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Christopher Columbus


Christopher Columbus is perhaps the world’s most famous explorer, acting as the catalyst for years of transatlantic colonization of America. Columbus’ discoveries came at a grisly cost, however. Modern doctors suspect the cause of his death aged 55 was Reiter’s Syndrome, caused by intestinal infections or sexually transmitted diseases, with historians summarizing it was likely that Columbus contracted the infection on one of his voyages.

Ferdinand Magellan


Ferdinand Magellan led the first expedition that sailed all the way around the world. Setting out on a voyage into the unknown to find a water passage around the Americas and into the East Indies, Magellan died in 1521 when he was struck by a poison arrow during a skirmish with island natives. The rest of his crew, however, successfully completed their mission, reaching the Spice Islands.

Zheng He

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Zheng He is often heralded as the greatest sailor in Chinese history. He commanded seven expeditions – on some of the largest ships in the world – in the Indian Ocean, extending China’s far-reaching influence. Mystery surrounds the admiral’s death, though it’s thought that on his seventh and final voyage, the explorer died after he contracted a mysterious illness.

Ranulph Fiennes

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Ranulph Fiennes was the first explorer to cross Antarctica on foot. In 2000, Fiennes attempted to walk solo to the North Pole, though failed when his sleds tumbled into ice. He sustained frostbite on all of the fingers on his left hand attempting to retrieve the tools. Impatient at the pain, Fiennes cut off his own fingertips with an electric fretsaw.

Meriwether Lewis

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Meriwether Lewis was assigned by Thomas Jefferson to explore lands west of the Mississippi in 1805. Partnering with Clark on the first transcontinental voyage to the Pacific Coast by the United States, the pair discovered 178 new plants. Intrigue surrounds Lewis’ death, caused by mysterious gunshot wounds. Scholars are still debating whether the explorer died due to suicide, or whether the prominent figure was murdered.

Percy Fawcett

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The subject of the 2016 film The Lost City of Z, Percy Fawcett set out to find an ancient lost city in the jungles of Brazil but was unsuccessful – never emerging from the depths of the dense Amazon rainforest. Fawcett may have had an inkling that the journey was doomed, as he instructed that no search effort should be sent to find him if he didn’t return, lest the seekers befall the same fate.

James Cook

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Captain James Cook was the first to discover the Hawaiian islands, and the earliest to map New Zealand. His untimely death came when he was stranded in Hawaii in 1779. When tensions arose between Cook and the locals, the captain attempted to kidnap the native king. The villagers revolted, killing Cook.

George Bass

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George Bass is notably remembered for his maritime expeditions – locating coal in Sydney, discovering unknown species of plants, and writing one of the first descriptions of the wombat. What became of Bass remains an enigma. He is thought to have been sailing to Spanish colonies to bring back provisions to Sydney, but Bass and his crew were never seen again.

Henry Hudson

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Hendry Hudson is known for finding the Hudson River and the Hudson Bay. Setting sail to try and discover the Northern Passage as means to Asia, Hudson was unsuccessful, reportedly allowing his crew to starve. The crew mutinied, putting him and his few remaining supporters in a small boat, leaving them adrift. Hudson and his allies were never seen again.

Gaspar and Miguel Corte-Real

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Gaspar Corte-Real is believed to have discovered Greenland in 1500. Venturing on a second voyage with his brother, Miguel, their goal was to touch upon unknown lands. Sending his brother home mid-journey, Gaspar Corte-Real continued along the Southwest Coast of America, before being lost at sea. Strangely, his brother set out to search for his missing sibling, but he suffered the same fate.