A fascinating exhibition about three intrepid explorers with a strong local connection opens today at The Museum of Richmond. Curated by Natascha Wintersinger, it is called ‘Encountering the Unchartered and Back – Three explorers: Ball, Vancouver and Burton.’ The new exhibition highlights the three explorers’ contribution to geographical knowledge at a time when large areas of the world remained unmapped.
George Vancouver was a captain in the Royal Navy and one of Britain’s greatest explorers and navigators. He sailed with the inspirational Cooke in the discovery of the Hawaiian islands and is best known for putting America’s northwest Pacific coast on the map – and proving the absence of a Northwest Passage. Vancouver’s 1793-95 expedition chartered the coastline from present-day Oregon to Alaska. Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver are named after him. He was so impressed by the view from Richmond Hill that he retired to nearby Petersham, probably living in Glen Cottage on River Lane. He died aged 40 and is buried in St Peter’s churchyard in Petersham.
Also buried in St Peter’s churchyard is Rear Admiral Henry Lidgbird Ball, only recently located within the Johnston family vault. When serving as a Royal Navy lieutenant, Ball was with the First Fleet carrying settlers and convicts to New South Wales. He discovered and named Lord Howe Island as part of a 4-year voyage from Botany Bay to convey convicts to the more fertile Norfolk Island 877 miles from the mainland. He brought the first kangaroos to Britain on board his ship in 1792. They were presented to King George III and joined the royal menagerie at Kew.
The third explorer commemorated at the exhibition is the accomplished Victorian explorer, linguist, anthropologist and writer Sir Richard Burton. He spent his early years in Richmond and is buried with his wife Isabel in a striking mausoleum in the shape of an Arabian tent of white marble at St Mary Magdalene church, Mortlake. A fluent Arabic speaker, Burton disguised himself to undertake a ‘Hajj’ or pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca and report on the religious customs observed, which made him famous. He went on to initiate an expedition to discover the true source of the River Nile and discovered Lake Tanganyika. His fellow explorer John Hanning Speke continued to discover Lake Victoria, one of the sources of the Nile. Burton later completed several translations from Hindi and Arabic, some sexually explicit, including the Kama Sutra, The Arabian Nights and the Perfumed Garden of Shaykh Nefzawi.
The exhibition runs from 30 January – 26 July and is accompanied by a programme of films, talks and events.