At 8am on the 3rd August 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from the Spanish port of Palos de la Frontera on the voyage that would take him to the Americas. While Columbus captained the Santa María, Palos natives commonly referred to as the Pinzón brothers captained the Pinta and the Santa Clara which is better known by its nickname the Niña. A third Pinzón brother, was the master of the Pinta.
None of the ships belonged to Columbus himself and, despite the voyage officially being supported by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, they forced the inhabitants of the port to contribute towards the costs associated with supplying and equipping them. In the case of the Pinta, its owners had even been forced to send the ship on the voyage against their wishes, leading to suspicions of sabotage when the rudder broke after just three days at sea.
The ships sailed first to the Canary Islands, which they reached after six days. Here they repaired the rudder of the Pinta and restocked with provisions for the Atlantic crossing, which they began on the 6th September from the port of San Sebastián de la Gomera.
However, it is Palos de la Frontera that holds the real title as the starting point of Columbus’ transatlantic voyage. The town also played a significant role in the later Christianisation of the New World since it continued to be a departure point for later westward voyages and was the location of the Franciscan Rábida Monastery that sent some of the first missionaries to the Americas.
On the 13th May 1787, the eleven ships of the “First Fleet” set sail under Captain Arthur Phillip from Portsmouth, England, to establish a penal colony in Australia. As well as over 1,000 convicts who had been sentenced to transportation, the ships also carried officers, crew, marines and their families.
It took 252 days for the six convict ships, three store ships, and two Royal Navy escort ships to complete the journey. The route involved the ships sailing first from Portsmouth to Tenerife, and then to Rio de Janeiro where they restocked their provisions and took livestock on board to establish the new settlement. They then sailed via Cape Town to Australia. This route ensured optimal usage of the prevailing winds to speed up the journey.
Despite the lengthy voyage and numerous dangers en route, the entire fleet of eleven ships arrived safely in Botany Bay. Going ashore to investigate Captain Cook’s proposed site for the penal colony, Captain Phillip quickly chose to instead find a different location because the soil was poor quality and there was limited access to fresh water. After further exploration, 6 days later he moved the fleet a few kilometres north to Sydney Cove, and the British flag was raised. 48 people had died on route, but over 1,400 people survived to establish the first European outpost in Australia on the 26th January 1788, the date which still marks Australia Day.
Thomas Stevens departed San Francisco on a large-wheeled Ordinary, also known as a penny-farthing, to become the first person to cycle around the world.
Stevens was born in England and emigrated to the USA when he was seventeen years old. A contemporary magazine describes him as having worked a railroad mill in Wyoming before securing a job at a Colorado mine where he had the idea of cycling across the United States. Having already developed a love of cycling, Stevens bought a 50-inch Columbia penny-farthing in 1884. Built by the Pope Manufacturing Company of Chicago, it was on this bicycle that he departed San Francisco at 8am on 22 April 1884.
The first leg of Stevens’ journey took him 3,700 miles east to Boston, which he reached after more than three months’ travelling along everything from wagon trails to canal towpaths. Determined to travel light, his handlebar bag contained only a change of socks and shirt, a raincoat that doubled as a tent, and a revolver.
Stevens arrived in Boston on 4 August, making him the first person to cycle across North America. He then chose to wait until the following year to cross the Atlantic to Liverpool and begin the next part of his journey. Crossing the Channel to France, he cycled across Europe to Constantinople before crossing into Asia.
Stevens made it to Iran before being forced to turn back to Turkey, having been denied passage through both Siberia and Afghanistan. He resorted to taking a steamship to Karachi from where he cycled to Calcutta and another ship to Hong Kong. More cycling to China’s east coast got him to a ship bound for Japan where his incredible ride finished on 17 December 1886. His journal records “DISTANCE ACTUALLY WHEELED, ABOUT 13,500 MILES”.
On the 19th April 1770, the British explorer Captain James Cook first caught sight of Australia. Or at least that’s what the log of HMS Endeavour said. The problem was, Cook and his crew had been at sea for nearly 2 years, having sailed west from Britain across the Atlantic to South America, and then onwards across the southern Pacific. By the time they arrived on the south-east coast of Australia, they had – in a calendar – skipped a day. According to some sources, therefore, Cook arrived in Australia on April 20th.
