To the 14th century AD

Movement and exploration

The spread of mankind throughout the world Out of africa, over the past two million years, is a form of exploration. So are the great Tribal movements of historical times. But in these cases the motive is practical - to find better pastures, or seize somebody else's property.

In true exploration the motive is one of enquiry. What is beyond? How can we get there? Journeys of this kind may have a practical purpose (is there a more convenient trade route?) or an intellectual one (where does this river come from?). They are only likely to be undertaken by settled communities, to whom the answer can be brought back. An outstanding early example is a Phoenician voyage round Africa in about 600 BC.

The coast of northwest Europe: c.310 BC

Pytheas, an explorer from the Greek city of Massilia (now Marseilles), voyages past Gibraltar and turns north up the European coast. Off Brittany he veers west to visit Cornwall, where he describes the trade in tin. He then sails up the west coast of Britain and continues beyond it for six days to reach a land which he calls Thule. It is inhabited but uncomfortable and strange. At midsummer the sun never sets, and beyond here the sea is frozen.

As a result of this report Thule (presumably Norway) becomes for all Greek and Roman geographers the most northerly place in the world.

Zhang Qian hears of Greece and India: 138-125 BC

The purpose of the journey of Zhang Qian is political (sent by the emperor Wudi to find allies in the west against the marauding Xiongnu), but his discoveries give him the status of an explorer.

In 138 BC he sets off through the Jade Gate at the western end of the Great wall. Ahead is the vast open territory of the Xiongnu. The little party of 100 must have seemed very vulnerable. The most important member is a former slave, captured as a child from the Xiongnu and put to work in a Chinese family. He is their only means of talking to the barbarians.

The entire group is soon captured. They are kept prisoner, but they are well treated. Zhang Qian is even provided with a wife, by whom he has a son. After twelve years he escapes, together with his wife and the faithful slave. As a loyal envoy, he continues his mission - heading west rather than homewards. Eventually he reaches the Yueqi, to the north of Bactria. They have no interest in attacking the Xiongnu on behalf of the Chinese, so on its own terms his journey has been a lengthy failure.

But Zhang Qian has been looking around. And he has made some surprising discoveries.

The first is that Bactria has a different culture from the surrounding regions. The reason, Zhang Qian learns, is that a conqueror, Alexander the great, came here from the west. As a result this place has Greek coins, Greek sculpture and a Greek script. Zhang Qian's presence here is the first recorded contact between the civilizations of the Far East and of the Mediterranean.

Even more surprising, the explorer finds in Bactria objects of bamboo and cloth made in southern China. They are brought here, he is told, by merchants from a land to the southeast, situated on a great river, where 'the inhabitants ride elephants when they go into battle.

The envoy heads home. Arriving back through the Jade Gate, the little group astonishes the Chinese. Zhang Qian and the faithful slave are all that remain of the party which set off thirteen years previously. The barbarian wife is an interesting addition.

Zhang Qian is given high office in the imperial bureaucracy. Even the slave is ennobled - with the resounding title 'Lord Who Carries Out His Mission'. And in view of the new information about the unknown land, another expedition is sent out.

Zhang Qian reasons that if the land of the elephants is southeast of Bactria, it must be southwest of China and probably not too far away. The expedition sent to reach this land is frustrated by the jungle of southeast Asia and by fierce tribes, but evidence is found that merchants do occasionally travel this way to a kingdom in the west where there are elephants. From China's point of view India, along with Greece, is now on the map.

On Zhang Qian's northern route, contact between the civilizations soon becomes commonplace. By 106 BC, twenty years after his return, the Alexander the great is an established thoroughfare.

The known world: from the 1st century AD

By the 1st centurythe world's great central land mass, Eurasia, is to a considerable extent familiar to its best informed inhabitants. The Roman empire provides a pool of shared knowledge covering the entire Mediterranean world and most of Europe. The Silk road establishes a living link between the Mediterranean and the Pacific.

In Christian Europe, after the collapse of the Roman empire, Missionaries take the faith to northern regions and bring back news of places and people. The same happens further east through the Christian link between Constantinople and Russia. In the 13th century the Mongols open a new and forceful channel of communication between east and west.

America and Australia are still over the horizon. Of the known world, for those living in Europe and Asia, only Africa south of the Sahara remains a place of total mystery. In these circumstances the available opportunities are not so much for exploration as for travel - albeit travel of extreme discomfort and danger by our standards. Even Marco Polo, in his great 13th-century journey, visits no places unknown to his contemporaries. His distinction is to write about them.

But one Muslim traveller of the next century undertakes such ambitious journeys that he deserves to be regarded as an explorer. He is Ibn Batuta.

Ibn Batuta: AD 1325-1354

In 1325 Ibn Batuta sets off from home in Morocco to go on pilgrimage to Mecca and medina. He accompanies a caravan to Alexandria and Cairo on what is a standard journey for any serious Muslim. But Ibn Batuta's adventure differs from others in one major respect. It is twenty-four years before he gets back to Morocco, and he has spent the time in almost continuous travel.

After his pilgrimage he tours southern Persia and Iraq, then crosses the Persian Gulf to Yemen before travelling down the east coast of Africa to Kilwa. After a return visit to Mecca, he makes his way up through Syria and into Anatolia - where he finds the Ottoman turks beginning to expand their territory.

Ibn Batuta's next ambition is to visit two of the most vigorous Muslim powers of his day, the Golden horde in southern Russia and the Tughluq dynasty in Delhi. His journey to the capital of the Golden horde at Sarai berke takes him through the Genoese port of Caffa on the Black Sea. In his first experience of a Christian city, he finds the sound of the church bells unsettling - a culture shock experienced in the other direction by many arriving for the first time in a Muslim town today, with the muezzin's call to prayer amplified from the minaret of every mosque.

Travelling from Bukhara through the Hindu Kush, Ibn Batuta reaches India in 1333.

The Moroccan traveller, learned in Muslim law, is taken into the service of the Tughluq sultan of Delhi. He spends much of the next twelve years in India, interrupted by occasional trips. One takes him to Ceylon, another to Sumatra and on to China.

Eventually Ibn Batuta takes a meandering route homewards. He is in Syria and Egypt while the Black death is raging. From Egypt he makes another quick pilgrimage to Mecca before finally sailing home along the north African coast (via Sardinia, for travel remains irresistible). He reaches Morocco in November 1349. But his most ambitious journey, most nearly deserving the name of exploration, remains ahead.

In 1352 Ibn Batuta sets off south through the Sahara to visit the African kingdoms in the region of the Niger. He reaches Mali and its eastern neighbour, as yet less powerful but growing in prestige - the Songhay kingdom, with a capital on the Niger at Gao.

Ibn Batuta's detailed descriptions of these African territories are the main written source of information about them (one of the tasks, surely, of a successful explorer). By 1354 the great traveller is back in Fez. On the command of the sultan he dictates the story of his travels to a royal scribe.

15th century

European maritime adventures: AD 1402-1460

Until the end of the Middle Ages the most westerly region known to Europeans is the Canary Islands. The islands are visited in about 40 BC by seafarers from Mauretania, a client kingdom of Rome in northwest Africa. An account of this expedition is known in the next century to Pliny the Elder. He explains that the islands are called Canaria because they have so many large dogs (canes).

In the 2nd centurythe westernmost island, Ferro, the nearest known point to the setting sun, is chosen by the geographer Ptolemy as his prime meridian of longitude - the role now occupied by Greenwich.

If Pliny's great dogs existed in the Canaries, they belonged to the aboriginal inhabitants. Known as the Guanches, these people seem to have been Cro-magnon in type. They have found their way to the islands at some unkown time long before their discovery in Roman times. They remain largely undisturbed until adventurers from France arrive in 1402 - beginning almost a century of dispute and warfare.

By the 1430s European settlement begins also on two island groups further out in the Atlantic. Unlike the Canaries, Madeira and the Azores are previously uninhabited. Their colonization by Portuguese settlers is part of the great programme of exploration associated with Prince Henry the navigator.

