1902 Encyclopedia > Geography > English Maritime Adventurers. Northwest Passage. Frobisher. Davis. Hudson. Baffin.

(Part 23)

English Maritime Adventurers. Northwest Passage. Frobisher. Davis. Hudson. Baffin.

It is from the rich treasure-house of Hakluyt and Purchas that our knowledge of the gallant deeds of the English and other explorers of the Elizabethan age is mainly derived. The great collections of voyages and travels of De Bry and Hulsius served a similar useful purpose on the continent of Europe. One important object of English maritime adventurers of those days was to discover a route to Cathay by the north-west, a second was to settle Virginia, and a third was to beat up the Spanish settlements in the Indies. Nor was the trade to Muscovy and Turkey neglected; while latterly a resolute and successful attempt was made to establish commercial relation with East India.

Martin Frobisher led the way in the direction of the north-west, sailing from the Thames in 1576, and sighting the southern part of Greenland on the 11th of July. In this voyage he discovered a part of the coast of Labrador, and the strait (now known to be a deep bay) which bears his name. he brought home some stones which were believed to be gold, and the consequence was that there arose an eager desire to obtain more. Many speculators subscribed, and Frobisher was sent out on a second voyage, "more for the searching of this gold ore than for theseraching any further discovery of the passage," He left Gravesend on May 27, 1577, wasted his time in picking up stones on the shores of Frobisher’s Strait, and returned on the 22d of August. The excitement about the gold one still continued. The queen gave the name of Meta Incognita to the newly discovered country; and on May 21, 1578, Frobisher set out on a third voyage with a fleet of fifteen ships. After touching at Greenland, they made for the opposite shore through an ice-encumbered sea, and the fleet was separated during a heavy gale. They reached various ports in England during October, and by that time the bubble about the gold ore had burst, and the enterprise was considered a failure. The first of the three voyages alone was a voyage of discovery.

In 1585 John Davis, an admirable seaman and most resolute explorer, was employed by some merchants, chief among whom was Mr William Sanderson of London, to take up the glorious work where Frobisher had left off. He sailed form Dartmouth on the 7th of June 1585, and, reaching the south-west coast of Greenland, he called it the "Land of Desolation." He then stood over to the opposite coast, which he examined in the neighbourhood of Cape Walsingham, returning to Dartmouth on September 30. In 1588 he sailed on the 7th of June and coasted along Greenland, having friendly intercourse with Eskimo. He also examined part of the Labrador coast. In his third voyage he sailed from Dartmouth on the 17th of May, and sighted Greenland on the 14th of June. On this occasion he went as far north as 72º 12´, naming the great island bluff –which is now so well known to voyages up Baffin’s Bay –"Sanderson his Hope of a North-West Passage." Crossing over Davis Strait, the bold explorer discovered the strait which now bears the name of Hudson. Davis was followed in his northern voyages by Waymouth, Hall, and Knight; and in 1607 Henry Hudson was dispatched on a voyage of discovery in a small vessel of 80 tons. He sighted the easy coast of Greenland in 73º N., examined the north-west end of Spitzbergen, as far as a point which he named Hakluyt Headland, and reached 80º 23´ N. In 1608 he made a second voyage, during which he examined the edge of the ice between Spitzbergen and Greenland. In his third voyage, in 1609, he was employed by the Dutch, and discovered the Hudson River. In 1610 he was again employed by English merchants, and entered Hudson’s Bay, but was infamously abandoned in an open boat by his crew. In 1612 Sir Thomas Button continued the exploration of Hudson’s Bay, which was completed by Thomas James and Luke Fox in 1631.

1616 the little bark "Discovery," of 35 tons, was fitted out by those persevering adventurers Sir Thomas Smith, Sir Dudley Diggers, John Wolstenholme, and Alderman Jones, for another attempt in the icy seas. This was the most successful Arctic voyage of the 17th century. Robert Bylot was appointed master of the "Discovery," and William Baffin was pilot. They sailed from Gravesend, with 17 souls on board, on the 26th of March, and were off Hope Sanderson, the extreme point of Davis, on the 30th of May. The "Discovery" reached what is now called "the north water" of Baffin’s Bay on the 1st of July, and, after discovering the head of the great bay which bears his name, the pilot Baffin returned by sailing down the west side of it. On August 30 the "Discovery" was again safely anchored in Dover roads. It was exactly 200 years before any other vessel followed in her track, and reached "the north water." Both Davis and Baffin afterwards served and were killed in the East Indies.

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