Tales of exploration usually involve courageous explorers, but what of those people who led, guided, and supported them? This project takes a fresh look at the unique Collections of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), highlighting the role of intermediaries and indigenous peoples in the history of exploration.

Hidden Histories of Exploration exhibition poster. It features a portrait of Mohammed Jen Jamain, a former magistrate at Kupang in Timor, sketched in oils by Thomas Baines, the expedition artist, in 1856.

In published narratives of exploration, the inhabitants of territory through which explorers travelled are often relegated to the margins. Even where their contributions have been explicitly acknowledged, there has been a tendency to accord them lower status – as ‘local’ assistants or informants, guides or porters – rather than true participants in the making of new geographical knowledge.

Hidden Histories of Exploration reveals the contribution of people such as Juan Tepano, Mohammed Jen Jamain, Sidi Mubarak Bombay, Nain Singh and Pedro Caripoco to the history of exploration. Find out about their role and its lasting significance, as illustrated in the paintings, books, maps, photographs, artefacts and manuscripts of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

Materials from African, Asia, the Arctic and the Americas are represented, with highlights including paintings by Thomas Baines, Catherine Frere’s sketches of women on an African expedition, and film from the 1922 Everest expedition.