This guide will help you research famous explorers, navigators and hydrographers. It gives a brief account of their voyages and lists some of the material related to them held by the National Maritime Museum.

The Museum has a large collection of maps, charts, atlases, books and prints concerned with voyages of circumnavigation, and expeditions to the Americas, Australia, Far East, Pacific, East Indies, and Arctic and Antarctic exploration. They range from 15th-century Ptolemy maps to 20th-century Admiralty Charts and clearly reveal how human understanding of the earth and its occupants has advanced through the centuries.

Explorers A–F

The 'Great Age of Exploration' is recognised as the second half of the 15th century and early-16th century, when Spanish and Portuguese voyages of discovery, influenced by the enterprising Prince Henry the Navigator, increased human knowledge of a world beyond the European coastline. In 1492 Christopher Columbus claimed the discovery of America. In 1498, Vasco da Gama reached India, and from 1519 to 1522 Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the world. Subsequent charts and maps recorded these and similar voyages and the appearance of the world, as perceived by Ptolemy, was changed for ever.

Commodore George Anson (1697–1762)

British naval commander George Anson successfully circumnavigated the world from 1740 to 1744. Of his squadron of eight ships only one, Centurion, survived to return to England. During the voyage, Anson captured a Spanish treasure ship, the Nuestra Senora de Covadonga off the Philippines on 20 June 1743. He was later promoted to admiral, and raised to the peerage as Baron Anson.

A number of charts by R. W. Seale illustrate his voyage, including:

  • Chart Showing the Track of the Centurion Around the World, 1750 (G201:1/49)
  • Chart of the Southern part of South America, 1748, (G244:1/2)
  • Chart of the Pacific Ocean, 1750, which shows the tracks of the Centurion and Nuestra Senora de Cavadonga (G266:2/8)
  • Chart of the Channel in the Philippine Islands through which the Manila Galleon passes..., 1750, (G271:6/1)

Surveys from Anson's Voyages include:

  • A Plan of Juan Fernandez Island, 1750 (G267:21/1)
  • A Survey of the North East Side of Juan Fernandez Island..., 1750 (G267:21/2)
  • The Harbour of Chequetan or Sequataneo..., 1750 (G278:8/2)
  • A Plan of the End of the Island of Quibo, 1750 (G278:8/5)
  • The form of cruising off Acapulca on the Coast of Mexico..., 1750 (G278:8/6)
  • The Bay and Rocks of Petaplan, 1750 (G278:8/21)

Captain Sir Edward Belcher (1799–1877)

British navy officer and hydrographer. After taking part in Beechey's voyage to the Pacific in 1824, Belcher commanded the Sulpher, 1836 to 1842, on a voyage of exploration to the western coast of America, which finally circumnavigated the world. He was knighted in 1843. The same year he was commissioned in the Samarang to make a surveying expedition to Borneo, China, Formosa and the Philippines, till 1846. From 1852 to 1854 he commanded an expedition to the Arctic searching for Sir John Franklin. Belcher became a rear-admiral in 1872. Many of the printed charts produced from his 1843–46 voyage can be found in:

  • Borneo, China and East Indies, British Admiralty publication, 1852 (D8482)

Captain M. Le Baron De Bougainville

French naval officer and son of the famous navigator Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811) who circumnavigated the world 1766–1779. The younger Bougainville made his own voyage round the globe 1824 to 1826 with the ships Thetis and L'Esperance. Charts, illustrative plates, and coastal elevations associated with the expedition can be found in the atlas:

  • Journal De La Navigation Autour Du Globe de la Fregate la Thetis et de la Corvette L'Esperance..., 1837 (D8176)

Captain John Byron (1723–1786)

British naval officer, who served as midshipman on Anson's circumnavigation 1740 to 1744 (see above). Byron's ship the Wager was wrecked off Chile and he later wrote an account of the disaster. As captain of the Dolphin he sailed around the globe 1764 to1766. A number of charts and maps depict the tracks of his circumnavigation, including:

  • A New Chart of the World...with the tracks of the British Circumnavigators Byron, Wallis, Carteret and Cook &c...in the Pacific Ocean, bound in Thomas Kitchen's A New Universal Atlas, published Laurie and Whittle, 1799 (D5447)

Captain Philip Carteret (c.1738–1796)

British naval officer. Carteret sailed as a lieutenant with Captain John Byron (see above) around the world in the Dolphin, 1764 to 1766. On his return he became commander of the Swallow which, with the Dolphin under Captain Samuel Wallis, completed a voyage of circumnavigation in 1768, although the two ships became separated in the Straits of Magellan. The tracks of Carteret and Wallis can be seen on charts such as A New Chart of the World...with the tracks of the British Circumnavigators Byron, Wallis, Carteret and Cook &c...in the Pacific Ocean, also bound in Kitchen's A New Universal Atlas (D5447) Carteret's own survey, Track of the Swallow, produced 1767, is in Atlas of Charts and Plans, published c.1792, by Alexander Dalrymple (D8181)

Captain James Cook (1728–1779)

One of the most famous names in the history of marine exploration, Cook was a British naval officer, hydrographer and navigator. He entered the Royal Navy in 1755 and was a master by 1759. From 1759 to 1763 he was employed in North America, surveying the St. Lawrence River and Newfoundland. He is best remembered for commanding three important voyages of discovery, between 1768 and 1780.

On the first, 1768 to 1771, he sailed in the Endeavour to the Pacific, where he observed the transit of Venus, charted New Zealand, and the east coast of Australia. His second voyage, 1772–75, in the Resolution and Adventure resulted in a circumnavigation of the Antarctic and visits to Tahiti, Tonga, the New Hebrides and other island groups. On his last expedition, 1776 to 1780, in Resolution and Discovery, he set out to find a north-east or north-west passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

He discovered Hawaii and the Sandwich Islands, and investigated and surveyed a large proportion of the west coast of North America. But in 1779, returning to Hawaii, he was killed during a dispute with the natives. The Museum has a large amount of material concerning Cook's three voyages:

  • Charts produced from the first voyage, 1768–1771, are in volumes two and three of Hawkesworth's Voyages, 1773 (C4681-C4683)
  • Surveys from the second voyage, 1772–1775, are bound in two volumes of Cook's account, A Voyage towards the South Pole and Around the World, 1777 (C4700-C4703)
  • The last voyage, 1776–1780, is covered in A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean..., 1784; the first two volumes by Cook, the third by Captain James King (C4709-C4712)
  • Loose Cook charts are in collections which include: New Zealand, 1772, (G263:1/2); Botany Bay, 1770 (G262:4/20); Endeavour River, 1770 (G262:6/12); New South Wales, 1772 (G261:4/1); and Otaheite, 1769 (G267:47/1)
  • Of particular interest is A general Chart Exhibiting the Discoveries made by Capt. James Cook... (G201:1/5). It was published, 1785, by Henry Roberst, who served in Resolution on the second and third voyages

Sir Francis Drake (c.1543–1596)

English naval captain. Drake is best known for his exploits against the Spanish, particularly his attack on Nombre de Dios, 1572, his part in defeating the Spanish Armada, 1588, and his voyage of circumnavigation, 1578 to 1580. Less well known is the expedition he commanded against the Spanish colonies in the West Indies, 1585 to 1586, when he sailed to the Caribbean with 25 ships, led by the Elizabeth Bonaventure, and sacked four major enemy settlements. The Museum Library holds one general chart of the Atlantic, showing the tracks of Drake's voyage to and from the West Indies; and four maps illustrating the English attacks on Santiago, San Domingo, St. Augustine and Cartagena (C4053).

