Encyclopedia of Exploration 3: Reviews

Review By René Pélissier Análise Social, vol. XLII (182), 2007

Prometheus, Ptolemy, Pigmalion and some pygmies

Even in the Rua Garrett, in its cafés or in its bookstores, even in the whole of the Chiado and its surroundings, it’s not every week we find a Titan. I would even say that pygmies, the vain, the envious and the slanderous, are more numerous than the giants of the Antiquity. And to the same conclusion come the bibliographers, duty-bound to select from mountains of multilingual publications, but rarely arriving at the mythological. Now – if Ptolemy will forgive me! – I have just found at the antipodes of this Earth, which is not as flat as the Greek geographer would have it, a Titan. Published in Australia, instead of giving fire to mankind, it has developed into such a colossal endeavour that there are no words to describe it. Will it simply be gigantic? Or, preferably, monumental, Cyclopian, pharaonic, Babylonic, Herculean, Himalayan? I opt for Promethean, because this fiendish British author who calls himself, very prosaically, Raymond Howgego, is about to complete a work that restores trust to the man of science and likens him to the gods or, at least, to the great encyclopaedists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, times when an author could bind himself to tasks so grandiose that they were almost mythical. Never will this author reach the glory or fleeting fame of, for instance, a Brazilian soccer player, of any star of the screen or king of finance, but in a hundred years his work will continue to be consulted with admiration by the entire world. Even in the Lusophone libraries!

With whom are we dealing? With a former physics teacher who, for about twenty years, has been preparing and writing – alone, although appealing to a number of informants – an encyclopedia that embraces the explorers of all times and of all the oceans and continents, that have left, directly or indirectly, written information about their discoveries. What are excluded, evidently, are the anonymous and great leaders of the unknown migrations that crossed the globe in times before the discovery of writing. Also excluded are the simple travellers or tourists that, in spite of having left a written account of their adventures, did not enlarge on our knowledge of the world. What interests our author are the discoverers, great or small, and even for these he is somewhat selective, because it is not the wanderers in Europe that secure his attention. However, it would be inexact to say that his Encyclopedia of Exploration is a formidable song of love dedicated only to European pioneers, because we also found among its number numerous Arabs – whose language the author knows – Chinese, Japanese and other oriental merchants or navigators. However, because scientific literature makes overwhelming use of European (including the Russian) languages, the result is that Raymond Howgego gives priority to the natives of this turbulent peninsula.

But he brings together an extraordinary collection of characters broadly unknown to the general reader – and even to the specialists – beyond his linguistic sphere! With Howgego there is no chauvinism, nor is there any bigotted nationalism that, as happens in the case of colonial literature, frequently deforms and unbalances the history of the discovery of the world. Of course, being British by birth and more comfortable, linguistically, with the ocean of sources and works in English, rather than in obscure works executed in Hungarian or Armenian, the author has tendency to give priority to documentation that is more easily accessible to him. The result of this action, here and there, is an overestimate of the part played by the Anglophones, but this does not seem to be intentional.

What is important to keep in mind is that the three volumes actually (2007) available represent more than 2600 pages in two columns (four for the index). The weight of these in quarto (210 mm x 285 mm) comes close to 7 kilos and we estimate that they contain 20 million characters, giving a good idea of the expanse of this text, but not of its importance. Volume I occupies the greater part of this work, containing 2327 articles that support an index of more than 7500 names of persons or ships. It covers only the period from the earliest times up to 1800. The bibliography reaches almost 20,000 multilingual entries, annotated at times, with an indication of the translations of narratives that had ‘wider’ circulation. Most of these entries concern books or manuscripts. It is therefore not surprising to see the Encyclopedia of Exploration mentioned as a reference work in the catalogues of the great bookstores specializing in the journeys of the past. Volume II is more modest, despite its 700 pages, considering that it concerns merely the period from 1800 to 1850, and offers us 732 articles and an index with the names of more than 3000 famous travellers and 1000 ships, and citing more than 10,000 reference works. Volume III occupies 734 pages, divided between 524 articles that treat exclusively the oceans, the islands and the polar regions from 1850 to 1940, including the aerial journeys but omitting the great African, Asian and even American explorations. The index references close to 3000 new travellers and the bibliography includes more than 14,000 entries.

