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Posted in Exploration, Famous news stories, Geography, Historical articles, History on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about Roald Amundsen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 257 published on 17 December 1966.
For centuries men had been aware of the existence of a great land-mass in the extreme south. Captain Cook was the first to sail beyond the Antarctic circle, but no one ventured to explore the ice-bound continent.
The quest for the South Pole did not begin in earnest until the first years of this century. Scott and Shackleton are the best remembered of those who set records in degrees of latitude south that they reached. In 1910, Scott was organising an attempt on the South Pole when he found himself matched against an unexpected ‘competitor’, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.
From early youth, Amundsen was fascinated by the Unknown. He was the first to negotiate the North-West Passage (1903-06). He planned an attempt on the North Pole in the ship Fram, lent by the Norwegian government, but he was forestalled by the successful expedition of the American explorer, Commander Peary. Amundsen secretly redirected his plans to the opposite end of the earth – the South Pole – and announced his intention after Scott’s expedition had set out.
Amundsen used dogs to pull his sledges; Scott and his party dragged their own on the final stage of their trek. This was the difference which swung the balance. Amundsen’s expedition was blessed with remarkably good weather, but merciless blizzards beat down on Scott’s party.
Amundsen and his men reached the South Pole on 16th December, 1911 – a month before Scott.
Posted in Exploration, Historical articles, History, Travel on Wednesday, 15 May 2013
This edited article about Lady Hester Stanhope originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 256 published on 10 December 1966.
A west view of the ruins of the Great Temple in Palmira
Fishermen mending their nets on the beach at Hastings were curious, one hot summer’s morning, to see a tall, athletically-built young girl climbing into an empty rowing-boat. They watched as she untied the boat from the quay, grasped the oars, and began to pull vigorously out into the English Channel.
They did not think that anything was really wrong until the girl’s governess came rushing along the sand, shouting frantically, “Come back, Hester!” cried the distraught governess. “Come back and don’t be so foolish!”
But the girl only rowed harder.
“I won’t come back!” she exclaimed. “I’m going to France!”
For a moment or two the governess watched helplessly as the rowing-boat and its young oarswoman moved farther out to sea. Then she turned to the startled fishermen.
“Please go after her,” she begged them. “She means what she says. She won’t stop rowing until she reaches France – or drowns!”
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Posted in Adventure, Africa, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Travel on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about Rosita Forbes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 255 published on 3 December 1966.
Rosita Forbes setting out to find the semi-mythical fortress of Kufra by James E McConnell
Every day, for six hard-working months, Rosita Forbes readied herself for the great adventure of her life. She studied the Egyptian language, and spent laborious hours puzzling out the workings of sextants, theodolites, altimeters, and chronometers. Slowly, for she was “an atrocious mathematician”, she learnt how to plot her way across the vast wilderness of the Sahara Desert.
“I had very little money,” she said, “no knowledge of surveying, inadequate experience of desert travel and insufficient Arabic. All this had to be remedied.”
To make her task even more difficult, she decided to explore the Sahara disguised as an Arab woman! She knew that a young and pretty English girl would not be safe from the fierce Bedouin tribes who roamed across the desert, attacking and robbing unwary travellers.
So she set about learning how to “eat, sleep, dress, sit down and get up, walk and behave under all circumstances as an Arab woman”.
This also meant that she must study the Koran, the Moslem Bible, until she could pass for a devout member of that religion.
Rosita, who was born in Swinderley, Lincolnshire, realised that if her impersonation slipped even slightly, her life would be in grave danger. With difficulty she acquired enough Arabic to pass as a native woman. But she was not satisfied until “if I had a nightmare – I should scream in Arabic, not in English”.
In the winter of 1920, at the age of 26, she started on her perilous desert crossing. She was not a stranger to adventure. During the First World War she had driven an ambulance for the French Red Cross. Now that the war was over, she was not content just to live quietly in England. She wanted to travel – especially to regions where few white people had ever been before.
The place she chose for the first of the journeys that were to make her famous was Kufra, a cluster of oases deep in the Sahara, more than 300 miles from the Egyptian border. Only two white travellers had previously set foot there, and both of them were men.
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Posted in Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about Vasco da Gama originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 254 published on 26 November 1966.
Vasco da Gama rounding the Cape
In the 15th century, the people of Europe began to widen their horizons. Extending the range of their knowledge in every direction, they began to explore the world for themselves, stretching out long arms to encompass new empires across unknown seas.
Portugal, in contrast with the rest of Europe, was politically stable in the early 15th century. She was a nation alive with untapped energy, and it was in this century that her brave little ships challenged uncharted seas and currents. In July, 1497, four ships set sail from Portugal under the command of Vasco da Gama to complete the discovery of the sea-route to India, around the tip of Africa.
Vasco da Gama took with him all the latest navigational equipment, and he needed it, for much of the time no land was seen. An unknown member of the crew kept a record of the journey: “At last on Wednesday [22nd November],” he said, “at noon, having the wind astern, we suceeded in doubling the Cape [of Good Hope] and then ran along the coast.”
From that point onwards, the region was unknown, and the ships battled against the strong, adverse current. They paused at Natal, and noted the prosperity of the tall, friendly natives. They pulled out of Natal and edged their way up the east coast of Africa to Malindi. With a strong wind behind them, they sailed across the Indian Ocean, anchoring near Calicut in May, 1498. They discovered many of the wonders of the East – precious stones and spices – just as they had hoped.
Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea-route changed the shape of the world as it had been imagined, and showed the way for the beginning of direct trade by sea with the East.
Posted in Africa, Animals, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Travel on Saturday, 4 May 2013
This edited article about Mary Kingsley originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 242 published on 3 September 1966.
Mary Kingsley and her guides face an advancing gorilla by C L Doughty
Deep in the heart of Gabon, in what used to be French Equatorial Africa, an Englishwoman and two six-foot, painted Fan warriors came upon a family of gorillas. The females and young gorillas swung away into the trees. The angry male started towards the three humans, roaring ferociously.
When the male was only twenty yards away, the woman asked one of the warriors why he did not fire.
“I must wait,” he replied. “The other man’s powder is wet!”
And wait he did, until the gorilla was only inches away from the muzzle of his old-fashioned rifle. Then he fired, and the beast fell dead at their feet.
The woman was Mary Kingsley, explorer, naturalist and champion of the African. The writer Rudyard Kipling said of her: “She must have been afraid of something, but one never found out what it was.”
Mary Kingsley was born in 1862, the niece of the famous author, Charles Kingsley, and the daughter of a doctor who spent much of his life travelling. It was from her father that Mary inherited her love of adventure.
Finally, he settled down, and Mary spent several years nursing her ailing parents, who both died in 1892. Then, grief-stricken though she was, she was free to follow her life’s ambition and visit Africa – the Dark Continent, as it was then called.
It was an unusual ambition for a woman in those days, especially as Mary wanted to go to West Africa, which, because it was fever-ridden, was known as the ‘White Man’s Grave’, and where cannibals roamed the interior. Travellers brought back alarming tales of savagery, but Mary was a true Kingsley and packed her bags, eager to get there as soon as possible.
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Posted in Adventure, Disasters, Exploration, Historical articles, History on Friday, 3 May 2013
This edited article about disaster originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 240 published on 20 August 1966.
Fletcher Christian, famous ancestor of Edgar Christian, reached Pitcairn Island after his own difficult journey by Peter Jackson
Edgar Christian was born with the spirit of adventure in his blood. This is not surprising, since he was a descendant of Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny on H.M.S. Bounty; his father was a hero of the First World War; and his cousin, John Hornby, won fame as an explorer and hunter in the far north of Canada.
As a schoolboy at Dover College, Edgar admired from afar his cousin John’s exploits, and everything he heard and read about Hornby made him resolve to become a man of action.
He met his renowned cousin for the first time in the winter of 1925-26. Edgar was a manly looking, fair-haired boy of 17. Hornby, back in England for a well-deserved leave, was nearly 40.
From the start of their friendship, Edgar was enthralled by Hornby’s accounts of his adventures in the Hudson Bay area. As for Hornby, he believed his young cousin would make a first-rate explorer; for Edgar had piercing eyes of ice-blue, and Hornby considered that only men with eyes of that colour could possibly stand the hardships of Arctic life!
