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History’s Most Influential Explorers

As humans, it’s built within our natural instincts to explore – but how many people would put their lives at risk to discover new parts of the world? We’ve dedicated a blog post to look at explorers that have had the most impact on the scope of human knowledge.


Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)

Although technically not the discoverer of the Americas, as the Vikings made it to North America around 500 years before, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus paved the way for colonisation of the continent – also known as the New World. It was the Monarch of Spain that granted Columbus financial support allowing him to set sail in hope to find new land which could be colonised. With the first voyage taking place on August 3rd, 1492, Columbus completed 4 voyages across the Atlantic Ocean in total, which in turn introduced permanent settlements for the Spanish on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea.

However, it was never Columbus’s goal to reach the Americas; he was actually aiming for the East Indies. Even though Columbus knew that he hadn’t made contact with the inhabitants of the East Indies, he refused to admit that he had in fact landed on a previously unknown continent and even called the inhabitants of the lands he visited ‘Indios’, which is Spanish for ‘Indians’).


Sir Francis Drake (1542-1596)

Frances Drake became one of the most memorable figures of the Tudor period after becoming the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world, which led to him receiving a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth I. His nobleness wasn’t met without controversy though, and he was a hate figure for both many British and Spanish people – mainly because the Spanish feared him. In his early days, he was involved in piracy and illegal slave trading between Africa and New Spain (a colony in the New World north of Panama), before being almost killed when his fleet was trapped in the Mexican port of San Juan de Ulua.

Queen Elizabeth I appreciated Francis Drake’s seamanship and could see potential in the daring seafarer, which led to her awarding him a privateer’s commission (essentially giving Francis permission to steal King Philips of Spain’s property). He then went on to successfully raiding and capturing several Spanish settlements in North and South America – before being appointed vice admiral of the English Navy to take on the Spanish Armada.


James Cook (1728-1779)

As a British explorer and captain of the Royal Navy, Captain Cook was the first European navigator to set foot on the east coast of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands – as well as the first recorded person to travel the whole circumference of New Zealand. In the three voyages across the Pacific Ocean that he took, he created detailed maps of the previously uncharted lands between New Zealand and Hawaii, which allowed him to progress significantly on each voyage by surveying new areas, naming features and recording islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time.

It’s because of Captain Cook that Australia and New Zealand are part of the English speaking world today, which is why we thought we must include him in our list of most influential explorers.

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