that had existed on all previous navigation charts. However, so severe were the conditions along the route of the Bering Straits that Cook and his ships were unable to fully navigate the entire length of the route, causing immense frustration for the English commander, which he was said to have visited on his crew, whenever he was sick or melancholic.
Returning to Hawaii in 1779, Cook and his ships were said to have spent some weeks in the area, having been warmly received by the local tribesmen, who were thought to have treated the Englishmen with quite high regard. Eventually though the crews returned to their respective ships in order to resume their exploration of the Northern Pacific, but almost as soon as they got underway, one of the masts on “Resolution” broke, preventing the ship from continuing on and forcing it back to Hawaii for repairs. Even though they had only just left the island, as they landed once again, the mood of the local people was reported to have been far more belligerent, causing tensions to arise between the two sides. The situation was then said to have been worsened, when one of the English crew’s boats was stolen by some of the islanders, much to the annoyance of Cook, who was said to have tried to hold the local chief hostage, until such time as the stolen boat was returned to him.
Despite the loss of Captain Cook however, the Royal Navy’s exploration and mapping of the world’s great continental coastlines continued unabated, with a succession of navigators, astronomers, cartographers and scientists continuing to try and identify the new lands, waterways, plants and animals that existed in these foreign lands, thereby adding to their own knowledge of the natural world. Even though most of the earth’s oceans were thought to have been visited and most of the world’s main nation states identified by the time of Cook’s death in 1779, still vast internal regions of these various waterways and massive continental areas remained mysterious, uncharted and therefore potentially attractive to those explorers and merchants, who were prepared to risk all for the for the possibility of finding something that was of great interest, beauty or value. By the second half of the 18th century Britain was said to have emerged as the pre-eminent European sea power of the age, largely as a result of having destroyed the naval power of the competing French and Spanish empires, allowing British navigators free reign over many of the world’s oceans, inland waterways and coastal sea lanes. Although James Cook rose to become the foremost naval explorer of his generation, even to the point of being granted free passage by Britain’s enemies, his work and the development of scientific organisations such as the Royal Society had created an imperative, to see that every part of the known world was visited, charted, catalogued and reported.
One of James Cook’s many Royal Navy contemporaries was said to be George Vancouver, who was reported to have commanded a number of exploratory expeditions in and around North America’s Pacific region, Alaska, Hawaii and the southern coast of Australia. Born in June 1757, Vancouver was thought to have served aboard Cook’s ship “Resolution” during his second voyage between 1772 and 1775, with the teenage Vancouver serving as a midshipman on the English survey vessel. Similarly he was said to have been part of the famous navigator’s third voyage between 1776 and 1778, although this time serving on the “Discovery” and in company with his shipmates was present in Hawaii when Cook was killed by local tribesmen. When the two English vessels returned to Britain in 1779 the young George Vancouver was subsequently promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and posted to the “Martin”, which was assigned the task of mapping various Pacific coastlines for the Admiralty and Royal Society.
However, during the time the vessel was at sea, Spain was thought to have sent their own naval expedition into the northwest region of the Pacific, not only to chart the area, but also to reassert their own sovereignty and trading rights there. Having arrived in the region of the Columbia River and Sitka Sound, the Spanish force immediately seized those British merchant vessels found operating there, causing the British authorities to demand compensation for their loss, which the Spanish subsequently refused to pay, leading to the possibility of war between the two nations. As part of the Royal Navy’s presence in the Pacific, Vancouver was reported to have been transferred to a British warship, in readiness for a military confrontation with the Spanish, although as it turned out a diplomatic solution was found that prevented all out war between the two European neighbours, resulting in the signing of the Nootka Convention in 1790.
Around the same time that the likes of James Cook and George Vancouver were exploring the world’s oceans and coastlines, other Britons, including the Scottish explorer, James Bruce, were beginning to investigate the hinterlands of these previously unknown and uncharted lands. Born at Kinnaird, Stirlingshire in December 1730, Bruce was thought to have been born into a wealthy landowning family, with an expectation that he would marry well and settle down into some or other profession, possibly as a lawyer. However, despite marrying the daughter of a wealthy local merchant, her unexpectedly early death soon after they were married and then the later loss of his father, ultimately provided Bruce with the freedom and means to pursue an alternative career, first as a diplomat and then as a traveller and writer.
