A brief History of European Exploration of the World
The first phase is the exploration of the Old World centred
on the Mediterranean Sea
the second is the so-called Age of Discovery, during which,
in the search for sea routes to Cathay (the name by which China was known to
medieval Europe), the coasts of a New World were discovered
the third is the establishment of the political, social, and
commercial relationships of the New World to the Old and the exploration of the
The exploration of the Old World
From the time of the earliest recorded history to the beginning of the 15th century,
western knowledge of the world has continuously widened.
The Babylonia and Egypt world views were that of a river valley surrounded by mountains or desert.
The world view of Greece and Rome was a Mediterranean world with hinterlands extending
from the Sahara to the Gobi deserts and from the Atlantic to the Indian oceans.
During the Middle-ages this view expanded further to include the far northern lands
beyond the Baltic and the dazzling civilization in the Far East.
The rapid colonization of the shores of the Mediterranean and of the Black Sea by
Phoenicia and the Greek city-states in the first millennium BC must have been accompanied
by the exploration of their hinterlands by countless unknown soldiers and traders.
Herodotus prefaces his History (written in the 5th century BC) with a geographical
description of the then known world.
This introduction reveals that the coastlines of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea had
by then been explored.
Stories survive of a few men who are credited with bringing new knowledge from distant journeys.
Herodotus tells of five young adventurers of the tribe of the Nasamones living on the desert
edge of Cyrenaica in North Africa, who journeyed southwest for many months across the desert,
reaching a great river flowing from west to east.
This presumably was the Niger, although Herodotus thought it to be the Upper Nile.
Exploration of the Atlantic Coastlines
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Beyond the "Pillars of Hercules" (the Strait of Gibraltar), the Carthaginians
(from the Phoenician city of Carthage in what is now Tunisia), holding both shores of
the strait, early ventured out into the Atlantic Ocean.
A Greek translation of a Punic (Carthaginian) inscription states that Hanno,
a Carthaginian, was sent forth about 500 BC with 60 ships and 30,000 colonists to
Even allowing for a possible great exaggeration of numbers, this expedition, if it
occurred, can hardly have been the first exploratory voyage along the coast of
Hanno founded Thymiaterion (now Kenitra, Morocco) and built a temple at Soloeis
(Cape Cantin, now Cape Meddouza).
He then founded five additional cities in and around present Morocco, including
Carian Fortress (Karikon Teichos) and Acra (Agadir).
The Carian Fortress is perhaps to be identified with Essaouira on the Moroccan west coast,
where archaeological remains of Punic settlers have been found.
Hanno evidently reached the coast of present Gambia or of Sierra Leone and may have ventured
as far as Cameroon.
There is no record that Hanno's voyage along the african coast was followed up before
the era of Henry the Navigator, in the 15th century.
About the same time, Himilco, another Carthaginian, set forth on a voyage northward.
He sailed from Carthage, through the Strait of Gibraltar and northward exploring the Spanish
and French Atlantic coasts.
He reached Brittany, and in his four-month cruise may have visited Britain and Ireland.
Two centuries later, about 300 BC, Carthaginian power at the gate of the Mediterranean
temporarily slackened as a result of squabbles with the Greek city of Syracuse on the
island of Sicily, so Pytheas, a Greek navigator and explorer of Massilia
(Marseille), sailed through.
His story is known only from fragments of the work of a contemporary historian,
Timaeus (who lived in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC), as retold by the Roman savant
Pliny the Elder, the Greek geographer Strabo, and the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus,
all of whom were critical of its truth.
It is probable that Pytheas, having coasted the shores of the Bay of Biscay, crossed from
the island of Ouessant (Ushant), off the French coast of Brittany, to Cornwall in
southwestern England, where he visited the tin mines, famous in the ancient world.
He claimed to have explored a large part of Britain on foot.
He accurately estimated its circumference at 4,000 miles (6,400 km).
He also estimated the distance from north Britain to Massalia (Marseille) at
1,050 miles (1,690 km); the actual distance is 1,120 miles (1,800 km).
He visited some northern European countries and may have reached the mouth of the
Vistula River on the Baltic Sea.
He also told of Thule, "the northernmost of the British Isles, six days sail
from Britain and extending at least to the Arctic Circle" there is "neither
sea nor air but a mixture like sea-lung ... binds everything together,"
a reference perhaps to drift ice or dense sea fog.
Thule has been identified with Iceland or most plausibly, with Norway.
Pytheas's scientific interests appear from his calculations made with a sundial
at the summer solstice and from notes on the lengthening days as he traveled northward.
He also observed that the polestar is not at the true pole and that the Moon affects tides.
The voyage of Pytheas, like that of Hanno, does not seem to have been
Herodotus concludes by saying, "whether the sea girds Europe round on the north none can tell".
It was not the Mediterranean people but Northmen from Scandinavia, emigrating from their
difficult lands centuries later, who carried exploration farther in the North Atlantic.
From the 8th to the 11th century bands of Northmen, mainly Swedish, trading southeastward
across the Russian plains, were active under the name of Varangians in the ports of
the Black Sea.
At the same time other groups, mainly Danish, raiding, trading, and settling along
the coasts of the North Sea, arrived in the Mediterranean in the guise of Normans.
Neither the Swedes nor the Danes travelling in these regions were exploring lands that were
unknown to civilized Europeans, but it is doubtless that contact with them brought to these
Europeans new knowledge of the distant northern lands.
It was the Norsemen of Norway who were the true explorers though, since little of their
exploits was known to contemporaries and that little soon forgotten, they perhaps added
less to the common store of Europe's knowledge than their less adventurous compatriots.
About AD 890, Ohthere of Norway, "desirous to try how far that country extended north,"
sailed round the North Cape, along the coast of Lapland to the White Sea.
But most Norsemen sailing in high latitudes explored not eastward but westward.
Sweeping down the outer edge of Britain, settling in Orkney, Shetland, the Hebrides, and Ireland,
they then voyaged on to Iceland, where in 870 they settled among Irish colonists who had preceded
them by some two centuries.
The Norsemen may well have arrived in Iceland piloted by Irish sailors.
And Irish refugees from Iceland, fleeing before the Norsemen, may have been the first discoverers
of Greenland and Newfoundland, although this is mere surmise.
The saga of Erik the Red (Eirik Torvaldsson), gives the story of the Norse discovery of
Greenland in 982.
As a child, Erik left his native Norway for western Iceland with his father, Thorvald, who had
been exiled for manslaughter.
When Erik was similarly exiled from Iceland about 980, he decided to explore the land to the west
That land, visible from the mountaintops of western Iceland, lay across 175 miles (280 km) of water.
