Explorers

Captain James Cook
1728 - 1779

James Cook was born on the 27th October 1728 in the small Yorkshire town of Marton. Unlike the majority of Naval officers of the time he was not the son of rich or noble parents. In fact he was the son of a Scottish farm labourer and a Yorkshire girl. He was intelligent enough to impress his father's employer who paid for the young James Cook's schooling.

After he finished school his parents apprenticed him to a grocer in Whitby, where he was not especially happy. It was there, however, that he got a taste for life on the sea. In those days the port of Whitby was a bustling place, always busy with all kinds of ships: fishing vessels, navy ships, and colliers. It was on a collier that Cook served first.

In 1755, the year before the Seven Years War broke out between England and France, Cook left his ship and signed up with the Royal Navy. In the Navy James Cook worked his way up through the ranks, eventually rising to command his own vessel, unusual for an enlisted man. His first mission was to map the estuary of the St. Lawrence River prior to a naval assault on Quebec. It was those surveys that made Cook's name, along with the information he obtained from observing and recording an eclipse of the sun in 1766. The surveys were so accurate that they remained in use until the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

His surveys and scientific observations, coupled with his own scientific ability and his being in the right place at the right time led to his being chosen to captain the Endeavour in 1768 on a mission to explore the great unknown of the Pacific Ocean and scientifically record everything that was encountered. It was the first of the three great voyages of discovery he led in the South Pacific.

James Cook died near the end of the third voyage. He was killed by Hawaiian islanders possibly because of an incident in which one of his lieutenants shot and killed one of the island's chiefs. He died in February 1779.

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William Dampier
1651 - 1715
English explorer & buccaneer

Born in East Coker, Somerset, Dampier was the first Englishman to explore and map parts of New Holland in Australia and New Guinea. He was the first person to circumnavigate the world three times.

His work influenced Charles Darwin, James Cook, Horatio Nelson, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift in his Gulliver's Travels tales.

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Sir Francis Drake
1540 - 1596
English navigator and explorer

Born near Tavistock. He served an apprenticeship as a mariner, and in 1567 he was given his first command. In 1570 and 1571 Drake made two profitable trading voyages to the West Indies. In 1572 he commanded two vessels in a marauding expedition against Spanish ports in the Caribbean Sea. During this voyage, Drake first saw the Pacific Ocean; he captured the port of Nombre de Díos on the Isthmus of Panama and destroyed the nearby town of Portobelo. He returned to England with a cargo of Spanish silver and a reputation as a brilliant privateer.

On July 23, 1579, Drake set sail again and was hailed as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world. Seven months later he was knighted aboard the Golden Hind by Queen Elizabeth. He became mayor of Plymouth in 1581 and served as a member of Parliament in 1584 and 1585.

Later in 1585 Drake sailed again with a large fleet for the West Indies. Drake introduced tobacco to England as a result of his visits to North America.

In 1587 war with Spain was recognized as imminent, and Drake was dispatched by the queen to destroy the fleet being assembled by the Spanish in the harbor of Cádiz. He accomplished most of his purpose and in the following year served as vice admiral of the English fleet that defeated the rebuilt Spanish Armada.

He is admired by many for his English spirit, when told that the Spanish Armada had been sighted in 1588, he completed his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe before setting sail to defeat them.

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Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham Fiennes
1944 -
British explorer.

He made the first surface journey around the world's polar circumference between 1979 and 1982. Earlier expeditions included explorations of the White Nile in 1969, Jostedalsbre Glacier, Norway in 1970, and the Headless Valley, Canada in 1971. Accounts of his adventures include 'A Talent for Trouble' 1970, 'Hell on Ice' 1979, and the autobiographical 'Living Dangerously' 1987. He succeeded to baronetcy 1944.

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Sir Martin Frobisher
1535-1594
English navigator.

He made his first voyage to Guinea, West Africa in 1554. In 1576 he set out in search of the Northwest Passage, and visited Labrador, and Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island. Second and third expeditions sailed in 1577 and 1578. He was Knighted in 1588.

He was vice admiral in Drake's West Indian expedition in 1585. In 1588, he was knighted for helping to defeat the Armada. He was mortally wounded in 1594 fighting against the Spanish off the coast of France.

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Sir John Hawkins
1532-1595
English navigator.

Born in Plymouth. Treasurer to the navy between 1573-89, he was knighted for his services as a commander against the Spanish Armada 1588.

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Sir Richard Hawkins
1560-1622
English navigator.

Son of John Hawkins. He held a command against the Spanish Armada in 1588, was captured in an expedition against Spanish possessions 1593-94 and released 1602. He was Knighted in 1603.

