Who Was Marco Polo? Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Marco Polo.

  • Marco Polo was born on 15th September 1254 in Venice.
  • His father was a wealthy merchant who traded with the Near East. He was often away and lived in for a time in Constantinople.

  • His mother died when he was young, and he was raised by his aunt and uncle.
  • His father met Marco for the first time in 1269, and in 1271 Marco Polo (aged 17), his father and his uncle set off for Asia.
  • Marco Polo’s adventures are recorded in The Travels of Marco Polo or Book of the Marvels of the World.
  • Marco Polo returned to Venice in 1295, 24 years after leaving. The group had travelled about 15,000 miles and had accumulated a fortune in gemstones.

Marco Polo

  • Marco Polo supported Venice in its war against the Republic of Genoa. He armed a ship and joined the fighting. He was caught by the Genoans.
  • Marco Polo was imprisoned for several years. He was finally released in August 1299.
  • He returned to Venice and funded several other trading expeditions.
  • He married Donata Badoer in 1300, and they had three daughters.
  • Marco Polo died on January 8th 1324.
  • Christopher Columbus was a great admirer of Marco Polo and his travels.
  • A breed of sheep is named after Marco Polo, and a ship bearing his name was, in 1851, the first to sail around the world in under six months.
  • Marco Polo Airport is in Venice.

Captain James Cook: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Captain James Cook.

  • Captain James Cook was an officer of the British Royal Navy, as well as a navigator and explorer. He is famous for discovering Australia.
  • He was born in 1728 near Middlesborough and first worked in a grocery store. He later moved to Whitby, working on freight ships up and down the coast of England.

  • Cook lived for a while in his parents’ cottage in North Yorkshire. The cottage was moved brick by brick to Melbourne, Australia in 1934, where it stands today.

Captain James Cook

  • The first voyage of Captain James Cook was to Tahiti and Australia from 1768 to 1771. Cook’s job was to observe the planet Venus pass in front of the sun.
  • His second voyage was in 1772 was to search for the large continent of Australia. On the voyage, Cook became one of the first men to sail across the Antarctic Circle.
  • Cook’s third voyage in 1776 was to find the Northwest passage, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific. He was killed on this voyage, in 1779 during an confrontation with some Hawaiian islanders.
  • A monument at Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii commemorates Cook’s landing there and his later death. The surrounding land was given to the United Kingdom and is technically still part of the UK.
  • Cook was the first European explorer to see and chart the eastern coast of Australia. He named many places on the coast, including Botany Bay, Cape Tribulation and Point Lookout.
  • Cook was also the first European to see many of the islands in the South Pacific.
  • He was also one of the first sailors to use a chronometer to measure time while at sea.
  • Captain James Cook is also remembered for navigating by latitude and longitude, and suggesting that the Polynesians came from Asia. He also sailed round the world without any of his crew dying from scurvy.
  • The Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean are named in honour of James Cook.

What next? Visit our exploration resources page to discover some facts about other famous explorers.

Roald Amundsen: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Roald Amundsen, the famous explorer.

  • Roald Amundsen was a Norwegian explorer. As well as navigating the Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean, he was the first person to reach the South Pole.

  • He was born in 1872 in Norway. He studied medicine as his mother had always wanted, although, as soon as she had died, he decided to become an explorer.
  • During the late 1880s he joined several Arctic expeditions, including the first one to survive the Arctic winter.
  • In 1903 he commanded an expedition to the North Pole and the Northwest Passage. Amundsen learned about surviving in cold places from the Eskimos, such as wearing animal skins instead of heavy furs.

Roald Amundsen

  • Roald Amundsen became determined to be the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911, beating an expedition led by Captian Scott.
  • His trip was a success partly because their base was almost 100 km closer to the pole than Scott’s. The expedition also used lighter sleds and more appropriate clothing and equipment.
  • In 1918 he sailed to unknown parts of the Arctic Ocean. During this expedition, Amundsen broke his arm, was attacked by polar bears and his ship spent two winters frozen in the ice.
  • In 1926 he flew to the North Pole in 2 planes, and an airship measuring 35 metres long and filled with hydrogen. It took his team over 3 weeks to clear a runway suitable for the planes.
  • In June 1928 Roald Amundsen disappeared while flying on a rescue mission over the Arctic. It is assumed his plane crashed, although no bodies or wreckage were ever found.
  • Several bays, glaciers and coastal features in Antarctica are named after Amundsen. The Amundsen Trail in New York was named after him, as was the writer Roald Dahl.

Captain Scott: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Captain Scott.

  • Captain Scott was an explorer and officer in the British Royal navy. He led 2 expeditions to the Antarctic and was narrowly beaten to the South Pole by another explorer, Roald Amudsen.

  • Robert Falcon Scott was born in Plymouth in 1868 and became a naval cadet at 13. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1889, spending much of his time overseas.
  • Although Scott was an excellent officer and a good sailor, he did experience some problems. He ran a boat aground in 1893, and his father declared bankruptcy in 1894.

