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    John Davis

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0206                                                                                                                  

    (Eloise McCaskill Popini)


            John Davis or Davys (1550?-1605) was the most influential arctic navi–

    gator of his time. As Sir Clements Markham says; "He converted the Arctic

    regions from a confused myth into a defined area. He not only described

    and mapped the extensive tracts explored by himself, but he clearly pointed

    out the work cut out for his successors. He lighted Hudson into his strait,

    as Luke Fox truly said. He lighted Baffin into his bay. He lighted Hans

    Egede to the scene of his Greenland labours. He did more. His true-hearted

    devotion to the cause of Arctic discovery, his patient scientific research,

    his loyalty to his employers, his dauntless courage and enthusiasm, his care

    for the welfare of his men, form an example which has been a beacon light

    to the best Arctic explorers for all time."

            Although we know nothing of Davis's parentage, and there is no record

    of his baptism, his contemporaries tell us that he was born at Sandridge in

    the parish of Stoke Gabriel, on the east side of the river Dart. He was

    probably of yeoman stock, and inherited a portion of the Sandridge property.

    He describes himself as "of Sandridge, gentleman,." He was on terms of in–

    timacy with the Gilberts, especially Adrian, and their half-brothers, the

    Raleighs, who belonged to the same neighborhood. While there is no doubt

    that Davis had a classical education, probably at Totnes grammar school, he

    apparently went to sea at a very early age and remained away for many years.

    002      |      Vol_XV-0207                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    On his return he was married, in September 1582, to Faith Fulford, said to

    have been a daughter of Sir John Fulford, High Sheriff of Devon in 1535.

    By this marriage he had a son Gilbert, baptized in 1583, a daughter who died

    in infancy, and three other sons.

            The earliest definite notice of John Davis seems to appear in the private

    diary of Dr. John Dee, the famous mathematician and astrologer, who was tech–

    nical adviser to many of the Elizabethan voyages of northern discovery. This

    entry is of date October 18, 1579, and reads" "Mr. Adrian Gilbert and John

    Davys reconciled themselves to me, and disclosed some of Emery his most

    unhonest, hypocriticall, and devilish dealings and devises agaynst me and

    other, and likewise of that errant strompet her abominable wordes and dedes;

    and John Davis sayd that he might curse the tyme that ever he knew Emery, and

    so much followed his wicked counsayle and advyse, so just is God," The

    Emery referred to is doubtless Emery Molyneux, who constructed the two famous

    globes, one celestial and the other terrestrial, which were made by order of

    William Sanderson, chief financial backer of Davis's voyages, and dedicated

    to Queen Elizabeth. It is not known what Molyneux had done to incur the wrath

    of John Davis and Dr. Dee.

            An entry in the same journal of June 3, 1580, reads: "Mr. A. Gilbert

    and J. Davys rode homeward into Devonshire," and would imply that Davis was

    then living at Sandridge, and that after a visit to Dee in consultation con–

    cerning the discovery of the Northwest Passage, the two friends were riding

    home together. The next mention of the name of John Davis is in Dee's journal

    under January 23, 1583. He writes: "The Ryght Honorable Mr. Secretary

    Walsingham came to my howse, where by good lok he found Mr. Awdrian Gilbert,

    and so talk was begonne of North-west Straights discovery. Jan.24. I,

    003      |      Vol_XV-0208                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    Mr. Awdrian Gilbert, and John Davis, went by appointment to Mr. Secretary

    to Mr. Beale his howse, where onely we four were secret, and we made Mr.

    Secretary privie of the N.W. passage, and all charts and rutters were agreed

    upon in general." Subsequent entries read: "March 6. I and Mr. Adrian

    Gilbert and John Davis did mete with Mr. Alderman Barnes [ one of the most

    influential directors of the Muscovy Company ] , Mr. Rounson [ or Towerson,

    also connected with voyages of discovery ] , and Mr. Young, and Mr. Hudson

    [Thomas Hudson, son of one of the founders of the Muscovy Company, related

    to the navigator], about the N.W. passage, March 17. Mr. John Davys went

    to Chelsey with Mr. Adrian Gilbert to Mr. Radforth's, and so the 18th day

    from thence toward Devonshyre".