Posted to Algiers as a British Consular official in 1763, he soon began to explore the historical ruins of the region, particularly those remaining from the Roman Empire, which he examined and recorded, beginning an interest that remained with him for the remainder of his life. Having visited a large number of the ancient sites in Algeria, Bruce subsequently travelled overland from Tunis to Tripoli, before taking ship to Heraklion in Greece, although he was reported to have been shipwrecked off the coast of Libya and forced to swim ashore to the port of Benghazi in Libya. Having recovered from his ordeal he was then said to have travelled onto Crete and then Sidon in the Lebanon, before making his way to Syria, where he visited the ancient cities and once again studied and sketched the architectural remnants of the once great ancient civilisations.
Having determined to discover the source of the Nile River, in 1768, Bruce was thought to have travelled to Alexandria in Egypt and enlisted the aid of the local ruler, Ali Bey Al-Kabir, who helped the Scottish explorer cross the desert to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, where he remained for some weeks before crossing the Red Sea to the Ethiopian port city of Massawa, which was temporarily held by the Turks. Travelling to the then capital of Ethiopia, Gondar, where he was reported to have been warmly welcomed at the Ethiopian court, so much so that he was thought to have remained there for very nearly two years, during which time he was able to record the lives of the native peoples there. By October 1770 Bruce was said to have resumed his journey to find the source of the Nile and a month or so later was reported to have arrived at Gish Abay, the source of the Blue Nile, which was located in Central Ethiopia. Believing himself to be the first European to have visited the source of the Blue Nile, in December of the following year, Bruce was said to have set out on his second expedition, to find the confluence of the Blue and White Nile Rivers, a journey that required him to travel from the region of Sennar in Northern Sudan, to the region of Nubia, which was divided between Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt.
Despite the difficulty of the terrain, eventually Bruce and his travelling companions were said to have found the meeting of the two ancient rivers, although their subsequent journey out of the region and back to Cairo was thought to have been both fraught and highly dangerous, with Bruce only narrowly escaping threats to his life on a number of occasions. However, thanks largely to good fortune and the efforts of his local associates, in January 1773 Bruce managed to reach Cairo, where he subsequently took ship for Europe, arriving back in France, where he soon met up with former acquaintances who were anxious to hear about his travels and adventures. When he returned to Britain in 1774 however, the stories of his travels and his subsequent journeys to the source and confluence of the Nile Rivers were thought to have been dismissed by many experts who thought them to be too fantastic to be believed. Even when he published his exploits in 1790, there were many so called experts who continued to doubt his reports of the regions, although in later years virtually all of his reports and recordings would prove to be relatively accurate, thus restoring his reputation and credibility somewhat. It was only after some of his work and findings were confirmed and authenticated that Bruce was eventually accepted as one of the leading explorers and travel writers of his age, adding much to his successor’s knowledge of this previously unknown part of the world.
Back on the North American continent and particularly in the region of what would later become British North America, or Canada, one of the earliest and most successful British explorers was thought to be David Thompson, an English born trader, surveyor and cartographer, who helped map a significant proportion of Britain’s North American territories. Born at Westminster, London in April 1770, when he was two years of age Thompson’s father was reported to have died and as a result, he and his brother were placed in a Church of England boarding school for the poor, where the young David was reported to have shown such an aptitude for learning that he was selected to receive additional education, including mathematics and the associated subjects of astronomy, trigonometry and navigation. As a consequence of having learned these highly valuable skills, when the teenage Thompson turned fourteen years old he was apprenticed to a commercial enterprise, The Hudson Bay Company, where his skills might be put to some good use and his future employment ensured.
In 1806, the North West Company asked Thompson to undertake a survey to identify a trade route through to the Pacific Ocean, in response to the earlier American backed Lewis and Clarke expedition, which had been undertaken between 1804 and 1806. The North West Company’s young surveyor was reported to have begun his exploration of the entire length of the Columbia River in 1807, having first crossed the Rocky Mountains and was said to have spent much of the next few years exploring and mapping the region of the Columbia River basin, as well as establishing a number of new trading posts for his employers. Travelling through what would later become Western Canada, Northern Montana, Idaho and Washington, Thompson’s expeditions not only resulted in some of the most detailed maps of the various regions, but also helped the North West Company extend their trading operations over a much wider area, helping them to become one of the most successful merchant company’s in all of North America. Thompson was thought to have continued his career right through to 1812, when at the age of forty two, he returned to his family home in Montreal to begin work on his greatest achievement, an almost complete map of the interior of North America, which was thought to be so accurate that it continued to be used for the next century or more.
