Famous British Explorers

Do you know what’s common between Sir Walter Raleigh, Henry Hudson, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Alexander Mackenzie? Other than the fact that each of them was a British explorer, they all were passionate about adventure. Had it not been for their ability to face the harshest conditions that explorations come with, the world wouldn’t have been the same as it is today. The indomitable attitude of the British explorers and navigators helped expand the borders of the world, conquering new lands, sea and mountains. Their achievements are beyond words as they helped the world come to a common platform exposing the culture and traditions of new lands. Their exploits are undeniably impressive and remarkable. Through their voyages, British explorers discovered a number of places which were previously unknown to mankind. While some survived the harsh conditions and unknown dangers, the others gave their life to explorations. It is to these heroes that we own most of our world to! Dig into this section and equip yourself with detailed information about the life and explorations of British explorers. Their adventures and explorations are sure to give you an adrenaline rush!

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 James Cook

James Cook
Famous As: Explorer & Navigator
Birthdate: October 27, 1728
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Marton, England
Died: February 14, 1779

British explorer, navigator, and cartographer James Cook, who had also served the merchant navy and Royal Navy, was the first to complete an expedition around New Zealand. He explored areas in the South Pacific, such as eastern Australia and Hawaii. He was killed while trying to kidnap a Hawaiian king.

 2 Francis Drake

Francis Drake
Famous As: Navigator
Birthdate: 1540 AD
Birthplace: Tavistock, Devon, England
Died: January 27, 1596

Francis Drake was an English explorer and naval officer. He is remembered for his Raiding Expedition, a prominent historical maritime event which unfolded between 1577 and 1580. Although Drake is considered a hero in the United Kingdom, his privateering led the Spanish to refer to him as a pirate. His expedition has also had a major cultural impact in Britain.

 3 Walter Raleigh

Walter Raleigh
Famous As: Politician, Writer, Explorer, Aristocrat
Birthdate: January 22, 1554
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: East Budleigh
Died: October 29, 1618
English explorer Walter Raleigh is best remembered for his involvement in the Siege of Smerwick and for colonizing North America. He made smoking tobacco popular in England. His accounts of his first voyage to South America led to the legend of El Dorado. He was executed to please the Spanish.

 4 Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton
Famous As: Antarctic explorer
Birthdate: February 15, 1874
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Kilkea
Died: January 5, 1922

Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is remembered for leading three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He was a key figure of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. An expert in navigation, he had also been a part of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery expedition. He was knighted by King Edward VII for his achievements.

 5 John Smith

John Smith
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: January 6, 1580
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Lincolnshire, England
Died: June 21, 1631

John Smith was an English explorer, soldier, colonial governor, author, and Admiral of New England. In the early-17th century, Smith played a major role in the establishment of the first indissoluble English settlement in America, which came to be known as the English colony at Jamestown. Apart from helping Jamestown survive various challenges, Smith's leadership also helped the colony flourish.

 6 Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson
Famous As: Navigator and Explorer
Birthdate: 1565 AD
Birthplace: England, United Kingdom
Died: 1611 AD

Henry Hudson was an English navigator and sea explorer best remembered for his explorations of modern-day Canada and the northeastern United States. He is credited with laying the foundation for the Dutch colonization near the Hudson River, which is named in his honor. During his final expedition, he became the first European to witness the Hudson Bay and Hudson Strait.

 7 Robert Falcon Scott

Robert Falcon Scott
Famous As: Explorer, Naval officer
Birthdate: June 6, 1868
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Plymouth, Devon, England
Died: March 29, 1912

Robert Falcon Scott was an explorer and Royal Navy officer. He is remembered for leading two expeditions to the Antarctic regions, the second of which was the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition. Although Scott and his companions died during the second expedition, they helped discover the first Antarctic fossils, which proved that the place was once forested.

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 8 Richard Francis Burton

Richard Francis Burton
Famous As: Translator
Birthdate: March 19, 1821
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Torquay
Died: October 20, 1890

Richard Francis Burton was a British explorer, soldier, and scholar. He is best remembered for his explorations in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Along with John Hanning Speke, Burton was the first European to witness the Great Lakes of Africa. A prolific writer, Burton wrote several scholarly articles about numerous subjects like sexual practices, falconry, human behavior, travel, and ethnography.

 9 Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace
Famous As: Naturalist, Explorer, Geographer, Anthropologist and Biologist
Birthdate: January 8, 1823
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Llanbadoc
Died: November 7, 1913

British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace is largely remembered for his theory of evolution through natural selection, which inspired Charles Darwin’s studies. He began his career as a surveyor’s apprentice and later introduced concepts such as reinforcement in animals, also known as the Wallace effect. He was awarded the Order of Merit.