It had been skirted by the Norwegian Gunnbjvrn Ulfsson earlier in the 10th century.
Erik sailed in 982 with his household and livestock but was unable to approach the coast because
of drift ice.
They rounded the southern tip of Greenland and settled in an area near present Julianeheb (Qaqortoq).
During the three-year period of Erik's exile, the settlers encountered no other people,
though they explored to the northwest, discovering Disko Island (now Qeqertarsuaq).
Erik returned to Iceland in 986.
His descriptions of the territory, which he named Greenland, convinced many people
anxious for more habitable land to join a return expedition.
Of the 25 ships that sailed from Iceland, only 14 ships and 350 colonists are believed to have
landed safely at an area later known as Eystribygdh (Eastern Colony).
About AD 1000, one Bjarni Herjulfsson, on his way from Iceland to Greenland,
was blown off course far to the southwest.
He saw an unknown shore and returned to tell his tale.
Leif Eriksson, Erik's son, together with some 30 others, set out in 1001 to explore.
They probably reached the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland.
Attempts at colonization were unsuccessful.
The Norsemen withdrew and, although the Greenland colonies lingered on for some four centuries
and communication with other settlements on Iceland and in Norway was kept alive,
little knowledge of these explorations came through to the seamen of Cadiz or Bristol.
The voyages of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot had their strongest inspirations
in quite other traditions.
The exploration of the coastlines of the Indian Ocean and the China Sea
Trade, across the land bridges and through the gulfs linking those parts of Asia,
Africa, and Europe that lie between the Mediterranean and Arabian seas, was
actively pursued from very early times.
It is therefore not surprising that exploratory voyages early revealed the coastlines
of the Indian Ocean.
Herodotus wrote of Necho II, king of Egypt in the late 7th and early 6th
centuries BC, that "when he stopped digging the canal from the Nile to the Arabian Gulf,
he sent forth Phoenician men in ships ordering them to sail back by the Pillars of Hercules".
According to the story, this, in three years, they did. Upon their return,
"they told things ... unbelievable by me", says Herodotus,
"namely that in sailing round Libya they had the sun on the right hand".
Whatever he thought of the story of the sun, Herodotus was inclined to believe in the voyage:
"Libya, that is Africa, shows that it has sea all round except the part that borders on Asia".
Strabo records another story with the same theme: one Eudoxus, returning from a voyage
to India about 108 BC, was blown far to the south of Cape Guardafui.
Where he landed he found a wooden prow with a horse carved on it, and he was told by
the Africans that it came from a wrecked ship of men from the west.
About 510 BC Darius the Great, king of Persia, sent one of his officers,
Scylax of Caria, to explore the Indus.
Scylax travelled overland to the Kabul River, reached the Indus, followed it to the sea,
sailed westward, and, passing by the Persian Gulf (which was already well known),
explored the Red Sea, finally arriving at Arsinok, near modern Suez.
The greater part of the campaigns of the famous conqueror Alexander the Great were
military exploratory journeys.
The earlier expeditions through Babylonia and Persia were through regions already familiar
to the Greeks, but the later ones through the enormous tract of land from the south of the
Caspian Sea to the mountains of the Hindu Kush brought the Greeks a great deal of new
Alexander and his army crossed the mountains to the Indus Valley and then made a westward
march from the lower Indus to Susa through the desolate country along the southern edge of
the Iranian plateau.
Nearchus, his admiral, in command of the naval forces of the expedition,
waited for the favourable monsoon and then sailed from the mouth of the Indus to the mouth
of the Euphrates, exploring the northern coast of the Persian Gulf on his way.
As Roman power grew, increasing wealth brought increasing demands for Oriental luxuries.
This led to great commercial activity in the eastern seas.
As the coasts became well known, the seasonal character of the monsoonal winds was
The southwest monsoon was long known as Hippalus, named for a sailor who was credited with
being the first to sail with it direct from the Gulf of Aden to the coast of the Indian peninsula.
During the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 1st century BC, Western traders reached Siam
(now Thailand), Cambodia, Sumatra, and Java.
A few also seem to have penetrated northward to the coast of China.
In AD 161, according to Chinese records, an "embassy" came from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius
to the emperor Huan-ti, bearing goods that Huan-ti gratefully received as "tribute."
Ptolemy, however, did not know of these voyages: he swept his peninsula of Colmorgo (Malay)
southwestward to join the eastward trend of his coast of Africa, thus creating a closed Indian Ocean.
He presumably did not believe the story of the circumnavigation of Africa.
As the 2nd century AD passed and Roman power declined, trade with the eastern seas did not
cease but was gradually taken over by Ethiopians, Parthians, and Arabs.
The Arabs, most successful of all, dominated eastern sea routes from the 3rd to the 15th century.
In the tales of derring-do of Sindbad the Sailor, there may be found, behind the fiction, the
knowledge of these adventurous Arab sailors and traders, supplying detail to fill in the
outline of the geography of the Indian Ocean.
The land routes of Central Asia
The prelude to the Age of Discovery, however, is to be found neither in the Norse explorations
in the Atlantic nor in the Arab activities in the Indian Ocean but, rather, in the land journeys
of Italian missionaries and merchants that linked the Mediterranean coasts to the China Sea.
Cosmas Indicopleustes, an Alexandrian geographer writing in the 6th century, knew that
Tzinitza (China) could be reached by sailing eastward, but he added:
"One who comes by the overland route from Tzinitza to Persia makes a very short cut".
Goods had certainly passed this way since Roman times, but they usually changed hands at many a
mart, for disorganized and often warring tribes lived along the routes.
In the 13th century the political geography changed.
In 1206 a Mongol chief assumed the title of Genghis Khan and, after campaigns in China that gave
him control there, turned his conquering armies westward.
He and his successors built up an enormous empire until, in the late 13th century, one of them,
Kublai Khan, reigned supreme from the Black Sea to the Yellow Sea.
Europeans of perspicacity saw the opportunities that friendship with the Mongol power might bring.
If Christian Europe could only convert the Mongols, this would at one and the same time heavily
tip the scales against Muslim and in favour of Christian power and also give political protection
to Christian merchants along the silk routes to the legendary sources of wealth in China.
With these opportunities in mind, Pope Innocent IV sent friars to
"diligently search out all things that concerned the state of the Tatars"
and to exhort them "to give over their bloody slaughter of mankind and to receive the
Among others, Giovanni da Pian del Carpini in 1245 and Willem van Ruysbroeck in 1253 went forth
to follow these instructions.