However, despite having compiled one of the most important and truly accurate maps of the age by 1815, Thompson subsequently continued with his exploration and charting of his homeland, so that by 1843 he was able to produce the most comprehensive map of the North American region, stretching from Hudson Bay in the east, to the Pacific Ocean in the west. Unfortunately for the great explorer and cartographer, in later life his failing eyesight prevented him from continuing with his work from around 1851 and for the remaining six years of his life he was thought to have been unable to complete many of the projects that had been so important to him. One of these was his proposed book recalling his lifetime as a fur trader and explorer in North America, although in later years Thompson’s numerous diaries and notebooks were recovered by the academic J B Tyrell, who was finally able to publish an account of the late cartographer’s career and life.
Back across the Atlantic, in continental Africa, a Scottish born explorer, Mungo Park, was thought to be one of the first Europeans to travel into the interior of West Africa, reportedly becoming the first westerner to view the River Niger in what is now the African state of Mali. Born in September 1771 near Selkirk in Scotland, Park’s parents were said to be reasonably wealthy tenant farmers, who had been able to provide their thirteen children with a fairly good level of education, allowing the young Mungo to find employment as an apprentice to a local surgeon, Thomas Anderson, as a result of which he later attended Edinburgh University in 1788, where he was said to have studied medicine and botany.
Completing his medical studies by January 1793, Park was said to have been appointed as the assistant surgeon aboard the vessel, “Worcester”, which was sailing to the port of Bengkulu, on the island of Sumatra, in what is now modern day Indonesia. Having returned safely from his initial voyage, the twenty three year old Mungo was said to have offered his services to the African Association, which was otherwise known as the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa, a club dedicated to the exploration of West Africa. Ostensibly aimed at discovering the source of the Niger River and the legendary city of Timbuktu, purportedly the “lost city of gold”, the Association was happy to accept the young Mungo Park’s application and by June 1795 he was thought to have arrived at the Gambia River, ready to begin the two hundred mile journey to the isolated British outpost located close to the Mandingo homelands. Having reached this last western settlement, Park and two native guides reported to have set out into what were then largely undiscovered territories, in order to find the source of the Niger River, although the journey itself was said to have proved to be extremely difficult and ultimately resulted in the Scottish explorer being captured by a local Moorish leader, who held him prisoner for several months before Park’s was finally able to escape.
Unfortunately, his capture had left him alone in foreign lands, but armed only with a compass and a horse he was said to have navigated his way to the Niger River in Mali, a remarkable achievement considering his own limited circumstances. Beginning his return journey by following the course of the river as far as possible, Mungo was said to have avoided further problems with the native tribesmen, although given the conditions and his lack of supplies, by the time he reached Bamako, the capital of Mali, he was said to be seriously ill and forced to rely on the kindness of local people who were reported to have cared for him over the next few months until he had fully recovered from his illness. Finally making his way back to a British settlement, Park eventually managed to return to Scotland by December of 1797, where his return was greeted with disbelief by his family and friends who had previously thought him to be dead. His employers, the African Association were also very quick to report his discovery of the Niger River, an event that not only caused much excitement within the British establishment, but also amongst the British public who were fascinated by the young explorer’s tales of adventure in the African continent.
|John Hanning Speke|
Unfortunately, by the time the expedition finally reached the Niger by the middle of August 1805 only a dozen or so of the original party had managed to survive the treacherous journey, with most of the others having died or become incapacitated through disease, most notably dysentery. However, having reached the Malian capital of Bamako and been granted permission to travel down to Sengou, Parks and his surviving comrades were reported to have travelled down the Niger by boat, although virtually all of them were reported to have been in extremely poor health and in no real condition to undertake the arduous journey. Regardless of their situation though, Parks and his surviving European colleagues were said to have pressed on along the length of the Niger, in search of Timbuktu, despite being regularly attacked by native tribes as they sailed through the various tribal homelands. Rather foolishly perhaps, instead of asking for help from the local peoples, the British explorers were thought to have pressed on alone, until finally their boat became stuck on a rocky outcrop and could not be released through their own efforts. Being attacked by local tribes and with no escape by boat, Parks and his few remaining men were said to have jumped into the river in an attempt to escape their predicament, but given their weakened condition were simply swept away and drowned in the fast moving river.