This strange theory, coupled with Edgar’s boundless enthusiasm, led the cousins to sail for Montreal in April, 1926. Their plans were to make their base at Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, and then to travel to the Thelon River, where they would spend the bitter winter months.
In the spring they would push eastwards from the Great Slave Lake until they reached Hudson Bay. A friend of Hornby’s, an ex-airman called Harold Adlard, was to accompany them. Edgar wrote that he was pleased that he would not be the only greenhorn in the camp.
After the three explorers had set off on their adventure, Edgar sent a long letter home to his parents in England. In it he said that the first part of the journey – 300 miles north from Edmonton to a place called Waterways – was done by a goods train with one compartment for passengers. From then on they travelled by canoe, visiting many colourful Indian communities along the way.
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Posted in America, Exploration, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 2 May 2013
This edited article about Martin Frobisher originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 239 published on 13 August 1966.
Martin Frobisher on a Thanksgiving Day greetings card
When the English explorer Martin Frobisher dropped anchor in a bay on the coast of Baffin Island on August 11, 1576, he thought that he had at last found the North-West Passage.
At that time the maritime nations of Europe were competing in bitter rivalry for the riches of the Far East. Portugal controlled the sea route round Africa, while the Spanish commanded the only other known route, by way of South America.
English merchants began to wonder if there might not be a third route by way of the Atlantic and through the Arctic Seas across the top of the world. It was to search for this North-West Passage to China and the East Indies that Martin Frobisher had sailed from England in his tiny ship, the 20-ton Gabriel.
When Frobisher went ashore in the bay, he imagined that he had landed on the coast of China. The natives who crowded around had the high cheek-bones and almond-shaped eyes of Asiatics, and they spoke in a strange language which he thought was Chinese.
But the natives were Eskimos, not Chinese, and Frobisher was still a long way from the elusive North-West Passage – and an even longer way from China.
Frobisher did not wait to do any more exploring, but returned to England in triumph, convinced that he had reached the threshold of Asia.
In spite of his mistake, Frobisher’s voyage was not in vain. It encouraged an increasing number of navigators to take up the search, and in doing so they laid the foundations of our present knowledge of the complicated, icebound Arctic.
Posted in Exploration, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, London on Wednesday, 24 April 2013
This edited article about Captain Scott originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 231 published on 18 June 1966.
Captain Scott's South Pole expedition, 1910-1912: eating a meal in the tent may have reminded Scott of his comfortable house in Chelsea
When living in his small and insubstantial hut in the Antarctic snows, Captain Scott must sometimes have thought of his pleasant London house at 56 Oakley Street, Chelsea. You will find a blue plaque there bearing his name.
As a young officer in the Royal Navy, Scott seemed all set for a normal naval career. The big break came in 1899, when his name was put forward for Britain’s first expedition to the Antarctic.
The expedition was organized by the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society. The ship was the Discovery, which now lies alongside the Thames Embankment opposite the Temple underground station.
Discovery was specially built for this expedition, and Scott commanded her, proving himself a capable and eminently suitable leader. The voyage lasted several years and paved the way for his second and fatal visit to the Far South.
In the interval, he advanced rapidly in his naval career, and by 1909 was assistant to the Second Sea Lord. The following year he sailed again for the Antarctic.
His vessel this time was the Terra Nova, and the expedition was very nearly lost before it had truly begun, for the little ship was caught in a severe storm and nearly foundered before she reached the Antarctic. Scott confessed in his diary that he was worried, which was hardly surprising, for the ship was leaking and the pumps were choked; the coal fuel broke loose and threatened to capsize her; horses and dogs were lost overboard, and much of the vessel’s superstructure was carried away by the sea.
Battered but safe, the expedition made its headquarters near Discovery’s former winter quarters. Now plans were carefully laid for an attempt on the Pole. Caches were established at intervals en route for the use of the returning party. A support group accompanied the explorers on the first leg of their journey. They were still together on Christmas Day when they nearly lost a man – whose forty-fourth birthday it was – down a deep crevasse. He survived with the aid of a rope.
That evening they enjoyed a most unorthodox Christmas dinner; the menu ran like this:
Pemmican and horsemeat, flavoured with onion and curry and thickened with Arrowroot. Cocoa and biscuit hoosh. Plum pudding and cocoa with raisins. Caramels and ginger.
