BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!



The series has now ended but you can still enjoy a wealth of information on the site, from the interactive timeline to historical narratives and profiles.


Historical Figures

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


  • Francis Bacon 1561-1626 English philosopher, lawyer, statesman, and essayist. He established an inductive methodology for scientific inquiry called the Baconian method.
  • Sir Samuel White Baker 1821-1893 Sir Samuel White Baker was an explorer and one of the earliest enthusiasts for a British occupation of Sri Lanka, which he first visited in 1846.
  • George Barrington 1755-1804 Famous throughout Europe as a gentleman thief, Barrington was deported to Australia for pocket-picking in 1790.
  • William Bradford 1590-1656 The most influential leader of the Pilgrim Fathers. Bradford was Governor of the Plymouth Colony for 31 years.


  • The Cabots Italian navigator and explorers, John Cabot and his son Sebastian were the first Europeans to discover Canada, landing on the coast of Newfoundland in 1497.
  • Charles Canning 1812-1862 Known as 'Clemency Canning' due to his allegedly lenient treatment of mutineers, Canning became the first Viceroy of India in 1858.
  • Charles II 1630-1685 The eldest son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, Charles was King of England, Scotland and Ireland. Recognised for his adept dealings with parliament.
  • Josiah Child 1630-1699 Childs was an investor in the English East India Company, as well as an active member of parliament who supported free trade and low interest rates to improve commercialism.
  • Thomas Clarkson 1760-1846 A member of the Clapham Sect with William Wilberforce and Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson was a prominent anti-slavery campaigner whose essays on the subject were highly influential.
  • Robert Clive 1725-1774 Led victorious attacks for East India Company army against the French at Arcot and Plassey in India. Later became a governor and commander in chief of Bengal.
  • James Cook 1728-1779 Cook learned his sea-trade on Whitby colliers before joining the Navy in 1755. He discovered Australia for the British during the first of three voyages to the Pacific in 1768.
  • Charles Cornwallis 1738-1805 British general and colonial governor, he is most remembered in America for his role in the American Revolutionary War, and in India, for promulgating the Permanent Settlement.


  • Marquess of Dalhousie 1812-1860 James Andrew Broun-Ramsay became the youngest Governor-General of India in 1847 where his achievements included starting the Indian railway and opening the civil service to all races.
  • John Davis c.1550-1605 Born in Devon, Davis was the first Englishmand to sight the Falkland Islands.
  • John Dee 1527-1608 An astrologer, alchemist and mathematician, Dee was thought to have nurtured Elizabeth I's ideas of a global British Empire.
  • Benjamin Disraeli 1804-1881 Disraeli first found fame as a novelist before becoming an MP in 1837. He first became Prime Minister in 1868, and regained the position in 1874, aged 70.
  • Sir Francis Drake 1540-1596 The first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. Drake spent his early seafaring years as a cross-Channel pirate.
  • Sir Benjamin D'Urban 1777-1849 D'Urban's appointment as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Cape Colony coincided with the Great Trek and the Cape Frontier War. The city of Durban is named after him.
  • Anthony William Durnford 1830-1879 Durnford's involvement with African culture earned the trust of the local tribes but the suspicions of his British colleagues. He was killed during the Battle of Isandlwana in the Zulu War.


  • James Bruce, Earl of Elgin 1811-1863 Elgin became Governor of Jamaica at 31 and Governor-General of Canada at 36. He fought in the Indian mutiny and was High Commissioner to China before becoming Viceroy of India in 1861.


  • David Fanning 1754-1825 Loyal to the British, David Fanning was sentenced to death for alleged atrocities during the American War of Independence, but managed to escape and settle in Nova Scotia.
  • Ralph Fitch d.1611 One of the earliest English travellers and traders in Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, India and Indo-China.
  • Sir Philip Francis 1740-1818 A politician and pamphleteer, Francis was appointed to the supreme council of Bengal in 1773 where his long rivalry with Warren Hastings resulted in the latter's impeachment for corruption.
  • Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790 American statesman, scientist and inventor, Franklin was one of the leaders of the American Revolution.
  • Bartle Frere 1815-1884 A British colonial administrator who was instrumental in the reorganisation of the Indian Army before being appointed High Commissioner for Southern Africa in 1877.
  • Martin Frobisher 1535-1594 British seaman from Yorkshire who made several voyages to the New World. His quest was for a northwest passage to Asia.


  • Sir Thomas Gates 1585-1621 English colonial governor of Virginia. Before, Gates had been a lieutenant in the expedition that removed Sir Walter Ralegh's first colony from Roanoke Island.
  • Sir Humphrey Gilbert 1539-1583 Elizabethan explorer who annexed Newfoundland to England, half-brother of Sir Walter Ralegh.
  • Viscount Gough 1779-1869 As Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in China, Gough helped to secure the Treaty of Nanking before leading British troops in India during the First Sikh War.
  • Sir Richard Grenville c. 1541-1591 Elizabethan sailor, explorer and soldier. He commanded the ships that took the first colonisers to what is now North Carolina.