Although it was some time before the fate of Mungo Park and his fellow travellers was known, investigations by the British authorities, later confirmed that all of the European explorers had indeed perished, despite the fact that some people continued to believe that they had survived, only to be held prisoner by one or other local ruler. Ultimately though, despite Parks’ career as an explorer being relatively short lived and his own final demise immensely tragic, his initial search for the Niger River and his seemingly heroic travels on the African continent ensured his elevation to the status of a hero within the British Empire, creating an example that many others would continue to follow throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Along with Livingstone, Stanley and Speke, one of the other most notable successors to Mungo Parks was thought to be Richard Francis Burton, a former East India Company officer who would not only make a name for himself as a noted British explorer, but also as a bit of a social renegade, who defied convention as easily as he placed himself in harms way.
Born at Torquay in Devon on 19th March 1821, Burton was born to a serving British officer and his wealthy heiress wife, who travelled widely, which resulted in their three children receiving much of their early education from a variety of nannies and private tutors. It was thought to be as a result of this extensive travelling that the young Richard Burton became interested in the study of various foreign languages, including Italian, French and Latin, which he was said to have picked up at a fairly early age, a linguistic ability that would serve him so well in later years. Although he was known to have received a reasonably good standard of formal education, both at Preparatory School and at Trinity College, Oxford, the young Francis was reported to have found the strict social conventions of these academies difficult to bear, not least because of his personal interests in other less formal subjects such as riding, falconry and later pursuing the fairer sex, interests that ultimately led to him being expelled from college in 1842. With few ideas of what particular career to pursue and no doubt influenced by his father’s own military background, eventually Burton was said to have chosen a career with the British East India Company, the merchant venture company that offered the promise of travel, excitement and action, as well as being the place where many of his closest friends had also found employment. Although he was thought to have been posted to India at a time when no major conflicts were being fought by the company, the subcontinent was said to have appealed to him purely because of the various languages and dialects that were spoken there, allowing the linguistically gifted Burton to involve himself in the traditions and customs of the different indigenous peoples, a practice that was said to have brought him much criticism from those colleagues who considered themselves to be superior to the native tribesmen of India.
Having returned to India in 1854 and rejoined his regiment, Burton was subsequently posted to Aden where he was assigned to lead an expedition supported by the Royal Geographical Society, designed to explore the hinterland of Somalia, where a number of great inland lakes were rumoured to exist, a series of tales that Burton was particularly interested in investigating. It was during this expedition that Burton first met Lieutenant John Hanning Speke, who shared Burton’s love of adventure and who would later join him in some of his most notable explorations and discoveries. However, as the expedition arranged to set out on their journey, they were reported to have been attacked by a band of several hundred Somali warriors, who killed and wounded a number of the party before being driven off. Speke was said to have received numerous wounds as a result of the action, although he survived them to undertake further adventures, whilst Burton was reported to have been struck in the head by a spear, which penetrated one cheek and exited through the other, leaving a significant wound that he would carry for the rest of his life. Following the failure of the expedition, in 1855 Burton rejoined his army unit once again and was posted to the Crimea where he hoped to see action, although the regiment he was attached to was subsequently disbanded following a refusal to obey orders, a mutinous act that somehow attached itself to Burton’s reputation, although there was no direct evidence of his own involvement in this particular incident.
