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    George Vancouver

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0842                                                                                                                  

    (D. M. LeBourdais)


            Captain George Vancouver (1757-1798), was one of the great navigators and

    geographers of the 18th century, the era when the blank spaces on the maps of

    the world were rapidly being filled in. He is exceeded in importance only by

    the great Captain James Cook, whose disciple he was and in whose tracks he


            Vancouver was born on June 22, 1757, at King's Lynn, Norfolk County,

    England, scion of an Anglo-Dutch family in England for many generations. Orig–

    inally van Couverden, the family name had been Anglicized for some considerable

    time before George's day, and while no record exists that would indicate whether

    any contact was maintained with the Dutch branch, the map of the northwest coast

    of North America bears evidence that Vancouver had knowledge of the connection.

            Not much is known about the immediate family except that the father, John

    Jasper Vancouver, was a deputy collector of customs at the port of King's Lynn,

    which had already begun to deteriorate from its one-time importance as a shipping

    port. When the elder Vancouver died, his son John succeeded him in office. The

    mother, Bridget, was a daughter of William Berners of St. Mary Wiggenhall.

            It is presumed that George received what formal education he had at King's

    Lynn grammar school, but of this there is nothing to show. When he was fifteen

    he went to sea on board the Resolution , which sailed out of Plymouth, July 13,

    1772, on Cook's second grrat voyage. Although rated as an A.B., Vancouver be–

    longed to the quarter-deck rather than the fo'castle, for in those days most

    002      |      Vol_XV-0843                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    young men destined for commissioned rank began with that rating.

            Cook's objective, on this expedition, was to discover, if possible, the

    great "southern continent" which was believed to exist and which, in fact,

    some navigators had claimed to have seen. Thus when the Resolution docked at

    Portsmouth on July 29, 1775, she had visited New Zealand, the Society Islands,

    the Marquesas, New Hebrides, and New Caledonia, but the southern continent had

    not been discovered, although the globe had been virtually encircled as far

    south as ice would permit. Vancouver left no record of his experiences during

    these memorable years, but it is obvious from his manner of conducting an ex–

    pedition, when his own time came to do so, that he had benefitted greatly by

    his association with Cook, who to the end was his model and guide.

            Vancouver sailed with Cook on the third voyage, which began in 1776 and

    was chiefly aimed at ascertaining whether a passage existed through North Amer–

    ica from the Atlantic to the Pacific — the fabled Northwest Passage. This was

    to be determined by following the west coast of North America as far north as

    practicable. Much other work of a scientific nature was to be done as well,

    for it had only recently become possible for navigators to fix true longitude

    with any degree of exactitude, and most existing charts of the new world opened

    up since the voyages of Columbus and Magellan ware still highly inaccurate, some

    even fantastic.

            After visiting New Zealand and discovering the Sandwich (Haeaiian) Islands,

    the expedition set sail for the northwest coast of America, where the first

    landfall was made off the coast of Drake's New Albion on March 7, 1777. Un–

    suspectingly, the mouth of the great Columbia River was passed and, on March 24th,

    Cook's two ships were at anchor in Nootka Harbor, on the west coast of the large

    island that his young neophyte was one day to explore and to which his name

    would be given.

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    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

            Cook continued northward along the coast of what is now British Columbia

    and Southeastern Alaska, through the Aleutian Islands into Bering Sea and north–

    ward through Bering Strait until, in Latitude 69° 36′ N., he was turned back

    by ice. He named the point Icy Cape, the name it still bears, and returned to

    the Sandwich Islands for the winter, where he was killed in a skirmish with a

    mob of natives.

            Cook's voyage had demonstrated to his own satisfaction that no Northwest

    Passage existed, but in about 60° N. Latitude, he had penetrated about 70 leagues

    into an inlet without reaching its head. So persistent was the belief in a

    Northwest Passage that many persons fastened upon this circumstance to argue

    that this inlet, which they called "Cook's River," was indeed the Pacific out–

    let of a passage leading from Hudson Bay. Furthermore, because of bad weather,

    he had failed to sight any land north of Nootka until about the latitude of Sitka.

    Thus, despite the great work done by Cook, the question as to the existence of

    such a passage remained a live issue; and it was to be the fortune of Cook's

    successor, his erstwhile midshipman, George Vancouver, to settle that point for–


            Back on shore for a short while, Vancouver took advantage of the opportunity

    to pass his examination as a lieutenant, and on December 9, 1780, was appointed

    to the sloop Martin , destined for the West Indies station under Admiral Rodney.

    He saw active service for the first time when on April 12, 1782, he took part in

    the Battle of the Saints which broke the power of the Franco-Spanish alliance.

