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The British Empire mythologised its explorers, the men (and a few women) who pushed the boundaries of the bits of the world map Britain could colour red. Here are some of the great names of world exploration, immortalised in sculpture.

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Explorers

John Franklin

’To The Great Arctic Navigator And His Brave Companions Who Sacrificed Their Lives In Completing The Discovery Of The North-West Passage AD 1847-8.’ Did you know Charles Dickens grew his famous beard in 1857 to portray one of Franklin’s men on stage in a play by Wilkie Collins?

Waterloo Place SW1
Tube: Piccadilly Circus

Robert Falcon Scott

Kathleen Scott's statue of her husband, the polar explorer, was set up here in 1915, three years after the  death of Scott and his four friends on their return from the South Pole. 'Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell.’ Kathleen trained with Rodin in Paris in the years before she met Scott.

Waterloo Place SW1
Tube: Piccadilly Circus

Ernest Shackleton

This bronze of the heroic Antarctic explorer (1874-1922) was sculpted by Jagger in 1932. Standing in a niche outside the Royal Geographical Society, he is wrapped in his Antarctic clothing, looking very cosy in winter, if a bit overheated in summer. Shackleton died of a heart attack in 1922, aged 47.

Exhibition Road SW8
Tube: South Kensington

David Livingstone

Clutching a Bible, the African explorer peers sternly around the corner of his niche on the RGS building, maybe looking for somewhere else to ‘discover’ after stumbling on Victoria Falls. He died in Africa in 1873, aged 60. The pairing of Shackleton and Livingstone led cabbies to call this ‘Hot And Cold Corner’.

Exhibition Road SW8
Tube: South Kensington

Prince Henry The Navigator

This lovely sculpture of Columbus’ sponsor makes him look very kind and interesting company. Henry was the third son of King John I of Portugal and helped push Portuguese exploration, helping develop the caravel. This is a very recent addition to this sculpture-rich square but perhaps the best one in it.

Belgrave Square SW1
Tube: Hyde Park Corner

Captain James Cook

‘Circumnavigator Of The Globe Explorer Of The Pacific Ocean He Laid The Foundations Of The British Empire In Australia And New Zealand Charted The Shores Of Newfoundland And Traversed The Ocean Gates Of Canada Both East And West.’ Sailors flinch to see him standing on a rope.

Admiralty Arch SW1
Tube: Charing Cross

Christopher Columbus

A young Columbus, maritime chart in his outstretched hand, has a comfy seat to rest on after all that sailing to the New World. Born in Genoa, he first went to sea aged ten. The statue is a gift from the people of Spain in 1992 and the sculptor was Tomas Banuelos. A nice, very human, statue.

Belgrave Square SW1
Tube: Hyde Park Corner

Frederick Selous

Rider Haggard based his Allan Quatermain character on the real-life adventures of Selous. Leaving England aged 19, he travelled widely in Southern Africa, opening up Zimbabwe to British rule, shooting elephants and other game but also collecting natural history specimens.

Natural History Museum

Cromwell Road SW7

Tube: South Kensington

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Sir Walter Ralegh

Ralegh (or Raleigh) is often said to have introduced both tobacco and potatoes to England from the New World. He funded the first colony in Virginia, which he named after Queen Elizabeth I, but he was executed for treason by King James I in 1618. Raleigh, capital of North Carolina, is named after him.
National Maritime Museum

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