Exploring the roots of our “guilt” The campaign that sets out to assail our traditions and belittle our heroes will end by forbidding them altogether. In June, 1998, Reuters News Service reported that Honduran Indians in Tegucigalpa intended to try Christopher Columbus before an – ahem – “Indigenous People’s Tribunal.” As is so often the case with tribunals, the decision was a foregone conclusion: “It will culminate in the execution of the explorer with bows and arrows on Columbus Day on October 12.” Unfortunately, we just don’t know whether this act of vegeance, 500 years after the fact, was ever carried out. At the end of October, Honduras was devastated by Hurricane Mitch. Tegucigalpa was hardest hit of all.

Champlain’s astrolabe lost 1613 – found 1867 near the Ottawa River This is the smallest of 35 surviving astrolabes dated to the early XVIIth century. Our simplistic (not to say simple-minded) grasp of history-as-a-cartoon permits “aboriginal restitution and retribution issues” to first cloud, then eclipse the accomplishments of our European ancestors, while the suffering and privation that defined the New World experience for most Europeans is callously dismissed. If indigenous people are presumed to have enjoyed a God-given right to defend “their” soil from the polluting tread of European boots, why are we forbidden the bloodless “luxury” of merely discussing present-day numerical and cultural swamping? Or do the forces of political correctitude instinctively gravitate toward, and confine their outrage to, a time frame more congenial to them — say, 500 years ago, during the height of the Inquisition?

Europeans may have “won” the battle, but the side making reparation payments is generally considered to have “lost the war”. Writing in Newsweek, November 6, 1995, Jerry Adler attempts to debunk a little of the “nobility” a cartoon culture demands of aboriginal histories: “To read about a 12-year-old girl plied with liquor and left on a frigid mountaintop to die is to experience a revulsion that no degree of moral relativism can rationalize away.

A revulsion, however, tinged with the faint, grim satisfaction of finding scientific evidence of an atrocity perpetrated in America that cannot by any stretch of logic be even remotely blamed on the Europeans. … Accounts of an Aztec priest ripping the beating heart out of a human offering was one of the great arguments for Christianizing the continent. In more recent decades, though, Western culture has made a high-minded effort to avoid sensationalizing such potentially embarrassing spectacles. But, even more amazing is the realization that at the same time that Western culture was attempting to sanitize Indian culture, it was brutally and without mercy savaging itself.. It was, and still is, committing cultural suicide.” It’s past time for us to acknowledge the superb achievement the European Voyages of Discovery represented. Exploration had captured the European imagination. Those star-crossed lovers of the medaieval world, Heloise and Abelard, named their “love child” Astrolabe, as a tribute to the mariner’s aid, newly reintroduced from classical Greece. Our “own” John Cabot, who gave Newfoundland its name in 1497, was inspired to sail after reading of wondrous marvels in the Marco Polo journals. The men who set sail for unknown and uncharted worlds in frail wooden ships defy our present day understanding of the very word “courage”. Another word (calenture) was coined to describe a delusion which was to become a commonplace during those months-long “voyages to nowhere”. For some, the endless rolling waves “became” the rolling green fields back home, and the homesick, hapless sailor would simply step off the edge of the ship “to go for a walk” from which he never returned. Rather than honour the fortitude and genius of these forgotten men, the remote-control jockey finds it less taxing to add his voice to a chorus which blindly condemns them, as he worships contemporary “heroes” who can run — and jump! As the following list indicates, an incredible number of the most famous (and some never known) names paid the ultimate price — in some cases, for the sake of an accurate map. The list does not include the names of those whose illnesses, wounds or other problems resulted in death after returning home.

Erikson Sights Canada – 995 – National Gallery, Oslo, Norway Thorvald Eriksson (North America, ca. 1004) Killed in a fight with Indians.

Master Philippus (Palestine, 1177) Disappeared while looking for Prester John.

Thomas of Tolentino, James of Padua, Peter of Siena and Demetrius (near Bombay, 1321) Burned for blasphemy against Muhammad.

Jaime Ferrer (West Africa, 1346) Disappeared.

Nuño Tristão (Gambia, 1447) Died on the first day of his return voyage as a result of poisoned arrows.