Travelling the great caravan routes from southern Russia, north of the Caspian and Aral seas and north
of the Tien Shan (Tien Mountains), both Carpini and Ruysbroeck eventually reached the court of the
emperor at Karakorum.
Carpini returned confident that the Emperor was about to become a Christian.
Ruysbroeck told of the city in Cathay "having walls of silver and towers of gold".
He had not seen it but had been "credibly informed" of it.
But the greatest of the 13th-century travellers in Asia were the Polos, wealthy merchants of Venice.
In 1260 the brothers Nicolo and Maffeo Polo set out on a trading expedition to the Crimea.
After two years they were ready to return to Venice, but, finding the way home blocked by war,
they travelled eastward to Bukhara (now in Uzbekistan in Central Asia), where they spent another
The Polos then accepted an invitation to accompany a party of Tatar envoys returning to the court
of Kublai Khan at Cambaluc, near Peking.
The Khan received them well, provided them with a gold tablet as a safe-conduct back to Europe,
and gave them a letter begging the pope to send "some hundred wise men, learned in the law of
Christ and conversant with the seven arts to preach to his people".
The Polos arrived home, "having toiled three years on the way," to find that Pope Clement IV was dead.
Two years later they set off again, travelling without the wise men but taking with them Nicolo's
son, Marco Polo.
Marco Polo, who was 17 years old at that time, kept detailed notes of all he saw and,
late in life when a captive of the Genoese, dictated to a fellow prisoner a book containing
an account of his travels and adventures.
This time the Polos took a different route: starting from the port of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf,
they crossed Persia to the Pamirs and then followed a caravan route along the southern edge of the
Tarim Basin and Gobi Desert to Cambaluc.
Information about the route is interesting, but the great contribution of Marco Polo to the
geographical knowledge of the West lay in his vivid descriptions of the East.
He had tremendous opportunities of seeing China and appreciating its life, for he was taken into
the service of the Khan and was sent as an administrator to great cities, busy ports, and remote
provinces, with instructions to write full reports.
In his book he described how, upon every main highroad, at a distance apart of 25 or 30 miles
(40 to 50 kilometres), there were stations, with houses of accommodation for travellers, with
400 good horses kept in constant readiness at each station.
He also reported that, along the roads, the Great Khan had caused trees to be planted, both to
provide shade in summer and to mark the route in winter when the ground was covered with snow.
Marco Polo lived and worked in western China, visiting the provinces of Shensi, Szechwan, and
Yunnan, as well as the borders of Burma.
He frequently visited "the noble and magnificent city of Quinsay (Hang-chou), a name that signifies
the Celestial City and which it merits from its pre-eminence to all others in the world in point of
grandeur and beauty."
Cipango (Japan) he did not visit, but he heard about it from merchants and sailors:
"it is situated at a distance of 1,500 miles from the mainland. ... They have gold in the greatest
abundance, its sources being inexhaustible".
The most detailed descriptions and the greatest superlatives were reserved for Cambaluc, capital of
Cathay, whose splendours were beyond compare.
To this city, he said, everything that is most rare and valuable in all parts of the world finds its way:
"... for not fewer than 1,000 carriages and pack-horses loaded with raw silk make their daily entry;
and gold tissues and silks of various kinds are manufactured to an immense extent".
No wonder that, when Europe learned of these things, it became enthralled.
After 17 years, the Venetians were permitted to depart.
They returned to Europe by sea.
After visiting Java they sailed through the Strait of Malacca (again proving the error of Ptolemy)
and, landing at Hormuz, they travelled cross-country to Armenia, and so home to Venice,
which they reached in 1295.
Only a few travellers followed the Polos.
Giovanni da Montecorvino, a Franciscan friar from Italy, became archbishop of Peking and
lived in China from 1294 to 1328.
Friar Oderic of Pordenone, an Italian monk, became a missionary, journeying throughout
the greater part of Asia between 1316 and 1330.
He reached Peking by way of India and Malaya, then travelled by sea to Canton.
He returned to Europe by way of Central Asia, visiting Tibet in 1325-the first European to do so.
Friar Oderic's account of his journeys had considerable influence in his day: it was from it
that the spurious traveller, the English writer Sir John Mandeville, quarried most of his stories.
Ibn Battutah, an Arab of Tangier, journeyed farther perhaps than any other medieval traveller.
In 1325 he set out to make the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca, and in some 30 years he visited the
greater part of the Old World, covering, it has been said, more than 75,000 miles.
He was the first to explore much of Arabia.
He travelled extensively in India, he reached Java and Southeast Asia.
Then toward the end of his life he returned to the west, where, after visiting Spain, he explored
western Sudan "to the northernmost province of the Negroes".
He reached the Niger, which he called the Nile, and was astonished by the huge hippopotamuses
"taking them to be elephants".
When he finally returned to Fes in Morocco he "kissed the hand of the Commander of the
Faithful the Sultan ... and settled down under the wing of his bounty".
He wrote a vivid and perspicacious account of his travels, but his book "A Gift to Those Who
Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling" did not become known to
Christian Europe for centuries.
It was Marco Polo's book that was the most popular of all.
Some 138 manuscripts of it survive: it was translated before 1500 into Latin, German, and Spanish,
and the first English translation was published in 1577.
For centuries Europe's maps of the Far East were based on the information provided by Marco Polo.
Even as late as 1533 Johannes Schöner, the German maker of globes, wrote:
Behind the Sinae and the Ceres (legendary cities of Central Asia) ... many countries were
discovered by one Marco Polo ... and the sea coasts of these countries have now recently again
been explored by Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci in navigating the Indian Ocean.
Columbus possessed and annotated a copy of the Latin edition (1483-85) of Marco Polo's book,
and in his journal he identified many of his own discoveries with places that Marco Polo describes.
Thus, with Ptolemy in one hand and Marco Polo in the other, the European explorers of the
Age of Discovery set forth to try to reach Cathay and Cipango by new ways.
Ptolemy promised that the way was short; Marco Polo promised that the reward was great.
The Age of Discovery
In the 100 years from the mid-15th to the mid-16th century, a combination of circumstances
stimulated men to seek new routes.
And it was new routes rather than new lands that filled the minds of kings and commoners,
scholars and seamen.
Toward the end of the 14th century, the vast empire of the Mongols was breaking up and
western merchants could no longer be ensured of safe-conduct along the land routes.
Also, the growing power of the Ottoman Turks, who were hostile to Christians,
blocked yet more firmly the outlets to the Mediterranean of the ancient sea routes from the East.