Having been cleared of any wrongdoing in the previous expedition, in 1856 Burton was once again asked to head a Royal Geographical Society survey mission to Africa, this time to investigate the existence of some reported inland lakes, with the expedition leaving from the East African territory of Zanzibar. Although the principal objective of the journey was to investigate and identify these rumoured inland lakes, it was also suggested that the party might search for the source of the Nile River, although this was not thought to be a specific aim of the expedition. Burton was once again joined on the journey by John Hanning Speke, who was said to have recovered from the wounds he had received during their last expedition together and who was a more suitable companion for the often irascible Burton, who some companions, including Speke, found to be extremely difficult to deal with. For Burton too, Speke might not have been his first choice of companion, as he was said to be the sort of Englishman that Burton despised, brash, arrogant and totally indifferent to the beliefs and traditions of the native peoples, who Speke considered to be inferior to himself. Hiring local guides and bearers after they had first arrived on the east coast of Africa in June 1857, initially the expedition was said to have progressed reasonably well, although as time passed and the journey continued both Burton and Speke were thought to have suffered fairly serious illnesses and a good deal of their equipment was thought to have been lost due to the desertion of their local guides and bearers, or through just plain theft. However, some eight months after they began their expedition the two explorers were reported to have finally reached the shores of Lake Tanganyika, where they were able to rest and try as best as they could, to survey the region, an almost impossible task given the loss of much of their equipment and continuing instances of illness that affected both men. Because of their differing states of health, Burton was unable to continue with the journey, whilst Speke continued to explore on his own, although his inability to speak any native languages meant that he was forced to rely on a native translator, which given his own superior and imperialistic attitudes proved to be extremely difficult for him.
Despite his own continuing health problems and the difficulties caused by his own personal demeanour, as part of the same expedition, Speke was reported to have later gone on to locate one of Africa’s greatest inland waterways, which he named Lake Victoria, but again he was unable to survey the region properly, because of the lack of adequate equipment. As they made their way home, the tension between the two men were reported to have been palpable and having returned safely to the coast, both of them were said to have returned to England separately, with Speke reaching Britain first and thus receiving much of the public acclamation that was due to both men, although personal rivalries quickly ensured that Speke tried to play down the part that Burton had actually played in the expedition.
In September 1864 Speke was supposed to have participated in a public debate with Burton, but just before it was due to begin, he was reported to have jumped up from his chair, declaring that he could not stand the situation anymore and simply walked out of the hall, much to everyone’s surprise. Having retired to Neston Park in Wiltshire, later the same day Speke’s lifeless body was found near a wall on the estate, with a bullet wound in his chest, which almost immediately led to claims that he had committed suicide rather than face public scrutiny, not only by Burton, but also by the wider general public. However, despite such fanciful theories, ultimately the local Coroner determined that Speke had accidentally shot himself whilst climbing over the wall, which given his intemperate nature was probably the most likely explanation of his sudden and completely unexpected demise.
Although Burton would never undertake another major exploratory expedition again, during the second half of the 19th century, he was reported to have begun a diplomatic career that saw him posted to various destinations, which allowed him to engage in his passion for exploring and studying the native peoples, traditions and religions of these faraway lands. Initially posted to Equatorial Guinea, on the west coast of Africa, as a British Consul in 1861, although his work there was reported to be relatively unimportant, it allowed him time to continue with his personal exploration of the west coast of the great continent, journeys that he would subsequently commit to paper. However, given the rigorous nature of the climate there, Burton’s wife, Isabel, was not able to accompany him and had to remain in England, although in 1865 the couple were finally reunited when Burton was assigned to a new diplomatic post in Brazil, where once again he was given ample opportunity to pursue his interests in travelling, journeying through the country’s central highlands and canoeing down many of Brazil’s biggest rivers.
Four years later, he and Isabel were reported to have moved to Damascus in Syria, where his knowledge of the country’s language, traditions and religions proved to be a major benefit to the new British Consul and his wife. Unfortunately, his regular habit of failing to pander to the interests of certain favoured groups, eventually led to calls for his removal from Syria, with the authorities back in London arranging for him to be transferred to Trieste in northeast Italy, where he was once again able to pursue his interest in travelling and writing. Knighted by Queen Victoria in 1886, much of Burton’s later career was thought to have revolved around his love of writing, with the explorer penning any number of travel books, poetry, anthropological studies, some of which were considered pornographic at the time, as well as a series of books that he had translated from earlier native manuscripts, dealing with a variety of subjects, from religion to sexual and social matters. It was said to be while he was working on his final book that Burton suffered a heart attack and died, on the 20th October 1890, bringing an end to the life of one of Britain’s most interesting, colourful and highly divisive characters.
Even though for the most part, early British explorers and adventurers were almost entirely male, increasingly during the Victorian period a small number of women began to explore Britain’s vast imperial territories, bringing their own unique perspective to the subject of the world’s numerously diverse peoples, cultures, traditions and histories. One of the most notable of these early female travellers and reporters was said to be Mary Henrietta Kingsley, who gained considerable recognition for her journeys in and writing about the African continent and the indigenous peoples that she encountered there.