            As Dr. Dee went abroad shortly after this, his direct connection with

    the projected voyages ceased, although his name appears in a memorial presented

    by Adrian Gilbert to Queen Elizabeth on the subject as one of the associates

    in the enterprise, together with himself, Walter Raleigh, and John Davis. In

    this Adrian Gilbert, "having heretofore greatly travelled, and continuing to

    his great charges to travel to discover the northerly parts of Atlantis, called

    Novus Orbis, not inhabited or discovered by any Christians hitherto, but by

    him, requests the Queens licence for himself and his associates...to depart

    to any of the northerly parts between the Equinoctial Line and the North Pole...

    Adrian Gylberte, John Dee, and John Davies, having been the chiefest travellers

    to find out this northerly voyage, ...to be especially exempted for ever from

    payment of custom outwards or inwards."

            It may be conjectured from this that Davis and Adrian Gilbert had been

    associated for years in attempts to launch voyages of Arctic discovery, and

    had almost certainly been at sea together, perhaps in northern waters. Gilbert

    004      |      Vol_XV-0209                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    had already obtained a patent in 1579 for a company to trade with the North–

    west and discover the Northwest Passage. He obtained a fresh patent in 1583

    for a voyage of discovery to the Northwest, and by 1585 had succeeded in

    obtaining the financial backing for it from William Sanderson, an influential

    merchant of London, who was one of the most important persons in all that

    concerns the voyages of John Davis. Sanderson was joined by other merchants,

    but we are told that, in addition to his indefatigable efforts in behalf

    of the voyages, "he became the greatest adventurer with his purse." He

    was also a patron of geographical knowledge.

            John Davis, who is described at this time as "a man very well grounded

    in the principles of the arte of navigation," was made "captaine and chief

    pilot of this exployt." The expedition consisted of two small vessels, the

    Sunshine of London, of fifty tons, and the Moonshine , built at Dartmouth, of

    thirty-five tons. Davis sailed in the Sunshine , with William Eston as master

    and Richard Pope as master's mate, Henry Davy and William Crosse as gunner and

    boatswain, and Mr. John Jane or Janes, a nephew of William Sanderson and the

    historian of the voyage, as merchant and supercargo. The Moonshine The crew

    consisted of a carpenter, eleven seamen, four musicians, and a boy. The

    Moonshine was commanded by William Bruton, with John Ellis as master.

            The ships sailed out of Darmouth harbor on June 7, 1585. There was a delay

    at the Scilly Islands on account of unfavorable winds, and Davis employed this

    time in making a complete survey of the islands for the use of navigators. On

    June 28, the expedition weighed anchor and set sell for the voyage to Greenland.

    On July 19, in a calm sea and a dense fog, they heard "a mighty great roaring

    of the Sea, as if it had bene the breach of some shoare." A boat was hoisted

    out to sound, but they could find no bottom at 300 fathoms. Then Davis,

    taking Eston and Jane with him, went out in search of the mysterious noise, giving

    005      |      Vol_XV-0210                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    orders to the gunners to fire muskets at the end of every half hour as a

    signal of the ship's position. He soon found that the noise was caused

    by the grinding together of the pack ice, and Jane described it as "making

    such yrksome noyse as that it seemed to be the true pattern of desolation,"

    because of which Davis named the coast "the Land of Desolation." (This was

    not Cape Desolation, on the south coast of Greenland, but was on the east

    coast, probably a little to the north of Cape Discord.) The land, which

    they saw [ ?] when the fog lifted, is described as "the most deformed rocky

    and mountainous land that ever we sawe."

            After this, Davis coasted along the shore for two or three days south–

    ward, rounded the point which he later named Cape Farewell, and coasted

    northward, where, on July 29, he entered a fjord in latitude 64° 15′ N.,

    which he named Gilbert Sound in honor of his friend and colleague, Adrian

    Gilbert. This was in the vicinity of the present Danish settlement of

    Godthaab. Davis, with Eston and Jane, landed on a small island to look

    for water and driftwood. Here they found signs of people, and not long

    after this, on another island, they encountered humbers of natives.

