Skip to main content
 Previous Next
  • Zoom In (+)
  • Zoom Out (-)
  • Rotate CW (r)
  • Rotate CCW (R)
  • Overview (h)
William Baffin: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

William Baffin

Encyclopedia Arctica 6200 +150 145 Eloise McCaskill McCaskill Popini

William Baffin

Read and slightly edited May 1/48
William Baffin (d. 1622), one of the greatest of English seamen and
Arctic explorers, first appears in history in 1612 as pilot on board the Patience ,
commanded by James Hall (q.v.) on a voyage to Greenland. Although he
made seven recorded voyages of great importance, five of them to the
Arctic , and contributed immeasurably to the science of navigation and to
geographical knowledge, absolutely k nothing is known about him until he
appears as an experienced seaman in the prime of life . , just ten years before this death. Sir Clements
Markham (q.v.) writes that he has been baffled in all his attempts to find
even a single fact respecting his Baffin's birth-place a h n d early history. Every
parish register in London and its suburbs was searched and only six persons
of the name of Baffin were found, three, including a William, being adults
who died of the plague in 1609. A daughter of a William Baffin, named
Susan, was baptized in the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, in Vintry
Ward in the City of London, on October 15, 1609, three years before Baffin
joined Hall's expedition. Markham writes, "This Ward includes Queenhithe,
a landing-place frequented by sailors, and a likely locality for a seaman
to take up his abode while on shore. We know that Baffin had a wife, for
she gave a good deal of trouble to the East India Company after his death.
Susan may have been his daughter.
But Baffin himself, though probably a
Londoner, must have been constantly at sea, and probably raised himself by
his good conduct and talent, from a very humble position". A kingdom-wide
search of parish registers yielded no other instances of the name, nor was
there any indication whatsoever of the name at Hull, the place where Baffin
first appears to us. Markham says, "If Baffin was not a Hull man, he probably
was not known to Captain Hall. It may, therefore be conjectured that one of
the merchant adventurers associated with Hall in the voyage, perhaps Sir

William Baffin

Thomas Smith ( [ q.v. ] ) , knowing Baffin's worth and ability, recommended
him as chief pilot of the Patience .2
The voyage of Hall was undertaken after his return to England from Danish Arctic
service, for further search for the Northwest Passage, for trade on the
coast of Greenland, and for getting ore from the mines which Hall he had dis–
covered in 1605 and which he believed to contain great wealth in silver,
but which, like Frobisher's (q.v.) mines, turned out to be worthless. Hall,
chief promoter of this voyage, was joined in his enterprise by several
other London adventurers, including Smith, and the expedition consisted
of two ships, the Patience , with Hall and Baffin on board, and the Heartsease ,
commanded by Andrew Barker of Hull.
Hall The expedition made sailed on
April 22, and Hall made direct for Cape Farewell, which he sighted on May 14,
keeping close along the belt of ice lying off shore in order to avail him–
self of any opportunity of getting through to the land. He was thus able to
examine a portion of the coast which he had not previously observed, A green and
inviting looking promontory was named Cape Comfort , and on . On May 27 the two
vessels came to land in about 64° 15′', at the mouth of an inlet which was
named the Harbor of Hope. This was Davis's (q.v.) Gilbert Sou j n d, near what
is now the settlement of Gothaab. Hall with Baffin explored the fjord and
named tow of its arms Bell and Lancaster Rivers after two of his partners.
Hall and Baffin then took the smaller of the vessels, the Heartsease , and
went northwards to explore, going as far as Christian and Cunningham Fjord in 67° 25′ and Christian
[Transpose] Fjord in 66° 54′ the southernmost points which Hall had previously visited. They then
went south again to Rommel's Fjord (Holsten s borg) in 66° 54′, and on June 27
met the Patience in Cockin or Cockayne Sound (Sukkertoppen) in 65° 25′.
Here the Eskimos recognized Hall, who had kidnapped some of their
number on previous voyages, and in revenge they murdered him. The expedition ret
returned to England under the command of Andrew Barker, with Baffin now on

William Baffin

board the Heartsease , and arrived around the middle of September.
Two narratives of the voyage were written; one by Baffin, of which, unfort
unfortunately, only a fragment, printed by Purchas, has been preserved. 56
The other, written by John Gatonbe, or Gatonby, quartermaster on board
the Heartsease , has been preserved in full in Churchill's Collection of
Voyages and Travels Voyages and Travels . The Baffin fragment commences on July 8, 1612, in
Cock ayne in Sound. It relates the events of the voyage while the ships were
on the Greenland coast, including the death of Hall, and his burial, in
accordance with his w o i shes, on one of the small islands near where he was
killed.
In the fragment Baffin records sixteen observations for latitude
and eight for variation. He always used every opportunity of taking astron–
omical observations, and especially of testing methods of finding longitude.
He describes tells of his attempt to determine the longitude by observing the time
of the moon's culmination, and his method describes in detail his method . so goes down in the history of navigation
as the first man who ever attempted to take a lunar observation at sea.
He Baffin concludes with an account of the land and its people which is of
interest. He describes the northwest part of Greenland as "an exceedingly
high land to the sea-ward, and almost nothing but mountaynes...all of
stone, some of one colour, and some of another, and all glistering, as
though they were of rich value". Their ore, however, he says, is valueless,
on the authority of their his goldsmith, who had tried it out. But Baffin
thinks there may be ore of value deeper in the mountains, which cannot be
so easily come by. He describes the "rocks" (quartz) in these mountains,
"finer and whiter than alabaster"; the moss and grass in the valleys, "with
Check possibility of angelica a little branch running all along the ground, bearing a little black ber–
rie". He says they found in many places much angelica, and supposed "the
people eat the roots thereof, for some causes, for we have seene them
have many of them in their boats". Though there were few trees, he says that he saw
[: ]

William Baffin

forty miles inland, on Ball's River, "on the south side of an high moun–
tayne, which we went up,...a young groue [grove] of small wood, some of it sixe
or seuen foot high, like a coppice in England that had beene some two or
three yeers cut; and this was the most wood that wee saw growing in this cou-
country, being some of it a kind of willow, juniper, and such like". He goes
on to describe the animal life: the foxes "of sundry colours", the hares,
the deer, the latter being "most commonly up within the Mayne very farre;
because the people doe so much hunt them that come neere the sea". He has
"seene the footsteps of some beast, whose foote was bigger than the foot
of a great oxe". The dogs are "like unto wol u [: u] es, liuing by fish, as the foxes
doe".
Baffin gives us one of the earliest accounts of the life of the Green–
land Eskimos. Like other explorers navigators of the period, he was especially im–
pressed by their boats, both the small ones, of which he describes as in
the form of a weaver's shuttle, and so swiftly maneuvered that "no ship in
the world is able to keepe way with them"; and the geeat great boats often as
much as thirty-two feet long, with ten seats, in which they carry their
goods and household stuff; "for they remooue their dwellings very often,
as their fishing doth serve, liuing in the summer-time in tents made of
seales skinnes, and in winter in houses somewhat in the ground". He says
that- the he was unable to learn their rites or ceremonies, but thought
they might be sun-worshippers, as "at their first approach u v nto u v s, they
vsed with their hands to point vp to the sunne, and to strike their hands
upon ther brests [crying] Ilyout; as who would say, I meane no harme;
...and will not come neer you vntil you do the like, and then they will come
without any feare at all". (Davis gives the same word with the same meaning —
"Yliaoute", "I mean no harm".)
He ¶ Baffin describes their manner of burial as being
in stone graves or caves, on top of the ground, on the hilltops, with the

William Baffin

weapons and other furnishings of the dead buried with them. He says
as far as could be perceived they ate all their food raw " . and he had seen them
"drinke the salt-water at our shippes side; but whether it be usuall or no,
I cannot tell".
Although many of the Englishmen thought that they were
"man-eaters", Baffin did not think so, "for if they had bin so minded, they mig
might at one time haue caught our cooke, and two other with him, as they
were filling of water at an Iland a great way from ovr ship". But it
turned out that the great company of "sauages" that came rowing up were
merely looking "for nayles, or any old iron, which they so greatly desire,
while our men were in such a feare that they knew not what to doe. At length
our cooke remembered that he had some old iron in his pocket, and gaue
each of them some, as farre as it would goe, with his key of his chest.
And presently they all departed, without offering any harme at all...".
On his return from Greenland, Baffin entered the service of the
Muscovy Company. This company of merchant adventurers, in which Sir
Thomas Smith was a leading director moving spirit , had sent Captain Jonas Poole (q.v.)
to Spitsbergen in 1610, 1611 and 1612 to follow up Hudson's (q.v.) dis–
coveries there in 1607-8, to pursue the attempt to find a passage straight
across the Pole, and to investigate the possibilities of an English whal–
ing enterprise. These voyages resulted in a profitable industry, and in
1613
the Muscovy Company immediately obtained a charter pretending to exclud ing e all others, native and
foreign, from the Spitsbergen waters. They equipped a fleet of six armed
vessels, which drove away from the Spitsbergen coast fifteen sail of Dutch,
French and Biscayan ships.
In 1613 they the Muscovy Company fitted out a fleet of seven ships,
on a whaling expedition, under the command of Captain Benjamin Joseph. This is called "Baffin's
second voyage". Baffin was chief pilot, on board the Tiger , of 260 tons,
with Cpatain Joseph. Twenty-four Biscayan whalersmen were engaged for the
voyage and one Biscayan ship had permission to go along and fish. They de-

William Baffin

parted May 13 and made Spitsbergen in eighteen days. Baffin wrote a nar–
rative of the voyage, which was printed by Purchas, . and We learn from
this account that the English found as many as seventeen foreign ships
on the Spitsbergen coast--four Dutch, two Dunkirkers, four from St. Jean
de Luz and seven from St. Sebastian. All submitted to the English, and a
few were allowed to remain and fish on the condition of surrendering half
their catch. The Company's fleet returned safely in September with full
cargoes.
The most notable feature of the account is Baffin's description of his
astronomical variations observations . He observed for dip as well a as for variation;
and tells us he used a quadrant of four feet semidiameter in taking his
altitudes. His most interesting observation was for sun's refraction,
although there appear to be several mistakes in the record of it.
A second
account of the voyage, probably written by Robert Fotherby, is extant.
In 1614 the Muscovy Company again equipped a Spitsbergen fleet under
the command of Benjamin Joseph, with Baffin as pilot. This c i o nsisted of
eleven ships and two pinnaces. Baffin , was aboard a ship called the
Thomasine , with Robert Fotherby, who had been a member of the previous
expedition. There is unfortunatly no extant account of the voyage by Baffin , , and so his personal observations are lost to us; but a
detailed narrative, written by Fotherby, is printed by Purchas.
The
fleet left England April 16, but on account of bad weather and ice did
not reach the Spitsbergen coast until June. Baffin and Fotherby were
more interested in exploration than in whaling, and during the summer
made persevering attempts to extend discovery to the eastward, along the
north coast of Spitsbergen. They set out in two shallops, and on several
occasions advanced eastwards, until they were stopped by the ice. Early
in August they reached "Wiches Sound" (Wiide Bay) (Wijde Fjord of modern
maps). Here they walked up a high hill and saw"another fair sound", and
resolved to "make further search alongst this shoare, and to proceede with

William Baffin

our shallops so farre as we possibly could". They observed the latitude,
which they found to be 79° 54′.
A shallop now came rowing towards them, and
they "hastened towards them, to see who were therein", and found men
from the Heartsease , commanded by Thomas Marmaduke (q.v.). They had left
their ship in the ice, about a league from Red Beach (on the North coast,
at the western entrance of Liefde Bay). "Here", writes Fotherby, "they
were setting vp a crosse, which they said that they found there fallen
downe, and had beene formerly set vp, in the time of Master Marmaduke's
first discouery, by one Laurence Prestwood, whose name I saw there on engrauen,
with two or three names more, and it had the date of the seuenteenth of
August 1612. Vpon this crosse they nailed the Kings armes". ((Thamma Marma (Jonas Poole, in
1612, met Thomas Marmaduke in Spitsbergen, in 1612, in command of
duke, commanding a Hull ship, and Marmaduke told him that he had just come
from 82° N. latitude.) Baffin and Fotherby walked from Wiches Sound until
they came to the entrance of Sir Thomas Smith's Inlet (Hinlopen Strait).
They returned to their shallops, and with great difficulty, to t on account
of the ice, to their ship. Fotherby describes T t he weather towards the end of August Fatherby
describes
as very warm. They left for England and arrived October 4.
Baffin now entered the service of the Company of the Merchants Discov–
erers of the North-West Passage, of which the leading directors were Sir
Thomas Smith, Sir Dudley Digges and Sir John Wolstenholme (q.v.). Members of
this Company, before its charter, had in 1610 sent Henry Hudson (q.v.) to see if
a passage might be discovered through any of the inlets described by Davis.
This resulted in his Hudson's passage through Hudson Strait the Strait which now carries his name and discovery of the
eastern side of the Bay. In 1612 they had sent Sir Thomas Button (q.v.) for
the same purpose, and he discovered the western side of Hudson Bay and re–
ported discouraging prospects for a passage in that direction, but felt
very strongly that one might exist through what is now Fox's Foxe Channel. His
report led the Company, which had received its charter during his absence,

William Baffin

to send out out the ex unsuccessful expedition of Captain William Gibbons (q.v.) in
1614.
Upon his Biffin's return they the Company resolved to send yet another expedition, since
Hudson and Button had made important discoveries. Robert Bylot (q.v.), who
had been in the three previous voyages, was in command, and Baffin was his
pilot. The little Discovery , of about fifty-five tons, ( which had been the
ship of
twice served Hudson (twice) , once Button and once Gibbons,) was now outfitted for her fourth fifth Arctic
voyage.
The entire account of the this expedition was written by Baffin. It was
printed by Purchas, but the manuscript, preserved in the British Museum, 200
is fuller, and was first edited by Rundall and published by the Hakluyt
Society. Markham writes: "An excellent system of keeping log books, inaug–
urated by Sebastian Cabot, was enforced by the Muscovy Company, and the officer
officer of its ships were expected to take frequent astronomical observa–
tions. Baffin, who had a natural love for such work, was had been [: was ] given an excellent
training while serving under the Company in his two Spitsbergen voyages,
and he continued the same admirable system in his western enterprises under
the North-West Passage Company".
In the letter to his patrons (Smith, Digges and Wolstenholme) with which
Baffin he Baffin prefaces his account, Baffin he describes his method of preparing the
tabulated log book, and in delineating the coast on his map, which is pre–
served with the manuscript. Though he made many maps, this is the only
one which has come down to us , and as . As such it is extremely important as in show–
ing his beautiful style of drawing and his care and accuracy in surveying
the coasts. A facsimile of this beautiful illuminated map is reproduced
in Markham's edition of Baffin's voyages. Following the letter is the
tabulated log book, entitled The Breefe Journall . Then follows "A Tru
Relayt Relatyon of such thinges as happened in fourth voyage for the discouery
of a passage to the north west, performed in the yeare 1615", .
In the "True Relation" Baffin commends his commander "Byleth" (Bylot)
as a man well experienced in Arctic navigation. He tells us the ir ship left

William Baffin

England March 16, and that, after "an indifferent good passage", they
saw land on May 6, on the coast of Greenland on the east side of Cape
Farewell. They In order to get around the ice they kept a southerly
course until the May 17. At noon of that date they came to what looked
like firm ice, although, says Baffin, it was indeed "many pieces drawn
together". Captain Bylot asked his opinion concerning putting into the
ice, and Baffin's judgment was that it would be best for them to stand
somewhat more northward, to see if they could find any more likely place,
for there they could not discern where to put in the ship's head. Bylot
answered that they were as far to the northward as the south end of
Resolution Island, and now had all the south channel southward of them,
"and through much ice we must goe". If they could get some three or four
leagues within the ice, it would open at every tide, and they would get
a little ahead on their way, now that the weather was fair; butand ifit
should blow hard, then they would have to enter the ice anyway.
Baffin
then says: "I could not say much agaynst his op[: i]nion, beinge indeede in
the latitude of 61 deg. 26′, and hee knew the manner of this ice better
then my selfe, so presently we resolved to put into the ice". Baffin ad–
mits that he did not like "this first entrance" very well. They made
little progress toward the entrance to Hudson Strait on account of the
ice, and on May 22. Bylot decided to "run up Dauis Straytes and to spend
some 20 dayes therein, to trye what hopes that wayes would afford", but
changed his mind the next day when they were clear of the ice. On May 27
they saw Resolution Island, and on May 30 they were within Hudson Strait,
on the west side of Resolution Island, where they anchored. They went
ashore on the island, which they found rocky and stony, with "hardly any–
thing growing thereon which is green". They saw "no certain sign of inhab–
itants, but only the track of bears and foxes".

William Baffin

From here they made their way to the Savage Islands, and anchored
at one of them on June 8. But, eExploring the north shore of the island, they saw tents, boats and dogs;
and, going to the top of a hill, they saw a "great canoe or boat", with
about fourteen people in it. Baffin called to them, "using some words of
Groynlandish speeche" and making signs of friendship. The Eskimos did the
like, but, since they seemed to be afraid, and Baffin did not know whether
he could trust them, he showed them a knife and other objects, which he
left on top of the hill for the m , Then he and his party returned to the
tents, and took from them some whale fins which they found and a small
leather bag containing "a company of little images of men, and one the
image of a woman with a child at hir backe", leaving in return knives,
beads, etc. Baffin tells us that the apparel, boats, tents, etc., of
these people are much like those of the inhabitants of Greenland; but
stresses the point that the Resolution Islanders former Resolution Islanders are "more rude and uncivil",
are not so neat and are not such good artificers as the Greenlanders.
On June 10 Bylot and Baffin began to coast along the north shore of
Hudson Strait, Baffin constantly taking observations, noting the tides, etc.
Sir Edward Parry, passing over the same ground in 1821, confirmed Baffin's
observations on the tides, and found his latitudes to be nearly correct.
On June 19 they arrived about midway up the Strait at a "poynt of ilands"
which, says Baffin, "I after called Fair Ness [ still so called ] , by reason
of the fayre wether we had at this place, for from this 19 daye till the 27
daye (yea till the 30) the wether was so faire, cleare and calme, that it
was more then extraordinary in this place, and we so fast closed up with
ice, that many tymes one could not well dip a payle of water".
The next passage is of extraordinary significance. Baffin first tells
how the mariners spent the days while they were locked in the ice in such
beautiful weather. Some days they shot at " butts " with bows and arrows, other
times they played stool ball or and sometimes foot ball. "And", continues Baffin, "seinge

William Baffin

I have begun to speak of exercise, I think it not amiss to relate one
dayes exercise of my owne".
Here follows a description of the first com–
plete lunar observation ever, so far as is known, taken at sea. Markham,
discussing this observation, says that its elements were observed alti–
tudes of sun and moon, and angular distance probably measured by distance difference
of azimuth. He then writes as follows says : "These elements, cleared from the effect
effects of parallax and refraction, would give the true distance, and the
longitude could be found by using the right ascensions of the sun and moon,
without the aid of the tables of lunar distances now given in the Nautical
Almanack
.
Of course the distance must have been very roughly observed, and
the whole attempt was merely experimental and tentative. But it shows that
Baffin was acquainted with the method of finding longitude by observing the
altitude of the moon and some other heavenly body, and measuring the angular
distance between them; a method first suggested in 1514 by Werner, and again
in 1545 by Gemma Frisius. It enable us to claim for Baffin the honour of
being the first who ever attempted to take a lunar at sea. Baffin also re–
cords, during the voyage up Hudson 's 's Stet Strait, another attempt to find the
longitude by lunar culmination".
During They The expedition arrived at the western end of the Strait early in July: and
the whole of July and August was spent in cruising about among the ice and
islands at the western end of the Strait. here and at the southern end of what
is now known as Fox Channel. Baffin named Seahorse Point on the southeast–
ern end of Southampton Island, and other places previously unnamed. Christy
says: "Although the amount of original discovery effected on this voyage was 300
but small, the coasts of the regions visited were for the first time laid
down with tolerable accuracy on a chart; and we may fairly say...that Bylot
and Baffin 'lighted' Foxe into his Channel".
The expedition arrived back

William Baffin

in England, anchoring in Plymouth Sound, September 7, without the loss
of one man.
To his na journal Baffin appends a note concerning his opinion on
the prospect of passage, He syys says that there is doubtless a passage, but
that he is doubtful if it is to be sought through Hudson Strait. The great–
est "indraft", he says, comes from Davis Strait, and "the mayne will be
upp Fretum Davis". It was doubtless this opinion of Baffin's which moved the company
of Discoverers of the North-West Passage to prepare, the following spring,
yet another expedition in search of the Passage, which was to explore, as
Baffin had recommended, the further extremity of Davis Strait. This was
Baffin's greatest most important and final Arctic voyage. , during which he discovered the great bay which bears his name. Its narrative, preserved in Purchas,
was written by Baffin himself.
Bylot was again in command,with Baffin as pilot, in the Discovery , which
thus made her sixth and last recorded Arctic voyage. The ship, with seventeen
persons on board, set sail from Gravesend March 26, 1616. They had a good
passage, and the first land they sighted was on May 14, "in Fretum Davis, on the coast
of Groinland, in the latitude of 65° 20′", writes Baffin. (This would be
at about near Sukkertoppen, or the Coekayne Cockins Sound visited by Baffin on his first
voyage.) Here they gave pieces of iron to the Eskimos, who were quite disap–
pointed that they did mot tarry, and followed the ship for awhile in their
boats. At 70° 20′ they "came to anchor in a faire sound (neere the place
Master Dauis called London Coast)". (This would be in the neighborhood of
Disko Island, whose north point is in 70° 20′ N.) Here the Eskimos fled at
sight of the Englishmen, who stayed for two days to take in wa fresh water,. et
They The Discovery then plied still northward , . and o O en May 26 they spied a dead whale, made
fast to it, and got as much whale-bone as they could before the whale broke
loose. By May 30 they came to Hope Sanderson, "the farthest land Master
Dauis was at, lying between 72 and 73°". (Davis gives the latitude of Hope

William Baffin

Sanderson at 72° 12′ N.) Here they ran into much ice, which they put into,
plying all the next day to get through it. Then they put in among a group
of islands, where the Eskimos again fled from them, "leauing their tents
behinde, and vpon a small rocke they hid two young maides, or women. Our
ship riding not farre off, we espyed them, to whom our master, with some
other of our companie, went in the boate, they making signes to be carried
to the iland, where their tents were close adioyning. When they came thither
they found two old women more...". They later saw another woman with a
child at her back, and they named the islands Womens Islands (now Upernavik
Island and the surrounding islets). Baffin here gives another description
of the Greenland Eskimos and their customs, noting particularly the tattoo–
ing of the women.
From here they proceeded to around 74° and saw three small islands , which
were probably those now know n as the Baffin Islands, north of Cape Shackleton.
Here Baffin noted signs of habitation, but observes that the people had that
year not as yet come. They left the shore and put into the middle of the
pack, "but this attempt was soon quailed [: 2] " , as they found it too perilous, and
put in for the shore again.
[: ] A place which in 73° 45′ Baffin named Horn Sound, be–
cause the Eskimos there gave them "many peeces of the bone or horne of the
sea vnicorne", in addition to sealskins, etc., in exchange for the usual
iron and trinkets.
See we get biog of Wolstenhome. Progressing northward, on July 1 they "were come into an open sea, in the latitude of
75° 40′, which again anew reuiued our hope of a passage". Foul weather
caused them to run along the land again, and Baffin named a point, which ac–
cording to him was in 76° 35′, Sir Dudley Digges (q.v.) Cape. Twelve leagues
distant from this they discovered a sound, which they named Wolstenholme (q.v.)
Sound (still so called). They were forced to drift in a storm and found
themselves imbayed in a great sound which they named Whale Sound because
they saw great numbers of whales in it.(Hval Sund on modern maps).
With

William Baffin

fair weather they the Discovery put ahead until they came to a great bank of ice,
"it being backed with land" . and w W hen they saw this they determined to
stand back some eight leagues to an island which they named Ha [: ] luyt's
Isle--"it lyeth betweene two great Sounds, the one Whale Sound, and the other
Sir Thomas Smith's Sound; this last runneth to the north of 78°, and is
admirable in one respect, because it is the greatest variation of the
compasse of any part of the world known".
Baffin then describes their attempts to land without succes s on
various islands in lower Smith Sound, a group of which they named the
Carey (or Cary) Islands, "all which Sounds and ilands", he says, "the map doth
truly describe.".Here it must be remarked that the loss of Baffin's map
of this voyage is an irremediable one. Rev. Samuel Purchas (q.v.) tells
us: "This map of the author for this and the former voyage, with the
tables of his iournall and sayling, were somewhat troublesome and too
costly to insert".
(Include Insert here : see. p.14a)
On July 12 the expedition they discovered and named Lancaster Sound, after Sir
James Lancaster, voyager to the East Indies and himself a promoter of
all contemporary voyages of discovery. Here, says Baffin, their hope of a passage be–
gan to lessen every day, for from this sound to the southward they had a
ledge of ice between the shore and themselves. The ice"led" them into
latitude 65° 40′, he writes, and then they left off"seeking to the west
shoare" because they were in the "indraft" of Cumberland Sound. Since the
year was so far spent, they decided to run across to Greenland and put in
at Cockin Sound for refreshm a ent. Baffin tells us that they went ashore on
a little island near this sound and found a great abundance of the herb
called scurvy grass. This they boiled in beer and drank, "using it also
in sallets, with sorrell and orpen, which here greweth in abundance; by
means hereof, and the blessing of God, all our men within eight or nine

William Baffin

Insert for p. 14
While it is true that it was Purchas' s lack of funds and not merely only his lack
of discrimination which led to his omission, his failure to print the tab–
ulated journal and map led to such geographical blunders and to such con–
fusion , during the next to two centuries, that the very existence of Baffin Bay
came to be doubted. , and i It is only within the period of modern exploration
that the eclipsed greatness an of Baffin emerges from its eclipse. Markham,
in his edition of Baffin's voyages, traces the history of these errors re–
specting Baffin Bay by means of an interesting illuminating series of maps.

William Baffin

dayes space were in perfect health, and so continued till our arriuall
in England". They arrived August 30.
See we have biog of him.
Baffin, on his return, made a report to Sir John Wolstenholme (q.v.) as on
the prospect of a passage through Davis Strait and its upper reaches ,
now called Baffin Bay for their discoverer. He had lost hope that the
search in this direction would be more fruitful than through Hudson
Strait, and sets forth his reasons in very clear fashion. He then stress–
es the profit to be derived from a whaling industry in the Greenland wa–
ters. He modestly mentions the contributions to knowledge of his own 400
geographical discoveries and scientific observations. This letter was
fortunately printed by Purchas along with the narrative, and it is these
two documents which furnish us with the main incidents of Baffin's great
discovery and and with his scientific conclusions from it.
Markham, still our leading authority on Baffin, writes: "Baffin had
now made five voyages to the Arctic Regions. The fiords and islets of
West Greenland, the glaciers and ice floes of Spitzbergen, the tidal
phenomena of Hudson's Straits, and the unveiled geographical secrets of
the far northern bay, were all familiar to him. He had practically sought
out, and deeply pondered over the absorbing questions of polar discovery. As
an astronomical observer and navigator, his unwearied diligence was as re–
markable as his talent, and in this branch of study he was certainly in ad–
vance of his contemporaries. If he was a self-taught man, who had risen
from a humble origin, he had so far educated himself as to be able to
write letters which are not only well-expressed, but graced with classical
allusions. He was probably past middle age when, in August 1616, he returned
from his great discovery, and sought for some new employment".
To the above Markham adds that it was not to be expected that Arctic

William Baffin

problems could be effaced from Baffin's mind. Like John Davis before him,
he conceived the idea of attempting the passage from Japan and the coast
of Asia. Purchas tells us that Baffin told him, before his untimely death
"in the late Ormus businesse", "that hee would, if hee might get employment,
search the passage from Japan, by the coast of Asia ( qua data porta ) any
way he could". The employment which he found in the hope of carrying out
this ambition was in the employment of with the East India Company, which, in
the winter of 1616, was preparing its fleet for its seventh joint-stock
voyage early in the following year. It was to be commanded by Captain
Martin Pring, on board the Royal James . Baffin u o btained an appointment
as master's mate on the Anne Royal , commanded by Andrew Shilling.
The fleet left Gravesend on February 4, 1617, and and arrived at Saldanha
Bay, on the Cape of Good Hope, on June 21. By this time many of the men were afflicted with scurvy,
which was the most terrible scourge of the Indian voyage. On landing, Captain Pr
Pring was obliged to use force to obtain get a supply of cattle and sheep, but
a number were obtained, and the sick men, cured by the fresh meat, soon grew
strong again.
In September, 1617, the fleet arrived at Surat, on the west
coast of India. The Company then decided to send Captain Shilling to the
Red Sea. "for settling an English trade in those parts". Instructions were
drawn up by Sir Thomas Roe (q.v.), Ambassador at the Court of the Mogul.
The Anne Royal , with Baffin aboard, anchored off Mocha April 13, 1618. The
merchants went ashore with presents for the Governor, and Shilling succeeded
in obtaining a grant from the Pasha for English merchants to trade at Mocha and
Aden.
In May the Anne Royal crossed the Red Sea to the African side, for the
benefit of the sick aboard, to procure ballast, and to explore the coast.
Here Baffin occupied himself very diligently in surveying and preparing charts.
After a return to Mocha and thence to India, the ship was again later in the
year sent to the Persian Gulf. Baffin again made use of his time in observing

William Baffin

and surveying the coasts. Returning to Surat, the Anne Royal commenced her home.
ward voyage in February 1619 and arrived in the Thames in September.
In the minutes of the Court of the East India Company of October 1, 1619,
appears the following entry: "William Baffyn, a master's mate in the Anne , to hav
a gratuity for his pains and good art in drawing out certain plots of the coast
of Persia and the Red Sea, which are judged to have been very well and artifi–
cially [ i.e., artfully ] performed; some to be drawn out by Adam Bowen, for the
benefit of such as shall be employed in those parts". (Adam Bowen was a clerk
employed in the Company's to draw up sailing directions from the journals and
prepare copies of charts.)
A new fleet of six ships was sent the following year to the East, with Shilling in comm
command, aboard a great new ship named the London ;. William Baffin, at the
special recommendation of Captain Shilling, was appointed her master, and thus
received command of a ship for the first time. Before they approached the Per- Off the coast of India in
sian Gulf in November they received word that a combined force of Portuguese and Dutch
ships had been waiting was waiting off J a á shak, near the entrance of the Persiam Gulf, to inter–
cept and attack the English ships. The latter then went in search of the enemy,
and December 16 ,1620, came in sight of two large Portuguese ships and two smaller
Flemish vessels.
The fight commenced at once, and continued without intermis–
sion for nine hours. The Portuguese then anchored to repair damages, and the
English ships put into Jashak Roads. The two fleets watched each other for
ten days and a second encounter took place on December 28. Captain Shilling was
wounded, and died on January 6, 1621. Captain Blithe, of the Harte , assumed command. In February the fleet returned to Surat.
It was then to have been sent to the Red Sea, but it was found too late in the sea
season, and was
sent to the coast of Arabia instead . Baffin, in the London ,
put into the port of Sur, on the Oman coast, and found water and palm trees.
Here they remained at anchor until August 15, when the n y again set sail for
India.
The English now agreed with Shah Abbas the Great of Persia to drive

William Baffin

the Portuguese out of the island of Ormuz by a joint attack. This ,
island, in the Persian Gulf, had been occupied by the Viceroy Affonso
Albuquerque the Great in 1515, and a strong fort had been built there
by the Portuguese, and an exorbitant tribute exacted from the people.
The English fleet arrived off the town of Ormuz on January 20, 1622, and
found the Portuguese already beleaguered by a Persian army.
The first operation of the English was to land guns from each ship
and throw up batteries. The siege commenced, and after two days Baffin
went on shore with his mathematical instruments to take the height and
distance of the castle walls in order to find the range "for the better
levelling of his piece. But as he was about the same, he received a
shot from the castle." Purchas says: "In the Indies he dyed, in the late
Ormus businesse, slain in fight with a shot, as hee was trying his
mathematicall proiects and conclusions." This was on January 23, 1622.
Early in February the Portuguese surrendered.
There is no record of Baffin's having made a will. His widow is
described as impatient and troublesome, which appears to have been due
to her pressing claims for money due her deceased husband. She eventually
received £500. He probably left no surviving children, for we do not
hear of any, either as claimants to his property or as recipients of
the charity of the Company, as in the case of Henry Hudson's son and
the children of other men who had served the Company well.
Baffin's case is one of the two or three most notable in the history
of exploration where a man highly respected in his day fell into gradual
disrepute, to be vindicated by later generations. The outstanding case
is, of course, that of Pytheas, who had a topmost reputation while he
lived and a good reputation for a century or two thereafter, but who

William Baffin

then declined in the esteem of scholars until his name became a
synonym for Ananias, and so remained for nearly two thousand years.
A pioneer in the rehabilitation of Pytheas was Sir Clements Markham,
president of the Royal Geographical Society of London. Markham was
also a pioneer in the vindication of Baffin, who had sunk so low that
many were beginning to feel that his work was of little consequence.
Now Pytheas ranks with the half-dozen greatest explorers of all time,
and Baffin with the dozen greatest in the field of arctic exploration.
Bibliography

Purchas, Samuel Purchas his Pilgrimes , London, 1625, Vol. III

Churchill, John Collection of Voyages and Travels , London, 1732, Vol. VI

Fotherby, Robert "A Short Discourse of a Voyage made in the Yeare of
our Lord 1613, to the Late Discouered Countrye of
Greenland; and a Briefe Discription of the same
Countrie, and the Comodities ther raised to the
Adventurers," in Transactions and Collections of the
American Antiquarian Society
(1860), Vol. IV

Markham, Clements R. (ed.) The Voyages of William Baffin, 1612-1622 ,
London, Hakluyt Society, 1881

Gosch, C.C.A. (ed.) Danish Arctic Expeditions, 1605 to 1620 , Book I,
London, Hakluyt Society, 1897

Rundall, Thomas Narratives of Voyages towards the North-West , London,
Hakluyt Society, 1849

Christy, Miller (ed.) The Voyages of Captain Luke Foxe of Hull, and
Captain Thomas James of Bristol, in Search of a
North-West Passage, in 1631-32
, London, Hakluyt Society,
1894

Dictionary of National Biography article, William Baffin

Eloise McCaskill

William Baffin

Rewritten
the Portuguese out of the island of Ormuz by a joint attack. This island, had in the
Persian Gulf, had been occupied by the Viceroy Affonso Albuquerque the
Great in 1515, and a strong fort had been built there by the Portuguese,
and an exor bitant tribute exacted from the people. The English fleet arrived
off the town of Ormuz on January 20, 1622, and found the Portuguese already
beleaguered by a Persian army.
The first operation of the English was to land
guns from each ship and throw up batteries. The siege commenced, and after
two days Baffin went on shore with his mathematical instruments to take the
height and distance of the castle walls in order to find the range "for the- bet
better levelling of his piece. But as he was about the same, he received a shot
from the castle " into his belly, " wherewith he gave three leaps, and died im–
mediately".
Purchas says: "In the Indies he dyed, in the late Ormus businesse,
slain in fight with a shot, as hee was trying his mathematicall proiects and
conclusions". This was on January 23, 1622. On February A few days Early
in February the Portuguese surrendered.
There is no record of Baffin's having made a will.
His widow is described as impatient and troublesome, out this which ap–
pears to have been due to her pressing claims for money due her deceased hus–
band.
He probably left
no surviving children, for we do not hear of any, either as claimants to
his property or as recipients of the charity of the Company, as in the case
of Henry Hudson's son and the children of other men who had served the Com–
pany well. His widow is described as impatient and troublesome, out this which ap–
pears to have been due to her pressing claims for money due her deceased hus–
band.
Of this She eventually received £ 500. Omit? In August, 1623, Sir John Wolstenholme, her husband's Baffin's patron, advised
her to have patience awhile. On November 21 of the same year, she appeared
before the Company's Court in person, accompanied by a Mr. Robert Bourne, and
"made demand of her husband's estate, who deceased in the Indies in the Com–
pany's service". The Court told them that "if Baffin's estate were questioned
it might prove dangerous to the widow, especially if it be true, which she
pretends, that he carried £600 out in money, a thing utterly unlawful". The

[Figure]

William Baffin

Omit Court proposed arbitration, and the affair dragged out for several years.
Finally, in January, 1628, it the Court ordered that Mrs. Baffin should have £ 500
in satisfaction of all claims in full, provided that she, her friend Mr.
Bourne, and her second husband, should join in a discharge to the Company.
It was said that she was then advanced in years and deaf, and "had made
an unequal choice of a man not the best governed". At any rate, the Court
promised so to work out some plan with her husband by which that she might be taken
care of out of the funds allotted by the grant.
Insert Estimate attached)
Bibliography

Samuel Purchas: Purchas his Pilgrimes , London, 1625, Vol. III

John Churchill: Collection of Voyages and Travels , London, 1732, Vol. VI

Robert Fotherby: "A Short Discourse of a Voyage made in the Yeare of Our Lord
1613, to the Late Discouered Countrye of Greenland; and a Briefe
Discription of the same Countrie, and the Comodities ther raised
to the Adventurers", in Transactions and Collections of the American
Antiquarian Society
(1860), Vol. IV,

Clements R. Markham(ed.): The Voyages of William Baffin , 1612-1622, London,
Hakluyt Society, 1881

C.C.A. Gosch (ed.) : Danish Arctic Expeditions, 1605 to 1620 , Book I, London,
Hakluyt Society, 1897

Thomas Rundall: Narratives of Voyages [] towards the North-West , London,
Hakluyt Society, 1849

Miller Christy (ed.): The Voyages of Captain Luke Foxe of Hull, and Captain
Thomas James of Bristol, in Search of a North-West Passage, in
1631-32
, London, Hakluyt Society, 1894

Dictionary of National Biography : article, William [] Baffin

(Insert for page 19 of William Baffin manuscript)
Baffin's case is one of the two or three most notable
in the history of exploration where a man highly respected
in his day fell into gradual disrepute, to be vindicated
by later generations. The outstanding case is, of course,
that of Pytheas, who had a topmost reputation while he lived
and a good reputation for a century or two thereafter, but
who then declined in the esteem of scholars until his name
became a synonym for Ananias, and so remained for nearly
two thousand years. A pioneer in his Pytheas the rehabilitation of Pytheas was
Sir Clement s Markham, president of the Royal Geographical
Society of London. Markham was also a pioneer in the vindi–
cation of Baffin, who had sunk so low that many were begin–
ning to feel that his work was of little consequence. Now
Pytheas ranks with the half-dozen greatest explorers of
all time, and Baffin with the dozen greatest in the field
of Arctic exploration.
HomeWilliam Baffin : Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
 Text Only
 Text & Inline Image
 Text & Image Viewer
 Image Viewer Only