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Letters Written during the Late Voyage of Discovery


{122} THE discovery of a communication between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, to the northward of the American continent, has been long an object of curiosity and enterprise. When the New World beyond the Atlantic was made known to Europeans, by the expedition of Columbus; when by the fortunate passage of Magellan through the dangerous strait of his name, it was seen that a communication existed towards the southern extremity of the new continent; that a corresponding communication also existed towards its northern extremity, it was very reasonable to conclude. Access to the treasures of India and China by the southern parts of the globe, was discovered and appropriated by Spain and Portugal. Similar access by the northern parts seemed naturally to belong to the British and other northern nations of Europe.

Such a passage by the North American coast was asserted to have been effected by Cortereal, a Portuguese, in 1500. Having visited Newfoundland, he passed over to the continent on the north of the great river St. Laurence, where, observing the country fitted for agriculture, he called it Terra de Labrador. Coasting still farther northward, he came to a spacious inlet running westward, and concluded he had discovered the passage so much desired. This strait he named that of Anian, probably because he conceived it to be the eastern opening of the strait so called, of which the western opening into the Pacific already bore that {123} name. Returning full of hopes to Portugal, Cortereal was sent out the next season, to prosecute his discovery. No accounts of him being received, his brother went after him; but neither of the brothers were ever more heard of. Many years afterwards, viz. in 1576, Martin Frobisher attempted to pass to China round the northern coasts of America. He left England in July with two small vessels and a pinnace, the largest only 25 tons, and proceeding to what he supposed was a strait in N. lat. 63° 10', he returned to England in the beginning of October. On a second voyage he arrived on the west coast of Greenland, and brought home certain sparkling stones, supposed to contain gold. Frobisher's third voyage, with many ships and a number of colonists, was defeated by the ice, and he returned once more unsuccessful.

In 1585 a fresh attempt to discover the North-west passage was made by a number of noblemen and gentlemen of England, who dispatched John Davis, a Devonshire-man, on the pursuit. On the 20th July he came on the southern point of Greenland, which he very naturally named Cape Desolation. In this voyage, and in a second of the following year, he never reached beyond lat. 66° 40'; but in his third, in 1587, he penetrated through the strait now known by his name, as far as lat. 72° 12'. Then directing his course westward, his people were alarmed at the ice, and he returned to England in September.

The failures of Davis did not quite discourage other adventurers in the north-west expedition; but none of them had any success. At last Capt. Henry Hudson, a skilful and intrepid seaman, who had before endeavoured to penetrate to China along the north of Europe and Asia, was in 1610 sent out by a company of English merchants, to make his way by the north of America. Penetrating by the strait now known by his name, he entered the great bay, and standing southwards to the bottom, where he purposed to collect game and other provisions, and pass the winter, in order to prosecute his researches at the first favourable season, his people mutinied, and turned the unfortunate Hudson, with his son and five other persons, adrift in a boat, amidst the ice, where he no doubt soon perished. Two years afterwards, in 1612, Sir Thomas Button undertook the search for a north-west passage. Passing through Hudson's Strait he came on the continent of America, in N. lat. 60° 40'. He wintered in Port Nelson, so called from his pilot, in lat. 57° 40, now the principal station of the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1616, Baffin and Bylot reached northwards through Davis's Strait, and the bay named after Baffin, as far as N. lat. 78°. Then turning down by the west coast, they passed Alderman Jone's Sound, and opened Sir James Lancaster's Sound, and returned to England.

In 1741, Captain Middleton, of the navy, was sent out to pur- {124} sue the search. He entered Hudson's Strait and stood to the northward, into what he termed Repulse Bay, because there he stated himself to be quite shut in by land on the north and west. The account he gave of his expedition was very unsatisfactory to the Admiralty; and, in consequence, by their suggestion, an Act of Parliament passed in 1743 (18 Geo. II.), granting a reward of 20,000£ to any British subject who should discover the north-west passage.

Besides these and other real expeditions, in the year 1708 in London appeared an account of a voyage stated to have been performed in 1640, by Fuenta, or De Fonte, by the north-west passage. But that work is now considered merely as a romance, in which some facts, collected form other voyages, are interspersed in a mass of fiction. The whole is disavowed by the Spanish writers.

Very lately an account has appeared of another voyage, said to have been accomplished in 1588, by a Spanish Captain, Laurence-Ferrer Maldonado, from the coast of Labrador, of the Esquimaux country on the north of the River St. Laurence to the Pacific Ocean. The original MS. of this voyage is said to be preserved among the papers of a Spanish nobleman of the first rank. In examining the MSS. in the Ambrosian Library, in Milan, one was discovered of Maldonado's voyage, and lately published in Italian. It contains, however, so many errors in geographical science, that it seems best, in the present state of our knowledge of the original work, to suspend all judgement respecting its authenticity.

The letters contained in the preceding pages come no lower down than the 1st November, when the Griper arrived in Lerwick or Brassa Bay, in Shetland. It is necessary, however, to add, that the Hecla having suffered very severely in a gale of wind, before she came near those islands, was obliged to make all way for Leith, where she arrived, for the purpose of repair, on the 3d of November. Captain Parry landing at Peterhead, reached London in the morning of the same day. Both ships entered the Thames in the middle of that month, and were paid off at Deptford, on the 21st of December, 1820.