The cities of Venice and Genua, who had made huge profits over the centuries by controlling
the trade in the eastern Mediterranean regions were financially suffering from these new political
developments, but it were the new nations on the Atlantic shores of Europe who were now
ready to seek for alternative overseas trade and adventure.
The sea route east by south to Cathay
Henry the Navigator, prince of Portugal, initiated the first great enterprise
of the Age of Discovery - the search for a sea route east by south to Cathay.
His motives were mixed.
He was curious about the world; he was interested in new navigational aids
and better ship design and was eager to test them.
Henry was also a crusader and hoped that, by sailing south and then east
along the coast of Africa, Arab power in North Africa could be attacked
from the rear.
The promotion of profitable trade was yet another motive.
Henry aimed to divert the Guinea trade in gold and ivory away from its routes
across the Sahara to the Moors of Barbary (North Africa) and instead channel
it via the sea route to Portugal.
Expedition after expedition was sent forth throughout the 15th century to explore
the west coast of Africa.
In 1445 the Portuguese navigator Dinís Dias reached the mouth of the
Sénégal, which "men say comes from the Nile, being one of the most glorious rivers
of Earth, flowing from the Garden of Eden and the earthly paradise".
Once the desert coast had been passed, the sailors pushed on:
in 1455 and 1456 Alvise Ca' da Mosto made voyages to Gambia and the
Cape Verde Islands.
Prince Henry died in 1460 after a career that had brought the colonization of the
Madeira Islands and the Azores and the traversal of the African coast to Sierra Leone.
Henry's captain, Diogo Cao, discovered the Congo River in 1482.
All seemed promising; trade was good with the riverine peoples, and the coast was
trending hopefully eastward.
Then the disappointing fact was realized: the head of a great gulf had been reached,
and, beyond, the coast seemed to stretch endlessly southward.
Yet, when Columbus sought backing for his plan to sail westward across the Atlantic
to the Indies, he was refused - "seeing that King John II of Portugal ordered the
coast of Africa to be explored with the intention of going by that route to India".
King John II sought to establish two routes: the first, a land and sea route
through Egypt and Ethiopia to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and, the
second, a sea route around the southern shores of Africa, the latter an act of faith,
since Ptolemy's map showed a landlocked Indian Ocean.
In 1487, a Portuguese emissary, Pêro da Covilhã, successfully
followed the first route but, on returning to Cairo, he reported that, in order to
travel to India, the Portuguese "could navigate by their coasts and the seas of Guinea".
In the same year another Portuguese navigator, Bartolomeu Dias, found encouraging
evidence that this was so.
In 1487 he rounded the Cape of Storms in such bad weather that he did not see it,
but he satisfied himself that the coast was now trending northeastward.
Before turning back, he reached the Great Fish River, in what is now South Africa.
On the return voyage, he sighted the Cape and set up a pillar upon it to mark its
The seaway was now open, but eight years were to elapse before it was exploited.
In 1492 Columbus had apparently reached the East by a much easier route.
By the end of the decade, however, doubts of the validity of Columbus' claim were current.
Interest was therefore renewed in establishing the sea route south by east to the known
riches of India.
In 1497 a Portuguese captain, Vasco da Gama, sailed in command of a fleet under
instructions to reach Calicut, on India's west coast.
This he did after a magnificent voyage around the Cape of Storms, which he renamed the
"Cape of Good Hope" and then along the unknown coast of East Africa.
Yet another Portuguese fleet set out in 1500, this one being under the command of Pedro
On the advice of Vasco da Gama, Cabral steered southwestward to avoid the calms
of the Guinea coast.
Thus, en route for Calicut, Brazil was discovered!
Soon trading depots, known as factories, were built along the African coast,
at the strategic entrances to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and along the shores
of the Indian peninsula.
In 1511 the Portuguese established a base at Malacca (now Melaka, Malaysia),
commanding the straits into the China Sea.
In 1511 and 1512, the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, and Java were reached.
In 1557 the trading port of Macau was founded at the mouth of the Canton River.
Finally, Europe had arrived in the East.
It was in the end the Portuguese, not the Turks, who destroyed the commercial supremacy
of the Italian cities, which had been based on a monopoly of Europe's trade with
the East by land.
But Portugal was soon overextended; it was therefore the Dutch, the English,
and the French who in the long run reaped the harvest of Portuguese enterprise.
Some idea of the knowledge that these trading explorers brought to the common store
may be gained by a study of contemporary maps.
The map of the German Henricus Martellus, published in 1492, shows the shores of
North Africa and of the Gulf of Guinea more or less correctly and was probably
taken from numerous seamen's charts.
The delineation of the west coast of southern Africa from the Guinea Gulf to the
Cape suggests a knowledge of the charts of the expedition of Bartolomeu Dias.
The coastlines of the Indian Ocean are largely Ptolemaic with two exceptions:
first, the Indian Ocean is no longer landlocked and
second, the Malay Peninsula is shown twice - once according to Ptolemy and once
again, presumably, according to Marco Polo.
The Contarini map of 1506 shows further advances; the shape of Africa is generally
accurate, and there is new knowledge of the Indian Ocean, although it is
Peninsular India (on which Cananor and Calicut are named) is shown.
Although too small, it is, however, recognizable.
There is even an indication to the east of it of the Bay of Bengal, with a
great river running into it.
Eastward of this is Ptolemy's India, with the huge island of
Taprobane - a muddled representation of the Indian peninsula and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
East again, as on the map of Henricus Martellus, the Malay Peninsula appears twice.
Ptolemy's bonds were hard to break.
The sea route west to Cathay
It is not known when the idea originated of sailing westward in order to reach Cathay.
Many sailors set forth searching for islands in the west and it was a commonplace among
scientists that the east could be reached by sailing west, but to believe this a practicable
voyage was an entirely different matter.
Christopher Columbus, a Genoese who had settled in Lisbon about 1476, argued that Cipango
lay a mere 2,500 nautical miles west of the Canary Islands in the eastern Atlantic.
He took 45 instead of 60 nautical miles as the value of a degree;
he accepted Ptolemy's exaggerated west-east extent of Asia and then added to it the lands
described by Marco Polo, thus reducing the true distance between the Canaries and Cipango
by about one-third.
He could not convince the Portuguese scientists nor the merchants of Lisbon that his idea
was worth backing but eventually he obtained the support of King Ferdinand and
Queen Isabella of Spain.
The sovereigns probably argued that the cost of equipping the expedition would not be very great.
The loss, if it failed, could be borne; the gain, should it succeed, was incalculable - indeed,
it might divert to Spain all the wealth of Asia.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain, with three small Spanish crewed ships.