            Returning to England, Vancouver was appointed to the Europa and again sailed

    for the West Indies, where he served two years, eventually under Admiral Gardner,

    for whom he had great admiration. Under orders from Gardner, he surveyed the

    harbors of Port Toyal and Kingston, his first experience of the sort of work that

    was to make his fame in later years. His assistant was Joseph Whidbey, who was to

    004      |      Vol_XV-0845                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    be associated with him when he himself came to command an expedition. Vancouver

    returned to England in 1789 to find that the Government had decided to send a

    scientific expedition to the South Seas and the northwest coast of America. Its

    command was given to Captain Henry Roberts, who had sailed with Cook, and Van–

    couver secured the post of second-in-command.

            "I . . . found myself very pleasantly situated," he wrote later, "in being

    thus connected with a fellow traveller for whose abilities I bore the greatest

    respect, and in whose friendship and good opinion I was proud to possess a place.

    As we had sailed together with Captain Cook on his voyage toward the South Pole,

    and as both had afterwards accompanied him with Captain Clerke in the Discovery ,

    during the last voyage, I had no doubt that we were engaged in an expedition

    which would prove no less interesting to my friend than agreeable to my wishes."

            But the expedition was destined never to sail. Before the ships were ready

    for sea, war with Spain had become imminent and the national effort was being

    mobilized to meet that contingency. The war fever had been fanned by the claim

    of John Meares, a Pacific fur trader, who charged in a memorial presented to Parlia–

    ment that his ships and property had been wrongfully seized at Nootka by the Span–

    ish commander, Don Estevan Jose Martinez.

            The great show of force quickly displayed by the British Navy caused the

    Spanish Government to back down, and by treaty signed October 28, 1790, all claims

    by Spain to sole sovereignty over navigation and trade in the Pacific and terri–

    torial rights beyond the bounds of actual settlement were renounced. To implement

    the treaty, the British Government proceeded to organize an expedition to "receive

    back, in form, a restitution of the territories on which the Spaniards had seized,

    and also to make an accurate survey of the coast, from the 30th degree of north

    latitude north-westward toward Cook's River; and further to obtain every possible

    005      |      Vol_XV-0846                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    information that could be collected regarding the natural and political state

    of that country." Vancouver was given the command.

            The Discovery , a sloop, variously estimated at from 330 to 340 tons burden,

    which had been built for the previously cancelled expedition, and the armed

    tender Chatham , 135 tons, were assigned to the expedition and equipped for one

    year. A ship specially sent out for the purpose would replenish the supplies

    at the end of that time. Cook had been very careful about the diet of his men,

    utilizing all the foods believed at the time to have antiscorbutic values, and

    Vancouver was his faithful follower in this as well.

            In the Discovery with Vancouver were: Zachariah Mudge, Peter Puget, and

    Joseph Baker, lieutenants; and Joseph Whidbey, master. On board the Chatham

    were: Lieutenant W. R. Broughton, commander, and James Hanson and James John–

    stone, lieutenants. Also on board was the Hon. Thomas Pitt, a young nobleman,

    evidently foisted upon Vancouver, with whom he was to have trouble, not only

    during the expedition, but also after their return to England. Because of the

    scientific nature of the expedition, Archibald Menzies, a botanist and surgeon,

    was part of the Discovery's complement. Vancouver and he were also to clash on

    many occasions.

            Another person who sailed on the Discovery was a South Sea Islander, var–

    iously referred to as Toweroo and Tawrower, who had been carried off by a pre–

    vious navigator and was now being returned to the Sandwich Islands on orders

    from the Admiralty.

            The two ships sailed out of Carrick Road at dawn on Friday, April 1, 1791.

    It was soon discovered that the Chatham was a "crank" sailor, which was to be a

    source of difficulty during the whole time of the expedition. However, in the

    main, Vancouver was well pleased with his first command. Those were the days of

    the press gang, and crews were secured in a manner not calculated to inculcate

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    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    in them any very great regard for or loyalty to those placed over them. Flog–

    ging was the usual means of securing compliance, and Vancouver, no different

    from others of his times, maintained discipline in that way. Some writers have

    therefore assumed that he was a man of an arrogant and heartless disposition,

    but of this there is not much evidence. He was sick a good part of the time

    during the voyage about to be described, and this may account for an irascibility

    that he seems to have possessed. His early death would suggest that his health

    was much less robust than the energy which he put into his work might indicate.

            With stops at the Madeiras and Teneriffe, the run to the Cape was made

    without untoward incident. Departure from that point was hastened by an attack

    of dysentry which broke out among the crew, and sail was set on August 17th for

    New Holland (Australia), the southwest coast of which was sighted on September

    26th. About 300 miles of this unknown coast were surveyed during the month that

    followed, after which they headed northeastward to carry out the chief purpose

    of the expedition.