Scott commented: “All slept well thereafter!”
The support group left them and Scott, Wilson (doctor and artist), Bowers (officer of Indian Marine), Oates (cavalry officer), Petty officer Evans, R.N. pressed on alone. On January 18 they reached the Pole only to discover that Roald Amundsen had arrived before them.
Disappointed and exhausted they retraced their steps. Evans was the first to die. Captain Oates, badly frost-bitten, walked out into a blizzard to avoid delaying the survivors further, but in vain, for another blizzard prevented them covering the last few miles to the large cache known as One Ton Depot.
Weakness and the intense cold killed them all.
Posted in Adventure, Australia, Exploration, Geography, Historical articles, History, Ships on Wednesday, 17 April 2013
This edited article about Matthew Flinders originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 227 published on 21 May 1966.
At No. 56 Stanhope Street, first round the corner from London’s Euston Station, is the house of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N. It is not likely to be there much longer, for the demolition men aren’t far away, but while it still exists it is easily found, its blue plaque being one of the few bright spots of colour in a drab street.
Born in 1774 of a family whose menfolk had for several generations been surgeons, it was intended that young Matthew should also join the medical profession. However, Daniel Defoe and his book Robinson Crusoe intervened. The book fired young Matthew’s imagination, and he spent his spare time teaching himself geometry and the craft of navigation.
At sixteen he realized his ambition to go to sea and in 1790 he sailed for the South Seas in a vessel called Providence. The object of the voyage incidentally, was to try to transplant bread-fruit trees to the West Indies – a mission which was successfully accomplished.
His next voyage took him to Australia, where he and the ship’s doctor, a man named Bass, spent much time exploring and surveying the coasts near Port Jackson. One day he was sent out in a 25-ton sloop – his first command. He was away for three months and, when he returned, he was able to report that he had discovered and named Bass Strait.
The value of Flinders’s quite extensive work was rapidly realized when he returned to England, and as a result he sailed again for Terra Australis less than a year later. The date was July 18, 1801, and this time he was in charge of an official expedition.
This voyage continued for two years, by which time his ship was rotten beyond repair and his men sick with scurvy. But the charts he drew then are still used as a basis for modern charts of much of the Australian coast.
His journey was eventful. His first command – an old prize taken from the Spanish – was wrecked within a week of sailing. He survived and tried again in a small schooner. This vessel became so leaky that its pumps were eventually out, and the labour of keeping the ship afloat was, it is reported, “excessive.”
By reason of these difficulties, Flinders put in at Mauritius, only to be interned as a spy, for France, which “owned” the island, was not at war with England. He remained a prisoner for seven years before being finally released.
Flinders was one of the first to investigate the phenomenon of compass deviations caused by iron in a ship; he conducted his experiments while he was detained in Mauritius, and he later submitted a paper on the subject to the Royal Society.
He returned to England after his release, and for three years occupied himself with writing a full account of his official voyage. By this time he was a sick man, and he died shortly after completing his final report.
Posted in America, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Friday, 12 April 2013
This edited article about Christopher Columbus originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 223 published on 23 April 1966.
If a queen had not offered to sell her jewels on April 17, 1492, Columbus would not have been able to make his first voyage to the New World.
Everybody laughed at Christopher Columbus when he declared that, given enough money to fit out an expedition, he could sail westwards across the Atlantic and find land.
Columbus spent seven years trying without success to interest one Spanish nobleman after another in his idea. Thoroughly disheartened, he decided to leave Spain. On his last day in the country, he put up for the night at the Monastery of La Rabida near the port of Palos, in Andalusia.
During supper he was telling one of the monks about his plan. The monk then revealed that he had once been confessor to Isabella, wife of King Ferdinand of Spain.
The monk gave Columbus a letter of introduction and suggested that he try and see the queen and tell her of his plans. Next morning Columbus set out for the Spanish Court. On April 17, 1492, he was granted an audience.
Isabella was interested in the voyage, but Ferdinand decided that the Moorish war made it impossible to provide either money or ships. At that Queen Isabella then declared that, if the royal treasury would not provide funds, she would pledge her jewels to finance the voyage.
Ferdinand was so impressed by Isabella’s determination that he agreed to provide the necessary ships and money. The first step had been taken to open a new world to Europe.