From the Canaries he sailed westward, for, on the evidence of the globes and maps in which he had faith,
Japan was on the same latitude.
If Japan should be missed, Columbus thought that the route adopted would land him, only a
little further on, on the coast of China itself.
Fair winds favoured him, the sea was calm, and, on October 12, landfall was made on the
Bahama island of Guanahanm, which he renamed San Salvador.
With the help of the local Indians, the ships reached Cuba and then Haiti.
Although there was no sign of the wealth of the lands of Kublai Khan, Columbus nevertheless
seemed convinced that he had reached China, since, according to his reckoning, he was
A second voyage in 1493 and 1494, searching fruitlessly for the court of Kublai Khan,
further explored the islands of "the Indies".
Doubts seem to have arisen among the would-be colonists as to the identity of the islands since
Columbus demanded that all take an oath that Cuba was the southeast promontory of
Asia - the Golden Chersonese.
On his third voyage, in 1498, Columbus sighted Trinidad, entered the Gulf of Paria,
on the coast of what is now Venezuela, and annexed for Spain
"a very great continent ... until today unknown."
On a fourth voyage, from 1502 to 1504, he explored the coast of Central America from
Honduras to Darien on the Isthmus of Panama, seeking a navigable passage to the west.
What passage he had in mind is obscure; if at this point he still believed he had
reached Asia, it is conceivable that he sought a way through Ptolemy's
Golden Chersonese into the Indian Ocean.
Columbus' tenacity, courage, and skill in navigation make him stand out among the few
explorers who have changed substantially ideas about the world.
At the time, however, his efforts must have seemed ill-rewarded: he found no emperor's
court rich in spices, silks, gold, or precious stones but had to contend with mutinous
sailors, dissident colonists, and disappointed sovereigns.
Columbus died at Valladolid in 1506.
Did he believe to the end that he indeed had reached Cathay, or did he, however dimly,
perceive that he had found a New World?
Whatever Columbus thought, it was clear to others that there was much to be investigated,
and probably much to be gained, by exploration westward.
Not only in Lisbon and Cadiz but also in other Atlantic ports, groups of men congregated in
hopes of joining in the search.
In England, Bristol, with its western outlook and Icelandic trade, was the port best placed
to nurture adventurous seamen.
In the latter part of the 15th century, John Cabot, with his wife and three sons, came to
Bristol from Genoa or Venice.
His project to sail west gained support, and with one small ship, the "Matthew," he set out in
May 1497, taking a course due west from Dursey Head, Ireland.
His landfall on the other side of the ocean was probably on the northern peninsula
of what is now known as Newfoundland.
From there, Cabot explored southward, perhaps encouraged to do so, even if seeking a westward
passage, by ice in the Strait of Belle Isle.
Little is known of John Cabot's first voyage, and almost nothing of his second, in 1498,
from which he did not return, but his voyages in high latitudes represented almost as great a
navigational feat as those of Columbus.
The coasts between the landfalls of Columbus and of John Cabot were charted in the first quarter
of the 16th century by Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese sailors.
In 1499 Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian merchant living in Seville, together with the
Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda, explored the north coast of South America from
Suriname to the Golfo de Venezuela.
His lively and embellished description of these lands became popular, and
Waldseemüller, on his map of 1507, gave the name America to the southern
part of the continent.
The 1506 map of Contarini represented a brave attempt to collate the mass
of new information, true and false, that accrued from these western voyages.
The land explored by Columbus on his third voyage and by Vespucci and de Ojeda in 1499
is shown at the bottom left of the map as a promontory of a great northern bulge of a
continent extending far to the south.
The northeast coast of Asia at the top left is pulled out into a great peninsula on which is
shown a big river and some mountains representing Contarini's concept of Newfoundland
and the lands found by the Cabots and others.
In the wide sea that separates these northern lands from South America, the West Indies are shown.
Halfway between the Indies and the coast of Asia, Japan is drawn.
Others did not agree with this interpretation.
To more and more people it was becoming plain that a New World had been found, although for
a long time there was little inclination to explore it but instead a great determination to
find a way past it to the wealth of Asia.
The voyage of the Portuguese navigator Fernão De Magalhães,
from 1519 to 1521, dispelled two long-cherished illusions: first, that there was an easy
way through the barrier of the New World and, second, that, once the barrier was passed,
Cathay was near at hand.
Fernão De Magalhães had served in the East Indies as a young man.
Familiar with the long sea route to Asia eastward from Europe via the Cape of Good Hope,
he was convinced that there must be an easier sea route westward.
His plan was in accord with Spanish hopes; five Spanish ships were fitted out in Seville,
and in August 1519 they sailed under his command first to the Cape Verde Islands and
thence to Brazil.
Standing offshore, they then sailed southward along the east coast of South America.
The estuary of the Río de la Plata was explored in the vain hope that it might prove
to be a strait leading to the Pacific.
Magalhães's ships then sailed south along the coast of Patagonia.
The Gulf of St. George, and doubtless many more small embayments, raised hopes that a strait
had been found, only to dash them.
At last at Port Julian, at 49°15" S, winter quarters were established.
In September 1520 a southward course was set once more, until, finally, on October 21,
Magalhães found a strait leading westward.
It proved to be an extremely difficult one: it was long, deep, tortuous, rock-walled, and
bedevilled by icy squalls and dense fogs.
It was a miracle that three of the five ships got through its 325-mile length.
After 38 days, they sailed out into the open ocean.
Once away from land, the ocean seemed calm enough.
Magalhães consequently named it the Pacific.
The Pacific, however, proved to be of vast extent, and for 14 weeks the little ships sailed on
a northwesterly course without encountering land.
Short of food and water, the sailors ate sawdust mixed with ship's biscuits and chewed the leather
parts of their gear to keep themselves alive.
At last, on March 6, 1521, exhausted and scurvy-ridden, they landed at the island of Guam.
Ten days later they reached the Philippines, where Magalhães was killed in a local quarrel.
The survivors, in two ships, sailed on to the Moluccas and thus, sailing westward, they arrived at
last in territory already known to the Portuguese sailing eastward.
One ship attempted, but failed, to return across the Pacific.
The remaining ship, the "Vittoria," laden with spices, under the command of the Spanish navigator
Juan Sebastian de Elcano, sailed alone across the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope,
and arrived at Seville on September 9, 1522, with a crew of four Indians and only 17 survivors of
the 239 Europeans who had set sail with the expedition three years earlier.
Elcano, not having allowed for the fact that his circumnavigation had caused him to lose a day,
was greatly puzzled to find that his carefully kept log was one day out.
He was, however, delighted to discover that the cargo that he had brought back more than paid for the
expenses of the voyage.
It is fitting to consider this first circumnavigation as marking the close of the Age of Discovery.
Magalhães and his men had demonstrated that Columbus had discovered a New World and not the
route to China and that Columbus' "Indies" - the West Indies - were separated from the East Indies
by a vast ocean.
Not all the major problems of world geography were, however, now solved.
Two great questions still remained unanswered.
Were there "northern passages" between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans more easily navigable than the dangerous
Strait of Magalhães to the south?
Was there a great landmass somewhere in the vastness of the southern oceans - a Terra Australis
("southern land") that would balance the northern continents?
The emergence of the modern world
The centuries that have elapsed since the Age of Discovery have seen the end of dreams of
easy routes to the East by the north, the discovery of Australasia and Antarctica in place of
Terra Australis Incognita, and the identification of the major features of the continental
While, as in earlier centuries, traders and missionaries often proved themselves also to be
intrepid explorers, in this period of geographical discovery the seeker after knowledge for its
own sake played a greater part than ever before.
The northern passages
Roger Barlow, in his "Briefe Summe of Geographie", written in 1540-41, asserted that
"the shortest route, the northern, has been reserved by Divine Providence for England".
The concept of a Northeast Passage was at first favoured by the English: it was thought that,
although its entry was in high latitudes, it
"turning itself, trendeth towards the southeast ... and stretcheth
directly to Cathay".
It was also argued that the cold lands bordering this route would provide a much needed
market for English cloth.
In 1553 a trading company, later known as the Muscovy Company, was formed with
Sebastian Cabot as its governor.
Under its auspices numerous expeditions were sent out.
In 1553 an expedition set sail under the command of Sir Hugh Willoughby.
Willoughby's ship was lost, but the exploration continued under the leadership of its pilot
general, Richard Chancellor.
Chancellor and his men wintered in the White Sea, and next spring
"after much adoe at last came to Mosco."
Between 1557 and 1560, another English voyager, Anthony Jenkinson, following up
this opening, travelled from the White Sea to Moscow, then to the Caspian, and so on to
Bukhara, thus reaching the old east-west trade routes by a new way.
Soon, attempts to find a passage to Cathay were replaced by efforts to divert the trade
of the ancient silk routes from their traditional outlets on the Black Sea to new northern
outlets on the White Sea.
The Dutch next took up the search for the passage.
The Dutch navigator Willem Barents (ca. 1550 - 1597) made three expeditions between
1594 and 1597 when he died in Novaya Zemlya, modern Russia.
Because of his extensive voyages, accurate charting, and the valuable meteorological
data he collected, Barents is regarded as one of the most important early Arctic explorers.
In 1594 he left Amsterdam with two ships and reached the west coast of Novaya Zemlya,
which he followed northward until forced to turn back near its northern extremity.
In the following year he commanded another expedition, of seven ships, which made
for the strait between the Asian coast and Vaygach Island but was too late to find
On a third voyage (1596), he sighted Spitsbergen (now Svalbard), but upon rounding
the north of Novaya Zemlya his ship became trapped in ice, and Barents was compelled
to winter in the north.
He lived only a week after he and his party were able to leave in open boats.
The Arctic dwelling in which the party had wintered was found in 1871; many of
its relics are preserved at The Hague, Netherlands.
In 1875 a portion of his journal was found.
The English navigator Henry Hudson, in the employ of the Dutch, discovered between
1605 and 1607 that ice blocked the way both east and west of Svalbard (Spitsbergen).
Between 1725 and 1729 and from 1734 to 1743, a series of expeditions inspired by the
Danish-Russian explorer Vitus Bering attempted the passage from the eastern end,
but it was not until 1878-79 that Baron Adolf Erik Nordenskivld, the Finnish-Swedish
scientist and explorer, sailed through it.
The Northwest Passage, on the other hand, also had its strong supporters.
In 1576 Humphrey Gilbert, the English soldier and navigator, argued that "Mangia (South China),
Quinzay (Hang-chou) and the Moluccas are nearer to us by the North West than by the North East,"
while John Dee in 1577 set out the view that the Strait of Anian, separating America from
Asia, led southwest "along the backeside of Newfoundland."
In 1534 Jacques Cartier, the French navigator, explored the St. Lawrence estuary.
In 1576 the English explorer Sir Martin Frobisher found the bay named after him.
Between 1585 and 1587, the English navigator John Davis explored Cumberland Sound
and the western shore of Greenland to 73° N.
Although he met "a mighty block of ice," he reported that
"the passage is most probable and the execution easy".
In 1610 Henry Hudson sailed through Hudson Strait to Hudson Bay, confident, before he
was set adrift by a mutinous crew, that success was at hand.
Between 1612 and 1615, three English voyagers - Robert Bylot, Sir Thomas Button,
and William Baffin - thoroughly explored the bay, returning convinced that there was
no strait out of it leading westward.
As in the quest for a Northeast Passage, interest turned from the search for a route
leading to the riches of the East to the exploitation of local resources.
Englishmen of the Hudson's Bay Company, founded in 1670 to trade in furs, explored the wide
hinterlands of the St. Lawrence estuary and Hudson Bay.
Further search for the passage itself did not take place until the 19th century: expeditions
led by Sir William Parry (1819-25) and Sir John Franklin (1819-45), as well
as more than 40 expeditions sent out to search for Franklin and his party, failed to find
It was left to the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen to be the first to sail through
the passage, which he did in 1903-05.
Eastward voyages to the Pacific
By the end of the 16th century, Portugal in the East held only the ports of Goa and Diu,
in India, and Macau, in China.
The English dominated the trade of India, and the Dutch that of the East Indies.
It was the Dutch, trading on the fringes of the known world, who were the explorers.
Victualling their ships at the Cape, they soon learned that, by sailing east for some 3,000 miles
(5,000 kilometres) before turning north, they would encounter favourable winds in setting a course
toward the Spice Islands (now the Moluccas).
Before long, reports were received of landfalls made on an unknown coast.
As early as 1618, a Dutch skipper suggested that "this land is a fit point to be made by ships ...
in order to get a fixed course for Java".
Thereafter, the west coast of Australia was gradually charted: it was identified by some as the coast of
the great southern continent shown on Mercator's map and, by others, as the continent of Loach
or Beach mentioned by Marco Polo, interpreted as lying to the south of Malacca (Malaysia).
Polo, however, was probably describing the Malay Peninsula.
In 1642, a farsighted governor general of the Dutch East India Company, Anthony van Diemen,
sent out the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman(ca. 1603 - ca. 1659) for the immediate
purpose of making an exploratory voyage, but with the ultimate aim of developing trade.