Captain Jules-Sebastien-Cesar Dumont d'Urville (1790–1842)

French naval officer who sailed in L'Astrolabe to try and solve the mysterious disappearance of La Perouse's expedition (see below). During the voyage, 1826 to1829, D'Urville carried out coastal surveying in Australasia, and circumnavigated the globe. He discovered the remains of La Perouse's ships on Vanikoro Island in New Caledonia. From 1837 to 1840 he explored the Antarctic Ocean. He was eventually made an admiral. Charts and illustration plates concerned with D'Urville's voyage 1826 to 1829, are bound in the atlas Voyage de la Corvette L'Astrolabe..., published 1833 by Tastin (D8137).

Captain Robert Fitzroy (1805–1865)

British naval officer, hydrographer and meteorologist. He commanded the Beagle and Adventure on a surveying voyage to the South Atlantic, 1828 to 1830, where he charted the coasts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. He again commanded the Beagle, 1831 to 1836, on a return voyage to South America to resume the work, this time accompanied by the naturalist Charles Darwin.

Fitzroy became a rear-admiral in 1857 and vice-admiral in 1863. He is also remembered as the originator of the 'Fitzroy Barometer'. Many charts, plans and views were printed and published by the British Admiralty from the survey work undertaken by Fitzroy and his officers during the two voyages. A large number, particularly covering the east and west coasts of South America and Tierra de Fuego, are from an atlas compiled by the British Hydrographic Office c.1845 (D8478). Additional loose charts by Fitzroy and the crew of the 'Beagle' form part of the General Chart Collection.

Commander Matthew Flinders (1774–1814)

British naval officer and hydrographer. Flinders sailed around Tasmania in the Norfolk, 1798 to 1799, proving that it was an island separated from the main Australian continent. Between 1801 and 1803, first in the Investigator and later the Porpoise and Cumberland, Flinders sailed right round the Australian coastline and produced a large amount of important charting work. Many surveys produced by the British Admiralty from Flinders's hydrographic work are available, loose and atlas bound. The General Chart Collection contains examples of Tasmania (Van Diemans Land), and much of the Australian coastline.

The Library holds five atlases bound with Flinders' charts, 1814 to 1829 (D8189, D8190, D8191, D8521, D8528).

Captain Louis Claude Desaules de Freycinet (1779–1842)

French naval officer. Freycinet commanded the Causuarina in an expedition to the Pacific, 1800 to 1814, led by Captain Nicholas Baudin, which explored the south coast of Australia. Freycinet's atlas Voyage de Decouvertes aux Terres Australes..., published in Paris, 1812, contains charts from the survey work carried out during the voyage.

Explorers G–Z

Captain Edmond Halley (1656–1742)

British sea captain, mathematician and astronomer. Halley is generally best known as the second Astronomer Royal at Greenwich Observatory, 1720 until his death in 1742. From 1698 to 1700, Halley sailed in the Paramour to America (North and South Atlantic) to observe the conditions and test the theory of magnetic variation. He published a world chart, 1701, showing the findings of the expedition.

Halley's chart is divided into the East and West hemispheres and titled A New and Correct Chart of the Whole World showing the Variations of the Compass as they were found in the year 1700 (G201:1/1A, G201:1/1B). Halley also produced c.1701, an isogonic chart, ... New Sea Chart of the Western and Southern Ocean... From Seller's atlas The English Pilot, The Fourth Book, West India Navigation, this chart appears in an edition published 1737 by Mount and Page (E6874). Examples of Halley's other charts are in various atlas publications in the Library. A good example is the Atlas Maritimus & Comercialis, produced 1728 by J and J Knapton (D8196 and D8197).

Captain Adam Ivan Krusenstern (1770–1846)

Russian naval officer and hydrographer. Kresenstern served with the British Navy from 1793 to 1799. In the Nadeshda and Neva he commanded a Russian expedition to the North Pacific, 1803 to 1806, and eventually circumnavigated the world. The two-volume Atlas of Voyages around the World, published in St. Petersburg, 1813, contain charts and many plates relevant to his voyage (D5313).