Madeira features on an Italian portolan chart of 1351 but an accidental sighting by a Portuguese navigator, blown off course in 1418, is regarded at the time as a discovery. Returning in 1420, the navigator (João Gonçalves Zarco) finds the island uninhabited and lush. Prince Henry immediately despatches colonists both for Madeira and its smaller companion, Porto Santo. The forests are slashed and burned. Rich land is brought into cultivation, mainly for sugar cane and vineyards.

The productivity of the islands soon comes to depend on another aspect of Portugal's new seafaring activities - the African Slave trade, which results from Prince Henry's later expeditions.

A group of islands much further into the ocean is sighted by a Portuguese ship in 1427. Prince Henry sends settlers to the Azores from 1432.

The practical use of these islands is not yet obvious. But with the European discovery of America in 1492, and of the sea route round Africa to India in 1498, the Azores become an invaluable landfall almost in the middle of the north Atlantic. They are particularly well placed, in later centuries, for ships on the long curving ocean route between Europe and the Cape of good hope. As yet these future advantages are unknown to Henry the navigator, whose ambitions now centre on Africa.

Down the African coast: AD 1434-1460

Many and varied motives lie behind Prince henry's African expeditions. In part they are pure voyages of discovery, driven by a longing to know what new places, people, animals or plants may lie beyond the next forbidding headland. Partly they are a straightforward quest for Africa's gold. Then there is the hope of colonizing new lands for Portugal. There is the desire to spread Christianity and frustrate Islam. There is even the fanciful dream of coming across a fabulous Christian ruler, Prester John.

But the overriding purpose is to discover a sea route round Africa to the east, with its rich promise of trade in valuable spices.

Ocean-going ships are improving at this period (the era of the Caravel), but the sheer difficulty faced by the sailors is well suggested by the long struggle to get round Cape Bojador - a promontory only about 150 miles south of the Canaries. Prince henry sends out fourteen expeditions to attempt this feat before at last one is successful, in 1434.

In the 1440s progress is quicker. Caravels sail round Cape Verde in 1444 and Cape Roxo in 1446, bringing them to the northern part of what is later Portuguese guinea. By the time of Prince henry's death, in 1460, navigators have explored as far south as Sierra Leone. They have also discovered the uninhabited Cape verde islands.

Portuguese settlers move into the Cape verde islands in about 1460. In 1466 they are given an economic advantage which guarantees their prosperity. They are granted a monopoly of a new slave trade. On the coast of Guinea the Portuguese are now setting up trading stations to buy captive Africans.

Some of these slaves are used to work the settlers' estates in the Cape verde islands. Others are sent north for sale in Madeira, or in Portugal and Spain - where Seville now becomes an important market. Africans have been imported by this sea route into Europe since at least 1444, when one of Henry the Navigator's expeditions returns with slaves exchanged for Moorish prisoners.

Dias and Cape of Good Hope: AD 1487-1488

The two most significant Portuguese voyages of exploration take place a generation after the death of Henry the navigator. In the first, in 1487-8, Bartolomeu Dias proves that there is a sea route round the southern tip of Africa. In the second, ten years later, Vasco da gama demonstrates that this route leads to India.

Dias is already a veteran navigator along the coast of northwest Africa when he sets off from Lisbon, in August 1487, with two caravels and a storeship. Two or three months later he passes Cape Cross - reached in the previous year by Diogo Cam, and as yet the furthest point south of any Portuguese expedition.

Dias abandons his depleted store ship somewhere south of Cape Cross. At Angra Pequena he pauses to erect a stone pillar, declaring that the king of Portugal is the overlord of this region. These pillars, and this claim, have by now become the standard practice of the Portuguese expeditions whenever new territory is reached. Diogo Cam, the immediate predecessor of Dias, has erected four - at the mouth of the Congo, at Cape Santa Maria, at Cape Negro and Cape Cross.

From Angra Pequena the two caravels of Dias sail due south. They see no land for thirteen days. Dias turns northeast.

He makes landfall at Mossel Bay in February 1488. The coastline here runs east and west. Dias, whose crew are becoming restless, continues to the east. At Cape Padrone, where he sets up a second pillar, his officers insist that they have achieved enough. They should set sail for Portugal. He persuades them to continue a little further until the northeast trend of the coastline becomes unmistakable. This seems indeed to be the case by the time they have reached the Great Fish river. The two ships turn home.

On the way back Dias erects a third stone pillar at the Cape of Good Hope - a magnificent acquisition for the king of Portugal, previously missed because of the long seaward loop on the journey out.

Dias and his ships reach Lisbon in December 1488. They have been away for sixteen months. They have sailed round more than 1200 miles of previously undiscovered coastline. They have not reached India, but their rounding of the Cape is considered proof that this longer journey is possible.

When the next major attempt is planned, Dias is put in charge of building the two main caravels. But the command of the expedition is given to a younger man, Vasco da gama. The ships leave Lisbon in 1497. Dias is allowed to accompany them, but only as far as the Cape Verde Islands - a mere hop for a navigator of his distinction.

Columbus and the Catholic monarchs: AD 1492

In Santa Fe, a royal encampment from which the siege of Granada is conducted, the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and isabella debate whether to accept a proposal put to them by a visionary explorer, Christopher Columbus.

For eight years Columbus has been pestering European courts, particularly those of Portugal and Spain, to sponsor him in an undertaking which obsesses him. The Portuguese explorers have had notable success in their attempts to sail east round Africa towards India and China, but Columbus has become convinced that he can achieve the same more easily by sailing west.

It has long been the accepted view, deriving from Ptolemy, that nothing but sea separates Europe from India and China round the back of a spherical world. During the 15th century the notion has developed that the unseen distance by sea is much less than the known distance between Europe and China by land.

Columbus believes that he has found mathematical proof of this in an apocryphal text of the Old Testament where the prophet Esdras states that the earth is six parts land to one part sea. Columbus argues, first to the king of Portugal in 1484 and then to the Spanish monarchs, that India is therefore within reach of a Caravel sailing west from the Canaries.

The Portuguese court rejects his argument. The Spanish monarchs delay for years while a commission investigates his claims. Finally, in the camp near Granada, they accept his somewhat exorbitant terms regarding the honours which will be heaped upon him if he reaches India or China, and his share of whatever is found.

Once agreement is reached, after so many years, Columbus moves fast. With his partners (brothers from a Spanish ship-owning family named Pinzón) he prepares vessels for the great adventure.

Santa Maria Pinta and Niña: AD 1492-1493

On 3 August 1492 a little fleet of three vessels sets sail from the small Spanish harbour of Palos. Columbus is in command of the largest, the Santa Maria; the captains of the other two, the Pinta and the NiÑa, are the brothers Martin Alonso and Vicente Yañez Pinzón.

Three weeks are spent loading stores in the Canaries until, on September 6, the three ships sail west into the unknown. During the next month there are several sightings of coastlines which turn out to be illusions. At last, on October 12, a look-out on the Pinta spies real land.

16th century

San Salvador Cuba and Hispaniola: AD 1492-1493

Columbus and the Pinzón brothers step ashore on 12 October 1492 on an island in the Bahamas. They plant in the ground the royal banner of Spain, claiming the place for Ferdinand and Isabella. They name it San Salvador, after Jesus the Saviour. (It is not known which island they landed on, though one in the Bahamas now bears the name San Salvador.)

These are not the First europeans to reach the American continent, but they are the first to record their achievement. Columbus believes that he has reached the East Indies. Greeted by friendly inhabitants of San Salvador, he therefore describes them as Indians - an inaccurate name which has remained attached to the aboriginal peoples of the whole American continent. By the same token this region becomes known to Europe as the West Indies.