  • Richard Hakluyt c.1522-1616 Chronicled accounts of voyages and explorers and other documents relating to English interests overseas.
  • Warren Hastings 1732-1818 The Governor General of Bengal from 1774 to 1785, Hastings was impeached for corruption in 1788 after a smear campaign by his rivals in the East India Company and the British Government.
  • John Hawkins 1532-1595 Hawkins was one of the architects of the new Elizabethan navy but more notoriously known as a slave trader.
  • Henry II 1138-89 The first of the Angevin kings and the son of the count of Anjou Geoffrey Plantangenet. He made Ireland a part of his domain.
  • Sir John Herschel 1792-1871 English astronomer and mathematician whose plan to establish a new education system in the Cape Colony added to the tensions between the Dutch and British in South Africa.



  • James Lancaster c.1554-1618 Fought under Drake against the Spanish Armada and commanded the first East India Company fleet in 1600.
  • Ralph Lane d. 1603 Lane acted as governor in Sir Walter Ralegh's attempt to settle Roanoke Island. He subsequently became Lord Deputy of Ireland.
  • Sir John Lawrence 1811-1879 Lawrence's support of the local people of Punjab and efforts to develop the region's infrastructure helped prevent the spread of the Indian Mutiny. He was appointed Viceroy of India in 1864.


  • Sir Charles M'Carthy c.1770-1824 M'Carthy became governor of Sierra Leone in 1812 where he is remembered for administration reforms and the promotion of Christianity as well as for his extraordinary death.
  • Elizabeth MacArthur 1766-1850 Elizabeth MacArthur effectively started the Australian wool industry by importing Merino sheep for the sole purpose of selling their fine-quality wool.
  • Alexander MacKenzie 1764-1820 MacKenzie was the first European to plot his way across the Rockies to the Pacific. He was later knighted and became politician in Canada before returning to Scotland in 1812.
  • Samuel Marsden 1764-1838 Yorkshire clergyman Samuel Marsden arrived in New South Wales in 1794 from where he administered the mission to New Zealand.


  • Lord Robert Napier 1810-1890 A colonial soldier who combined modern weapons with shrewd tactics to defeat Theodore II in Abyssinia. He was later appointed Commander-in-Chief in India.
  • The North family Several members of the North family in the 17th & 18th century were celebrated figures in economy and law.


  • Hugh O’Neill 1540-1616 Known in Ireland as the Great O'Neill, Hugh O'Neill battled against the English rule of Ireland.


  • Mungo Park 1771-1806 A Scottish surgeon, Park was one of the first Britons to seriously explore Africa. He drowned in the Niger when his canoe was attacked by local tribesmen.
  • William Pateson 1658-1719 One of the driving forces in the establishment of the Bank of England (1694) and the Bank of Scotland (1695), Pateson was also involved in failed Scottish colony in Central America.
  • Sir Henry Pottinger 1789-1856 A Northern Ireland-born soldier and colonial administrator, Pottinger negotiated the Treaty of Nanking at the end of the First Opium War.


  • Sir Thomas (Stamford) Raffles 1781-1826 Raffles began his career with the East India Country as a clerk in London before being sent to Penang in 1805. He signed the agreement which effectively annexed Singapore for Britain in 1819.
  • George Rooke 1650-1709 Distinguished himself at the battle of Cape La Hogue when the French were defeated, thus thwarting James II's plans to invade England.


  • Granville Sharp 1735-1813 A prominent anti-slavery campaigner, Granville Sharp is famous for his defence of escaped slave James Somersett in the 1772 legal case which effectively declared slavery in England illegal.
  • John Smith 1580-1631 English colonist, pioneer, sailor, and soldier who fought in many European armies before he signed on to the Virginia Company's project at Jamestown.
  • Sir Henry Morton Stanley 1841-1904 Remembered for finding Livingstone with the words "Dr Livingstone, I presume?", Stanley was a journalist and explorer who continued Livingstone's search for the source of the Nile.


  • James Thomson 1700-1748 A Scottish poet and political supporter of the Prince of Wales, Thomson wrote the words to Rule Britannia in 1740.


  • Edward Gibbon Wakefield 1796-1862 Wakefield wrote A Letter from Sydney, the work which made his name, in 1829 while he was in prison for attempting to marry an heiress by trickery.
  • John White fl. 1585-93 Sir Walter Ralegh's surveyor-general on his first voyage to the New World. Later, he became governor of the newly established Roanoke Colony.
  • Peter Williamson 1733-1799 Kidnapped from his home town of Aberdeen at the age of ten and sold into slavery in Philadelphia, Peter Williamson was imprisoned for publicising his ordeal when he returned to Scotland in 1758.
  • Lord Willoughby of Parnham 1605-1666 Appointed governor of Barbados by exiled Charles I, Willoughby then went on to be governor of St Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, and Antigua.
  • James Wolfe 1727-1759 Remembered mainly for his role in establishing British rule over Canada. He was killed in the course of leading victorious British troops at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, Quebec.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy