From the remarkable achievements of Captain James Cook, RN and his three successive circumnavigations of the globe in the eighteenth century to the determination and passion of Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen and other polar explorers at the turn of the 20th century, whose expeditions provided the world with the first photographic images from the poles; and from the intrepid travel undertaken by Florence Baker and Mary Kingsley in 19th century Africa to the search for the elusive North West Passage; the Society’s Collections offer the opportunity to understand more about the planning, preparation and execution of expeditions from Antarctica to West Africa covering a period of over 500 years.
Practical, pragmatic, and ruthlessly ambitious, Roald Amundsen was one of the great polar explorers of the 20th century. Infatuated with exploring the Arctic, he is best remembered – ironically – for beating Scott to the South Pole in 1911. Meticulous planning, strong leadership skills, and extensive knowledge of Inuit wilderness techniques equipped him for success whatever the challenge, whether navigating treacherous waters by sea, crossing ice-caps by husky sledge or gliding over the roof of the world by airship.
The Danish-born navigator Vitus Bering explored the northwest Pacific under the patronage of Russian tsar Alexander the Great. At the beginning of the 18th century, this vast region was still a blank on the map. The tsar sent Bering to find out whether Asia and America were linked by land. During his second expedition to search for a land bridge, Bering discovered Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Resources provided by the Society look at Bering, his influence and other explorers in Russia’s Far East of the time who followed in his footsteps.
Mary Kingsley was born into a comfortable middle-class family in Victorian England, and spent the first 30 years of her life as a dutiful daughter. Her father, George, was a doctor who had traveled widely, and Kingsley finally achieved her own ambition to explore following the death of her parents. Her primary motivation was to escape from the restrictions placed on her by Victorian society, but to make her journeys appear more respectable, she carried out a commission for the British Museum to collect “fish and fetish”. Almost uniquely for a woman of her time, she traveled
A charismatic and driven figure, Sir Ernest Shackleton undertook four expeditions to the Antarctic. His first experience was as a member of Captain Scott’s 1901-04 National Antarctic expedition on board The Discovery, but it is for his third expedition that he is most famous. The expedition very nearly ended in tragedy as his ship The Endurance, became trapped in ice, but remarkably, the whole crew returned home safely.