A few days later the explorers sail on. They pass many more islands, giving each a new Spanish name, until they reach during November the most important landfall of their expedition - the large island of Cuba, which Columbus convinces himself to be Cipango. This is a place of marvels described by Marco polo at the eastern extremity of Asia, usually now assumed to be Japan.

Beyond Cuba the next significant landfall is another large island which Columbus names after Spain itself - Española, or Hispaniola. On its shores the Santa Maria runs aground and is wrecked. Columbus decides to leave here a small colony of some forty men, with food and ammunition for a year, while he sails back to Spain with news of his achievement.

Returning with Vicente Yañez Pinzón in the Niña, Columbus reaches Palos on March 15 (amazingly the Pinta arrives in Palos later on that same day, after losing contact with the Niña a month earlier in an Atlantic storm). Columbus makes his way to the court of Ferdinand and isabella in Barcelona, where he is received with every honour. He presents the monarchs with a few captured natives of the Bahamas and some gold treasure.

This is the high point of Columbus's career. Three more voyages to America lie ahead of him, and great achievements. But from now on misfortune, often deriving from his own inadequacy as a colonial administrator, increasingly blights his endeavours.

The explorer departs on his fourth and final voyage in May 1502. It is an almost unmitigated disaster, of storms, mutinies, rotting ships’ timbers. But somehow he limps home, yet again, to reach Spain in November 1504. Since 1492 he has spent half his time in the transatlantic places he so passionately believed in long before he found his way to them.

Even more significantly, he has made the Atlantic crossing seem just an arduous journey rather than a terrifying step into the unknown. Other navigators, sailing for other monarchs, are fishing now in his waters. It is a measure of this change that Columbus himself crosses the Atlantic successfully no fewer than eight times. In a few short years the New World has become linked to Europe in what is unmistakably a new era.

The Portuguese and India: AD 1497-1502

An important expedition to the east leaves Lisbon in 1497. In July Vasco da Gama sails south in his flagship, the St Gabriel, accompanied by three other vessels. In late November the little fleet rounds the Cape of Good Hope. Soon they are further up the east coast of Africa than Dias ventured ten years earler. In March they reach Mozambique. They are excited to find Arab vessels in the harbour, trading in gold, silver and spices, and to hear that Prester John is alive and well, living somewhere inland.

In the well-established Portuguese tradition, da Gama has on board a good supply of Stone pillars. He sets one up in each new territory, to claim it for his king.

The real prize lies ahead, a dangerous journey away, across the Indian Ocean. At Malindi, on the coast of Kenya, a pilot is found who knows the route northeast to Calicut, an important trading centre in southern India.

After twenty-three days Calicut is safely reached. Da Gama is welcomed by the local Hindu ruler, who must surely wonder why his guest is so keen to erect a stone pillar.

Da Gama spends three months in Calicut before sailing back to Africa. Adverse winds extend the crossing this time from three weeks to three months, and before the African coast is reached many of the crew die of Scurvy -- a first glimpse of one of the problems of ocean travel.

Da Gama arrives back in Lisbon in September 1499, more than two years after his departure. He is richly rewarded by the king, Manuel I, with honours, money and land. He has not managed to conclude a treaty with the ruler of Calicut. But he has proved that trade with the east by sea is possible. Manuel moves quickly to seize the opportunity.

Six months later, in March 1500, the king sends Pedro Cabral on the same journey. He takes such a curving westerly route through the Atlantic that he chances upon the coast of Brazil (an accident with its own significant results). This time a warehouse is established in Calicut, but the Portuguese left there to run it are murdered. To avenge this act, da Gama is sent east again in 1502. He bombards Calicut from mortars aboard his ship. With this clear evidence of Portuguese power a treaty becomes available.

These events, east and west in India and Brazil, provide the basis of the Portuguese empire, with all its rich opportunities for future Traders and Missionaries.

Vespucci and America: AD 1500-1507

In May 1501 an Italian navigator, Amerigo Vespucci, sets sail from Lisbon in the service of the Portuguese king. In the previous year a Portuguese ship (captained by Pedro cabral) has touched land in Brazil in the region of what is now Salvador, and Vespucci himself has explored around the mouth of the Amazon.

Vespucci's present aim is to explore to the south. In doing so he hopes to find his way round the peninsula which - according to Ptolemy - forms the southeast extremity of Asia.

In January 1502 Vespucci reaches the bay of Rio de Janeiro, and continues on southwards to beyond the mouth of the river Plate. It is not known how much further Vespucci sails before turning home (his ships get back to Lisbon in July), but he has certainly reached a point sufficiently far south to make him query the conventional wisdom deriving from Ptolemy.

Vespucci comes to the conclusion which gives his voyage such significance. He now believes that this immensely long coastline is not that of Asia. It is a separate continent of its own.

Vespucci explains his new theory in a letter describing his recent voyage (together with earlier ones). It is printed in Florence, in 1505, with the Latin title Quatuor Americi Vesputii Navigationes ('Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci').

The letter is reprinted in Lorraine, in 1507, with a preface in which the editor floats an idea. Rather improbably (and most gratifyingly for any editor) this idea catches on. The editor proposes that the newly found land be named after Amerigo, his distinguished author. As a practical suggestion he puts forward a version of the name which looks good in Latin. He suggests that the place should be called America.

Balboa and the Pacific: AD 1513

The Atlantic ocean begins to acquire a western edge and a definable shape after the discovery of the Caribbean by Columbus in 1492, followed by the exploration of the coast of Venezuela by a Spaniard (Alonso de Ojeda) in 1499-1500 and then Landfall in brazil in 1500 by a Portuguese navigator (Pedro Cabral).

This coastline is still believed (following the theories of Ptolemy and columbus) to be part of Asia. That theory is not necessarily disproved by news which begins to reach the Spaniards as they make contact with the Indians of central America. The Indians speak of another vast sea not far away to the west.

Such a sea, if this land is indeed Asia, would consist of a huge bay somewhere south of China. It becomes known as the mar del sur ('south sea'). To be the first to find it is any explorer's dream.

An expedition to find the south sea is mounted, in a mood of urgency, by Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513. Balboa is the governor of a Spanish colony which he has established, in 1510, at Santa María la Antigua on the west shore of the gulf of Uraba (a region known then as Darién). He comes to believe that the south sea, with its fabled riches, could be reached from here in a fairly short expedition with a force of 1000 fighting men.

Balboa conveys this opinion to the Spanish king, Ferdinand II. It is a move which proves his undoing. Ferdinand is so impressed by the prospect that he plans a much more ambitious colony (Balboa's settlement contains fewer than 400 Spaniards). The extended colony is to have a new elderly governor, Pedrarias Davila.

News of the impending arrival of his replacement prompts Balboa to rapid action, to secure any possible glory for himself. On 1 September 1513 he sets off westwards with a force of 180 Spaniards and 800 Indians.

Four weeks later, climbing to the top of a hill, Balboa sees the Pacific spread out before him. He makes his way down to the coast, in the Gulf of San Miguel, and there claims the entire sea for the Spanish king. When news reaches Spain, Balboa is appointed governor of the south sea and of Panama.

The appointment inflames Pedrarias, already furious at being upstaged by a much younger upstart. The rivalry between the men intensifies. It results in disaster for Balboa.

Late in 1518 Pedrarias arrests Balboa on a trumped up charge of treason. Frustrating his rival's right of appeal, Pedrarias has him hurriedly beheaded in January 1519.

As if this were not injustice enough, the poet Keats - in literature's most famous reference to the discovery of the Pacific - credits Balboa's great achievement to the wrong conquistador: 'Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes/ He stared at the Pacific - and all his men/ Looked at each other with a wild surmise - / Silent upon a peak in Darien'.

The lure of spice: 16th century AD

The wealth of the Spice islands, first reached by Portuguese navigators sailing east, is the stimulus for all subsequent maritime exploration in the 16th century.

The magnificent achievement of Magellan, crossing an uncharted Pacific ocean in 1520-21, is part of an attempt to reach the Spice islands in a westerly direction and thus claim them for Spain. Similarly the discoveries of Cartier and Hudson in Canada, and of Barents to the north of Russia, are by-products of expeditions to find a northwest and northeast passage to the Indies.

