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The desire to establish a trade route to the Indies and China resulted in various attempts to find a path. The first recorded effort was sponsored by Henry VII of England in 1497 and carried out by Italian explorer Giovanni Caboto (or as he is better known, John Cabot).
In 1776, Captain James Cook was coaxed out of retirement to lead another such expedition. However, despite his expertise and extensive research, he encountered nothing but icebergs.
In 1845, Sir John Franklin led another attempt, this one ending in a far worse fate. The expedition became trapped in the ice and was lost, with no known survivors. Then the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen made an attempt, inspired in part by Franklin's lost expedition. His voyage, which lasted from 1903 to 1906, marked the first time that the passage was successfully traversed by ship.