1492 – Christopher Columbus’ expedition sights land in the Americas

Columbus’ expedition to the Far East was going well. He left Spain on August 3, and by October 7, the expedition sighted a large flock of birds. Finally, a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana (aboard the La Pinta) sighted land at about 2AM on October 12.

Columbus, being the shy, retiring flower that he was, later claimed that he had seen land first, which almost certainly had nothing to do with the reward of 10,000 maravedís. Columbus named the island San Salvador, although the resident indigenes had already named it Guanahani. Exactly which island in the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos this corresponds to is an unresolved topic; prime candidates are Samana Cay, Plana Cays, Grand Turk, or San Salvador Island (which was named San Salvador in 1925 in the belief that it was Columbus’ San Salvador).

Referenced in:

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume — Moody Blues
Thanx But No Thanx — Ministry

1871 – Stanley finds Livingstone

David Livingstone was one of the greatest British explorers of the Victorian era, who spent years in Africa, initially as a missionary, and only later as an explorer. He conducted the first detailed investigation of the Zambezi River, which he hoped would serve as a trade route to open up the interior of the continent. Later, he made another expedition to try to find the headwaters of the Nile. At the time of his meeting with Stanley, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, he had been out of contact with Europe for six years on the latter expedition.

Henry Morton Stanley was a Welshman who had worked as a journalist in the United States, and considered himself American enough to fight in the Civil War (on the Conferedate side). His mission to find Livingstone was a self-conceived stunt done more for fame and fortune than any more humane reason.

After their meeting, the two went their separate ways, although each of them remained in Africa. Livingstone died less than two years later (he had contracted malaria in the course of his explorations); Stanley wrote a book about their meeting, and his fame was such that he was one of the cheif agents of King Leopold of Belgium in the claiming of the Congo for his nation. Stanley was racist even by the standards of his day (Richard Burton, another explorer and no saint, wrote that Stanley “shot negroes as if they were monkeys”). Many regard him as the model for Kurtz in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness“.

Oh, and chances are that he made up saying “Dr. Livingstone, I presume”, too.

Referenced in:

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume — Moody Blues

1912 – Scott of the Antarctic writes the final entry in his diary

It’s really not clear when exactly Robert Falcon Scott – better known as Scott of the Antarctic – actually died. Certainly, he, Henry Bowers and Edward Wilson were all still alive, albeit in rather poor shape, when his previous diary entry was written six days earlier. It is possible that Scott survived writing this last entry for as much as a day – from the positions of the three men in the tent when their bodies were recovered, he seems to have been the last one to die.

The three were found in their tent in November that year, after the long the southern winter had abated. Scott and his men became martyred heroes to the British empire. Amundsen, whose team had beaten Scott’s to the south pole by five weeks, stated that he “…would gladly forgo any honour or money if thereby I could have saved Scott his terrible death”. Later, as Antarctic exploration slowly transformed into colonisation, Scott’s reputation suffered as historians examined the records of his journey.

Referenced in:

A Human Body — Queen
Restless – Australian Crawl
Dr. Livingstone, I Presume — Moody Blues
History Is Made By Stupid People – Arrogant Worms