    Stefansson has called the Davis narratives "the first reasonably good des–

    cription of the people of Greenland that has be ne en preserved in modern litera–

    ture." As these accounts are quite detailed in this respect, a resum e é of

    impossible here.

            Friendship was established with the Eskimos, who welcomed them on the

    subsequent voyages. Davis observed among them traits which Stefansson believes,

    may have been vestiges of European influence, perhaps a survival of the "lost"

    No r se Greenland colony — such things as physical appearance, placing of crosses

    on graves, kissing the hands of the Englishmen, use of salt water, eating of

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    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    vegetable matter, and use of nets in fishing. These observations are all

    the more striking in view of the fact that Davis knew nothing about the

    existence of a medieval European Greenland colony, and so of course did not

    realize when he went ashore near the present Godthaab settlement that he

    was in the very neighborhood where he might reasonably expect to discern

    surviving traces of it. "But in our eyes," writes Stefansson, "the very

    unawareness of men like Frobisher and Davis that such problems might exist

    gives added value to whatever they say that has a bearing."

            On August 1, Davis left Gilbert Sound, shaped his course northwestward,

    and sighted land on the opposite side of the channel in lat. 66° 40′ N. He

    anchored at a place he named Totnes Road, with a lofty overshadowing cliff

    which he named Mount Raleigh. The large surrounding bay he called Exeter

    Sound, the point to the north Cape Dyer, and that to the south Cape Walsing–

    ham. Here they had their first encounter with polar bears, of which they

    killed several. They saw dwarf willows on the shore, and a yellow flower

    which they took for the primrose.

            Leaving Totnes Road on August 8, Davis proceeded to an examination of

    Cumberland Sound, the northern entrance of which he named the Cape of God's

    Mercy. He made a thorough examination of the gulf, without, hoever, sighting

    the end of it, since he was obliged by a strong northwest wind to shape his

    course again toward the open sea. He believed there were strong indications

    that the sound was the passage he sought, and on August 23 anchored on its

    southern shore. On August 26, the season being far advanced, the two ships

    set sail homeward and arrived at Dartmouth on September 30.

            Three days after his arrival Davis wrote a letter to Secretary of State

    Walsingham, expressing confidence that the passage might be found, and pointing

    out the trade in oil and furs that might be opened with the lands which he

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    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    had discovered. He then hurried to London to give a personal account to

    Walsingham and to Sanderson and to induce the merchants to fit out a second

    expedition for the discovery of the Northwest Passage. In six months he

    had succeeded in obtaining the requisite financial backing and the ships for

    the enterprise. In this instance the merchants of Devonshire were the

    largest contributors, and owned two of the ships. The fleet consisted of

    the Mermaid, of 120 tons, the Sunshine and Moonshine , and a pinnace, the

    North Star , of ten tons. Davis sailed in the Mermaid, with Eston again as

    his master. Richard Pope was in command of the Sunshine, with Mark Carter

    as mate, and Henry Morgan, a "servant" of Sanderson, as purser.

            The squadron sailed from Dartmouth on May 7, 1586. Shaping his course

    toward Greenland, Davis, after passing 60° N. latitude, gave instructions

    to Captain Pope in the Sunshine, with the pinnace as a tender, to part com–

    pany with the other two ships and search for a passage between Greenland

    and Iceland as far northward as 80° if he were not stopped by land. Meanwhile

    Davis would return to Davis Strait. Davis himself wrote a graphic account of

    his second voyage, while the account of the Sunshine's part in the expedition

    was written by Henry Morgan, the purser.

            The Mermaid and the Moonshine parted company with the Sunshine on June 7,

    and on June 16 sighted the southern extremity of Greenland. Here the pack ice,

    extending for several leagues offshore, made it impossible to land, and so

    Davis gave the point the name of Cape Farewell. Rounding this, he encountered

    such severe gales that it was not until June 29 that he was again at Gilbert

    Sound, discovered the previous year. Here they were welcomed by the Eskimos,

    who recognized them, and who offered them skins in exchange for the knives

    which Davis presented to them. But it was explained to them that "the knives

    were not solde, but given them of curtesies."