Magellan's theory: AD 1518

Ferdinand Magellan learns the craft of navigator, between 1505 and 1512, voyaging to and around the East Indies in the service of his native Portugal. In 1516 his request for promotion is refused by the Portuguese king, who informs him that he may offer his services elsewhere.

The only alternative employment for a man of his skills is with Spain, Portugal's great rival on the oceans. As it happens, Magellan now holds a theory which could prove greatly to Spain's advantage.

The pope has granted to Spain all newly found territory lying west of the Tordesillas line, and to Portugal everything to the east of it. In terms of modern longitude, the line is approximately 50° W. In 1518 Magellan persuades the Spanish king that the spice islands, or Moluccas, may be less than half way round the globe travelling west from the Tordesillas line. If that is the case, the islands would belong to Spain.

He is almost right. The longitude of the Moluccas is about 125° E. They are therefore 185° west of the Tordesillas line, or just 5° more than half way round the globe. Spain will have a valid case, for instruments of the time cannot be so precise. But first Magellan has to reach his destination sailing westwards.

Magellan and Del Cano: AD 1519-1522

With a fleet of five ships, carrying 265 men, Magellan sails in September 1519 from Seville. In mid-December he reaches Rio de Janeiro. For the next ten months he explores southwards along the coast, searching for a channel through to the 'south sea' (sighted seven years earlier by Balboa).

The broad estuary of the river Plate delays him, falsely raising his hopes, and it is not until October 1520 that he begins to explore west and then south through the straits which now bear his name. The fleet is now reduced to three ships. One has been wrecked on the south American coast. The captain of another deserts and sails home from the straits.

On November 28 the three Caravels begin their journey across an unknown ocean. The crossing lasts ninety-nine days, without replenishment of food or water. The explorers finally make landfall, at Guam in the Marianas, on March 6. It has been three months of nightmarish deprivation, with the crew reduced in the end to eating leather from the rigging. But the sea itself has been sufficiently friendly for Magellan to give it a name which sticks - the Pacific ocean.

The next landfall is in the Philippines.

On the island of Cebu Magellan and his party rapidly convert the ruler to Christianity, beginning a Spanish link with the Philippines which will last until 1898. But in April Magellan is killed in a skirmish with natives on the island of Mactan.

He is already west (and slightly north) of his destination in the Moluccas, and he has achieved the hardest part of the undertaking - coaxing his often mutinous crews across a vast unknown expanse of ocean. But the glory of leading the first complete circumnavigation of the globe falls to one of his officers, Juan Sebastian del Cano.

Del Cano finally reaches Spain in September 1522 with a single ship (the Victoria, only survivor of the fleet of five) and seventeen Europeans from the original crew of 265, together with four Indians. He is granted by the Spanish king, Charles V, a suitable addition to his coat of arms - the device of a globe and the inscription Primus circumdedisti me (Latin for 'you first encircled me').

With this achievement, humans at last know the extent of the planet on which we live (Copernicus, at this same moment, is beginning to think the unthinkable - that it may indeed be only a planet). But the Pacific still has surprises in store.

Cartier and the Northwest Passage: AD 1534-1542

The two northern Atlantic kingdoms, France and England, look enviously at the wealth which Portugal derives from trade with the spice islands of the east. France is the first to seek a western route to the same pot of gold.

In 1534 the French king, Francis I, sends Jacques Cartier - with two ships and sixty-one men - to look for a northwest passage linking the Atlantic, above the continent of America, with the Pacific. Cartier discovers the great inlet of the St Lawrence river, which he hopes will prove to be the mouth of a channel through the continent. He postpones the exploration until the next summer and returns to France. Meanwhile he claims the whole region for his king, under the title New France.

In 1535 Cartier sails and rows his longboats up the St Lawrence as far as an island occupied by Huron Indians. They make him welcome and take him to the highest point on their island. He names it Mont Réal, or Mount Royal.

Cartier returns for a third visit in 1541-2. An attempt to found a colony comes to nothing. But his discoveries prompt the interest of French fur traders in these regions. In 1611 Samuel de Champlain establishes the beginning of a settlement on the same Huron island, today the site of Montreal. Three years earlier Champlain has formed a settlement at Quebec. Thus Cartier's search for a way through to the east lays the foundation, unwittingly, for the French empire in the west.

Northeast Passage: AD 1525-1556

While The french are searching for a way north of America to China and the Indies, others believe that there may be a possible route north of Russia. The Arctic waters of the Barents Sea have long been familiar to northern seamen. The Vikings penetrate these regions in the 10th century. Russian vessels trade by this route with Norway in the 14th century. In 1525 a Russian diplomat in Italy mentions the possibility that similar channels could perhaps be followed eastwards to China.

The same idea is also prompting interest in England. In 1553 an expedition sets out from the Thames to search for this supposed northeast passage.

The three ships of the expedition, under the command of Hugh Willoughby, are towed down the river. As they pass Greenwich Palace, they salute the ailing Edward vi (the 15-year-old king is within six weeks of his death). But the sky-blue uniforms of the crew put a smart gloss on great incompetence and lack of preparation. Six months later Willoughby, with two of his ships, is stranded for the Arctic winter on a bleak shore of the Barents Sea. With no suitable clothing or provisions, they starve and freeze to death.

Their gruesome end is known because Willoughby's body and his journal are recovered in 1555 by the captain of the third ship, Richard Chancellor.

Chancellor's voyage of 1553 is, by accident, as successful as Willoughy's is disastrous. Separated from the other two ships in a storm, he continues his journey alone and reaches Kholmogory (upstream from the later town of Archangel). He is warmly welcomed and is invited to travel overland to visit Ivan iv (or Ivan the Terrible) in Moscow. So while Willoughby is perishing on the northern coast, Chancellor spends the winter at the tsar's lavish court (of which his detailed description later astonishes his compatriots at home).

In the spring of 1554 Chancellor rejoins his ship at Kholmogory. He arrives back in England during the summer.

Chancellor brings with him an offer from Ivan III of favourable trading terms for English ships and merchants. The result, in 1555, is the founding of the Muscovy Company. It is the earliest of the English chartered companies which are granted monopolies by the crown to develop trade with specific regions (others being the East india company and the Hudson's Bay Company). A flourishing trade with Russia, mainly through the port of Archangel (founded in 1584), is the result of England's quest for the northeast passage.

Chancellor makes further voyages to Russia in 1555 and again in 1556, when he takes on board a Russian ambassador to England - but his ship is wrecked, with the loss of most of those on board, off the coast of Scotland.

Willem Barents: AD 1594-1597

The ending of Dutch trade with Portugal, in 1580, causes the merchants of Amsterdam to be as interested as their London counterparts in a northeast passage to the east. In 1594, and in each of the two succeeding years, an expedition is sent into Arctic waters under the command of Willem Barents.

In 1594, and again in in 1595, Barents reaches the coast of Novaya Zemlya but fails to find a channel through to the Kara Sea. In 1596 he takes a more northerly route. On this occasion he sights both Bear Island and Spitsbergen and makes his way round the northern point of Novaya Zemlya. There the ice closes in and traps his ship.

Barents and his companions survive the winter, becoming the first Europeans to do so within the Arctic circle. But the thaw in the spring is insufficient to free the ship. Barents decides to escape southwards in two open boats. After a week at sea, he dies. But most of his crew make their way back to the Netherlands.

Barents' gallant failure diverts Dutch attention to the Southern route to the east. But they retain an interest in a possible northern passage. In 1609 the Dutch east india company commissions an experienced English explorer, Henry Hudson, to make another attempt on its behalf.

17th - 18th century

Henry Hudson: AD 1607-1611

Although Henry Hudson's name is now entirely associated with north America, his aim in the first three of his four voyages is to find a northeast passage rather than one to the northwest.

He is commissioned first by the English merchants of the Muscovy company, in 1607 and again in 1608, to push further the exploration undertaken by Willem Barents - in the hope of finding a route round Novaya Zemlya which will lead to the east. On each occasion he fails to go further than his predecessor. In April 1609 he departs again, this time sailing on behalf of the Dutch and with a broader brief. He is to seek a passage either northeast or northwest.

Once again Hudson heads northeast. But when nearly surrounded by ice, near Novaya Zemlya, he is confronted by a mutinous crew. He pacifies them by agreeing to pursue the other part of his commission, involving less northerly waters.

His ship, the Half Moon, turns west across the Atlantic and reaches America in the vicinity of Virginia. Hudson searches northwards up the coast, and turns into the great inlet of New York Bay. Exploring the river now known by his name, he soon realizes that it is not the strait he is looking for. In October 1609 he turns for home.

The English authorities now forbid Hudson to serve the Dutch, so his last journey is again for a consortium of English merchants. He is to explore north of the St Lawrence, already proved by Cartier to be a river rather than a strait. He leaves England, in the Discovery, in April 1610.

During June the Discovery sails into a broad strait, and in early August Hudson arrives in a massive bay. Both strait and bay are now known by his name. He turns southwards in Hudson Bay and reaches its most southerly part (James Bay) in late October.

Hudson makes his winter quarters in James Bay. He and his crew survive the dark freezing months, but not without discontents. There is a mutiny when the return journey begins. On 22 June 1611 Hudson and eight others, including his son, are set adrift in an open boat. Nothing more is heard of them. The chief mutineer dies on the journey home. The pathetic remnant of the crew, reaching England in September 1611, are treated leniently.

The interest generated by Hudson's expedition hastens English involvement in the Fur trade of northern Canada. He has not been the first European to explore either the strait or the bay which have made him famous. But he has been the most thorough. And his adventure has been the most dramatic.

Terra Australis: 16th-18th century

From the early 16th century European merchants are sailing the seas of southeast Asia. Often they make unexpected landfall, raising hopes of unknown territories rich in gold, silver or spice. The discovery of the Solomon Islands by a Spanish vessel in 1568 prompts interest in a so-called Terra Australis Incognita ('unknown southern land'). Part of the brief given to Francis Drake, when he sets off in 1577 to sail across the Pacific, is that he should search for this supposed land of treasure (see Drake's voyage).

Interest is maintained in the early 17th century when Dutch ships, sailing to and from the Moluccas, sight stretches of the western Australian coast. Are these places perhaps connected to the southern land?

The governor general of the Dutch East Indies, Antonio van Diemen, decides to investigate. He chooses for the purpose an experienced navigator, Abel Tasman, who is instructed to sail far south in the Indian Ocean and then to strike east, hoping to discover whether there is an open passage to South America. In the process he may also perhaps discover Terra Australis.

Tasman leaves Batavia in August 1642. He sails to Mauritius before continuing south and then east. He first makes landfall in November. He calls the place Van Diemen's Land, after the governor who has appointed him. Not until 1856 is the island renamed Tasmania, in honour of its discoverer.

Keeping to the southern coast of this large island, Tasman continues eastwards. In December he reaches New Zealand. Sailing northeast along the coast of both South and North Island, he concludes that this must be the northwest corner of Terra Australis. Tasman discovers Tonga in January 1643, and the Fiji islands in February. He then continues northwest, passing north of New Guinea and returning to Batavia in June.

Remarkably, in his ten-month voyage, Tasman has sailed all the way round the real Terra Australis without noticing it. It will be another century before the continent of Australia is properly discovered and charted.

Ohio and Mississippi: AD 1669-1682

The great central valley of north America, watered by the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers, is first visited by Europeans during the late 1660s and 1670s. This development is the direct result of the growth of the colony of New france during the 1660s. As the French explore through and around the Great Lakes, they begin also to move down the rivers running south from this region.

The nearest large river to the eastern lakes, and the first to receive attention, is the Ohio. Robert de La Salle explores the Ohio valley during 1669, in a journey which provides the basis for the later French claim to this area.

Four years later a much more dramatic expedition is undertaken by a trader, Louis Jolliet, and a Jesuit priest, Jacques Marquette (founder in 1668 of the mission at Sault sainte marie). With five companions, in 1673, they make their way round Lake Michigan in two birch bark canoes. From Green Bay they paddle up the Fox river, before carrying their canoes overland to the Wisconsin and thus on to the Mississippi.

They travel down the Mississippi as far as its junction with the Arkansas river, by which time they are convinced that it must flow into the Gulf of Mexico rather than the Pacific. With this information they make their way back to Lake Michigan.

Inspired by their example, La Salle becomes determined to reach the mouth of the Mississippi. After two false starts, several disasters and a long struggle for funds, he finally achieves the task in 1682. At the mouth of the great river he claims possession for France of the entire region drained by the Mississippi and its many tributaries, naming it Louisiana - in honour of his monarch, Louis XIV.

It is some time before the southern region becomes a desirable colony, though there is a brief flurry of excitement with John Law's Mississippi scheme of 1717 and the founding of New Orleans in 1718. But the Ohio valley is a region of great significance in the 18th century, being hotly disputed between the French and the British.

Bering's Voyages: AD 1728-1741

The Danish explorer Vitus Bering is an officer in the Russian navy when he is appointed by Peter the great, in 1724, to lead an expedition to discover whether Siberia is joined to the continent of America.

Bering builds a ship at the mouth of the Kamchatka river, in eastern Siberia, and sails north in July 1728 through what is now the Bering Sea. He makes his way up through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Circle, seeing and naming the Diomede Islands in the middle of the channel. On this occasion he fails to sight the coast of Alaska.

On a second voyage, in 1741, Bering reaches Alaska and explores part of its southern coast. On the way back to the Kamchatka peninsula his ship is wrecked on one of the Komandorski islands. Bering dies that winter, but survivors of his expedition get back to Russia with furs purchased in Alaska.

The lure of fur brings merchants eastwards and begins Russia's link with Alaska - formalized at the end of the century in the Russian-american company.

Discovery of the Pacific islands: 18th century AD

During the 18th century the maritime powers of northwest Europe make an increasingly coherent effort to discover which remote islands may be lurking in the middle of the vast Pacific. Dutch, French and English vessels undertake voyages of discovery, gradually filling in the map.

Islands are regularly discovered during the century. Among the better known, Easter island is reached by the Dutch in 1722, Tahiti by the English in 1767, the New Hebrides by the French in 1768, and New Caledonia and Hawaii by the English (in the person of Captain cook) in 1774 and 1778.

The discovery of the islands by Europeans coincides with and contributes to a romantic theme developing in European literary fashion in the second half of the 18th century. The islanders, untouched by any outside influence, are for the most part warm, friendly and open - a famous characteristic of the Pacific region even today. They have a brilliant tradition of wood carving. They appear to live elegant and relatively gentle lives.

They are, in other words, exactly what a certain school of romantic thought, associated in particular with Jean Jacques Rousseau, might expect them to be - noble savages, uncorrupted by the evils of civilization. (It is not in fact a theme which Rousseau himself develops, and the term 'noble savage' was coined in 1670 by Dryden.)

The islanders also soon attract the eager attention of another very different group of Europeans - a new breed of English missionaries, committed to taking the Protestant faith to savages as yet unaware of the truth. _x000b_ _x000b_A spate of missionary societies are founded in London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The first to arrive in the Pacific is the London Missionary Society, with an expedition to Tahiti in 1797. The islands become a favourite region for gospel work, well before the similar effort in Africa. And as in Africa, the missionary presence proves a prelude to the entire region being divided up between the colonial powers later in the 19th century.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Three voyages of Captain Cook: AD 1768-1779

The voyages of James Cook are the first examples of exploration undertaken on scientific principles. His first expedition, sailing in the Endeavour from Plymouth in 1768, has a scientific task as its central mission. It is known to the astronomers of the day that in June 1769 the planet Venus will pass directly between the earth and the sun. An international effort is made to time the precise details of this transit, as seen from different parts of the world, in the hope of calculating the earth's distance from the sun.

