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An extract from "The Book of Heroic Failures"

by Stephen Pile, 1979


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The Least Successful Explorer

Thomas Nuttall (1786 - 1859) was a pioneer botanist whose main field of study was the flora of remote parts of North-West America. As an explorer, however, his work was characterized by the fact that he was almost permanently lost. During his expedition of 1812 his colleagues frequently had to light beacons in the evening to help him find his way back to camp.

One night he completely failed to return and a search party was sent out. As it approached him in the darkness Nuttall assumed they were Indians and tried to escape. The annoyed rescuers pursued him for three days through bush and river until he accidentally wandered back into the camp. On another occasion Nuttall was lost again and lay down exhausted. He looked so pathetic that a passing Indian, instead of scalping him, picked him up, carried him three miles to the river and paddled him home in a canoe.


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