Cabot Departs Bristol – May, 1496 – City of Bristol Museum Art Gallery John Cabot (North America, 1498?) Disappeared on his second voyage.

Bartolomeu Dias (off South Africa, 1500) Lost in a storm during Cabral’s voyage to India.

Gaspar Corte-Real (North America, 1501) Disappeared

Miguel Corte-Real (North America, 1502) Disappeared while looking for his brother.

Juan de la Cosa (near Cartagena, Colombia, 1510) Died from wounds of poison darts.

Afonso de Albuquerque (Goa, India, 1515) Died of an illness while his ship, coming back from Hormuz, was in Goa.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa (Acla, Panama, 1519) Beheaded on accusations of treason.

Brebeuf & Lalement – Martyred – 1649

Alonso Alvarez de Pineda (Pánuco, Mexico, 1520) Killed in a fight with Huastec Indians.

Juan Ponce de Leon (Florida, 1521) Died from an arrow wound.

Ferdinand Magellan (Mactan, Philippines, 1521) Killed in a fight with the sultan of Mactan.

Duarte Barbosa (Cebu, Philippines, 1521) Treacherously killed by the Raja of Cebu.

Rodrigo de Bastidas (Carribean Sea, 1526) Set out to travel from Colombia to Hispaniola (present day Dominican Republic/Haiti), looking for help against a rebellion and a dysentery epidemic, but died of dysentery himself.

García de Loaisa and Juan Sebastián de Elcano (Pacific, 1526)

Pánfilo de Narváez (Gulf of Mexico, 1528) Drowned near the mouth of the Mississippi.

Giovanni da Verrazano (Guadeloupe, 1528) Killed and eaten by Caribs.

Alvaro de Saavedra Céron (Pacific, 1528) Died at sea in an attempt to sail back from the Spiceries to Mexico.

Diego de Almagro (Cuzco, Peru, 1538) Beheaded after losing a war about Cuzco to the Pizarro family.

Hernando de Soto (near Natchez, Mississippi, 1542) Fever.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (San Miguel Island, California, 1543) Complications of a broken leg, from an Indian attack.

Pedro de Valdivia (Chile, ca. 1545) Killed in a fight with Indians.

Francisco de Orellana (Amazon, Brazil, 1546)

Saint Francis Xavier (Shangchuan Island, China, 1552) Fever.

Hugh Willoughby (Murmansk, Russia, 1554) His expedition was forced to winter without adequate preparation.

Richard Chancellor (Aberdour Bay, Scotland, 1556) Died on shipwreck returning from his second voyage. Humphrey Gilbert (Atlantic, 1583) Lost at sea in foul weather.

Timofeyevich Yermak (Irtysh River, Siberia, 1584) Drowned while trying to reach his boats after being surprised by a Tartar ambush.

Thomas Cavendish (South Atlantic, 1592) Died at sea during an attempt to make a second circumnavigation.

Alvaro de Mendaña de Nehra (Santa Cruz, 1595) Fevers.

Francis Drake (off Panama, 1596) Dysentery.

Willem Barents (Barents Sea, 1597) Scurvy and general weakness.

Jacques Mahu (Atlantic, 1598) Fevers.

Sebald de Weert (Batticaloa, Ceylon, 1602) Killed in a struggle when the king of Ceylon tries to imprison him.

John Davis (Bintang Island, near Singapore, 1605) Killed by Japanese pirates.

Bento de Goes (Jiuquan, China, 1607) Exhaustion, or possibly poisoning.

Hudson – 1611 – The Last Voyage – tate Gallery, London by John Collier Henry Hudson (Hudson Bay, Canada, 1611) Cast adrift by mutineers.


Brule with Hurons – Illustrated London News Etienne Brulé (Canada, 1632) Killed by Hurons for unknown reasons. Jacques Marquette (Illinois, 1675) Dysentery.

René Robert Cavelieur, Sieur de La Salle (eastern Texas, 1687) Murdered by his own men.

Louis Jolliet (Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, 1700)

James Knight (Marble Island, Canada, 1721)

Vitus Bering (Bering Island, Siberia, 1741) Another scurvy victim.

Marion du Fresne (New Zealand, 1773) Killed by Maoris.