Captain Jean-Francois Galoup, Comte de La Perouse (1741–c.1788)

French navigator. In 1785, La Perouse commanded an expedition to the Pacific and Australia in the Boussole and L'strolabe. He continued along the coast of America, sailed west across the Pacific to China and through the strait between Hokkaido and Sakhalin – named after him – and circumnavigated the world. The journey ended in tragedy in 1788 when both ships vanished without trace. In 1825 it was discovered they had been wrecked on the reefs off Vanikoro Island, in the New Hebrides with the loss of all hands. Charts and illustrative plates of La Perouse's voyage are in Atlas Du Voyage De La Perouse, published 1798 by G G & J Robinson (D8168).

Captain Arthur Phillip (1733–1814)

British naval officer, on the Sirius, he commanded, 1786 to 1788, a small fleet carrying the first convicts to Australia. He reached New South Wales on 18 January 1788, but declined to establish a settlement at Botany Bay and sailed on to Port Jackson, arriving nine days later. There he founded the penal colony known as Sydney. Phillip served as first governor of New South Wales until 1792. He was promoted to rear-admiral in 1801, and vice-admiral in 1810. A printed atlas by Phillip, 'Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay with an account of the establishment of the colonies of Port Jackson and Norfolk Island...', 1789, contains text and seven charts concerning the 'First Fleet' (D4349).

Captain Abel Janszoon Tasman (c.1603–1659)

Dutch navigator, serving in the Dutch East India Company. In 1642–43 he was employed by the governor of Batavia, Anthony van Diemen, to command an expedition to Australia in the Heemskerck and Zeehaen. He discovered and charted Van Diemens Land (renamed Tasmania in his honour in 1856) and New Zealand. Tasman then sailed north to discover Tonga and Fiji. He made a second voyage of exploration to north-west Australia in 1644. Charts showing the track of Tasman's 1642 voyage and his discoveries in the Pacific are in the atlas De Zee en Land Caarten en gezigten van steeded en landvertooningen van Oos-Indien..., by Francois Valentyn and Joannes Van Keulen, published c.1726 (D8042).

Captain George Vancouver (1758–1798)

British naval officer and hydrographer. George Vancouver served as a midshipman under James Cook on the second and third voyages (see above). From 1791 to 1795 he commanded the Discovery, accompanied by Lieutenant Broughton in the Chatham, on a voyage to the Pacific. They explored Australia, New Zealand and the north-west coast of America, where important survey work was undertaken and Vancouver circumnavigated the island named after him – and charted the coast as far as Cook's Inlet. Of particular interest among Vancouver's many charts is: Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, 1798, an atlas with 11 charts, 17 plates and 6 sets of views, mostly of the north-west coast of America (D8520). A facsimile atlas is also held in the Library.

Giovanni Verrazano (1485–1528) and Girolamo Verrazano

The Florentine navigator Giovanni Verrazano commanded three voyages of exploration to the east coast of America, 1524, 1527 and 1528, financed by King Francis 1 of France. He searched for a strait linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans but the attempt was abandoned when Giovanni was killed by cannibals on one of the West Indian Islands. His brother Girolamo, who accompanied him to America, is believed to have produced a world map recording all the information obtained on the three voyages. A portulan chart, c. 1529, attributed to Girolamo Verrazano, with corrections made up to around 1540, is in the General Chart Collection (G201:1/15).

Arctic exploration

The General Chart Collection has a large number of charts illustrating voyages of discovery made by explorers such as Parry, John Ross, James Clark Ross, Collinson, Richardson, Franklin, McClure, McClintock and others (G282:1: Arctic General).

The Museum also has, on loan, a number of maps and charts associated with Sir John Franklin. Some are particularly concerned with the land expedition he made with Richardson to Northern Canada, 1825–1827 (G285:5 Arctic Canada, North-West Passage and G247:12 Lakes and Rivers of Canada).

For more details on polar exploration and Sir John Franklin, see research guides Q2 and Q3.

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching Captain Cook:

For general research help see:

Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.