Case 2 English Exploration of the North

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Davis_textHakluyt, Richard, 1552?-1616. The Principall navigations, voiages and discoveries of the English nation made by sea or ouer land, to the most remote and farthest distant quarters of the earth at any time within the compasse of these 1500. yeares. London: Imprinted by G. Bishop and R. Newberie, deputies to C. Barker, Printer to the Queene, 1589.

Included in Hakluyt’s collection of travel narratives are accounts of John Davis’s three voyages, in 1585, 1586 and 1587, to discover the Northwest Passage. An outstanding seaman and navigator, Davis was searching for an alternate route to the Indies, away from Spanish and Portuguese shipping routes. In his third trip he reached 72° N before having to turn back. His charts of the coasts of Greenland, Baffin Island and Labrador are unfortunately lost, but his discoveries were recorded on later maps.

James map James, Thomas, 1593?-1635? The Strange and Dangerovs Voyage of Captaine Thomas Iames, in His Intended Discouery of the Northwest Passage into the South Sea. London: Printed by I. Legatt for I. Partridge, 1633.

In this ‘classic narrative of exploration’ James recounts his attempt to find the Northwest Passage, funded by a group of Bristol merchants, in competition with London merchants who had financed Captain Luke Fox. During the summer of 1631 both men led their separate explorations along the coast of Hudson Bay, however James, exploring the coast of the Bay which was to bear his name, was forced to winter over in the ice. James spent the time exploring the coast of Hudson’s Bay and concluded that no passage could exist in the geographic area south of 66° N. He returned home on 22 October 1632, almost a year and a half after first setting out.

James’s discouraging account led to a hiatus in exploration until the next century. The next documented voyage into Hudson Bay was that of of Groseilliers and Zachariah Gillam which led to the formation of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Middleton t.p. Middleton, Christopher d. 1770. A Vindication of the Conduct of Captain Christopher Middleton in a Late Voyage on Board His Majesty's Ship the Furnace for Discovering a North-West Passage ... in Answer to Certain Objections and Aspersions of Arthur Dobbs ... With an Appendix ... to Which Is Annexed an Account of the Extraordinary Degrees and Surprising Effects of Cold in Hudson's Bay, North America, Read Before the Royal Society. London: The Author, 1743.

An expert navigator and former privateer, Christopher Middleton joined the Hudson's Bay Company as a sailor, and made sixteen annual voyages to posts in Hudson's Bay. Keenly interested in the discovery of the Northwest Passage, he left the Company, received a commission in the Royal Navy, and led a searching expedition financed by Arthur Dobbs. Dobbs, an Irish Member of Parliament highly critical of the Hudson’s Bay Company, believed that Luke Fox’s observations about a probable passage near 65° N showed promise. Middleton, however, only discovered a large inlet there and other possibilities proved fruitless. The map of his discoveries contains, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, the 'first recognizable outline of the west coast of Hudson Bay'. Dobbs did not trust Middleton’s findings, believing that the Hudson’s Bay Company was keeping the passage secret and a series of argumentative publications followed.

Dobbs t.p. Dobbs, Arthur, 1689-1765. An Account of the Countries Adjoining to Hudson's Bay, in the North-West Part of America … the Whole Intended to Shew the Great Probability of a North-West Passage. London: Printed for J. Robinson, 1744.

”I think myself obliged to make publick all I can depend upon of the Climate, Soil, Lakes and Rivers, contiguous to the Bay, and the Indian Nations adjoining, and also what Improvements this spacious Country is capable of, and of the great Benefit which may be made of the Trade, in case it be laid open, and Settlements be made there: For by that Means the Fur Trade might be vastly enlarged, and be intirely recovered from the French, which they have now in great Measure gained from us by the Monopoly and Avarice of the [Hudson’s Bay] Company, upon account of the exorbitant Prices they take for their Goods from the Natives … who, for that Reason, sell their most valuable Furs to the French, tho’ the Carriage to Canada be near 200 Leagues farther than to our Factories.”

Dobbs had never travelled to Hudson’s Bay but based his text on the work of explorers and on the accounts of Joseph La France, a Canadian trader visiting London who had had travelled extensively in the Northwest.

One Hudson’s Bay company official declared this account to be ‘so erronius, so superficial, and so trifling in almost every respect … all the monstrous fables of antiquity can hardly parallel his absurdities”. However Dobbs was able to persuade the British Parliament to offer a reward of 20,000 pounds for the discovery of the North-west Passage.

LaFrance’s map, published with Dobbs’s account, is displayed on the wall in the Reading Room.

Ellis map Ellis, Henry, 1721-1806. A Voyage to Hudson's-Bay by the Dobbs Galley and California, in the Years 1746 and 1747, for Discovering a North West Passage. London: H. Whitridge, 1748.

Ellis, a hydrographer, surveyor and mineralogist, wrote this history of the attempts to find a north-west passage in two parts. The first is a synopsis of twenty-three voyages, from John Cabot and Martin Frobisher to Christopher Middleton; the second describes a privately financed voyage under Captains William Moor and Francis Smith, which proved, finally, that there was no passage leading from Hudson's Bay. Dobbs was one of the principal subscribers.

Miller map Miller, Gerard Fridrikh 1705-1783. Voyages from Asia to America, for Completing the Discoveries of the North West Coast of America. London: Printed for T. Jefferys, 1761.
This account of Russian explorations of the Arctic was published first in German, in 1758. It contains a map by Thomas Jefferys, known for his work on some of the most important eighteenth-century maps of the Americas (DNB). First published in 1760, it is issued here with an extra sheet expanding the areas on the western coast. It is the first map to show a realistic depiction of Lake Winnipeg and demonstrates the lack of knowledge about the Canadian north west in the late 18th century.