10 of the Most Doomed Expeditions in History Historical Events
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10 of the Most Doomed Expeditions in History

History is just FULL of doomed expeditions. It's hard to choose just ten, and it's hard to rank them in any kind of order. I chose these because these were doomed before they set out, and almost all of them were victims of bad planning or bad leadership. In any venture into the unknown, there is risk and a large factor of your success is luck. But in these cases, especially in the cases of the Arctic and Antarctic efforts – planning, flexibility, and the ability to think quickly are essential.

Lacking those things... you get doom. You get these. This list of doomed expeditions is far from exhaustive, and as I said, I only chose ten. Read and wonder how these errors could have been made – knowing as these men HAD to know – that a single mistake could cost lives. And they did.

Finally, I just want to note that while I write with a lot of sarcasm and mock many of these terrible decisions, I totally respect that people died here. These men may have made mistakes, maybe were shortsighted, maybe should never have been leaders or given funds or allowed to hold other peoples' lives in their hands... but they were explorers. It's hard not to respect their desire to discover. (I also give Wikipedia cred for some of my research).

What are doomed expeditions? Take a look here and see for yourself.

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    The Darien Scheme

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    In the late 1690s, the kingdoms of Europe were busy with the business of the New World, the Indies, and Africa. Anyone who was anyone was trading, slaving, colonizing, exploiting native populations, and whatnot. But there was someone who wasn't part of the cool kid gang, and that was Scotland, all hanging around outside the playground, pretending not to watch the other kids having all the fun. So Scotland (and they were in economic trouble – famine-level trouble – at this time and really NEEDED to get in the Trade game) hatched a fail-proof scheme. And by fail-proof, I mean, it proved to be a total failure (spoiler alert!).

    Here was the idea, and wait till you hear me out, it's totally not ridiculous. This guy, William Paterson, figured Scotland could be a world trading nation by establishing a colony called "New Caledonia," on the Isthmus of Panama in the late 1690s. The Company of Scotland, charted with capital to be raised by public subscription, got involved. They didn't really know anything about the area... oh, and also Spain had already claimed it.

    The Company of Scotland easily raised subscriptions in Amsterdam, Hamburg, and London, BUT the English government would have no part of it. They did not want to piss off Spain by peeing in their pool. So the Dutch and English investors were forced to withdraw their support. Next, the East India Company threatened legal action on the grounds that the Scots had no authority from the King to raise funds outside the English realm and made the promoters refund the Hamburg investors, too. This left no source of finance but Scotland itself. So, the Company raised as much as they could in a few weeks that amounted to approximately a FIFTH of all the wealth of  Scotland. No pressure. (Meanwhile, Paterson, whose idea this whole thing had been, was expelled from the Company when a bunch of money went missing.)

    So, they packed up 5 ships and 1200 people, and in 1698 they set sail from the east to avoid detection by British warships. The ships made landfall off the coast of Darien on November 2, 1698. The settlers christened their new home "New Caledonia." Then the glory of bad planning and worse leadership raised its hideous head and went to work. First, they constructed a fort in an area with no fresh water supply. Check. Then they set up fields to grow maize and yams, which none of them knew how to do. Check. They tried to trade and sell to the local indians, which didn't want any of the crap they were selling. Check. And finally, they were completely unable to sell ANYTHING to any of the passing traders... which had been the whole point of the thing. Check.

    The death rate rose to 10 settlers a day, partly because the gifts of fruit and plantains the indians would bring them were appropriated by the leadership and the sailors who remained on board the ships. The settlers had no idea how to store food in the heat and humidity of Panama, and most of it would spoil, making the hunger situation much worse. England instructed the Dutch and English colonies in America not to supply the settlement, not wanting to make Spain angry. The only thing the council gave the sick and dying settlers was alcohol, which speeded the deaths of many men weakened by dysentery, fever, and the rotting, worm-infested food.

    After 8 months, the colony was abandoned – except for six men too weak to move. Death continued on the ships as well, and even by the time they returned home, they were considered a disgrace to their country. Many of them were disowned by their families.

    Of the 1200 settlers, only 300 had survived... and only one ship made it back to Scotland. To make matters worse, word of the failed colony did not get back to Scotland in time to prevent a second wave of 1000 settlers who arrived to a decrepit colony that they had to rebuild. It was for nothing, as the same problems persisted, and after an attack by the Spanish in January of 1700, they abandoned the colony for good... allowed to take their guns and go. Only a few hundred had survived.

    An interesting historical note is that this disaster is what most allow as the reason for Scotland to petition England to stabilize their currency. The Scottish establishment realized that it had no choice but to lie in unity with England to survive.

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