6 Awe-inspiring Facts About Explorers


What makes explorers different from common men? Their build, nationality, or diet? Their wealth, brawn or material resources?

No, it is their intrinsic pluck and fearlessness, their willingness to risk their all to seek the great Unknown. In this article are 6 rare facts about different explorers who are still talked about. Read on and enjoy.

The explorer David Livingstone (on the right, here greeting journalist Henry Stanley) was an exemplar in the field of exploration.
The explorer David Livingstone (on the right, here greeting journalist Henry Stanley) was an exemplar in the field of exploration.

1. Dogs Versus Ponies

In 1911, the British explorer Captain Robert Scott made a fatal decision during the preparations for his journey to the South Pole. He chose the pony as the principal means of haulage, although he had a few dogs as well. The Manchurian ponies were specially purchased in Siberia by one of the team members. Scott insisted on the ponies being white, because he believed they were more Hardy thab brown ponies. But since few Manchurian ponies were white, the dealers were able to demand and get inflated prices for them.

Preliminary trips across the Antarctic ice painfully exposed the vulnerability of the ponies. Scott, however, refused to alter his plans. As a dog lover, he also refused to kill and eat dogs. On the drive to the Pole, the ponies were killed one by one to provide meat for both men and dogs. And after the dogs were taken back to the base camp, sledges pulled by men in harness became the only way of shifting equipment and stores. The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, meanwhile, relying on his experienced dog teams, reached the Pole in December 1911, 34 days ahead of the British expedition. Scott and his three companions all died on the return journey.

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2. Double First

A few days before Robert Peary announced he had reached the North Pole in 1909, another American, Dr. Frederick Cook, claimed and many believed Cook and doubted Peary. Peary’s critics doubted that Peary could have made the journey as quickly as he claimed. Leary insisted that he had covered 1300 km at an average speed of 54 km a day, and at times he had traveled at least 74 km in a day – figures which British explorer Wally Herbert, who led the first crossing of the Arctic ice cap in 1968 – 69, had described as incredible. Some critics also pointed out that the only non-Eskimo witness of his dash to the Pole was his Negro servant. In addition, Peary’s book on the expedition contained many discrepancies because it was ghost-written, and Peary undermined his own credibility by refusing to admit that he had been helped with the writing.

Later, however, Cook’s own account was questioned. His claim to have climbed Mount McKinley was shown to be false, and later imprisonment for financial fraud did nothing to improve his reputation.

Nevertheless, the case for or against Peary or Cook is not proven, and almost certainly never will be. The reason: the North Pole is merely a point on a constantly shifting ice pack. So nothing is left there to substantiate either man’s claim.

3. Westward Ho

Huge Chinese fleets were travelling westward into the Indian Ocean on diplomatic and trading missions more than 60 years before the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama became the first European sailor to round Africa in 1498. Chinese records show that between 1405 and 1433 a navigator called Zheng He made seven voyages into the South China Sea and on to the coasts of India and East Africa. On his fourth expedition, Zheng took a fleet of 63 ships and 27,000 men, including 180 doctors as far as the Persian Gulf. His largest vessels, well over 1500 tonnes were more than 180 m long.

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4. Explorer Who Bought a Wife

Samuel Baker, the Victorian explorer who discovered Lake Albert and the Murchison Falls on the Nile, made a most unusual purchase: he bought himself a wife. She was a Hungarian girl whom Baker, a widower, rescued from Turkish slavery at a slave auction. They spent six years in Africa together, and married on their return to England. Baker’s tales of his wife’s courage made her a popular heroine at home, but although Baker was knighted, Queen Victoria refused to receive his wife because if their earlier liaison.

5. Voyage of Disasters

The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition, the first to go round the globe, was a disaster as well as a triumph. Of the five Spanish ships and about 270 men who sailed in 1519, only one ship and fewer than 20 men completed the voyage three years later. One ship had been wrecked and one turned back before they even rounded Cape Horn and entered the Pacific Ocean.

Another was burnt and scuttled in the Pacific because so many men had died on the voyage that only two ships could be manned. These two ships separated, and one was captured by the Portuguese. Even Magellan himself did not survive the voyage. He was killed by natives in the Philippines and it was the last surviving Spanish captain, Sebastian del Cano, who brought the last ship, “Victoria”, home to Spain.

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6. First Explorers By Air

In 1897, three Swedes set off from Spitsbergen, an island in the Arctic Ocean, to fly a balloon to the North Pole. They were never seen again. The explorers had hoped to control the balloon’s course by keeping low and dragging trail ropes along the ground, which would reduce their speed to less than that of the wind. Sails could then be used to steer. But soon after the balloon was launched, it almost came down into the sea, and part of the trail ropes and a quantity of sand ballast were lost. Relieved of the weight, the balloon disappeared into the  clouds. The full story emerged only in 1930 when some of the expedition’s remains were found by sealers. What seems to have happened is that the balloon became so coated with ice that it was forced down well short of the Pole. The marooned explorers spent nearly two months struggling to get back over the moving ice, but finally died on White Island – only a few kilometres from the spot where they had taken off.