Explorers and Missionaries

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DURING the last two decades of the 19th century, the population of Scarborough with Falsgrave jumped from 30,504 to 38,161. Never again was it to increase so rapidly. Many of these additional residents were newly-housed in a comparatively confined area of what was then the edge of the town. Between upper Columbus Ravine, Prospect Road, Nares Street and Garfield Road, Scarborough’s newest addresses were named after heroic explorers.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618) was a man of many parts – soldier, buccaneer, explorer, courtier, historian and fantasist – and one-time favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, who knighted him. He founded a new colony which he called Virginia, in honour of the Queen, yet never set foot in it himself. Twice he failed to find the legendary El Dorado, city of gold, in Spanish Venezuela.

His hostility towards Spain so displeased Elizabeth’s successor, James I, that he had him shut up in the Tower of London for 13 years and finally executed, falsely convicted of treason. It was in the Tower that Raleigh wrote A History of the World (1614).

Raleigh Street was the earliest of these explorers’ addresses: starting in 1882 at the top of Gladstone Street, 10 years later it had been lengthened across Prospect Road to the head of the new Murchison and Franklin Streets.

That Christopher Columbus was given a Scarborough Ravine in 1892 was no accident: that year marked the 400th anniversary of his ‘discovery’ of the New World. It was on October 12 1492 that this Genoese emissary of Spain first reached what he chose to call San Salvador and was later re-named Watling Island in the Bahamas.

In 1892, at the time of the quater centenary celebrations, Columbus was still regarded as a brave pioneer who had brought wealth to Europe and opened up the Americas to European settlement. More than a century later, though his seamanship is still admired, historians know that his voyages were promoted by a gigantic geographical miscalculation and that even after four expeditions to America he refused to accept that he had found a new continent, not a new route to Asia.

Nevertheless, the United States still takes a day’s annual holiday on or near October 12 and American visitors to Scarborough are delighted to learn that the town honours the name of Columbus.

On the other hand, whoever decided to dedicate a new Anglican church in Columbus Ravine to St Columba (521-97), the Irish missionary to Scotland, might not have confused a 6th century saint with a 15th century sinner, but how often have we heard ‘Columba Ravine’ and ‘St Columbus’s church’?

Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) joined the Royal Navy at 14 and served in the battles of Trafalgar in 1805 and New Orleans in 1814. Knighted in 1829, he was governor of Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) for seven years. Afterwards he devoted his life and lost it to Arctic exploration.

In 1845 he began the search for the North-west passage, a sea route from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific which had eluded and cost the lives of many courageous predecessors. His two ships were marooned in the Canadian ice and he and all of his 127 crew perished. Much later, examination of some of their preserved corpses indicated that they had been poisoned by eating bad tinned food.

Franklin’s tragic endeavour was celebrated throughout the world, not just in North-west Canada where an island, a bay and a strait are named after him. Almost 50 years after his death Franklin Street (1892) in Scarborough kept his memory alive.

David Livingstone (1813-73) was closer to home and his Victorian status qualified him for a new road of houses by 1897. Before he was later overshadowed by General Gordon, Livingstone was the most popular figure in Britain. Born into a poor family of seven children living in a Clydeside tenement, he had gone to work in a cotton factory at the age of ten. Yet such was his extraordinary intelligence, industry and ambition that in 1838 the London Missionary Society invited him to represent them in South Africa.

From 1841, when he arrived at Cape Town, he applied himself completely to the exploration and Christian conversion of what was still then the dark continent. He was the first European to cross the continent from east to west, the first to plot the course of the Zambesi river, but not the last to search for the course of the Nile. The Victoria Falls of the Zambesi owe their name to him.

No one did more than Livingstone to open up sub-Saharan Africa to the rest of the world and draw to its attention the inhuman ill-treatment of its native population.

Captain George Strong Nares (1831-1915) is a rather surprising member of this distinguished and famous company of Victorian explorers, but there is no doubt that he made a most valuable contribution to our knowledge of the planet’s oceans and seas.

Between 1872 and 1874, as captain of the Royal Navy ship Challenger, this Aberdonian sailed around the world and for the Admiralty wrote a 50-volume account of his meticulous survey. Later, he took part in surveys of the Arctic ocean and commanded the naval cadet ship Britannia. By the time he had given his name to one of Scarborough’s new streets in 1897, Nares was a retired vice-admiral. Nares Street is in good company: the Nares Deep is the deepest part of the North Atlantic and Nares Strait is the name of the sea passage between Canada and Greenland.

Finally, the Norwegian traveller, statesman and philanthropist, Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) joined the others in 1897, though this was long before he had become much more than an Arctic explorer.

In 1888-9 Nansen was the first to lead an overland crossing of Greenland from east to west, which he described in his best-selling book, Eskimo Life (1891). And in 1897, his Further North, an account of his penetration to the record latitude of 86 degrees north, also won a world-wide readership.

Though Nansen had achieved fame as a great outdoor athlete, skier, skater, hunter and fisherman, it was his post-war work in eastern Europe, repatriating German prisoners of war and later relieving the victims of famine in Russia, that earned him the most admiration and gratitude. The residents of Nansen Street must have been particularly pleased in 1922 to learn that he had been awarded the Nobel prize for peace.