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    George Dixon

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0265                                                                                                                  

    (A [ ?] )

    (W. Kaye Lamb)


            George Dixon (d. 1800?). British naval officer, navigator, and fur

    trader, served as armorer of the Discovery , with the rating of first-class

    petty officer, on Cook's last voyage. In 1785 the King George's Sound

    Company, in which Messrs. Etches held the chief interest, was organized

    in London for the purpose of sending trading vessels to the northwest coast

    of North America to gather the valuable furs, especially that of the sea

    otter, that Cook's men had found there. Two ships were purchased and

    Nathaniel Portlock, who had also sailed with Cook, was appointed commander

    of the expedition and master of the larger of the two vessels, the 320-ton

    King George . Dixon became master of the Queen Charlotte , of 200 tons.

    Both ships left England on September 17, 1785, and proceeded to the Pacific

    by way of Cape Horn. The Hawaiian Islands were sighted on May 24, 1786, and

    having refreshed their men there, Portlock, and Dixon sailed on June 13 for

    Cook Inlet, which they reached on July 18. After some weeks of trading they

    headed for Nootka Sound. By September 24 they were off the sound, but con–

    trary winds prevented them from entering. They soon sailed for the Hawaiian

    Islands, where they wintered.

            In March of 1787 they left again for the northwest coast and anchored

    off Montagu Inlet on April 24. In May, in Prince William Sound, Dixon chanced

    upon the British snow Nootka , Captain John Meares, which had wintered there

    002      |      Vol_XV-0266                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Eamb: George Dixon

    and lost half her crew by scurvy. Meares was given two able seamen and a

    few supplies to enable him to put to sea, but the assistance was given on

    condition that he leave the coast as soon as practicable and return to China

    without engaging in further trading activities. Portlock had right on his

    side in imposing these terms; his owners had secured trading licenses from

    the South Sea Company and the East India Company, which at the time held

    the British trading monopoly in the Pacific and China, respectively. Meares

    had secured neither, and was therefore technically a trespasser.

            Portlock and Dixon now parted company, as this promised to prove the

    better trading strategy, and their ships spent the next four months in

    intensive trading on the coast. Although the primary object of the expedi–

    tion was commercial, Cook had awakened in Dixon a lively interest in explora–

    tion, and he made every effort to fill in the gaps in Cook's chart of the

    northwest coast. His surveys covered the area from Cook Inlet to Cape Scott,

    and were conducted with as much care and accuracy as his preoccupation with

    the fur trade permitted. Dixon Strait (now Dixon Entrance) named after

    Dixon by Sir Joseph Banks in 1788, and the Queen Charlotte Islands, named

    by Dixon himself after his own ship in July 1787, are the best-known place

    names which sprang from the expedition, and the entrance and islands were

    likewise the most important geographical features that Dixon added to the

    map of the region.

            During the summer Dixon gradually worked his way southward, and on

    August 8 he was once again off Nootka Sound. Learning that Portlock was not

    in the harbor, he sailed for the Hawaiian Islands and thence to Macao, where

    he arrived on November 8, 1787. There he was joined by the King George on

    November 25.

    003      |      Vol_XV-0267                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Lamb: George Dixon

            In accordance with the terms of his license, Portlock now sold to

    the representative of the East India Company in Canton all the furs from

    his cargo that the latter chose to purchase. These consisted of "2552

    sea-otter skins, together 434 cub, and 34 fox" the price was 50,000 Spanish

    dollars. Other odds and ends of furs and general cargo, sold to various

    Chinese merchants, increased the total return from the expedition to 54,857

    Spanish dollars.

            In February, 1788, the Queen Charlotte sailed for home. She arrived

    off Dover on September 17, after an absence from England of precisely three


            Dixon immediately set about publishing an account of his travels. This

    appeared in 1789 in a quarto volume entitled A Voyage Round the World; but

    more particularly to the North-West Coast of America: performed in 1785, 1786,

    and 1788.
    A second edition was printed later in the year, and a French trans–

    lation in two volumes was published in Paris. The volume was dedicated to

    Sir Joseph Banks. On the title page Dixon's name appears as author, but

    elsewhere it is made clear that, although he reviewed the entire volume, he

    himself wrote only the introduction and the appendices. The text proper

    consists of a series of letters by William Beresford, who served as assistant

    trader in the Queen Charlotte .

            The extravagant claims made by Mears in his Voyages , published in the

    fall of 1790, prompted Dison to publish a pamphlet entitled Remarks on the

    Voyages of John Meares Esq. in a letter to that Gentleman.
    This set off

    the well-known Dixon-Meares controversy (q.v.). In 1791 Meares printed

    An Answer to Mr. George Dixon , to which the latter replied in his Further

    Thereafter Dixon drops from view. He may or may not have been

    the George Dixon who for a time taught navigation at Gosport, and in 1791

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    EA-Biog. Lamb: George Dixon

    published The Navigator's Assistant . He is believed to have died about



    Dixon's own Voyage, as cited above; for a narrative that in part

    parallels Dixon's see the volume with an identical title published by

    Nathaniel Portlock in 1789. Fur further details of the literature of

    the Dixon-Meares controversy see the article on that subject.


    W. Kay Lamb

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