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"The sad story takes us back to the June of 1845. The two discovery ships, the Erebus and Terror, are at sea, with the transport containing their supplies in attendance on them. The time is noon; the place on the ocean is near the island of Rona, 70 or 80 miles from Stromness; and the two steamers, Rattler and Blazer, are taking leave - a last, long leave - of the Arctic voyagers." - The Living Age, 1859
Most anyone who has received a basic education in world history knows the story of how "in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Most also know that Christopher Columbus made first contact with the Americas while searching for a water route to Asia. However, far fewer people remember that the search for such a route continued for centuries after Columbus' death.
After the discovery of the Americas, several European countries were interested in finding the route, and nations from France to Spain sent out explorers searching for the mysterious route. While these voyages did not reveal the hoped for route, they did result in large parts of both North and South America being mapped, and as more of the new land mass was determined, the parameters of the search for such a route were narrowed. By the 18th century, explorers began to seek such a route to the north, looking for the legendary Northwest Passage.