In 1642 Abel Tasman set sail from Mauritius, and sailing first south then east.
He landed on the west coast of Tasmania.
He coasted round the island to the south and, sailing east, discovered the South Island of New Zealand.
Sailing north on the west coast of New Zealand, Tasman entered the western end of the Cook Strait,
and believed it to be a bay.
Captain James Cook discovered its true nature as a strait (separating the North and South Islands of New Zealand)
On his way to the port of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia), he discovered the Tonga and the Fiji Islands.
In 1644, on a second voyage, he traced the north coast of Australia from Cape York,
which he thought to be a part of New Guinea, to the North West Cape.
Westward voyages to the Pacific
The earlier European explorers in the Pacific were primarily in search of trade or booty.
The later ones were primarily in search of information.
The traders, for the most part Spaniards, established land portages from harbours on the
Caribbean to harbours on the west coast of Central and South America; from the Pacific
coast ports of the Americas, they then set a course westward to the Philippines.
Many of their ships crossed and recrossed the Pacific without making a landfall.
Many islands were found, named, and lost, only to be found again without recognition,
renamed, and perhaps lost yet again.
In the days before longitude could be accurately fixed, such uncertainty was not surprising.
Some voyages - for example, those of Alvaro de Mendaqa de Neira, the Spanish explorer,
in 1567 and 1568; Mendaqa and the Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandez de Quirss
in 1595; Quirss and another Portuguese explorer, Luis de Torres, in 1606 - had, among
other motives, the purpose of finding the great southern continent.
Quirss was sure that in Espmritu Santo in the New Hebrides he had found his goal.
Torres sailed from there to New Guinea and thence to Manila, in the Philippines.
In doing so, he coasted the south shore of New Guinea, sailing through Torres Strait,
unaware that another continent (Australia) lay on his left hand.
The English were rivals of the Spaniards in the search for wealth in unknown lands in the Pacific.
Two English seamen, Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish, circumnavigated
the world from west to east in 1577 to 1580 and 1586 to 1588, respectively.
One of Drake's avowed objects was the search for "Terra Australis".
Once he was through Magalhães's straits, however, strong winds made him turn
north-perhaps not reluctantly.
He then sailed along the coast of Peru, surprising and plundering Spanish ships laden
with gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls.
His fortune made, Drake continued northward perhaps in search of the Northwest Passage.
He explored the west coast of North America to 48° N.
He returned south to winter in New Albion (California); the next summer he sailed on
the Spanish route to Manila, then returned home by the Cape.
Despite the fact that he participated in several buccaneering voyages, the English seaman
William Dampier, who was active in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, may be
regarded as the first to travel mainly to satisfy scientific curiosity.
He wrote: "I was well satisfied enough knowing that, the further we went,
the more knowledge and experience I should get, which was
the main thing I regarded".
His book "A New Voyage Round the World", published in 1697, further popularized the idea
of a great southern continent.
In the late 18th century, the final phase of Pacific exploration occurred.
The French sent the explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville to the Pacific in 1768.
He appears to have been more of a sceptic than many of his contemporaries, for, while
he agreed "that it is difficult to conceive such a number of low islands and
almost drowned lands without a continent near them," at the same time he
maintained that "if any considerable land existed hereabouts we could not fail
meeting with it".
The British, for their part, commissioned John Byron in 1764 and
Samuel Wallis and Phillip Carteret in 1766
"to discover unknown lands and to explore the coast of New Albion".
For all the navigational skill and personal endurance shown by captains and crews,
the rewards of these voyages in increasing geographical knowledge were not great.
The courses sailed were in the familiar waters of the southern tropics;
none was through the dangerous waters of higher latitudes.
Captain James Cook, the English navigator, in three magnificent voyages at long last
succeeded in demolishing the fables about Pacific geography.
He was given command of an expedition to observe the transit of the planet Venus at Tahiti
on June 3, 1769.
With the observation completed, he carried out his instructions to search the area between
40° and 35° S
"until you discover it (Terra Australis) or fall in with the eastern side of the land
discovered by Tasman and now called New Zealand".
He reached New Zealand, circumnavigated both islands, sailed westward, and on April 19, 1770,
made landfall on the eastern coast of Australia.
He then turned northward, charting carefully, being well aware of the dangers of the
Great Barrier Reef.
At Cape York, Cook took possession of the whole eastern coast, to which he gave the name
New South Wales.
He sailed through Torres Strait, recognizing as he did so that New Guinea was an island.
When Cook sailed back to England by Batavia and the Cape, the coastline of the fifth
continent was almost complete; only in the south did it still remain unknown.
In 1798 to 1799, two British navigators, George Bass and Matthew Flinders,
circumnavigated Tasmania, and in 1801-03 Flinders charted the coast of the Great Australian
Bight and circumnavigated the continent, thereby proving that there was no strait from the
bight to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
In a second voyage, from 1772 to 1775, which in many ways was the greatest of the three,
Cook searched systematically for the elusive continent that many still believed might exist.
The first summer he examined the area to the south of the Indian Ocean.
In the second, he searched the ocean between New Zealand and Cape Horn.
Finally, in the third, Cook explored the ocean between Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope.
He sailed home convinced that the great South Pacific continent of the map makers was a fable.
With the exploration of the Pacific completed, interest in a Northwest Passage revived.
In 1778 Cook proceeded to latitude 65° N, but he found no way through the ice barrier
either to east or to west.
He then sailed south to Hawaii, where he was killed on Feb. 14, 1779 in a dispute with the
Terra Australis Incognita had disappeared: there was now no unknown landmass in the southern oceans.
It was Matthew Flinders who suggested that the fifth continent should be named Australia -
a name that had long associations with the South Seas and that accorded well with the names of the
The continental interiors
At the beginning of the 19th century, the major features of Europe, Asia, and North and
South America were known.
In Africa some classical misconceptions still persisted, inland Australia was still
almost blank and Antarctica was not on the map at all.
The river systems were the key to African geography.
The existence of a great river in the interior of West Africa was known to the Greeks,
but in which direction it flowed and whether it found an outlet in the Sénégal,
the Gambia, the Congo, or even the Nile were in dispute.
A young Scottish surgeon, Mungo Park, was asked to explore it by the African Association of London.
In 1796 Park, who had travelled inland from the Gambia, saw
"the long sought for majestic Niger flowing slowly eastwards".
On a second expedition, attempting to follow its course to the mouth, he was drowned near Bussa,
in what is now Nigeria.