Travelling next to Nigeria, she was then said to have made arrangements to move south along the west coast of Africa, eventually arriving in Angola, where she was reported to have spent some months living with the local people, who not only taught her some of the skills needed to survive in the jungles of Africa, but also allowed her to witness the traditional customs and religious practices that guided their everyday lives, exactly the sort of things that Mary had come to Africa to learn. As a trained nurse and with her newly adopted skills, for much of the time she spent in West Africa, Mary was said to have travelled into various regions of the hinterland, seemingly unconcerned about the possible dangers that might present themselves, but confident in her own ability to deal with them, whatever they may be. However, after spending some months in Africa, in 1894 she was said to have returned to England, but only with the intention of gaining additional support for her work, which she was said to have found with the aid of the British Museum and the publisher George McMillan, who agreed a publishing deal with the highly unusual young Englishwoman.
Returning to Africa in December 1894, Mary was said to have revisited Sierra Leone and then Gabon, before becoming aware of the work of another single white female who was working with the native Efik people of Calabar in modern day Nigeria, the Scottish missionary Mary Slessor. A devout Christian missionary, working for the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Slessor was said to have spent much of her time in Africa trying to suppress the local tribal practice of killing twins at infancy and preventing incidents of cannibalism amongst some of the native peoples. Believing that twins were the result of the Devil impregnating a normally pregnant woman with a second “evil” child, as there was no clear way of identifying which of the two babies was the Devil’s seed, local tribesmen were thought to have simply killed both, in order to remove the perceived threat to their village. Slessor was determined to stop this practice, along with the not so common instances of local people eating human flesh, a campaign that she was said to have successfully completed before her untimely death in 1915 and for which work she was later given a state funeral in Nigeria. Mary Kingsley was said to have spent some time with Slessor and was thought to have been inspired by the Scottish missionary, although the two were thought to have disagreed over the matter of women’s rights and suffrage, which Kingsley considered to be a distraction from her real goal, of highlighting the positive influences and practices of the native African tribes.
Such was the public interest in women like herself that when Mary returned to England in November 1895, there was an immediate clamour by newspapers, societies and the public alike to hear her talk about her adventures in Africa, although the subject of women’s rights also proved to be a major distraction to her main objectives. Even though she was a single woman pursuing her own career, in the most unusual circumstances; and despite having strong views on a number of issues, Mary was not thought to be a supporter of the Women’s suffrage movement, although it remained a subject that she preferred not to talk about if given a choice. That was not the case regarding her own personal attitude towards Britain’s imperialist approach to the native peoples of its vast overseas possessions, a subject that was said to have caused a number of newspapers and periodicals to refuse to publish or indeed promote her work, for fear of undermining the Empire’s purportedly benign attitude towards its foreign subjects, which many believed to be little more than a public pretence.
However, despite these occasional attempts at censoring her work, Kingsley’s stories and reports about the lives of the native peoples of Africa were said to have been fairly well received by most people, particularly those groups and societies who shared her concerns about the pervasive influence of British Christianity and Imperialism on the indigenous peoples of the Empire. She was said to have made her final journey to Africa, around the same time as the Second Boer War broke out in 1899 and immediately travelled to Cape Town in South Africa to offer her services as a nurse. Posted to Simon’s Town Hospital, which was located at False Bay on the Cape Peninsula, Mary was reported to have spent some months treating wounded Boer prisoners of war, before succumbing to the effects of typhoid, a common disease within most of the hospitals and camps, which finally claimed her life on 3rd June 1900, with her body later being buried at sea, as she had previously requested. Even though Mary Kingsley remains relatively unknown to most modern day Britons, she and her work are still recalled through a number of associations and groups that were formed as a direct result of her efforts, including the later Royal African Society formed in 1968, as well as a medal awarded by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which even today continues to bear her name.
At the same time that Mary Kingsley was exploring and writing about the peoples and places of West Africa, yet another Englishwoman, Isabella Bird, was travelling the world, producing travelogues for a number of newspapers and magazines, which helped describe and explain the many exotic lands that she visited. Although not a dedicated supporter of the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples, Isabella might be more properly described as one of Britain’s first civilian global travellers, a feat in itself given the available modes of transport at the time and made even more remarkable by the fact that she was a woman, at a time when women did not generally travel abroad alone. Unlike her contemporaries, Mary Kingsley and Mary Lessor, who were thought to have been driven by social conscience and religious fervour respectively, Isabella Bird was said to have simply wanted to travel, purely for the purpose of seeing the world and the people and places that it contained.
