Explorers

Exploration A-Z

Amundsen, Roald   (1872–1928) A Norwegian explorer. In 1911, Roald Amendsen became the first man to reach the South Pole.

Balboa, Vasco Núñez de   (1475–1519) A Spanish explorer. In 1513 he was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean. 

British Empire   The overseas colonies ruled by Britain from the 1600s to the 20th century. It built up to become the largest empire ever seen. At its peak in the 1920s, Britain had colonies in every continent.

Cabot, John   (c.1450–1499) John Cabot was an Italian explorer who led an English expedition to North America in 1497.

Caillié, René   (1799–1838) A French explorer. Disguised as an Arab, René Caillié was the first European to safely return from the African trading town of Timbuktu. 

Cartier, Jacques   (1491–1557) A French explorer. Between 1534 and 1542 Jacques Cartier made three voyages to America and claimed modern-day Canada for France.

Columbus, Christopher   (1451–1506) A Genoese sailor and explorer. In 1492 Columbus sailed to America in the service of Spain while searching for a sea route to Asia. Before this, Europeans had been unaware of the American continent. 

Colony   An area controlled by another country in a different part of the world. 

Conquistadors   The Spanish invaders, or conquerors, of the Americas. Two famous conquistadors were Hernán Cortés (1485–1547), who conquered the Aztec Empire, and Francisco Pizarro (c.1471–1541), who defeated the Inca Empire

Cook, James   (1728–1779) A British sea captain who was the first European to sail to the east coast of Australia. Captain James Cook also sailed further south than anyone had before. 

Da Gama, Vasco   (c.1460–1524) A Portuguese sailor. In 1498, Vasco Da Gama led the first ships to sail from Europe to India around the southern tip of Africa. 

De Soto, Hernando   (c.1496–1542) A Spanish explorer. In 1539, he led an expedition to Florida in search of gold and became the first European to see the Mississippi River. 

Dias, Bartolomeu   (c.1451–1500) A Portuguese explorer who was the first European to sail around the Cape of Good Hope near Africa’s southernmost tip. 

East India Company   A British company set up in 1600 to trade with colonies in Asia. It also governed India from 1757 to 1858. 

Henry the Navigator   (1394–1460) A Portuguese prince who funded many expeditions. He set up a school of map-making, navigation and astronomy for sailors to learn the skills they needed at sea.

Humboldt, Alexander von   (1769–1859) German naturalist, geographer and explorer. Humboldt travelled extensively thoughout Latin America between 1799 and 1804, describing the nature and landscape he observed from a scientific point of view. His five-volume work, Kosmos, was a highly detailed investigation into the nature of the Earth and the Universe.

Imperialism   The policy of extending a nation’s rule and creating an empire.

Kingsley, Mary   (1862–1900) Mary Kingsley was an English explorer who travelled through Africa, where she met cannibals and collected specimens for the British Museum. 

Livingstone, David   (1813–1873) Scottish missionary and explorer. David Livingstone was the first European to see the Victoria Falls and to cross Africa from east to west. 

Magellan, Ferdinand   (c.1480–1521) Ferdinand Magellan was a Spanish explorer whose fleet of ships, in the service of Portugal, was the first to sail around the world. 

Missionary   Someone who sets out to convert people to their religion. During the 18th and 19th centuries, hundreds of Christian missionaries journeyed to the European colonies to convert local people to Christianity and a European lifestyle. 

Nansen, Fridtjof   (1861–1930) A Norwegian explorer. In 1888 he led the first team to cross the interior of Greenland and, in 1893, he travelled farther north than anyone had before but failed to reach the North Pole. 

Panama Canal   A canal that cuts across the narrow strip of land joining North and South America. It opened in 1915 and greatly aided international shipping trade.

Peary, Robert   (1856–1920) Robert Peary was an American explorer who claimed, in 1909, to be the first person to reach the North Pole. 

Polo, Marco  (1254–1324) Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant traveller, whose travels across Asia to China and back are recorded in his Book of the Marvels of the World, published in around 1300.

Raj   The British rule over India between 1858 and 1947. The word raj comes from the Hindu word for “ruler”. 

Scramble for Africa   The rush for European nations to lay claim to African land. In 1884, a conference was held in Berlin to decide how Africa was to be divided up. By 1900, Europe had colonized all of Africa except for Ethiopia and Liberia. 

Slave trade   The capture, transport and sale of slaves. In the early 1500s, the first slaves were taken from Africa to the West Indies to work on the Spanish sugar, coffee and tea plantations. The trade was a great source of European wealth. Millions of slaves died on the way to America or on the plantations. 

Stanley, Henry   (1841–1904) Henry Stanley was an American journalist who went to Africa to seek fame—which he did when he “found” the explorer David Livingstone in 1871. 

Suez Canal   A canal that created a shortcut between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. It opened in 1869 and provided a huge boost for world trade. 

Vespucci, Amerigo   (1454–1512) An Italian explorer who reached South America in 1499. It is thought that a version of Amerigo Vespucci's name, written on an early map of the continent, gave us the name “America”. 

West Indies   The Caribbean Islands, so-called because Columbus believed he had reached Asia (the Indies) when he landed there. 

Consultant: Philip Parker

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