            New Zealand came into view on October 2nd; and while repairs were being

    made to the Discovery , Vancouver completed the survey of Facile Bay, left un–

    completed by Cook. Sail was then set for Matavai Bay, Tahiti, which they reach–

    ed on Christmas Day. Three weeks were spent there, resting and trading with the

    natives, and in getting the ships ready for the trip across the Pacific. Toweroo

    here became enamored of a Tahitian belle and decamped, only to be brought ignom–

    iniously back. Vancouver, a stickler for carrying out orders, not only in the

    spirit thereof, but also the letter, was determined that Toweroo must be duly

    deposited at the Sandwich Islands. When those islands were reached on March 1st,

    a landing was not made, for since Cook's death the wisdom of landing there was

    considered questionable. The ships cruised along the coasts of the islands,

    007      |      Vol_XV-0848                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    however, and some trading was done with natives coming out in canoes. And,

    to one of the visiting chiefs, Toweroo was entrusted by Vancouver.

            From the Sandwich Islands the course was set for the coast of North Amer–

    ica, which was reached on April 17th, south of Cape Mendocino, and from there

    the shore was followed closely northward. Vancouver passed the mouth of the

    great Columbia River without suspecting its presence, despite ample evidence;

    and since this was not the last great river he was to miss along the coast, it

    is probable that his experience was deficient in that knowledge which should

    have made him aware of such a river's existence.

            Shortly after passing the mouth of the Columbia, he fell in with a vessel

    heading southward which proved to be the Columbia of Boston, under command of

    Captain Gray. Some time was spent in social visits and then Gray went on to

    discover the great river that bears the name of his ship, while Vancouver short–

    ly began his remarkable exploration and survey of the northwest coast. Sailing

    eastward through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the two ships entered the great

    sprawling inlet which immortalizes the name of Vancouver's second lieutenant,

    Peter Puget. Here Vancouver first used that plan of procedure which he was to

    follow so successfully until his great work was done. Sailing his ships as far

    into the bay or inlet as he could with safety, he continued from there with

    boat parties. The names that he gave to the various geographical features dis–

    covered are still largely the ones on the maps and commemorate his shipmates,

    his friends and relatives, eminent persons in English public life, and place

    names from his native Norfolk County.

            Puget Sound seemed a likely opening for a Northwest Passage, and all its

    many indentations were carefully explored, but, of course, without avail. Turn–

    ing northward, he named the next great island-studded expanse of water the Gulf

    of Georgia, but failed to detect the mouth of the Fraser River, second only to

    008      |      Vol_XV-0849                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    the Columbia. Having missed the fairly obvious Columbia, it was perhaps natural

    that he should have missed the Fraser since the latter enters the Gulf of Georgia

    through a delta, even though its silt-laden waters stain the sea for many miles

    beyond its mouth.

            Vancouver did not miss, however, the narrow entrance to that magnificent

    harbor on whose shores now stands the bustling city that bears his name. Burrard

    Inlet received its name from him, as did Point Grey, site of the University of

    British Columbia, claimed to be the most magnificently situated university in

    the world. He also explored Howe Sound and Jervis Inlet.

            At Point Grey, Vancouver encountered two Spanish ships of war, the Sutil ,

    commanded by Senr. Don Galiano, and the Mexicana , commanded by Senr. Valdes.

    From these he learned that Senr. Don Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra im–

    patiently awaited his arrival at Nootka to complete the diplomatic mission which

    had been entrusted to him, as the British Government had entrusted its case to

    Vancouver. But Vancouver was too busily engaged in a task much more congenial

    to him than diplomacy to quicken his pace unduly.

            During the next three months the Discovery and Chatham worked up the narrow

    waterways that separate the large island that now bears Vancouver's name from

    the mainland, into the numerous inlets that indent the mainland and around all

    the islands that stud those waters. Lieutenant Johnstone's name was given to the

    strait that separates the island from the mainland at its narrowest point, near

    the northern end of the island. When they at length reached the open Pacific

    again they had proved the insularity of the land that for three months and more

    had lain to the westward of them. In Queen Charlotte Sound, first the Discovery

    and then the Chatham struck on hidden reefs, fortunately without serious results,

    but not much stood between them and disaster. At Cape Menzies, King Island,

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    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    Vancouver discontinued his northward survey for the season. Nootka, on the

    western side of Vancouver Island, now lay to the southward, toward which,

    after so much delay, Vancouver now steered his ships.

