To the people who lived five centuries ago in Europe only a very small portion of the Earth’s surface was known. Their geography was confined to the small circle lying immediately around the Mediterranean, and including Europe, the north of Africa and the west of Asia. Round this again there was a margin, obscurely and imperfectly described in the reports of merchants; but by far the greater part of the world was utterly unknown. It seemed as if great regions of darkness stretched all beyond and closely hemmed in the little circle of light. In these unknown lands, our ancestors loved to picture all that was strange and mysterious. They believed that the man who could penetrate far enough would find countries where inexhaustible riches were to be gathered without toil from the gem covered shores or from the gold teeming valleys. It is true that marvelous stories were related to the appalling dangers supposed to fill these regions; but to the more daring and adventurous, such tales of peril only made the stories of boundless wealth and enchanting loveliness seemed more fascinating.
Thus as the art of navigation improved, and long voyages became possible, courageous seamen were tempted to venture out into the great unknown. Vasco di Gama penetrated far to the south, and rounded the Cape of Good Hope; Columbus carried his trembling sailors over great tracts of unknown ocean and discovered the two continents of America; Magellan, passing through the straits now called by his name, was the first to enter the Pacific Ocean; and so in the case of a hundred others, courage and skill carried the hardy seamen over many seas and into many lands that had lain unknown for ages.
Australia was the last part of the world to be visited and explored. In the 1600s, during the times of Shakespeare, the region to the south of the East Indies was still as little known as ever; the crude maps of those ages had nothing but a great blank where the islands of Australasia ought to be. Most people thought there was nothing but the ocean in that part of the world, and as the voyage was dangerous and very long (requiring several years for its completion) scarcely anyone cared to run the risk of exploring it.
(continue …. Early Explorers to Australia)