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    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

            Davis was anxious to explore the indentations of the coast, and for this

    purpose a small pinnace, which had been brought out in pieces on board the

    Mermaid, was assembled. Boats were sent up the fjords for some miles and,

    much of the country was explored. But on July 17 Davis fell in with an

    enormous iceberg to the southward of Gilbert Sound, of such extent and

    height that the pinnace was sent to ascertain whether it was land or ice.

    It was found to be one gigantic mass of floating ice, with bays, capes,

    plateaus, and towering peaks. Davis found this disheartening because the

    previous year he had found the sea free and navigable in the same latitude.

            Davis finally resolved to send the Mermaid home, as she was not so

    serviceable as a smaller ship for his purpose, and to continue his explora–

    tions in the Moonshine . First he steered to 66° 38′ N., and on August 2

    anchored in the vicinity of the present Sukkertoppen, where he explored the

    surrounding country. The heat was verygreat, and members of the party

    suffered greatly from mosquitoes. Friendly relations were established here

    with the natives. On August 15 Davis sailed across the strait and once more

    sighted the Cape of God's Mercy. Astrong current to the west aroused great

    hope that there might really be a passage by way of Cumberland Sound. But they

    ran into foul weather and were obliged to heave-to off the shore.

            When the weather cleared, Davis continued his examination of the coast to

    the southward, searching for a passage. From August 20 to 28 he surveyed this

    coast, laying it down from 67° to 57° N. latitude. On this course he landed on

    some of the islands on the north side of Frobisher Bay, although he did not

    recognize it as the site of Frobisher's discoveries; he passed the entrance to

    Hudson Strait, where he noted " A a Furious Overfall"; and then sailed along the

    coast of Labrador. Here he anchored in a roadstead, where he remained until

    009      |      Vol_XV-0214                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    until September 1, sending exploring parties into the interior. On September

    4 he anchored again, having passed another great opening which gave hope of

    a passage. This was probably the Strait of Belle Isle, but the wind was

    dead against him and he could not enter it. On September 11 he shaped his

    course for England, arriving early in October.

            After the Sunshine and the North Star had parted company with Davis on

    June 7, Captain Pope proceeded northward in accordance with his instructions.

    He anchored in one of the ports of Iceland on June 11, remained there for

    a few days, resumed his voyage, and sighted the east coast of Greenland on

    July 7. He coasted along the ice until he came in sight of the land named

    "Desolation" by Davis the previous year. Unable to continue a northward

    course, Pope proceeded to the rendezvous at Gilbert Sound, reaching it on

    August 3. Here the mariners had several games of football with the Eskimos,

    visited two other places on the Greenland coast, and had an unfortunate

    encounter with the natives, three of whom were killed. They finally com–

    menced their homeward voyage on August 31. During a severe gale the pinnace

    North Star was lost, but the Sunshine arrived safely in the Thames on October 6.

            While the results of Davis's second expedition did not appear to the

    merchants who had backed it so encouraging as they did to Davis himself, he

    immediately renewed his advocacy for the dispatch of a third expedition. He

    was supported in this by William Sanderson, Adrian Gilbert, and a few of the

    London merchants, as well as by the Lord High Treasurer and the Secretary

    of State. One factor in the decision of the venturers to send Davis on his

    third arctic voyage was his successful catch of an immense number of codfish

    off Labrador, quantities of which were salted and taken home to England.

            Three ships were ultimat e ly equipped, the Elizabeth of Dartmouth (tonnage

    not mentioned), a the old Sunshine, and a pinnace called the Ellen of London,

    010      |      Vol_XV-0215                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    of probably not more than twenty tons. The Ellen was a clinker-built vessel

    (the outside planks overlapping each other), an unusual build for a seagoing

    fessel even in those days, and, as the explorers were to find to their sorrow,

    most dangerous in ice navigation. Davis's orders were to proceed on his

    voyage of discovery in one of the whips while the other two were to be employed

    entirely for the fishing. It was hoped that the value of their cargoes would

    be sufficient to defray the expenses of the expedition and also net a small

    profit to the venturers. There are two accounts of the voyage, one by Davis

    himself and another by John Jane.