Captain Scott

  • Scott led the National Antarctic Expedition in 1901. Although the team did not reach the South Pole, they made it further south than anyone before them.
  • Scott’s second Antarctic expedition took place in 1910. Soon after landing, the dogs and ponies had to be left behind because of the cold, and only Scott and four other team members continued.
  • Captain Scott reached the South Pole in January, 1911 only to discover a Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen had reached there a month earlier.
  • Captain Scott died on 29th March 1912 from the extreme cold on the return journey, within 20 km of supplies. The other team members also perished.
  • Captian Scott left behind his diary (with a final entry on 29th March 1912), letters to family, his former commander and to the public.
  • The bodies of the explorers were discovered in November 1912. They were buried where they died and a cross was erected to mark their final resting place.
  • A memorial service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral and the explorers heroism and determination was celebrated.
  • Earlier in their journey the team spent some time researching Emperor Penguins and collecting their eggs. It was the first time that the flightless bird had been observed with its eggs.
  • Captain Scott and his team also left behind films they took of wildlife in the Antarctic.
  • A fossil from a 250 million old tree was found next to Scott’s body. It helped to prove that the continents were once all joined together and that trees once grew in Antarctica.
  • After his death, Captain Scott became a national hero. Over 30 memorials were built to him in Britain and around the world, and the Scott Polar Research Institute was established.

What next? Discover more facts about Antarctica, or learn about other famous explorers – George Mallory, Ernest Shackleton and Edmund Hillary.

Sir Ernest Shackleton: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Ernest Shackleton.

  • Ernest Shackleton led several Polar expeditions, and was one of the best known British explorers of the early 20th century. He is known for coming closest to the location of the South Pole.
  • He was born near Dublin, Ireland in 1874.

  • As a child he loved to read, which inspired him to have his own adventures.
  • At the age of 16 he joined the merchant navy and sailed all over the world.
  • Ernest Shackleton went on his first Antarctic expedition in 1901, along with Robert Scott and trekked closer to the pole than anyone before him. However, he became very sick and had to go back home early.
  • In 1908, he went on his second Antarctic expedition, this time as leader, on the ship Nimrod. The team left behind several crates of brandy and whiskey which were found in Antarctica in 2010.
  • After the Nimrod expedition, Shackleton was regarded as a hero and was awarded a medal by the Royal Geographical Society. He was also knighted, becoming Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Nimrod in Floe Ice

  • During this time, he made money from lecturing about his travels. He also dabbled in Hungarian mining, selling stamps and he created a tobacco company.
  • Before his next expedition, Shackleton placed a newspaper ad asking for men to join him. The advertisement promised dangerous conditions, low wages and cold temperatures.
  • On his 3rd expedition in 1914, Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, was trapped in the ice for almost a year. The team escaped by sailing across 1,300 km of ocean in a small boat to the tiny uninhabited South Georgia island. Amazingly, all of Shackleton’s crew survived the journey.
  • Ernest Shackleton died from a heart attack in 1922 while on an expedition, and he was buried on the remote Atlantic island of South Georgia. There is a statue of the explorer outside the London’s Royal Geographical Society.
  • In 2022, the shipwreck of Endurance was found at the bottom of the Weddell Sea, sitting upright at a depth of 3 km (10,000 ft). The ship’s timbers were remarkably well-intact considering the ship had been underwater for 107 years, and the ship’s name was clearly visible on the stern.

Sir Edmund Hillary: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Edmund Hillary, the famous mountaineer.

  • Edmund Hillary was a New Zealand-born mountaineer. He is famous for being the first person to climb the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest – located on the Nepal / Tibet border.

  • Hillary was born in 1919, and, after leaving university, he became a beekeeper. As a boy he was shy and liked to read and daydream about having exciting adventures.
  • In 1939, he completed his first major climb to the top of Mount Cook in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. At 3,754 metres it is the country’s highest mountain.

Edmund Hillary

  • Hillary’s 1953 expedition to Everest was a huge undertaking. The team consisted of 362 porters, 20 local guides and about 4,535 kg of baggage and equipment.
  • Along with Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, Hillary reached the summit of Everest during his second expedition there, on May 28, 1953. News reached Britain on the same day as the Queen’s coronation.
  • In 1953, he became a Knight of the British Empire and was known as Sir Edmund Hillary. He found this out from a messenger while leaving Everest, after his successful climb.
  • In 1958, Edmund Hillary reached the South Pole, as one of the leaders of a Commonwealth expedition. It was the first successful attempt to reach the pole in motor vehicles.
  • Hillary led another expedition to the Himalaya Mountains in 1960 to search for the legendary yeti. That same year, he was late for a flight which later crashed, killing all on board.
  • Edmund Hillary was the first living New Zealander to appear on that country’s currency. The 5 dollar note showed him along with a tractor of the type he used to reach the South Pole.
  • The ‘Hillary Trail’, a hiking trail near Auckland, is named after him, as is a difficult section of Everest, which is called the Hillary Step. In 2008, Lukla Airport in Nepal was named Tenzing-Hillary Airport.

What next? Learn about George Mallory, another mountaineer who attempted to climb Mount Everest, or visit out mountains resources page.

Ferdinand Magellan: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Ferdinand Magellan.

  • Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer, who lived from about 1480 until 1521. His exact birthplace in Northern Portugal is not known.

  • Magellan is famous for being the first person to sail from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific Ocean, and for crossing the Pacific Ocean. His voyage proved that the world was round.
  • Magellan became a pageboy to the Portuguese queen at the age of 10. He studied maps and navigation and, when in his 20s, he joined a voyage to East Africa.
  • Spain was concerned with finding a new sea route to the Spice Islands, in what is now Indonesia. Ferdinand Magellan was convinced that a sea route from Spain existed through the New World.

Ferdinand Magellan

  • Magellan’s expedition to discover the Pacific Ocean set sail in 1519. He named the newly discovered ocean the Pacific, because it seemed so calm.
  • Magellan believed it would only take a few days to cross the Pacific Ocean, instead of the 4 months it actually took. During that time, many of the crew starved because of a lack of food.
  • Ferdinand Magellan landed in the Philippines in April 1521, where he converted hundreds of natives to Christianity. However, he was killed when fighting one of the tribes.
  • Although Ferdinand Magellan had proved it was possible to sail around the world, it was so difficult that it would be almost 60 years before someone else did it – Francis Drake in 1577.
  • The Strait of Magellan, the passage of water at the tip of South America, is named after him. Magellan has also given his name to a species of penguin and two craters on the moon.
  • A type of cloud is also named after him. He was the first European to write about the ‘Magellanic clouds’, now known to be galaxies in space.

What next? Find out about Vasco da Gama and John Cabot, two other Tudor explorers.

Vasco da Gama: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Vasco da Gama.

  • Vasco da Gama is one of the most famous of the Portuguese explorers from the Age of Discovery, which occurred during the 15th and 16th centuries.
  • He lived from about 1460 to 1524 and was the first European to reach India directly by sea. His discovery meant that the Portuguese could colonize parts of Asia.

  • Much of Vasco da Gama’s early life was spent on fishing boats. He also studied navigation and astronomy, and he was friends with Ponce de Leon, who discovered Florida.
  • His father was also a well known explorer. He would have made the sea voyage to India that made Vasco da Gama famous, but he died before he could complete the journey.
  • The land on the East African coast under Muslim rule was very important for Portuguese expansion plans. At one point, Vasco da Gama impersonated a Muslim to secure a meeting with a local sultan.

Vasco da Gama

  • Da Gama stayed in India for several months, leaving when he was asked to pay taxes and leave his goods behind. In retaliation, he took some hostages.
  • In 1502, da Gama made his second voyage to India. On this voyage, he came upon a ship carrying Muslim pilgrims. He looted the ship and then cruelly killed all of the passengers in cold-blood.
  • His third voyage was in 1524, when he set sail to India with two of his sons. However, he died while on the voyage, possibly from pneumonia although some say it was from exhaustion and overworking.
  • A city in India is named after Vasco da Gama, as well as three Brazilian football teams, several ships, a crater on the moon and several places in Lisbon, Portugal.

Facts About Tudor Ships

  • Tudor ships were able to travel across oceans and seas, and they were used for trading, fighting and exploration. Most ships had 3 or 4 masts with triangular or square sails and they were quite easy to steer. The ships were constructed from timber.

  • King Henry VII started to develop England’s navy by building ships and King Henry VIII was responsible for increasing the size of the English fleet. In addition to being used for defense, the huge ships were used for exploration, with voyages of discovery often lasting years.
  • Tudor ships were powered by the wind, and were extremely slow moving. When cannons were added, the ships became even slower because of the extra weight of the guns.
  • There was not much room for sailors to sleep in the ships, and most of the time they were cramped or slept on the deck. Most sailors also wore the same clothes every day. Click here to learn more about the conditions on board a Tudor ship.
  • The food on most ships was not very good and consisted of bread, fish, biscuits, cheese and salted beef. The water was usually stale and the food often full of maggots.
  • Despite the dangerous and uncomfortable conditions, sea voyages were popular with many people. They were attracted by the sense of adventure and the prospect of finding great wealth.
  • The Mary Rose was one of the most famous Tudor ships. She sank in 1545, while attacking the French fleet and today, the remains of the ship, along with many artifacts (such as cooking utensils, games and clothing) can be seen in Portsmouth, England.
  • About 500 men died when the Mary Rose sank. The ages of the sailors ranged from as young as 12 to about 40, and most of them could not read or write. To discover more Mary Rose facts, click the link.
  • One of the greatest Tudor ships was called Henry Grace a Dieu. It weighed almost 1,000 tons and could carry almost 1,000 men.
  • In one of the great sea battles, the small English Navy defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. The Spanish invading force was much larger than the English fleet. Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh were both involved in conflict.

What next? Discover more Tudor facts by visiting out Tudor resources page, or learn why Tudor sailors went on voyages of discovery.