Irrespective of whether we use the ship’s log or the modern calendar to record the date, the voyage of the Endeavour was significant for being the first European voyage to reach the east coast of Australia. The Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon was the first to chart the west coast over 100 years previously.
After sighting land, it was another ten days before Cook and his crew actually stepped ashore. The first sighting had been of Point Hicks, but it wasn’t until the ship had travelled some distance along the coast to what is now known as Botany Bay that Cook and his crew felt they had found a suitable mooring.
Botany Bay is now a major transportation hub, since it is home to Sydney’s cargo seaport and two runways of Sydney airport. However, for many years the name Botany Bay conjured up different images of transportation since Botany Bay had been the first proposed site for a British penal colony.
On the 17th April 1492, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain – Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand – signed an agreement to support Christopher Columbus’ voyage in which he crossed the Atlantic and discovered the Americas.
The Capitulations of Santa Fe granted a number of official titles to Columbus as well as ten per cent of any treasure he was able to secure. The Capitulations mention the possibility of pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and – just in case he found anything else – “other objects of whatever kind, name and sort”.
Columbus’ plan was not to reach the Americas. He was trying to find an alternative route to the valuable spice markets of Asia by sailing West across the open Atlantic, rather than having to navigate around Africa. The modern belief that people at the time feared he would drop off the edge of a flat earth is a myth, since people had accepted that the Earth was a sphere since the time of the Ancient Greeks.
Columbus’ fleet of three ships set off from the Canary Islands on 6th September 1492. 5 weeks later they landed in what are now the Bahamas. Despite significant evidence against him, by the time Columbus died in 1506 he still refused to acknowledge that he had not, in fact, discovered the Western route to Asia. However, he was made Governor of the Indies by the Catholic Monarchs, although they removed him after accusations of cruelty. The Spanish rulers said that this cancelled the Capitulations of Santa Fe, and so refused to give him to 10% of all profits originally agreed.
Pale Blue Dot, the most distant photograph ever taken of Earth, was created by the Voyager 1 space probe.
Voyager 1 was launched in September 1977 to study the outer Solar System including flybys of Jupiter and Saturn. Having completed the mission for which it had been created in November 1980, the spacecraft was allowed to continue its flight and leave the Solar System.
Carl Sagan, the astronomer and author, was a member of the Voyager imaging team and suggested that Voyager 1 should take a last photograph of Earth before the cameras were deactivated to allow their power to be used for the flight into interstellar space. NASA scientists were concerned that such a photograph, in which the Earth would be relatively close to the sun, could permanently damage Voyager 1’s Imaging Science Subsystem. They consequently held off turning the cameras around until 14 February 1990, by which time the spacecraft was approximately 6 billion kilometres from Earth.
Known as the Family Portrait series of images, Voyager 1 transmitted 60 frames back to Earth where NASA stitched them together to create a mosaic of the Solar System. Three of the images, each taken with a different colour filter, were combined to produce the Pale Blue Dot image, in which the tiny dot of Earth fills less than 1 pixel of the 640,000 pixels that make up the rest of the frame.
Barely visible within the vastness of space, Sagan reflected on the ‘pale blue dot’ at a public lecture at Cornell University and later wrote about it in his book that drew its name from the image.
‘Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.’
Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh-American journalist and explorer, allegedly greeted the missing Scottish missionary David Livingstone with the phrase, “Dr Livingston, I presume?”
David Livingstone was born in 1813 and, having completed training as a doctor, made his first journey to Africa in 1841. He converted his first and only African eight years later, after which he became convinced that further missionary work could only succeed if Africa’s rivers were mapped to become ‘highways’ to the interior.
Livingstone sent his family back to Britain in 1852 prior to beginning an expedition to explore the Zambezi. Over the course of the next four years he crossed the African continent and mapped almost the entire Zambezi while becoming the first European to see the Mosi-oa-Tunya waterfall, which he renamed Victoria Falls.
Livingstone returned to Britain in 1856, but sailed back to Africa in 1858 with the intention of opening the Zambezi to ‘legitimate’ British trade to combat slavery. After this expedition failed in its aim to find a navigable route to the interior Livingstone again returned to Britain. He began his final journey to Africa in January 1866.