He himself gives notice of a new volume for continental ‘discoveries’. Personally, I think this final (?) volume should have more than 1800 pages so as not to disappoint Howgego’s admirers. Maybe it will be necessary to face the possibility of a fifth volume to reintroduce the ‘forgotten’, to organize chronological tables for country ‘of origin’ (seducing the readers’ nationalism) and country ‘receiving’. When I spoke of a Promethean publication, did I greatly exaggerate?

As for the content of each article, it is presented, essentially, as a detailed description – at times with humorous notes – of each journey carried out by the major author of the report that forms the origin of the article. And Howgego, as meticulous as a philatelist, gives us the significant dates, almost day by day, the names of the major fellow-travellers (officials, scholars and even, at times, passengers embarked on maritime voyages). Some of the geographical articles let us know about the principal discoveries within a region. This type of article increases prolifically as we move forward in the time, in the direction of the present day, and it is a pity that the author has not enlarged their number in volume i. But this problem can be easily solved if the author decides to publish, in a fifth volume, tables by country. The bibliography, monumental in volume iii (seven columns dedicated to the Belgian Gerlache de Gomery), is divided between (a) works written by the traveller and his companions and (b) texts published about the traveller or written about his journeys by third parties. Orthographical errors are rare. Of course the importance given to each entry is debatable: to Gago Coutinho only two columns are devoted, while to the Galápagos Islands he devotes four. But, while it is not possible to quickly count the number of entries for country of origin, one estimates that there will be at least between 400 and 450 that are dedicated to the Portuguese, and maybe even more to the Spanish, something which allows us to write that, if we do not find, within five years, thirty copies of this Encyclopedia in the public or private libraries of Portugal, Brazil or Spain, it is advisable that the bibliographer should change profession, because, that being the case, all his toils would have been unheeded. They are with certainty expensive volumes, but they do honour to their author and his Australian publisher. A fabulous and indispensable work.


Review By Merrill Distad,University of Alberta

Raymond John Howgego, Encyclopedia of Exploration 1850-1940: A Comprehensive Reference Guide to the History and Literature of Exploration, Travel, and Colonization in the Oceans, Islands, New Zealand, and the Polar Regions from 1850 to the Early Decades of the Twentieth Century. Potts Point [Sydney], New South Wales: Hordern House, 2006. Pp. x + 724. Bibliographies. Indexes. Cloth: AUS$245 and US$200 and ISBN 1-875567-41-0.

In reviewing the first two volumes of Raymond Howgego's scholarly masterpiece - ­see Bulletin of the Pacific Circle 11 (October 2003), 9-11 and 15 (October 2005), 22-24 - ­this reviewer nearly exhausted his stock of superlatives. Now, only two years after the appearance of the second volume, the author and publisher have brought forth a third, closing a gap of almost a century after 1850. So large did this instalment grow, however, that it was necessary to split it into two parts, the second half of which, covering the continental land masses, is even now in the press. The final volume will soon complete what is surely one of the most significant reference projects of the last generation.

The volume at hand covers the oceans, islands, and polar regions from 1850 to about 1940. Its 521 articles include biographical information for nearly 3,000 people who were engaged in exploration (about two-thirds of them "leaders," and one-third "participants"), as well as covering every major island or island group. The format continues to devote separate articles to the major expeditions of prominent explorers-thus according Ernest Shackleton seven articles vs. Robert Scott's three-and to regions of the larger islands and eras in their history-devoting, for example, three articles to Hawaii, four to New Guinea and ten to New Zealand. Major articles are devoted to Antarctic and Arctic exploration, and somewhat shorter ones to other themes, including new innovations as Aviation-divided into lighter-than-airs and aeroplanes-and Telegraph Cables. Wide-ranging hydrographic expeditions are covered, as are circumnavigators. Women also appear in significant numbers for the first time-including archaeologist Zelia Nuttall, artist Marianne North, Arctic scientist Louise Boyd, ethnographer Katherine Routledge, and the indefatigable Isabella Bird Bishop. Mere tourists are generally excluded, save for an article on World Travelers, although those self-described "tramps," Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Jack London have articles to themselves.

This latest volume contains more than 14,000 bibliographic citations, divided between primary and secondary sources, cited in their original languages and, where extant, published translations. These, quite apart from the biographical and thematic entries, are astonishingly comprehensive and well worth the price of the book. The author's decision to append biographies of "participants" to those of their "leaders" avoids repetition, and relieves the reader of the need to make those connections. The whole is tied nicely together by the Index of Persons, keyed to the running heads in the text, as well as by an Index of Regional, Island and General Articles, and an Index of Ships, Boats, Aeroplanes and Airships.