Seemingly unable or unwilling to settle for any period of time, Isabelle was thought to have turned to writing as a way of supporting her desire to travel and following the death of her mother in 1868, the number of excursions and journeys she undertook was said to have increased significantly. Travelling to Australia in 1872, she quickly moved on to the islands of Hawaii, which were more commonly known in Europe as the Sandwich Islands, where she was reported to have climbed Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on earth, as well as meeting Queen Emma, the consort of the Hawaiian ruler. Having spent some weeks on the island, Isabella then travelled to the United States, where she visited the newest of the American states, Colorado, which was reported to have the ideal climate for those of a frail disposition, something that she believed herself to be.
Whilst travelling around the wide open countryside, she was reported to have ridden considerable distances on horseback, adopting the straddled male riding position, rather than the conventional side-saddle posture, more usually employed by female riders. It was during her time in Colorado that Isabella was said to have met and become involved with an outlaw called Jim Nugent, who was reported to have become equally enamoured by the rather unconventional Isabelle, although ultimately the relationship ended when she moved on to San Francisco, whilst Nugent himself was purportedly shot and killed in the following year. Rather than returning home to England, Isabella was then said to have left for a trip to the Far East, to visit a number of Asian countries, including Japan, where she was thought to have visited the northern region of Hokkaido and stayed with members of the local Ainu tribe. Later on she was said to have travelled to Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and China, although her journey there was thought to have been cut short in 1880 when she had news of her sister’ being seriously ill, which forced her to return home. Back in Britain and following her sister’s death from Typhoid, she was said to have married the doctor who had cared for her sister, John Bishop, who despite offering her a home, security and company, failed to satisfy her desire to travel, or address many of the psychological and health issues that regularly affected her. However, within a few years of their marriage, Bishop was said to have died, leaving her alone once again, but also allowing her the freedom to resume her travels, although this time with a purpose in mind, rather than just for pleasure.
Having undertaken some medical training, Isabella determined to travel to India as a missionary and set out for the subcontinent by ship, arriving there in February 1889 and was said to have spent the rest of the year visiting various missions, as well as setting up the Henrietta Bird Hospital in Amritsar and the John Bishop Hospital in Srinigar. She then travelled to the neighbouring states of Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey, before joining up with a Major Herbert Sawyer who was travelling from Baghdad to Tehran and accompanied him to the Persian capital, although both were said to be barely alive by the time they reached the city. Having recovered from the arduous journey, Isabella was thought to have taken her leave of Sawyer and then spent the next six months travelling the border regions of Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey at the head of her own camel caravan.
Fortunately she was said to have been rescued at the last minute by a detachment of soldiers who escorted her to safety, although in another instance, she was said to have been knocked unconscious by another crowd, but once again managed to survive the assault. Returning to Britain briefly, in 1901 Isabella was said to have visited Morocco, where she was said to have travelled with the Berber peoples and was later presented with a black stallion by the local Sultan, who was said to have held the highly unusual Englishwoman in very high regard. Returning home to Edinburgh in 1904, despite being seventy three years of age, Isabella was thought to be already making plans for yet another journey to China when she was suddenly taken ill and died on October 7th of the same year; bringing an end to the life of one of Britain’s most notable and widely travelled Victorian female explorers.
For the most part though, most Victorian explorers and adventurers continued to be men, simply because their careers in the military, merchant marine, commerce and diplomatic services allowed them the opportunity to travel throughout Britain’s expansive empire, a facility that was thought to have been denied to most women of the age. It was also thought to be the case that many of the men who went on to become noted explorers and adventurers came from a small number of career backgrounds, either religious, as in the case of men like David Livingstone, or military, as was the case with the previously mentioned Richard Burton. In a similar vein, other British military officers and missionaries began to venture out into the hinterlands of Central Africa and Asia, into regions that had previously remained largely undiscovered and which were inhabited by any number of previously unknown and unreported ethnic groups. One such explorer and adventurer was said to be Francis Younghusband, a British Army Officer, who was born at Murree in modern day Pakistan in 1863, but sent back to and educated in England, where he later attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, before being commissioned in the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards, when he was nineteen years of age.