Hoping to find the source of the Nile, the expedition began to fail as Livingstone’s assistants began to desert him. With the outside world having heard nothing of him for over three years, Henry Morton Stanley was sent to find the Scot by the New York Herald newspaper in 1869. He was eventually found on 10 November 1871 in the town of Ujiji. Stanley is alleged to have greeted him with the words “Dr Livingston, I presume?” although this phrase is likely a fabrication since the relevant pages in Stanley’s diary were torn out, and Livingstone himself never mentioned it.
Raleigh had been a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, who granted him permission to lead three expeditions to the Americas. Although he had inspired the Queen’s fury after secretly marrying one of her ladies-in-waiting, Raleigh had returned to her favour by the time she died in March 1603.
In November, Raleigh was found guilty of treason for his involvement in the Main Plot that sought to depose Elizabeth’s successor James I and replace him with his cousin Arabella Stuart. The King suspended the death sentence and instead imprisoned Raleigh in the Tower of London, where he lived for thirteen years before being pardoned.
Raleigh was freed and granted permission by James to undertake an expedition in search of the fabled city of El Dorado, which began in 1617. In January 1618 a group of his men ignored an order to avoid confrontation with Spanish settlers when Lawrence Keymis, Raleigh’s closest companions, led an attack on the Spanish outpost of Santo Tomé de Guayana on the Orinoco River. This was in direct contravention of peace treaties signed between England and Spain. Raleigh’s son, Walter, was also killed in the attack.
Although Raleigh himself had specifically ordered his men not to attack, he knew that their actions had broken a key condition of his pardon. On his return to England the Spanish ambassador demanded the earlier sentence be reinstated, and King James had little option but to order Raleigh’s execution. He was beheaded in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618.
Often referred to as the ‘lost city of the Incas’, Machu Picchu was constructed in the middle of the 15th century but was abandoned barely a century later in 1572. Believed by modern archaeologists to have been built as a retreat for Incan royalty, the city was never found by the Spanish conquistadors and its existence slowly became known only to those who lived in the local area.
Although there is evidence that the city had been visited by explorers before Bingham, he was the first to conduct an archaeological survey of the area and to secure worldwide publicity for it. He did so as a result of leading the 1911 Yale Peruvian Expedition, having visited the country three years previously on his way home from the First Pan American Scientific Congress.
Bingham’s expedition travelled down the Urubamba River, seeking local information about Inca ruins. Eventually he met Melchor Arteaga who led him up the Huayna Picchu mountain. Here the eleven-year-old Pablito, the son of a farmer, led him to the main Machu Picchu ruins.
Bingham first saw the site on 24 July, but the intricate stonework was covered in vegetation from five hundred years of disuse. Consequently he only conducted preliminary investigations before continuing the expedition along the river. He returned to the mountain the following year to clear the overgrowth and conduct an archaeological excavation with the support of Yale University and National Geographic. Artefacts taken from the site by Bingham have since been returned to Peru, and Machu Picchu continues to be one of the world’s leading tourist sites.
On the 25th June 1876, the Battle of Little Bighorn began when American Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer led federal troops against the combined forces of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho Plains Indians. Also known as ‘Custer’s Last Stand’, the battle was one of the most significant clashes of the Great Sioux War of 1876.
The Black Hills of South Dakota were sacred to the Plains Indians, and had been recognized as such in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. However, the discovery of gold there six years later led to a gold rush of white settlers in breach of the treaty. Sitting Bull inspired fellow Plains Indians to form an alliance against the invasion of their lands, and by late spring 1876 thousands of warriors had joined him at the Little Bighorn River in an area they referred to as the Greasy Grass.
Determined to drive the natives back to the reservations, the US Army dispatched cavalry to engage them. When Custer, leading the 7th Cavalry Regiment, spotted a Sioux camp on the 25th June he decided to attack it with his 600 men. However, the Indian forces outnumbered his troops and Custer was soon the victim of a pincer movement when Crazy Horse led another group of Sioux to surround him. Within an hour Custer and his men were dead, having been overwhelmed by up to 3,000 warriors. However news of the defeat prompted outrage amongst many white Americans and, over the next year, the Sioux gradually surrendered following continued US Army attacks against their property.