Volume 3 of this scholarly tour de force brings the total number of articles thus far published to 3,580 containing more than 44,000 bibliographic citations, articles notable not only for their comprehensiveness, but for the excellence of their author's prose. The publishers have, once again, done the author proud, with a handsome, splendidly printed and bound volume, in which the absence of maps is perhaps the only significant, albeit quite justifiable, compromise. Like its predecessors, this third volume is monumental, comprehensive, authoritative, and now, more than ever, indispensable.       


Review By Brian Marshall
Datum – Newsletter of the New Zealand Map Society

This is volume three of Howgego’s comprehensive coverage of the history of exploration, and appears quite soon after volume two, which was reviewed in the November 2005 issue of Datum. Whereas volumes one and two covered the whole world (up to 1800, and from 1800 to 1850), volume three covers only the oceans, islands and polar regions, and a further volume, expected to be published in 2008, will cover continental exploration. The original intention was to conclude this series of encyclopedias with a single volume, ending somewhere in the 1920s, but the amount of information to be recorded meant that two volumes are required to record it all. Howgego’s problem was how to divide the material so that it was immediately clear to the reader what information would be found in which volume. By looking at this information Howgego determined that most explorers and travelers during this post 1850 period restricted themselves to certain parts of the world, and that those who charted the oceans rarely went inland, while others who explored the interiors of the larger islands rarely penetrated the continental mainland.

 For the most part this seems to work, although it does seem a little strange to find the individual islands of Indonesia covered in this book, along with Ceylon (listed under Sri Lanka although it was known as Ceylon during the period covered by this volume). Both Indonesia and Ceylon are closely linked in my mind with Asia, even though they obviously are either islands or archipelagos. Having got my head around this, I then wondered about the northern islands of Canada. A search for a heading that said Canada led me to an entry for Canada’s hydrographic surveys 1850-1930, which looked at various surveys around the Canadian coastline as well as on the Great Lakes, but not to any comprehensive coverage for the northern islands. One has to look under the entry for Arctic Exploration to find a see reference to the search expeditions for John Franklin and to a variety of other see references as well.

As with the first two volumes, entries are arranged alphabetically, by the name of the explorer/traveller. Each entry has an entry number, and an indication (in one or two words) of where the traveller was travelling. Brief biographical details follow, along with rather more detailed accounts of the explorations made. Each entry concludes with a bibliography of works by and about the traveller. The locations of manuscript material, and pertinent photographic archives, are often included as well.

This volume includes a number of entries devoted to particular regions or island groups, and thus differs from the first two volumes which were very much strictly biographical in approach. This “geographical” approach works well, and allows for handy overviews of exploration activities by obscure parties which otherwise could easily be overlooked. Also included in this volume are early intercontinental flights, the laying of telegraph cables, and long-distance flights by airships.

There sometimes seems to be a British bias in the amount of coverage given to various travellers/explorers who operated in the same place. If we look at the Antarctic for example, the entries for Roald Amundsen occupy 21 columns, while those for Scott and Shackleton each occupy 34 columns.

There is much New Zealand material in this new volume. There is a section titled “New Zealand: introductory remarks”, and this is followed by a series of regional accounts for different parts of the South Island (Nelson to Canterbury 1850-1855; the interior of Canterbury 1850-1865; Otago and Southland 1850-1858; Otago & Southland, the Lake Country 1859-1864; Otago during the gold rush 1861-1864; Westland 1856-1870; the Southern Alps 1875-1910; Fiordland after 1875; and Stewart Island. In his introductory remarks for New Zealand Howgego argues that “by 1850 much of the geography of the North Island had been established”, and because “so many of the North Island surveyors explored extensively in all regions of the island during their lifetimes…[it was] decided that it would not be particularly helpful to consider North Island exploration on a regional basis”.

Howgego lists a number of men who surveyed/explored in various parts of the North Island – J.C. Crawford, Laurence Cussen, Hochstetter, Rochfort, W.H. Skinner and Percy Smith – and the encyclopedia entries for each of them provide a substantial history of survey work carried out in the North Island.