In 1830 an English explorer, Richard Lander, travelled from the Bight of Benin,
on the West African coast, to Bussa, and he then navigated the river down to its mouth,
which was revealed as being one of the delta distributaries that, because of the trade in palm oil,
were known to traders as "the oil rivers" on the Gulf of Guinea.
The Zambezi, in south central Africa, was not known at all until, in the mid-19th century, the Scottish
missionary-explorer David Livingstone crossed the Kalahari from the south, found Lake Ngami,
and, hearing of populous areas farther north, came upon the river in midcourse.
On a great exploratory journey from 1852 to 1856, the main purpose of which was to expose the slave trade,
he first travelled upstream, crossed the watershed between the tributaries of the upper Zambezi and those
of the lower Congo, and reached the west coast at Luanda, Angola.
From there a year's march brought him back to his starting point near the falls that the Africans called
"smoke does sound" but that Livingstone prosaically renamed the Victoria Falls.
From here he followed the Zambezi downstream, reaching the east coast at Quelimane, in Portuguese East Africa
On his second journey, sent out by the British government to test the navigability of the lower Zambezi,
he explored the Shire (Chire) and Rovuma rivers and reached Lake Nyasa.
His last journey, from 1865 to 1871, was undertaken at the behest of the president of
Britain's Royal Geographical Society (successor to the African Association)
"to solve a question of intense geographical interest ... namely the watershed or watersheds of southern
On this journey Livingstone investigated the complex drainage system between Lake Nyasa and Lake Tanganyika
and explored the headwaters of the Congo.
He refused to return to England with the Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley,
who was sent to his rescue in 1871, because he was still uncertain of the position of the watershed between
the Nile and the Congo.
He wondered if the Lualaba was perhaps a headstream of the Nile.
He struggled back to the maze of waterways around Lake Bangweulu and died there in 1873.
The whereabouts of the source of the Nile had intrigued men since the days of the pharaohs.
A Scottish explorer, James Bruce, travelling in Ethiopia in 1770, visited the two fountains
in Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, first discovered by the Spanish priest Paez in 1618.
The English explorers Richard Burton and John Speke discovered Lake Tanganyika in 1857.
Speke then travelled north alone and reached the southern creek of a lake, which he named Victoria Nyanza.
Without exploring farther, he returned to England, sure that he had found the source of the Nile.
He was right - but he had not seen the outlet, and Burton did not believe him.
In 1862 Speke, travelling with the Scottish explorer James Grant, found the Ripon Falls, in Uganda
(now submerged following the construction of a dam for Owen Falls hydroelectric station), and
"saw without any doubt that Old Father Nile rises in Victoria Nyanza".
Stanley completed the puzzle in 1875.
He circumnavigated Victoria Nyanza, crossed to the Lualaba, followed that river to the Congo, and then
followed the Congo to its mouth.
The pattern made by the river systems of Africa was elucidated at last.
The interior of Australia also posed a problem: was its heart an inland sea or a desert?
This question did not arouse anything approaching the same degree of public interest that was taken
in the geography of Africa.
Exploration was slow.
The early settlers on the east coast found that the valleys led to impassable walls at the valley heads.
In 1813 the Australian explorer Gregory Blaxland successfully crossed the Blue Mountains
by following a ridge instead of taking a valley route.
Rivers were found beyond the mountains, but they did not behave as expected.
Another explorer, the Australian John Oxley, in 1818 observed:
"on every hill a spring, in every valley a rivulet, but the river itself disappears".
He guessed that the great fan of rivers that drained the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range
of eastern Australia fell into an inland sea.
The Australian Charles Sturt resolved the problem by an imaginative journey made in 1829-30.
He embarked on the Murrumbidgee River and was "hurried into a great and noble river [the Murray]".
A week later he encountered another big river flowing into the Murray from the north, that he rightly
concluded was the Darling, the middle course of which he had explored the year before.
The voyage ended when he discovered that the Murray drained into Encounter Bay on the south coast.
The heart of Australia was not an inland sea but a vast desert.
Many more expeditions were needed to map the continent's major features, but two revealed its great extent.
In 1840-41 the Australian Edward John Eyre travelled along the south coast from Adelaide to Albany,
a distance of more than 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometres).
The Australians Robert Burke and William John Wills travelled from Melbourne in the
southeast to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north.
The exploration of the polar regions was the work of the first half of the 20th century.
Scientific curiosity mainly inspired the various enterprises, although political rivalry also played
In the North Polar regions, the scientific age began with the voyaging of William Scoresby,
an English whaler and scientist, who in 1806 reached 81°21'N.
In 1828 an English explorer, Sir William Parry, travelling over drift ice from Svalbard,
reached 82° N.
The Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen in 1893 attempted to reach the Pole by allowing his ship,
the "Fram," to be frozen into the ice in the East Siberian Sea in the hope that a current would carry
it over the Pole to east Greenland.
At 84° N 102° E, Nansen with a companion left the ship and travelled by sled to 86°13' N:
the ship eventually emerged from the pack ice north of Svalbard.
In 1909 an American explorer, Robert Peary, reached the North Pole by journeying by sled with
50 Eskimos from Ellesmere Island, northwest of Greenland.
Soundings of 9,000 feet (2,700 metres) were made within five miles (eight kilometres) of the Pole;
it seemed, therefore, that there could be no continent here.
In 1958 the U.S. submarines "Skate" and "Nautilus" travelled across the Arctic Ocean under the ice cap.
The great southern continent, which Captain Cook demonstrated could not lie in the South Pacific,
lay there neglected for some 50 years.
From 1839 to 1843, the British rear admiral James Ross, in command of the ships "Erebus"
and "Terror," explored the coast of Victoria Land.
In 1894 Leonard Christensen, captain of a Norwegian whaler, landed a party at Cape Adare,
the first to set foot on Antarctica.
In the first decade of the 20th century, various explorers, including Britons such as William Bruce,
Robert Falcon Scott, and Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, the German Erich von Drygalski, and the Frenchman
Jean-Baptiste Charcot, confirmed the existence of an ice cap of continental dimensions.
In 1908-09 Shackleton led a brilliant expedition, during which he examined the Great Barrier,
climbed to 11,000 feet (3,400 metres), and reached 88°23' S.
Scott and his party reached the Pole on January 17, 1912, only to find that the Norwegian explorer
Roald Amundsen had already been there on December 14, 1911.
Scott's party, caught in a blizzard, died on their return journey.
In 1928 Sir Hubert Wilkins, the British explorer and aviator, flew over Grahamland, using
Deception Island as a base.
In 1957 and 1958 the British explorer Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary,
the New Zealand mountaineer, travelled across the continent.