Ill-fated Franklin expedition – body of John Torrington, Examined by forensic scientists

James Cook (Hawaii, 1779) Killed in a skirmish with Hawaiians.

Francisco Garcés (mouth of Gila, Arizona, 1781) Killed in an Indian revolt.

Jean François de la Pérouse (Vanikoro Island, Santa Cruz, 1788) Shipwreck.

John Ledyard (Cairo, Egypt, 1788)

Daniel Houghton (West Africa, 1791) Robbed by his Moor guides, left alone and died, either from his wounds or of starvation.

Antoine Raymond d’Entrecasteaux (at sea near Java, 1793) Dysentery and scurvy.

Francisco José de Lacerda (Southern Africa, 1798)

Friedrich Hornemann (Nigeria, 1801?) Disappeared after departure from Tripoli in 1799, probably died in Nigeria in 1801, possibly of dysentery.

Nicolas Baudin (Port Louis, Mauritius, 1803) Died of illness on the way home from Australia. Henry Nicholls (Guinea, 1805) Fevers.

Mungo Park (near Bussa, Nigeria, 1806) Drowned while trying to flee from an attack by tribesmen.

George Drouillard (Three Forks, Montana, 1809) Murdered and mutilated by Blackfoot Indians.

Johann Ludwig Burckhardt (Cairo, Egypt, 1817) Died of dysentery while preparing to depart for Timbuktu.

Walter Oudney (Senegal, 1824) Illness.

Alexander Gordon Laing (near Timbuktu, Mali, 1826) Murdered by his guide.

Hugh Clapperton (Sokoto, Nigeria, 1827) Illness.

Jedediah Strong Smith (near Cimarron River, US, 1831) Killed in a surprise attack by Comanches.

Thomas Simpson (near Red River, Canada, 1840) Went mad and killed himself and two others.


click to enlarge John Franklin (King William Island, Canada, 1847) Died of starvation or possible lead poisoning.

Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt (Australia, 1848?) Disappeared, probably in or around the Simpson Desert.

Roderick Mitchell (Australia, 1852?) Drowned.

James Richardson (Kukawa, northeast Nigeria, 1852?) Malaria.

Adolf Overweg (Kukawa?, 1853?)

Joseph René Bellot (Canadian Arctic, 1853) Drowned.

James Sinclair (Oregon Country, 1856) Killed when trying to save a group of settlers from an Indian attack.

Robert O’Hara Burke & William Wills (Cooper’s Creek, Australia, 1861) Starvation.

Henri Moubot (Laos, 1861)

Eduard Vogel (Wadai, Central Africa, 1865) Assassinated on orders of the Sultan on suspicion of being a spy.

Alexandrine Tinné (near Ghat, Libya, 1869) Killed by roving Tuaregs.

Charles Francis Hall (northwestern Greenland, 1871) Illness, or possibly murder through poisoning. “If I can get through this winter I think I shall be able to live through anything.” George Tyson, assistant navigator on C.F. Hall’s 1871 expedition.

David Livingstone (Ilala, Zambia, 1873) Pneumonia and dysentery.


Inuit Attack Frobisher – c1577 British Museum by John White

George Washington De Long (Lena River delta, Siberia, 1881)

Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalski (Karakol, Central Asia, 1888) Typhus.

Eduard Schnitzer (Emin Pasha) (Kinema, Congo, 1892) Beheaded by Arab soldiers on the orders of a local chief.

Salomon August Andrée (Spitsbergen, 1897?) Died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his tent, in which he wintered after an attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon.

Robert Falcon Scott (Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, 1912) Starvation and freezing.

Charles-Eugene de Foucauld (Tamanrasset, Algeria, 1916) Probably killed by a group of Muslims, possibly because he was suspected of being a spy.

Ernest Henry Shackleton (South Georgia, 1922) Heart failure.

Percy Harrison Fawcett (Mato Grosso, Brazil, 1925?) Disappears in the Brazilian jungle.

Carl Akeley (Belgian Congo, 1926)

Roald Amundsen (off Spitsbergen, 1928) Crashed with his plane when looking for Nobile, who had crashed before (but was rescued later).

Alfred Lothar Wegener (Greenland, 1930) Exhaustion.