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Northwest passage: voyages of delusion

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Arctic wildlife seen by Moor and Smith   Map of a fictitious Spanish voyage
1. A voyage to Hudson's-Bay, by the Dobbs Galley and California in the years 1746 and 1747, for discovering a North West Passage / Henry Ellis. London: H. Whitridge, 1748.
BL: G.16019. Copyright © The British Library Board
  2. An account of a voyage for the discovery of a North-West Passage by Hudson's Streights, to the Western and Southern Ocean of America. Performed in the year 1746 and 1747, in the Ship "California", Captain Francis Smith, Commander / by the Clerk of the "California". 2 v. London: Jolliffe, Corbett and Clarke, 1748-49.
BL: 978.k.26, 27. Copyright © The British Library Board
     
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Winter scene drawn by Hearne   Portrait of Captain Cook
3. A journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean, undertaken by order of the Hudson's Bay Company for the discovery of copper mines, a North West passage, etc. in the years 1769, 1770, 1771, & 1772 / Samuel Hearne. London: A. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1795.
BL: G.2864. Copyright © The British Library Board
  4. Arctic expeditions from British and foreign shores from the earliest to the Expedition of 1875 / D. Murray Smith. 3v. Edinburgh: Thomas C. Jack, 1875-77.
BL: 10460.g.1. Copyright © The British Library Board

1. A 'Sea Unicorn' and others

Henry Ellis was agent on this private expedition under William Moor in the Dobbs and Frances Smith in the California and his is one of two rival accounts of the voyage. The venture was organised by Arthur Dobbs and was asked to re-examine Wager Bay, which had been explored by Moor and Christopher Middleton in 1741-42, and which Dobbs believed would lead to the Northwest Passage. The two captains went in longboats to the head of the Bay and concluded that there was no Passage there. The illustration forms part of the "short natural history of the country" that is announced on the title-page. The sea unicorn is a narwhal, the sea horse is a walrus, and the white bear is a polar bear.

2. A chart for the better understanding of De Font's letter

"De Font's letter" about a supposed voyage by a Spanish admiral, Bartholomew de Fonte in 1640, first appeared in The Monthly Miscellany or Memoirs for the Curious in 1708, at a time when imaginary voyages were all the rage. Arthur Dobbs, who sponsored this voyage by Francis Smith, included the letter about the fictitious voyage in his Account of Hudson's Bay (1744) and believed that it proved the existence of a passage to the Pacific. It would take 50 years and many voyages before the De Fonte letter would be discredited. The chart is from the account of the 1746-47 Moor/Smith expedition by the "Clerk of the California", whose identity is believed to be either Charles Swaine or Theodorus Swaine Drage, or both names (and several others) could be that of the same individual.

3. Overland to the Arctic

From Samuel Hearne's dramatic account (with his own illustrations), published three years after his death, of his three trips northwest by land from Hudson Bay. On the third expedition, 1770-2, he reached the mouth of the Coppermine River and thus became the first European to see the Arctic Ocean between eastern Siberia and Baffin Land. His journey proved that there was no possibility of a low-latitude Northwest Passage.The illustration is of Athapuscow (now Athabasca) Lake, which Hearne discovered in 1771. Its name is of Cree origin and might mean "where there are reeds" or "meeting of many waters".

4. Captain Cook and his ships

In July 1776 the Admiralty sent Cook in the Resolution with Charles Clerke in the Discovery to search for a Northwest Passage on the west coast of America. They sighted the coast in March 1778 and landed at Nootka on Vancouver Island. Continuing northward to Alaska, they sailed into Bering Strait in search of the Passage, but the ships had to retreat in August 1778 when they encountered an impenetrable barrier of pack ice at Icy Cape. After Cook's death in the Sandwich Islands on 14 February 1779, Clerke made a second attempt to find the Passage but was again turned back by the ice.

How to order Reproductions

The Northwest passage The Northwest passage
Early approaches Early approaches
Voyages of delusion
the Admiralty takes over The Admiralty takes over
The search for Franklin and the discovery of the Passage The search for Franklin and the discovery of the passage
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The Northwest passage The Northwest passage
The Northwest passage Early approaches
Voyages of delusion
The Admiralty takes over The Admiralty takes over
The search for Franklin and the discovery of the Passage The search for Franklin and the discovery of the passage
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