            Sailing from Darmouth on May 19, 1587, with Davis in the Elizabeth,

    they sighted land on the west coast of Greenland on June 14, having apparently

    rounded Cape Farewell without seeing it. Steering to the northward, they

    anchored in Gilbert Sound. Here Davis, holding in mind the importance of

    making the venture pay its expenses, decided to dispatch both the Sunshine

    and the Elizabeth to the fisheries and to continue his voyage of discovery

    in the clinker-built Ellen. Before he had departed, however, this vessel

    sprang such a serious leak that it required three hundred strokes of the

    pump during a watch to keep her free of water. It was carefully considered

    by Davis and those who were to accompany him, including John Jane, whether

    they should risk their lives in the wretched little craft. Davis told them

    that it would be better to die with credit than return with disgrace. At

    midnight, June 21, the ships departed from Gilbert Sound, the two barks south–

    ward for the fishing voyage and Davis northward in the pinnace for the discovery.

            The Ellen proceeded along the west coast of Greenland, to which Davis

    gave the name of London Coast, to latitude 72° 12′ N., and found the sea

    quite open to the northward and westward. This was his farthest north.

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    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    Here, on June 30, he named a lofty cliff, one of several islands off the

    coast, "Sanderson his Hope" (of a Northwest Passage), as he felt that here

    was the greatest hope yet that the expectations of his friend and patron

    might be fulfilled. The Eskimos came out in great numbers in their kayaks,

    sometimes as many as a hundred at a time, eager to barter any of their

    possessions for the English knives, nails, needles, and trinkets.

            During the night a strong northerly wind sprang up and Davis was

    obliged to alter his course to the westward. On July 2 he encountered a "mighty

    bank of ice" which checked his progress. The wind prevented him from carrying

    out his intention of doubling the northern end of the pack and reaching the "North

    Water." He therefore coasted the pack to the southward, in the hope of

    doubling the southern end and then running westward in search of a passage.

    On July 3 and 4 it was very foggy, but on the 6th it was clear, and a close

    examination led Davis to believe that a land of water through the pack would

    lead to an open sea. By means of cars they took the craft five leagues up

    this lane, but theice had closed up, and there was nothing for them to do

    but turn back. On July 8 they recovered the open sea to the eastward.

    Coasting along the pack for three more days, they reached the western coast

    of Davis Strait, where they bartered with the natives.

            July 19 the expedition sighted Mount Raleigh, named on the first voyage,

    and proceeded to Cumberland Sound, which Davis decided to examine again.

    He sailed along its northern side until he reached a group of islands which

    he named Cumberland Islands. He had all along paid close attention to

    variation of the compass, and found it here to be 30°. On July 24 he again

    shaped his course toward the open sea, but was becalmed on the 25th. Here

    William Bruton, the master, went ashore with some of the crew to course

    012      |      Vol_XV-0217                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    with their dogs, but these had become so fat that they were scarcely able

    to run.

            Proceeding farther south, they came to a great bay which Davis named

    Lord Lumley's Inlet. It was Frobisher Bay, but, as pointed out, Davis was

    ignorant of this, and, because of the errors in longitude of the time, may

    have believed, as geographers did long after him, that "Frobisher Strait"

    cut through Greenland. The name Lumley's Inlet stuck to Frobisher Bay until

    Captain Charles Francis Hall in 1861-12 discovered the relics of Frobisher's

    expeditions there.

            Thereafter the expedition passed again by the "very great gulfe" where

    there was the "furious overfall" (Hudson Strait). Coasting along an ice floe

    which had drifted out of the strait, Davis came to the point of land which

    forms the southern entrance point and named it Cape Chidley. Continuing

    along the coast of Labrador, they came, on August 12, to an island which

    Davis named Darcy Island, after Lord Darcy. They proceeded along the coast

    to the redezvous which had been agreed upon with the fishing vessels, Sunshine

    and Elizabeth, at the islands off the Labrador coast in 54° N. latitude. In

    looking for them the Ellen struck a rock and sprang a serious leak. After

    repairs were made, Davis "shaped a course for England in God's name," not

    having encountered the other vessels, which had apparently already returned

    home. (There seems to be no record of the results of their [ ?] fishing.)

    The Ellen arrived in Dartmouth on September 15, 1587.

            The three arctic voyages of John Davis were concluded. He had doubtless

    kept logs and drawn charts [ ?] during all three voyages, but the log of his

    third voyage, which he calls his "Traverse Book," is the only one which has

    been preserved. It is in columns headed with the months, days, hours, courses,

    distances, runs, winds, elevation of the pole or latitude, and remarks.

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    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    This and the various narratives of the voyages were first published in

    Hakluyt's 1589 edition of Principal Navigations . In his World's Hydro–

    graphical Description,
    published in 1595, Davis gives, in arguing for

    the existence of the Northwest Passage, a resume of the three voyages and

    their results.

            While Davis was not the first European to discover the northern coasts

    and seas which he explored, no navigator, as Clements Markham puts it, "had

    previously entered those seas whose scientific knowledge could be compared

    with that of John Davis. All the coasts and seas not actually discovered

    were laid down and mapped afresh, and must be considered to have been redis–

    covered and first brought within the actual knowledge of his generation by him."

            Through the labors of Davis, and also of his companion, Captain Pope, the

    east coast of Greenland was traced from the latitude of the northwestern

    point of Iceland to Cape Farewell. The west coast was laid down from Cape

    Farewell in 60° N. to Sanderson's Hope in 72° 12′, a distance of 732 miles.

    Davis collected important information concerning the physical conditions of

    land and sea in Davis Strait. He gives an account of the different kinds of

    ice and explains correctly how icebergs are formed. He discovered the position

    of the Middle Pack, its character and drift. He ascertained the existence

    of four (five, if the Strait of Belle Isle be included) which he believed

    might be passages: Cumberland Sound, Frobisher Bay (his Lumley's Inlet),

    Hudson Strait, and that part of Davis Strait now called Baffin Bay. Of

    these he was right about the last two. He also examined and laid down the

    whole coast of Labrador, and it was to him that the world owed the most

    exact knowledge of this coast until recent times.

            Davis observed with care the animal life of the Arctic and its vegetation

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    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    and minerals; he described the Eskimos and their customs and collected a

    vocabulary of their language He took scientific observations regularly

    and carefully, fixing his latitudes by meridian altitudes of heavenly

    bodies, and taking a regular series of observations for variation of the

    compass and dip of the magnetic needle. Clements Markham says: "His

    diligently worked system of dead-reckoning, combined with astronomical

    observations, enabled him to prepare charts of his discoveries, and his

    nautical experience suggested improvements in methods of observing and work–

    ing which were of great service during that and the next generation to his

    brother seamen."

            It is not possible to give here any detailed account of the remaining

    important eighteen years of Davis's life, since these comprehended little

    direct participation in arctic activity. During the next three years he,

    like almost every other patriotic British seaman, was engaged in services

    connected with the war with Spain. This and the death of Walsingham put an

    end to his voyages toward the northwest. But in 1591 he joined an expedition

    destined for the South Seas through the Strait of Magellan, giving as his

    sole reason for doing so his vehement desire to search for the passage on

    the "back parts of America." This was the expedition of Thomas Cavendish,

    who had recently returned from his successful voyage of circumnavigation.

