1902 Encyclopedia > John Davis

John Davis
English navigator
(c. 1550 - 1609)

JOHN DAVIS, a celebrated English navigator of the 16th century. The date of his birth is unknown; the place was Sandridge, about 3 miles N. of Dartmouth, in Devonshire. He made three voyages under the auspices of the English Government in search of the north-west passage to the Pacific. In the first, in 1585, he pushed his way round the southern end of Greenland, across the strait that now bears his name, and along the coast of what is now known as Baffin's Land, to the Cape of God's Mercy, which he thus designated in the fond belief that his task was practically accomplished; in the second (1586) he made but little further progress ; in the third (1587) he reached the entrance to the strait afterwards explored by Hudson. Four years later he joined Cavendish in his second voyage to the South Sea; and after the rest of the expedition returned unsuccessful, he continued to attempt on his own account the passage of the Strait of Magellan; he was defeated, but became the discoverer of the Falkland Islands. The passage home was extremely disastrous, and he brought back only 16 of the 76 men whom he had taken with him. In 1598 he took a merchant fleet from Middelburg in Holland to the East Indies; in 1601 he accompanied Sir James Lancaster as first pilot on his voyage in the service of the East India Company; and in 1605 he sailed again for the same destination along with Michelbourn. On his way home he was killed by pirates off the coast of Malacca.

A Traverse Boole made by John Davis in 1587, an Account of his Second Voyage in 1586, and a Report of Master John Davis of his three voyages made for the Discoverie of the North West Passage were printed in Hakluyt's collection. Davis himself published The Worlde's Hydrographical Description, whereby it appears that there is a short and speedie Passage into the South Seas, to China, &c, by Northerly Navigation, London, 1595, and The Seaman's Secrets, divided into two Parts, London, 1595.

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