Beyond the major New Zealand articles there are numerous other entries for people active in New Zealand, such as John H. Baker, Thomas Brodrick, Alphonse Barrington, P.Q. Caples and the like. There are also entries for some botanical explorers, such as Cheeseman and Cockayne, for the photographer Alfred Burton, and the geologist Alexander Mackay. There are gaps in the coverage however. There is no entry for the Acheron/Pandora hydrographic survey of 1848-1855, nor for the Penguin hydrographic survey of 1896-1905. And there are a substantial number of geologists who explored huge amounts of New Zealand but fail to get an entry in this volume – such as S. Herbert Cox, James Macintosh Bell and James Park, who, while primarily geologists, also contributed substantially to our early topographical knowledge of various parts of New Zealand. Their story remains to be told.

These comments should not be seen as detracting from what is a major reference work in its field, and an amazing contribution from just one person. As with the previous volumes, the standard of production is very high and the outcome is a very handsome book which looks as though it will withstand much handling and use.

 Brian Marshall - Auckland
Datum – Newsletter of the New Zealand Map Society   


Raymond Howgego has produced another astounding volume, the third in his monumental and definitive Encyclopedia of Exploration. As always, he alone has done all the research - and travelled to many of the remote locations: feats that, in any other compendium, would have been done by a large team of experts and editors. This volume covers the ninety years from 1850 to 1940, a period when ocean and air travel became global and photography was a new medium of record, and when the last blanks on maps were filled, but before the great modern era of purely scientific research and discovery.

To reduce the subject-matter, Howgego chose to devote this volume to Oceans, Islands and Polar Regions - the cold and wet places. This works well for Polar Regions, since the book covers their heroic age. Some of the islands are very large (New Zealand, Borneo, New Guinea and Madagascar, for instance) so that their sections involve terrestrial exploration, most of which will of course come in the fourth and final volume. This book has 120 regional articles (in addi­tion to hundreds of biographies of individuals), but the reader is helped by a much-needed index to these composite essays, and many of them trace the history of their exploration from early times to the present. As the introduction justifiably boasts, 'if the articles on New Zealand were extracted from this and previous volumes, they would alone constitute probably the most comprehen­sive account of New Zealand exploration ever written'.

Howgego's account of the dispute about whether Robert Peary or Frederick Cook was the first to reach the North Pole overland is a model of scholarly impartiality. He notes the doubts about Cook's claim to have climbed Mount McKinley in 1906, and sets out the pros and cons of whether Cook reached the Pole when he disappeared with some Inuit between March 1908 and April 1909. After giving many negative aspects of Cook's case, Howgego concludes that: 'The massive "Cook-Peary controversy" . . . has continued to rumble on with­out resolution and remains to this day a major subject of debate among polar historians.' In the entry on Peary, he also notes controversial aspects of that explorer's narrative: that in March 1909 he did the 213-kilometre dash from Bartlett's forward camp north of Ellesmere Island to the Pole in only four days, 'a speed that most modern Arctic travellers find hard to accept'; he left Captain Robert Bartlett behind - detractors say to remove the only man who could verify the accuracy of his latitude calculations; and after crossing the Pole he claimed to have 'traversed 213 kilometres of fractured polar ice in fifty-six hours - a speed that even the most ardent Peary supporters find difficult to imagine.' But the RGS in London voted by a narrow majority to award Peary its special medal for reaching the Pole, and the United States government also, finally, gave him the appropriate honours.

The other great polar contest, between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott, is handled with equal tact and accuracy. Howgego shows how Amundsen finally decided to attempt the South Pole although his funding had been for a North Polar bid, after he heard that his friend Cook had reached the North Pole. Howgego contrasts Amundsen's good planning and good luck with Scott's bad luck. This encyclopaedia is always factual. So it merely records, without com­ment, Amundsen's tactic of shooting dogs at various stages and then feeding the frozen carcasses to the remainder, and Scott's misfortunes with his pit ponies.

One omission surprised me: that of Alfred Russel Wallace in the islands of what is now Indonesia. His earlier work on the Amazon is in Howgego's previ­ous volume because it started in 1848; but his eight years of travel in south-east Asia were all within the remit of this volume. Wallace's achievements included new discoveries of birds of paradise, the classic book The Malay Archipelago, the 'Wallace Line' of zoological change east of Borneo, and the famous essay on evolution by natural selection that he sent to Charles Darwin.

This is an essential and enduring work of reference; but it is also a cornucopia of thrilling stories of wonderful explorers. You can open it at random and read with pleasure about the adventures, hazards, triumphs, bravery and determina­tion of remarkable men and women. The intellectual achievement of the author, Raymond Howgego, ranks with those of his subjects.