 10 Ranulph Fiennes

Ranulph Fiennes
Famous As: Explorer, Writer, Athletics competitor
Birthdate: March 7, 1944
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Windsor

 11 John Rolfe

John Rolfe
Famous As: English settlers of North America
Birthdate: May 6, 1585
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Heacham, United Kingdom
Died: 1622 AD

British colonial official John Rolfe was one of the first English settlers in North America. He not only gained fame as a tobacco planter in Virginia, but also married Pocahontas, the daughter of Native American chief Powhatan. He died in the infamous Jamestown massacre of 1622.

 12 Henry Morton Stanley

Henry Morton Stanley
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: January 28, 1841
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Denbigh
Died: May 10, 1904

Henry Morton Stanley was a Welsh-American explorer, journalist, colonial administrator, soldier, politician, and author. He is remembered for his exploration of central Africa and his search for the source of the River Nile. Stanley received an honorary title of knighthood in 1899. His life and career inspired the 1939 movie Stanley and Livingstone, where Stanley was played by Spencer Tracy.

 13 John Franklin

John Franklin
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: April 16, 1786
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Spilsby
Died: June 11, 1847

 14 William Adams

William Adams
Famous As: First ever Western Samurai
Birthdate: September 24, 1564
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Gillingham, England
Died: May 16, 1620

One of the first-known Westerner to gain the title of samurai, William Adams, also known as Anjin Miura, was an English navigator who explored uncharted territories for his country. Apart from being the first Englishman to travel to Thailand and Japan, he was also the third from his country to travel to Vietnam.

 15 Colin Baker

Colin Baker
Famous As: Actor, Explorer, Film actor
Birthdate: June 8, 1943
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Waterloo

Born in a Waterloo hospital during an air raid, Colin Baker grew up to initially study law, before he discovered his love for theater. The LAMDA alumnus initially worked as a taxi driver. He is now known for his performances in the series The Brothers and Doctor Who.

 16 Ed Stafford

Ed Stafford
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: December 26, 1975
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England, UK

Ed Stafford is a British explorer who became the first person to walk the length of the famous Amazon River in 2010. Walking the Amazon is widely regarded as the longest jungle trek in the history of mankind and the feat is also recognized by the Guinness World Records. He currently hosts shows for the Discovery Channel.

 17 Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders
Famous As: Voyager
Birthdate: March 16, 1774
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Donington
Died: July 19, 1814

 18 George Vancouver

George Vancouver
Famous As: Explorer, Officer
Birthdate: June 22, 1757
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: King's Lynn
Died: May 10, 1798

English navigator and Royal Navy officer George Vancouver was the first to explore the Pacific coast of North America. His explored territories included the Canada’s British Columbia, the US’s Alaska, and Australia’s southwest coast. His 3-volume treatise on his journeys, with a collection of maps, was published posthumously.

 19 Ellen MacArthur

Ellen MacArthur
Famous As: Sailor
Birthdate: July 8, 1976
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Whatstandwell, England

 20 Ben Fogle

Ben Fogle
Famous As: Explorer, Television presenter, Writer
Birthdate: November 3, 1973
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: London

 21 Alexander Mackenzie

Alexander Mackenzie
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: 1764 AD
Birthplace: Stornoway, Lewis, Scotland
Died: March 12, 1820

 22 James Clark Ross

James Clark Ross
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: April 15, 1800
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: London
Died: April 3, 1862

 23 Martin Frobisher

Martin Frobisher
Famous As: Sailor
Birthdate: 1535 AD
Birthplace: Altofts, England
Died: November 21, 1594

 24 Charley Boorman

Charley Boorman
Famous As: TV presenter
Birthdate: August 23, 1966
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Wimbledon, London, England, UK

 25 John Hanning Speke

John Hanning Speke
Famous As: Discoverer of the source of the Nile
Birthdate: May 4, 1827
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Somerset
Died: September 15, 1864

 26 William Dampier

William Dampier
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: September 5, 1651
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: East Coker, Somerset, England
Died: February 29, 2017

 27 Gavin Menzies

Gavin Menzies
Famous As: Explorer, Submariner, Historian, Writer
Birthdate: August 14, 1937
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London

 28 Joseph Dalton Hooker

Joseph Dalton Hooker
Famous As: Botanist
Birthdate: June 30, 1817
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Halesworth, Suffolk, England
Died: December 10, 1911

British botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker is remembered as one of Charles Darwin’s greatest supporters. The man who is known as the pioneer of geographical botany, Hooker followed in the footsteps of his botanist father. The Copley Medal winner is also known for his iconic work Genera Plantarum.