Cook first mission is to sail to Tahiti, set up a telescope for this purpose and take the necessary readings.

Cook's second purpose is exploration. He is to continue the search for the supposed southern land, Terra australis, and he is to chart the coast of the known territory of New zealand. He has among his passengers scientists of another discipline. The botanists Joseph Banks and his Swedish colleague Daniel Solander are eager to collect specimens of Pacific flora.

Cook observes the transit of Venus in the summer of 1769 and then spends the next eighteen months charting the entire coast of New zealand's two main islands and the east coast of Australia. The Endeavour is back in Britain in July 1771.

The original astronomical purpose proves the least significant part of the voyage (the data proves inadequate for the intended purpose). But Cook's charting of these important coast lines is carried out to a scientific standard previously unattempted. As the first Europeans to visit Australia's congenial eastern coast, the reports of Cook and his distinguished passengers are instrumental in encouraging the notion of forming British settlements. And the botanical specimens of Banks and Solander prove of immense value.

One issue not resolved is whether there is an unknown southern continent south of New zealand. Cook now proposes another voyage to more southerly latitudes.

The original astronomical purpose proves the least significant part of the voyage (the data proves inadequate for the intended purpose). But Cook's charting of these important coast lines is carried out to a scientific standard previously unattempted.

As the first Europeans to visit Australia's congenial eastern coast, the reports of Cook and his distinguished passengers are also instrumental in encouraging the notion of forming British settlements.

Cook sails from England in 1772 (now in the Resolution) and spends the three antarctic summers of 1772, 1773 and 1774 in a complete circumnavigation of the ice mass of the south pole - proving finally that there is no unknown habitable continent in the south (though Cook suspects, rightly, that there may be land under the ice).

Back in England in 1775, Cook reveals another scientific aspect to his explorations. His crew have remained surprisingly healthy in these long voyages, avoiding the sailor's debilitating disease of scurvy. Cook publishes a paper on his method for avoiding this condition. His men are given a regular ration of lemon juice.

Cook has discovered the importance of vitamin C, long before the substance itself is identified. The navy adopts his method, later substituting lime juice for lemon (causing British sailors in foreign ports to be known as 'limeys').

Cook's aim on his third voyage (again in the Resolution, from 1776) is to explore the Pacific coast of north America. He sails through the British settlements as far as the pack ice of the north pole. On his outward journey he discovers the Hawaiian group of islands, and here - wintering in Bering strait itself - he is killed in a skirmish with natives. He has spent all but two of the past ten years at sea, making an unprecedented contribution to knowledge of the Antarctic seas and the Pacific.

Northwest Canada: AD 1789-1793

The four years from 1789 bring much new knowledge about northwest Canada, particularly from two great journeys carried out by a Scottish fur trader, Alexander Mackenzie. By the 18th century Canada has already been well explored, mainly by fur traders, to some considerable distance west of the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay. Mackenzie has been living for some years at the extremity of the known region, with his base at the Indian trading post of Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca.

A great river flows northwest out of Lake Athabasca. In early June 1789 Mackenzie sets off with a small party in birch-bark canoes to discover where it leads.

A week brings them to the Great Slave Lake, which they find covered in ice too solid for their canoes but too fragile to walk on. They carry the canoes round its edge until they come to a river (now the Mackenzie) emerging from its western extremity. They follow this to its outlet, at Mackenzie Bay, into the Beaufort Sea - a part of the Arctic Ocean beyond the as yet undiscovered northwest passage. Mackenzie and his party are back in Fort Chipewyan in mid-September, having canoed about 3000 miles in not much more than three months.

With an unsated appetite for adventure, Mackenzie sets off again from Fort Chipewyan in 1792 on an even more ambitious undertaking - to reach the Pacific.

There has as yet been no recorded crossing of the continent north of Mexico, and it is unlikely that any unknown American Indian was ever tempted by the task which Mackenzie undertakes in July 1792. From Fort Chipewyan he travels along and between a succession of rivers, and then through the Canadian Rockies, to reach the coast at the mouth of the Bella Coola river in June 1793.

Mackenzie is unaware of it, but another explorer is in the region at exactly this same moment. Mackenzie reaches the sea about 100 miles north of Vancouver Island, named after George Vancouver who is spending two years surveying the coast from California to Alaska. In 1792 he becomes the first captain to sail round Vancouver Island.

Vancouver has begun his career as an able seaman on Captain Cook's second voyage (1772-5) and has graduated to midshipman for the third voyage (1776-80). Now, leaving Britain in 1791 in command of his own expedition to the Pacific, he takes pride in applying Cook's high standards of surveying and cartography. Indeed on occasion there is a humorous delight in upstaging the master. On the chart for Dusky Bay in New Zealand where Cook, lacking time to investigate, has written 'Nobody knows what', Vancouver now fills in the coastline and the words 'Somebody knows what'.

Thanks to Mackenzie and Vancouver, by 1793 somebody knows a great deal more than before about northwest Canada. The next question is who will develop and govern the region.

Vancouver has begun his career as an able seaman on Cook's second voyage (1772-5) and has graduated to midshipman for the third voyage (1776-80). Now, leaving Britain in 1791 in command of his own expedition to the Pacific, he takes pride in applying Cook's high standards of surveying and cartography. Indeed on occasion there is a humorous delight in upstaging the master. On the chart for Dusky Bay in New Zealand where Cook, lacking time to investigate, has written 'Nobody knows what', Vancouver now fills in the coastline and the words 'Somebody knows what'.

Thanks to Mackenzie and Vancouver, by 1793 somebody knows a great deal more than before about northwest Canada.

The challenge of Africa: from AD 1788

The ability of European ships to sail anywhere on the oceans of the world - culminating in the great voyages of Captain cook in 1768-79 - means that by the end of the 18th century the coast lines of the continents are familiar. So, from many centuries of to and fro, are the interior regions of Europe and Asia.

The interiors of the other three continents remain largely a mystery. North America will soon have heroic tales of exploration (particularly that of Lewis and clark in 1804-6) and Australia's fearsome outback will claim tragic victims (such as Burke and wills). But it is the ancient continent of Africa which now most fires the imagination of explorers, particularly in Britain.

The mouths of Africa's great rivers - the Nile, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi - are familiar to European traders. And there are reliable reports of great stretches of inland river (particularly the Niger, linked in history with several important African kingdoms). But no one has any idea how it all joins up. Where do the inland rivers reach the sea? Where do the estuary waters come from? These questions tantalize explorers from the late 18th century to the heady days of Livingstone, Burton and speke, Baker and Stanley.

In 1788 an African Association is founded in London. Trade is one of its aims. Another is exploration, and specifically the discovery of the course of the Niger.

The mouths of Africa's great rivers - the Nile, the Burton and speke, the Congo, the Zambezi - are familiar to European traders. And there are reliable reports of great stretches of inland river. But no one has any idea how it all joins up. Where do the inland rivers reach the sea? Where do the estuary waters come from? These questions tantalize explorers from the late 18th century to the heady days of Livingstone, Burton and speke.

By the time the discoveries of these intrepid adventurers have been passed to the cartographers, the maps of the world have few blank areas left. Improved techniques of surveying will refine the detail. But geography, in a schoolroom sense, is complete by the late 19th century.

Mungo Park and the Niger: AD 1795-1806

Mungo Park, by trade a ship's surgeon, hears of the African Association's interest in the Niger and in 1794 offers his services as an explorer. From June 1795 he travels 200 miles up the river Gambia and then sets off overland into unknown territory. After a highly eventful journey he reaches the Niger in July 1796, but is only able to travel a short way down the river before he has to turn for home - exhausted and insolvent. He makes his way safely back to Britain, where his account of his adventures (Travels in the Interior of Africa, 1799) is an immediate success.