    In the fleet of five ships Davis commanded one, the Desire , and he and Adrian

    Gilbert owned another, the bark Daintie . Cavendish promised Davis that when

    they reached California Davis might have his own bark and a pinnace to

    "search that north-west discovery upon the back parts of America." The

    voyage, however, resulted in failure. In the Strait of Magellan the Desire

    was separated from the rest of the ships by storms. Cavendish returned to

    Brazil and bitterly accused Davis of deserting him. Davis made several attempts

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    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

    to pass the strait, and tells us: "And three times I was in the South Seas,

    but still by furious weather forced back again." During this time he discovered

    the Falkland Islands, not sighted by Sir Richard Hawkins until 1594. After

    harrowing experiences, including battles with the Portuguese on the coast

    of Brazil and the loss of most of his men, Davis managed to return to England

    in 1593.

            In his absence his wife had taken a lover, one Milburne, "a fugitive

    and dissolute person," a counterfeiter, who trumped up some charge against

    Davis and had him arrested. Through Sir Walter Raleigh he was cleared, and

    seems to have spent the next year or two in England preparing his Seamen's

    and World's Hydrographical Description. The former, published in

    1594, is a treatise on practical navigation and at once became popular among

    seamen. It ran through eight editions in a comparatively short time. The

    latter, previously mentioned as published in 1595, is the clearest, most

    sensible and succinct exposition of the case for a "friendly Arctic" and a

    Northwest Passage put forth in those times. He argues from theory and

    experience that the sea is everywhere navigable and a Northwest Passage possible.

    He proves that "the sea freezeth not," and shows that "the air in cold regions is

    tolerable." In the section entitled "Under the Pole is the place of greatest

    dignity," he argues that the climate at the Pole must be delightful and that

    the people dwelling there "have a wonderful excellency and an exceeding pre–

    rogative above all nations of the earth...for they are in perpetual light and

    never know what darkness meaneth, by the benefit of twilight and full moons."

    It may [ ?] be that "there never is pitch darkness in the polar regions" was

    not emphasized from the time of Davis until by Louis Bernacchi, astronomer

    for the first Scott expedition. In that, as in a number of other things, Davis

    was three hundred years ahead of his time.

    016      |      Vol_XV-0221                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis

            In 1596-97 Davis appears to have served with the Earl of Essex in

    the expedition to Cadiz and the Azores. He next accepted an engagement

    as chief pilot in a Dutch ship, destined to form a part of a fleet intended

    for the East Indies, evidently at the suggestion of the Earl of Essex, and

    undertaken by the famous Dutch merchant family of the Moucherons. The

    account of the voyage, written by Davis to the Earl of Essex in 1600, was

    published by Purchas.

            Immediately upon his return to England, Davis was engaged to go

    as pilot major of the English East India Company's fleet under Captain James

    Lanchester. The fleet returned in 1603 and Davis was engaged the following

    year for another East India voyage. Off the island of Bintang, a little

    to the east of Singapore, Davis's ship, the Tiger , encountered a Japanese

    junk which had been pillaging on the coast of China. The pirates made

    a murderous attack upon the English in an attempt to take possession of

    the Tiger, and in the course of this Davis was killed, December 29 or 30, 1605.

            By his will we learn that he had then three living sons, Gilbert,

    Arthur, and Philip. There is no mention of his faithless wife, who apparently

    had died; but he left one-fourth of his "worldly goods" to Judith Havard,

    "unto whom I have given my faith in matrimony to be solemnized at my return,"

    his estate to be "equally divided between my three sons and Judith Havard,

    my espoused love."

    017      |      Vol_XV-0222                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Popini: John Davis


    Richard Hakluyt. Principal Navigations , London, 1589.

    Samuel Purchas. Purchas his Pilgrimes , London, 1625.

    Markham, Albert Hastings, (ed.) The Voyages and Works of John Davis the

    , London, Hakluyt Society, 1880.

    Markham, Sir Clements R. A Life of John Davis, the Navigator , George Philip

    [ ?] Son, London, 1889.

    ----. Lands of Silence , Cambridge, University Press, 1921.

    Miller, Christy (ed.) The Voyages of Foxe and James , London, Hakluyt Society,


    Stefansson, V., and Wilcox, O.R. (editors). Great Adventures and Explorations ,

    Dial Press, New York, 1947.

    Dictionary of National Biography : article, "John Davys"


    Eloise McCaskill Popini

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