The mysterious tales behind the disappearances of famous explorers

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For centuries explorers have captured the imaginations of people the world over with their stories of survival, adventure and discovery. However, it is often the morbid that people find most interesting. With the mysteries surrounding vanished explorers being talked and theorized about by the public, historians, and journalists alike, here are ten of the most intriguing ones.

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  • Gaspar and Miguel Corte-Real
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    Gaspar and Miguel Corte-Real

    Gaspar and Miguel Corte-Real were both Portuguese explorers during the age of discovery. In 1501 Gaspar led three caravels on an expedition to the shores of Newfoundland where they eventually reached and took 60 natives as slaves to return home. The slaves were handed over to Miguel to be transported and it was agreed that Miguel would lead the way to Portugal with Gaspar to follow shortly after but Gaspar was never seen again. Miguel devastated by the loss of his brother returned to the New World in 1502 in an attempt to find Gaspar. His three caravels once again reached Newfoundland and split up to search the coastline. Whilst two of the ships returned to the meeting point agreed later Miguel's ship never returned. The fate of both of the brothers is still a mystery but in 1918 a university professor found an inscription on a boulder in Massachusetts that suggest Miguel could have survived for over 9 years in America and that he had even joined a tribe of Native Americans.

  • Sir John Franklin
    David Bukach/123RF
    Sir John Franklin

    Sir John Franklin was one of the foremost explorers of the Victorian era, captaining multiple expeditions to the Arctic in search of the elusive Northwest Passage. On his voyages he mapped large areas of coastline, identified new botanical specimens and furthered our knowledge of the Arctic environment. 20 years after his retirement from adventure he made the fateful decision to make one final effort to discover the Northwest Passage. He set off in 1845 at the age of 60 with 129 crew members on two ships which were last sighted sailing close to Baffin Island. After some time of no contact from the expedition rescue missions were attempted to try and discover their fare. Finally in 1859 a team aided by local Inuits found remains of the party on King William Island. A note made clear that the ships had become trapped in the Arctic ice in 1846, although they were not abandoned until April 1848. As for Franklin it became apparent that he had died in June 1847, but with no clear cause given. Historians still argue whether it was the cold or lead poisoning that caused Franklin's demise. In 2016 scientists reported they has discovered the remains of the HMS Terror which they hope will provide more details of the fate of the crew and their ill-fated voyage.

  • Colonel Percy Fawcett
    Colonel Percy Fawcett

    The Amazon jungle has seen a multitude of explorers pass through it, but one of the most famous was Colonel Percy Fawcett. Fawcett had cut his teeth as an adventurer charting maps on expeditions into the depths of Brazil and Bolivia. It was on these travels that he began to theorize about the lost city 'Z' believed to be filled with great riches. In 1925 Fawcett, his son Jack and a friend set off into the rainforest in search of the fabled city. The last contact the expedition had with the world was a letter Fawcett sent to his wife from ?Dead Horse Camp' where he sounded generally optimistic about their fortunes. Then the group disappeared into the jungle without a trace. Since then hundreds have attempted to find the expeditions remains with no luck. Numerous theories exist as to what happened including that they were killed by Indian attacks, jaguars, malaria, starvation, and even decided to live out their days as natives in the jungle!

  • Ludwig Leichardt
    Luisa Vallon Fumi/123RF
    Ludwig Leichardt

    Another prolific explorer of the 19th century, Ludwig Leichardt led an attempt to cross Australia from east to west in 1848. Leichardt had already completed two similar expeditions across the country and had in fact been given up for dead on one occasion when he was not heard from for 18 months only to turn up alive and well with volumes of notes on what he had seen. This time he would not return however. Leaving with a vast caravan loaded with equipment and supplies he disappeared into the outback never to be seen again. The only trace ever discovered of the missing expedition was a brass plaque from his rifle inscribed with Leichardt's name and the year 1848. Search parties looked for the expedition in vain only discovering a disparate collection of trees with 'L' engraved on them, a calling sign Leichardt used to indicate his route, but no other discoveries. The story was so enthralling that numerous theories were mooted in the press, but without any new evidence it's likely no one will ever know what happened to the mission.

  • Naomi Uemura
    Naomi Uemura

    In one of the more modern mysteries on our list Naomi Uemura gained plaudits when he was part of the first ever Japanese team to scale Mount Everest in 1970. He would have been the first Japanese in the world to reach the summit had he not ceded the honor to an elder in the group. During his adventures Uemura completed a number of feats including climbing the highest mountain on each of the world's continents solo, trekking across the Arctic to become the first person to reach the North Pole solo, and rafting down the Amazon. In February of 1984 Uemura started his attempt to scale Mount McKinley in Alaska in the first solo winter ascent ever. We know that the adventurer did make it to the peak but sadly he never made it back down the mountain. Search parties have searched multiple times for the lost adventurer, but all that has ever been found is some equipment and a hidden diary in a snow cave leaving his death a mystery.


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Benjamin Jacques
Posted on 29/07/2017 18 shares
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