In 1803 the British government decides to sponsor another expedition to the Niger. Park is invited to lead it.

As an official undertaking, the new expedition is large and relatively well equipped. But this time Africa shows its fearsome credentials rather more emphatically. Forty men set off up the Gambia in 1805. By the time Park reaches the Niger his companions have been reduced to eight; fever and dysentery have killed the others.

In November 1805 the party of nine sets off in canoes from Ségou, to make their way down unknown stretches of the river. No more is heard of them, until vague reports of disaster filter back to British settlements on the Gambia. Eventually it is discovered that the explorers travelled 1000 miles down the river to the region of Bussa, where they died after an attack by natives.

19th century

The Lewis and Clark expedition: AD 1804-1806

In the first few years of the 19th century there is much talk in Washington of the possibility of water transport across the entire continent. The northeastern states could perhaps be linked to the Great Lakes (the Erie Canal is begun in 1817 after long preparations), and the river systems of the Ohio and the Mississippi are already the commercial backbone of the regions now being opened to American settlement.

The Missouri flows into the Mississippi from uncharted regions to the west. What if its waters offered a gateway through to the Pacific? The advantages would be enormous. Early in 1803 congress votes funds for an expedition to discover 'water communication across this continent'.

Later in 1803 the completion of the Louisiana purchase gives the proposed expedition a new topicality. The explorers will be investigating territory which now belongs to the United States, at any rate as far west as the Rockies.

Jefferson has already selected the leader of the expedition - Merriwether Lewis, an army captain who has been the President's secretary since 1801 and who has been preparing himself for the task by taking courses in botany, zoology and the skills of finding one's location by the stars. Lewis proposes that he share the command with an army lieutenant, William Clark.

Jefferson gives the two men detailed instructions as to their duties. They are to keep journals recording information about the Indian tribes they encounter, plant and animal life, mineral and commercial opportunities, climate, temperature and description of the terrain.

Lewis and Clark recruit a party of about forty men, many of them soldiers, whom they assemble in St Louis for a winter of training. On 14 May 1804 they set off up the Missouri in three boats, heavily laden with provisions and with twenty-one bales of presents for the Indians. Progress up the river is more difficult than expected. By November they reach the site of present-day Bismarck, where they make their winter camp among friendly Mandan Indians.

In April 1805 they continue up the Missouri in smaller boats, adding to their party a French-Canadian interpreter who has an Indian wife, Sacagawea. She plays her part valiantly in all the adventures and becomes something of the heroine of the expedition.

In what is now southwest Montana they abandon their boats, procure horses and a local Indian guide, and make their way through a pass in the Rockies to the Clearwater river on the other side of the continental divide. Here they make canoes which carry them down the Clearwater, into the Snake river and along the Columbia river to the Pacific. They spend their third winter in a temporary fort near the site of present-day Astoria.

On the journey east in 1806 the two leaders separate, Lewis exploring the Marias river and Clark the Yellowstone. They meet up again below the junction of the Yellowstone and the Missouri, and are back by September in St Louis - where the returning explorers are given a rousing welcome.

Theough anticipated in the crossing of the western part of the continent by Mackenzie (in 1792-3), Lewis and Clark are the first explorers to bring back a wealth of scientific and cartographic information about the region. Their achievement lays the basis for America's coming expansion through the west. Lewis later becomes governor of the Louisiana territory, and Clark of the Missouri territory.

Sections are as yet missing at this point.

Commerce and Christianity: AD 1841-1857

In 1857 the most famous explorer of the day addresses an audience of young men in Cambridge's Senate House. He urges upon them an idealistic mission worthy of their attention in Africa. He is about to return there, he tells them, in the hope of opening a path into the continent 'for commerce and Christianity'. He needs young enthusiasts to continue this work. The speaker is David Livingstone, aptly described by a commentator of the time as an 'indefatigable pedestrian'.

Livingstone's first involvement with Africa has been purely as a missionary, sent out to South Africa in 1841 by the London Missionary Society. But he soon becomes interested in other tasks far beyond the responsibilities placed on him by the society.

The challenge which first inspires Livingstone is to establish mission stations ever further north into the unexplored interior of the continent. This in turn brings him experiences which dictate the pattern of his life.

In these remote regions he sees the continent's slave trade at its source, where the victims are captured by fellow Africans for sale to the Arab traders who despatch them to markets on the east coast. Livingstone becomes convinced that this pernicious trade will only be suppressed if routes are established along which European goods can reach the interior of the continent, providing the basis for new and different trading activities.

Along such routes missionaries too will travel, benefiting the Africans' spiritual as well as their material needs - hence 'commerce and Christianity'. But finding such routes requires from Livingstone the skills for which he becomes renowned, those of the explorer.

The great journey which has recently made his name, when he speaks in 1857 in Cambridge, has lasted the best part of three years.

Livingstone's first great journey: AD 1853-1856

In 1853 Livingstone is provided with twenty-seven men by a friendly chieftain at Sesheke on the Zambezi. With them he sets off west, into unknown territory, to find a way to the coast.

Six months later, after appalling difficulties from disease and hostile tribes, the group arrives at Luanda on the Atlantic coast. There are British ships in the harbour, whose captains offer Livingstone a passage home to instant fame. But he insists that he must take his men back to Sesheke.

Returning by a different route takes him even longer, suggesting that there is no easy access to the interior from the west side of the continent. Instead Livingstone now attempts a journey east from Sesheke down the Zambezi, this time accompanied by more than 100 tribesmen.

Within fifty miles their way is blocked by the Victoria Falls. This brings Livingstone the credit of being the first European to discover this marvel of nature, though to him it is merely an irritating obstacle. However in this direction the terrain does prove easier to cross on foot.

Reaching Portuguese Mozambique, Livingstone this time leaves his tribesmen at the coast (he returns two years later to guide them home). He sets sail in 1856 for England. Here he publishes Missionary Travels (1857), a dramatic account of his adventures which makes him famous. But by the end of 1858 he is back to Africa.

Over the next fifteen years his adventures form part of an intense search, mainly conducted by British explorers, to discover the sources of the Nile and the Congo among Africa's central cluster of great lakes.

Burton Speke and the Nile: AD 1857-1876

The quest to discover the source of the Nile becomes an obsession of the mid-19th century. For it is an extraordinary fact that this great river was at the heart of one of the world's First civilizations and yet, 5000 years later, no one knows where its enriching waters arrive from.

It is true that the source of one its two branches, the Blue Nile (which merges with the White Nile at Khartoum), is known with some degree of certainty from the 17th century - for its waters flow from Lake Tana in Ethiopia, a civilized area familiar to many visitors. But the White Nile comes from much further south, in impenetrable equatorial regions.

The first serious attempts to explore far up the waters of the White Nile are made from 1839 on the order of Mohammed ali, ruler of Egypt and recent conqueror of the Sudan. His explorers reach a point slightly upstream of Juba, where rising land and tumbling rapids make it impossible to continue any further on the river itself.

A land approach by another route towards the elusive headwaters is clearly required. Such an expedition is planned in 1856 by the Royal Geographical Society in London. Chosen to lead it are two young men, Richard Burton (already famous for the astonishingly bold pilgrimage which he has made in 1853 to Mecca, disguised as a Muslim) and the relatively inexperienced John Hanning Speke.

Burton and Speke arrive in December 1856 in Zanzibar, where they spend six months planning their journey into the interior of Africa. In June 1857 they are ready to set off from the coast at Bagamoyo. At first they are able to follow the well-trodden routes of Arab merchants which bring them by November to Tabora, the long-established hub of east African trading routes.

Here they are told of three great lakes in the region. To the south is Lake Nyasa (in western terms discovered in the following year by Livingstone, now back in Africa from England). To the west is Lake Tanganyika and to the north Lake Victoria, both about to be discovered by Burton and Speke.

