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7 evocative images from the Golden Age of Exploration that will make you want to travel

Authors Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert scoured library archives and private collections to collate these evocative images from the early days of exploration that are guaranteed to make your feet itch to

Caiman by Merdian

Brazil's Botocudo people by Maximilian de Wied

Botocudo people (Akg Images)

Maximilian de Wied explored the southeastern regions of Brazil in 1815-17, returning with a wealth of information about the native flora and fauna and, most significantly, the Puri and Botocudo peoples. His treaties was later regarded as a pioneering ethnographic work. This sketch from October 1816 shows the Botocudos swimming in the river.

Credit: akg-images


Arctic Icebergs by Franz Boas

Iceberg (American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia)

While he was stuck on board ship for weeks among the ice floes attempting to reach Cumberland Sound (Arctic Canada), Franz Boas spent his time drawing and sketching, including these icebergs, becoming absorbed in this strange new world.

Credit: American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia


Crossing New Zealand's Southland by John Turnbull Thomson

Horse Crossing mountain (Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hōkena, University of Otago)

John Turnbull Thomson painted vignettes of his exploring life in 1877, depicting those pioneering first surveys Otago and Southland in New Zealand. This is ‘Crossing the Horse Range, 10 November 1857’. 

Credit: Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hōkena, University of Otago


A tamarin monkey by Maria Sibylla Merian

Tamarin (The Trustees of the British Museum)

A sketch by Merian of a black monkey, possibly a kind of tamarin, sitting on the ground holding a Surinam cherry, which is indigenous to tropical Brazil. The small blue flower resembles the European Forget-me-not.

Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum


The Nyangwe massacre by David Livingstone

The drawing: Livingstone, D., The Last Journals of David Livingstone in Central Africa (London: John Murray, 1874)

Livingstone’s eyewitness account of the Nyangwe massacre. They include a drawing, plus notes written in berry juice on an old newspaper page torn from The Standard, and the account led to the closure of the slave market in Zanzibar, a critical hub for East Africa’s slave traffickers. 

The fragile paper and unusual ink made it indecipherable until recently, when spectral imaging technology was used to decode it. 

Credits: The drawing: Livingstone, D., The Last Journals of David Livingstone in Central Africa (London: John Murray, 1874)


Chimborazo volcano by Alexander von Humboldt

Ecuador volcano ( akg-images)

Alexander von Humboldt’s expedition diaries are densely written and immensely detailed, with small field sketches and tables of computation and observation. The journals held the raw material of his evolving scientific thinking. 

This is his iconic cross-section profile of Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador. He sketched the beginning of this image on the spot, and it came to exemplify his vision for an ordered geographical ecology, in this case the zoned occurrence of different plants at different altitudes.

Credit: akg-images


Vesuvius by John Auldjo

Vesuvius by John Auldjo (Houghton Library)

A colourful map of Vesuvius by John Auldjo, showing the direction of lava streams in successive eruptions. It was a pioneering way of representing geographic information and of visualising nature. Despite the dangers, travellers were drawn to visit Vesuvius by Auldjo’s illustrations and accounts.

Credit: Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge


Explorer's Sketchbook Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art and Discovery of Adventure by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert is available on Amazon now, published by Thames & Hudson.

Main image: Caiman entwined with a false coral snake (Trustees of the British Museum)

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