 29 Charles Sturt

Charles Sturt
Famous As: British explorer
Birthdate: April 28, 1795
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Bengal
Died: June 16, 1869

 30 Christopher Newport

Christopher Newport
Famous As: explorer
Birthdate: November 30, 1561
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Limehouse
Died: 1617 AD

 31 Robert FitzRoy

Robert FitzRoy
Famous As: Scientist
Birthdate: July 5, 1805
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Ampton
Died: April 30, 1865

 32 Richard Hakluyt

Richard Hakluyt
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: 1553 AD
Birthplace: London, England
Died: November 23, 1616

English geographer Richard Hakluyt is remembered for his marked political influence and his continuous support of the British colonization of North America. A priest, he was associated with the Westminster Abbey. He also penned reports such as Discourse of Western Planting, which was appreciated by Queen Elizabeth I.

 33 Freya Stark

Freya Stark
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: January 31, 1893
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: May 9, 1993

Freya Stark was an Anglo-Italian travel writer and explorer. One of the first non-Arabs to explore the southern Arabian Desert, Stark penned down over 24 books on her travels in Afghanistan and the Middle East. She also wrote many essays and autobiographical works. In 1968, Freya Stark embarked on her last expedition to Afghanistan at the age of 75.

 34 Sir Wilfred Thesiger

Sir Wilfred Thesiger
Famous As: British explorer
Birthdate: June 3, 1910
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Died: August 24, 2003

 35 H. Saint John Philby

H. Saint John Philby
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: April 3, 1885
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Badulla, Sri Lanka
Died: September 30, 1960

 36 Humphrey Gilbert

Humphrey Gilbert
Famous As: Adventurer
Birthdate: September 9, 1539
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: England
Died: September 9, 1583

 37 Mary Kingsley

Mary Kingsley
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 13, 1862
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Islington, London, England
Died: June 3, 1900

English ethnographer and traveler Mary Kingsley was the daughter of renowned physician and traveler George Kingsley and the niece of Charles Kingsley. Unlike girls of her era, she was well-educated and later ventured on an exploratory trip to West Africa, becoming the first European to enter remote areas such as Gabon.

 38 Sir Francis Chichester

Sir Francis Chichester
Famous As: Aviator
Birthdate: September 17, 1901
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Barnstaple, England
Died: August 26, 1972

 39 Robert Dudley

Robert Dudley
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: August 7, 1574
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Richmond Palace, Surrey, England
Died: September 6, 1649

 40 Edward Whymper

Edward Whymper
Famous As: Mountaineer
Birthdate: April 27, 1840
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: London, United Kingdom
Died: September 16, 1911

 41 Frederick Selous

Frederick Selous
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: December 31, 1851
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: London, England
Died: January 4, 1917

 42 George Bass

George Bass
Famous As: Explorer, Surgeon
Birthdate: January 30, 1771
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Aswarby
Died: April 22, 2017

British naval surgeon George Bass is best remembered for his exploratory voyage to Australia, aboard the Reliance. He explored areas such as the Sydney coastline, Tasmania, and New South Wales. However, he was declared lost at sea after disappearing on a commercial voyage to South America.

 43 Nicholas Briggs

Nicholas Briggs
Famous As: Explorer, Actor, Voice actor, Composer, Film director, Screenwriter
Birthdate: September 29, 1961
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: London

 44 Edward John Eyre

Edward John Eyre
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: August 5, 1815
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Whipsnade, England
Died: November 30, 1901

 45 Nathaniel Bacon

Nathaniel Bacon
Famous As: Colonist
Birthdate: January 2, 1647
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Suffolk, England
Died: October 26, 1676

 46 George Anson, Baron Anson

George Anson, Baron Anson
Famous As: First Lord of the Admiralty
Birthdate: April 23, 1697
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Staffordshire, United Kingdom
Died: June 6, 1762

 47 Thomas Cavendish

Thomas Cavendish
Famous As: explorer
Birthdate: September 19, 1560
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Trimley St Martin
Died: April 30, 1592

 48 Edward Adrian Wilson

Edward Adrian Wilson
Famous As: Explorer, Ornithologist, Painter, Scientist
Birthdate: July 23, 1872
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Cheltenham
Died: March 29, 1912

 49 Francis Younghusband

Francis Younghusband
Famous As: Army Officer
Birthdate: May 31, 1863
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Murree, Pakistan
Died: July 31, 1942

 50 Alexander Burnes

Alexander Burnes
Famous As: Explorer
Birthdate: May 16, 1805
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Montrose, United Kingdom
Died: November 2, 1841