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David Hempleman-Adams, LVO, OBE DL
born 1956 in Swindon, Wiltshire
English adventurer

The first man in history to reach the Geographic and Magnetic North and South Poles as well as climb the highest peaks in all seven continents. In 1984, he successfully completed a solo expedition to the Magnetic North Pole without dogs, snow mobiles or air supplies. Also he led the first team in 1992 to walk unsupported to the Geomagnetic North Pole. In 1996, he completed a solo unsupported expedition to the South Pole on January 5th, sailed to the South Magnetic Pole on February 19th, and led a team of novices to ski to the Magnetic North Pole on May 15th.

He also became the first man to fly a balloon over the North Pole in 2000 and On September 22, 2003 he became the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an open wicker basket hot air balloon. The journey was from New Brunswick, Canada to Ireland. He has also held hot air balloon altitude records and Atlantic small helium balloon records.

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David Livingstone 
Few Europeans have contributed as much to the exploration of Africa as a gentle Scottish missionary named David Livingstone.

Livingstone was a curious combination of missionary, doctor, explorer, scientist and anti-slavery activist. He spent 30 years in Africa, exploring almost a third of the continent, from its southern tip almost to the equator. He was the first white man to see Victoria Falls and though he never discovered the source of the Nile, one of his goals, he eliminated some possibilities and thereby helped direct the efforts of others.

In 1865, at age 52, Livingstone set out on his last and most famous journey. He soon lost his medicine, animals and porters, but struggled on almost alone.

At a village on the Lualaba River he witnessed the slaughter of villagers by slave traders. The letter he sent home describing the event so infuriated the public that the English government pressured the Sultan of Zanzibar to stop the slave trade. The pressure was only partially successful.

On Nov. 10, 1871 in the village of Ujiji, on the east side of Lake Tanganyika, Livingstone encountered Henry Stanley, who had been sent by the New York Herald Tribune newspaper to find and help him.

With Stanley's supplies Livingstone continued his explorations, but he was weak, worn out and suffering from dysentery. Then, on the morning of April 30, 1872, his two African assistants found him kneeling at his bedside, dead. They dried his body and carried it and his papers on a dangerous 11-month journey to Zanzibar, a trip of 1,000 miles. From there his body was taken to England.

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Sir Alexander Mackenzie
1764 - 1820
British explorer and fur trader.

In 1789, he was the first European to see the river, now part of N Canada, named after him. In 1792-93 he crossed the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast of what is now British Columbia, making the first known crossing north of Mexico. He was knighted in 1807.

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Sir Walter Raleigh
1554 -1618

English adventurer and writer, who was prominent at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and became an explorer of the Americas.

Born at Hayes Barton in Devonshire, Raleigh attended the University of Oxford. for a time and later studied law in London, where he became familiar with both court life and the intellectual community.

In 1578 Raleigh sailed to America with his half brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, a voyage that may have stimulated his plan to found an English empire there. In 1585, Raleigh sponsored the first English colony in America on Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina. He was knighted, and became one of the most powerful figures in England.

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Robert Falcon Scott
1868 -1912
British naval officer and explorer of Antarctica


Born in Devonport, England. Scott entered the Royal Navy at the age of 14. In 1900 he was placed in command of the National Antarctic Expedition. Leaving England in 1901, Scott established a land base on the shores of McMurdo Sound, in Antarctica. He explored to the east of the Ross Ice Shelf and named Edward VII Peninsula. He also led a party that achieved a record latitude of 81° 17' south and sledged over Victoria Land. The expedition, which returned in 1904, was responsible for scientific discoveries of marked importance.

In 1910 Scott embarked on a second Antarctic expedition, with the aim of being the first man to reach the South Pole. He again landed at McMurdo Sound and with four companions began a trek of 2964 km (1842 mi), the longest continuous sledge journey ever made in the polar regions. Scott reached the South Pole on January 18, 1912, only to find the tent and flag of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who had achieved the goal 5 weeks earlier. The return journey ended in the loss of the entire party. Petty Officer Edgar Evans died from a fall; Captain Lawrence Oates sacrificed his life, hoping thus to save his comrades; Henry R. Bowers, Dr. Edward Wilson, and Scott perished of starvation and exposure on March 29, 1912, within 18 km (11 mi) of a supply depot. Their bodies, along with valuable documents and specimens left by Scott in his tent, were found by a search party almost eight months later. His diaries and other documents were published as Scott's Last Expedition (1913). He is also the author of The Voyage of the Discovery (1905).

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