It is a strange concept that Europeans should be described as discovering geographical features on which the local population are well able to provide them with information. Yet the first description of such places by outsiders does have a real significance.

Travellers returning from remote places to the developed world contribute news of them for the first time to a global pool of ever-developing knowledge. The detailed maps which we now take for granted, and which in the 19th century had many uncharted blank spaces, depend entirely on such second-hand 'discoveries' and on subsequent visits by other explorers to fill in the details.

Burton and Speke first explore westwards, towards Lake Tanganyika, which they reach in February 1858 at Ujiji (the site thirteen years later of Stanley's dramatic meeting with Livingstone - see Stanley and Livingstone). When they arrive back in Tabora, Burton is ill. Speke therefore strikes north alone to reach (and name) Lake Victoria.

Speke conceives the hunch, on no firm evidence, that this great stretch of water is probably the source of the White Nile. It could just as well be Lake Tanganyika, and the issue is hotly debated on the return of the explorers to England. The Royal Geographical Society therefore supports another expedition by Speke to try and resolve the matter.

Speke sets off again in 1860 with a new companion, James Grant. (A disgruntled Burton has meanwhile hurried west to inspect and describe the Mormons in their recently established utopia at Salt lake city.)

Speke and Grant reach the southern shore of Lake Victoria in 1861 and begin exploring up its western coast. In July 1862 they discover and name the Ripon Falls, over which water tumbles from the northern extremity of the lake towards the distant Mediterranean. With considerable confidence Speke can now maintain that this great lake is indeed the source of the White Nile. But two more pieces of the jigsaw are required to clinch it.

Baker Stanley and the Nile: AD 1863-1872

While travelling round Lake Victoria, Speke hears news of another large lake to the northwest. He guesses that the water from the Ripon Falls may reach and flow through this other lake, but he is prevented by a local war from following the course of the river towards it.

On their way north Speke and Grant rejoin the Nile at Konokoro, near Juba. Here, in February 1863, they meet the most eccentric pair of characters of all those involved in the Nile exploration. Samuel Baker and his intrepid Hungarian wife, Florence von Sass, have equipped their own expedition and have travelled upstream from Khartoum with ninety-six attendants in three boats.

Speke and Baker, friends already from earlier encounters, treat each other with exemplary generosity. Speke tells Baker of the reported lake and hands over to him the maps which he has made since leaving Lake Victoria. Baker, forced now by the approaching rapids to take to the land, gives Speke and Grant his three boats for their continuing journey downstream.

Baker and his wife now plunge into two years of extreme danger among hostile tribes from whom their only protection is alliances with unscrupulous Arab slave-traders or powerful local potentates, one of whom even tries to claim Florence as payment for services rendered.

Not until March 1865 are Baker and his wife safely back in Konokoro. But in the interim they have reached the stretch of water which Baker names Lake Albert (thus nominally securing the entire upper reaches of the Nile for the British royal family). Baker has explored far enough round the lake to identify the points at which the water from Lake Victoria both arrives and departs.

The only unsolved question is whether the huge Lake Tanganyika might also contribute to the flow. This is finally answered in 1872, when Stanley and Livingstone explore the northern shores. They discover that the only river at that point flows into rather than out of Lake Tanganyika.

Livingstone Stanley and the Congo: AD 1872-1877

When Stanley departs for England in March 1872, he leaves Livingstone at Lake Tanganyika - for the veteran explorer is determined to investigate another river system, west of the lake, which he believes must be linked either to the Nile or to the Congo. In August 1872, receiving supplies and men sent from the coast by Stanley, he sets off south to the marshy area round Lake Bangweulu. Here, exhausted by dystentery, he dies in April 1873.

Stanley, devoted to Livingstone after the four months he has spent with him, is also well aware of the Livingstone legend, contact with which has secured his own fame. He decides to continue on his own account the explorer's final quest (see Stanley and Livingstone).

Stanley raises support in London for a new expedition to explore the Lualaba, the river whose source Livingstone was hoping to find near Lake Bangweulu. In November 1874 he and his party of three Europeans and about 300 Africans (some of them women and children) set off from the east coast at Bagamoyo and head for Lake Victoria.

They have with them a collapsible boat, the Lady Alice, in which Stanley surveys the entire circuit of the shores of Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika before moving on further west to the Lualaba. In 1876 he reaches Nyangwe, the furthest point reached by Livingstone in a journey of exploration along the river.

Beyond this is inhospitable territory, of dense rain forest and savage tribes, unreached even by the Arab traders whose routes have long crisscrossed the continent. Stanley presses on till he can launch the Lady Alice on the Congo itself, a meandering river often four miles broad. Eventually he reaches a vast basin which he names Stanley Pool (now the site of Brazzaville on one bank and Kinshasa on the other). Beyond this the river plunges down a long series of cataracts, named by Stanley the Livingstone Falls.

Many of Stanley's men drown here. For the last part of his transcontinental journey, from Isangila Falls, he strikes out cross-country. He reaches the estuary of the Congo, at Boma, in August 1877.

It has been the most dramatic and arduous of all the great journeys of African exploration of the previous twenty years. When the remnants of the party reach Boma, more than half the Africans recruited three years previously in Zanzibar are dead. So are Stanley's three European companions.

The cost has been high. But with the Congo charted, the pattern of the great rivers rising in central Africa is now finally clear. And Stanley's achievement turns out to be a pivotal event in the 19th-century European involvement in the continent. This last instalment of the mid-century saga of exploration is also the first chapter of the subsequent 'scramble for Africa'.

Across the Australian continent: AD 1858-1862

From the 1850s the two southern cities of Australia, Adelaide and Melbourne, become obsessed with the challenge of crossing the arid centre of the continent to the north coast. Adelaide offers a prize of £10,000 to whoever first achieves this feat. Melbourne raises money to equip an official expedition.

John McDouall Stuart accepts the Adelaide challenge, and does so with a fanatical dedication. Between 1858 and 1861 he sets off five times for the journey north. Each time he reaches further into the barren interior before turning back. Finally, in a journey lasting from October 1861 to July 1862, he achieves his purpose. He reaches the sea at Van Diemen's Gulf, near the future site of Darwin.

He has very nearly been beaten in the race, by an expedition which just fails and does so dramatically. As with Scott in the Antarctic, the tragic failure captures the public's imagination more than the success. When Stuart leaves Adelaide for the fifth time, in 1861, news has just come through of the fate of Burke and Wills.

The departure from Melbourne of Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills, in August of the previous summer, has been a grander affair than any of Stuart's expeditions. Burke leads a cavalcade past a great crowd of admirers, wearing a top hat and mounted on a grey horse. Twenty-four camels, imported from India, carry the equipment.

As with a modern expedition climbing a mountain, Burke decides to leave some of the party in camps while smaller numbers go forward. The main party is left at the Barcoo river, with instructions to wait there for four months. Burke and Wills, the final assault group, eventually come within a mile or two of the north coast in a region of salt-water creeks. But it is so boggy, in the rainy season, that they cannot progress through the swamp to a sea which they neither see nor hear but only taste in the salt air.

Four months have passed by the time they get back to the main camp. A recent fire is still warm. A note reveals that the party has departed that very morning, leaving a supply of buried food.

Burke and Wills by now have only one surviving companion, John King. In their desperate attempt to get back to Adelaide, Burke and Wills die of exhaustion. John King survives, after sheltering for three months with an Aborigine tribe - where he is eventually found by a search party.

The bones of Burke and Wills are brought back to Melbourne in December 1862, carried in procession through crowded streets while a brass band plays the Dead March in Saul. In the same week news reaches Adelaide that Stuart has crossed the continent. The news is shortly followed by the emaciated hero himself. Both expeditions - the famous tragedy and the less well remembered success - emphasize one harsh fact. The centre of Australia is inhospitable.

This History is as yet incomplete.
Arrow Arrow
Page 1 of 5
Arrow Arrow