Although his cavalry regiment was said to have seen active service in South Africa’s First Boer War, it seems likely that Younghusband would have spent much of his early career stationed on the Indian subcontinent, carrying out whatever military duties were required of him. However, in 1886, the young Francis was reported to have been on leave from his regiment when he undertook his first major expedition, travelling through Manchuria, Mongolia, across the Gobi Desert and identifying a route from Kashgar in China, through to India, across the Karakoram Range, via the Mustagh Pass. At the same time he was said to have discovered the Aghil Mountains, as well as proving that the Great Karakoram was the water divide between India and Turkestan, achievements that later earned him membership of the Royal Geographical Society and the organisations gold medal award. Returning to his regiment with his reputation much enhanced, two years later Younghusband was reported to have been promoted to the rank of Captain and in the same year, 1889, was ordered to lead a detachment of Ghurkha’s to the Kashmiri province of Ladakh, where raiders from the neighbouring area of Hunza were said to have been disrupting the trade route between China and India, activities that the young captain and his men eventually managed to suppress.
A gifted artist and writer, Younghusband was thought to have written expansively about his love of the Kashmir region and in his book “Kashmir” he was said to have provided many of the publication’s illustrations, helping to bring the beauty and history of the area to a much wider public audience. He was also said to have been an active participant in “The Great Game”, becoming involved in the political and military “hide and seek”, which was carried out by both Russia and Britain in the mountainous border regions of India and Afghanistan, as both powers battled for influence over the native states of the area.
Whilst he was on leave in 1895 Younghusband was said to have acted as a correspondent for the London Times, covering the relief of the isolated British outpost at Chitral, where he himself had once been stationed and met the future British Viceroy of India, George Curzon, who was thought to have been travelling in the region. It was said to be through his friendship with Curzon that Younghusband found himself appointed as the British Commissioner for Tibet, a post he was thought to have held from 1902 until 1904; and during which he was said to have been involved in the military invasion of Tibet, along with the associated massacre of Tibetan monks. According to some reports, in 1903, the British Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, was said to have authorised a military invasion of Tibet, ostensibly to settle a border dispute between Tibet and the neighbouring Indian state of Sikkim, although in reality, the operation was designed to allow Britain complete control of the country of Tibet itself. British forces having crossed the Tibetan forces and advanced deep into the country were then said to have been confronted by a Tibetan militia force comprised mainly of monks, who were subsequently attacked by the combined British-Bhutanese forces, leaving a large number of the Tibetan militia either dead or wounded. Even though Younghusband was later awarded a number of honours for all of his many positive achievements in India, the infamous massacre at Guru was thought to have remained a stain on his character, as people on both sides of the argument continued to differ as to the actual cause of the incident; and more importantly, about the numbers of Tibetans who actually died there.
However, regardless of that particular issue, for the remainder of his career in India he was reported to have played much more of a political role, although he was said to have still found time to survey the Brahmaputra, Indus and Sutlej Rivers, as well as making three separate attempts to climb the largest of the Himalayan peaks, Mount Everest. He was eventually appointed as the British representative in Kashmir, a post he was thought to have held for four years before returning home to England, where he later became the president of the Royal Geographical Society, involving himself in several attempts to conquer Mount Everest, something that was never achieved in his own lifetime.
According to some later historians, Younghusband was typical of his generation, in that he was a dutiful and courageous individual, who actively sought out adventure, taking great pleasure in exploring and visiting places that no European had ever visited before; and reporting them in both pictures and words. However, in other ways he was completely untypical of many of his contemporaries, in that he was said to have been deeply sympathetic to the needs, traditions and spiritual beliefs of the native peoples of the subcontinent, views not shared by many Europeans at that time. He was also reported to have accepted the need for self government in India and was no doubt gratified to witness the emergence of India’s own fledgling democratic parties, even though he would never see the country achieve its formal independence in 1947. Whilst speaking to a meeting of the World Congress of Faiths in Birmingham, in July 1942, Younghusband was reported to have suffered a stroke, which did not immediately prove to be fatal, although having been released into the care of his long time lover, he then suffered a major heart attack on the 31st July 1942, which ultimately ended his life, at the age of seventy nine.