            Quadra and Vancouver were unable to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

    From the beginning, Vancouver's instructions concerning what he was to do at

    Nootka had been incomprehensivle; and apparently those given to Quadra were

    not much better. Each negotiator, in the face of this situation, was con–

    cerned with concluding the best possible arrangement in the interest of his

    own country, Quadra insisted that his instructions were to hand over to the

    other only the insignificant patch of shore on which Meares' meager building

    had stood, while Vancouver insisted that nothing less than all of Nootka would

    suffice. After weeks of discussion, during which the two men came to have a

    firm regard for each other, the matter was left at a stalemate, to be decided

    by others at the diplomatic level. Vancouver was then free to proceed with his

    more congenial task.

            Before they parted, Quadra asked Vancouver to name some port or island

    after them both, and accordingly Vancouver placed on his chart the name Quadra

    and Vancouver Island to designate the very island upon which Nootka stands.

    Thus it remained for a time, but Vancouver's generosity has not been concurred

    in by later cartographers and consequently for more than a century the island

    has borne the single name of Vancouver.

            The Daedalus , a store ship that should have joined Vancouver at the Sand–

    wich Islands, finally overtook him at Nootka, minus her commander and astronomer,

    both of whom were killed by natives in the Sandwich Islands. This necessitated

    a shifting of personnel. Mudge was sent as a courier with dispatches for the

    Board of Admiralty. Lieutenant Hanson of the Chatham was given command of the

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    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    Daedalus and dispatched to Port Jackson, New South Wales; while Spelman Swaine,

    one of the master's mates in the Discovery , became commander of the C h atham .

            Owing to the lateness of the season, no further exploration could then be

    undertaken, and accordingly Vancouver headed his ships southward for San Fran–

    cisco, his first port of call on the way to the Sandwich Islands, where he pro–

    posed to spend the winter. He reached San Francisco on November 14th and soon

    he and Quadra were together again in a friendly exchange of visits. From San

    Francisco, Vancouver sent Broughton home with a long report for the Admiralty,

    and, after a call at Monterey, left the latter port for the Sandwich Islands

    on January 7, 1793.

            While at the Sandwich Islands, Vancouver became on intimate terms with

    Tamashmaah, king of one of the islands, who seemed the most influential. He

    used his best efforts to persuade the king that nothing was to be gained by

    the wars that had been raging between the peoples of the islands. First of all,

    however, he insisted upon the punishment of those guilty of the murder of the

    officers of the Daedalus ; and, after fair and careful trial, the murderers were

    found guilty and publicly executed.

            On March 30, 1793, the Discovery once more set a course for Nootka, whence

    the Chatham had already sailed. When Vancouver arrived there on May 22nd, the

    Chatham , after completing extensive repairs, had set off up the coast, but was

    overtaken by the Discovery in Fitzhugh's Sound. Here the season's work began.

    Johnstone proceeded in the Chatham's cutter, while Vancouver, with Swaine in the

    yawl, explored an inlet which he named Burke's Channel, thence into Dean Channel

    and Sentinck Arm, an interesting complex of interlocking waterways. Farther north,

    into Milkank Sound, and Gardner's Canal (named after Vancouver's old commander),

    they worked. Douglas Canal, Grenville Canal, and Pitt Island were explored and

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    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    named; and then they encountered two parallel indentations which were later to

    become of historic importance.

            These inlets were reported to Vancouver by the master of a British ship

    he met with at that point as meriting special examination because of their pos–

    sible connection with the Northwest Passage. Before entering the first of these,

    he named a cape at the southeastern extremity, Point Maskelyne, after the astron–

    omer royal. The two ships were anchored partway up the first inlet, about 50

    yards offshore, while tents, chronometers, and astronomical instruments were

    landed in order the more easily to make the careful observations characteristic

    of Vancouver. Because of this, the inlet was named Observatory Inlet. Leaving

    Whidbey in charge of this work, Vancouver decided to undertake personally the

    exploration of the two inlets and the area adjoining. The exploring parties left

    the ships on July 24th, in the Discovery's launch and yawl, supplied with a fort–

    night's provisions. The two inlets were carefully explored, but Vancouver found

    that the reports concerning them had been greatly exaggerated. With respect to

    the westernmost inlet, which later became the boundary between Russian and British

    territories, Vancouver wrote: "The distance from its entrance to its source is

    about 70 miles, which in honor of the no h ble family of Bentinck, I named Portland's


            On this excursion Vancouver and his companions nearly lost their lives when

    attacked by Indians, but were fortunate in escaping with no greater casualties

    than two sailors wounded by spear thrusts. At the time of the attack, the party

    were proceeding southward along Behm Canal, near the northwestern point of the

    island which Vancouver had named Revilla Gigedo, after the Viceroy of Mexico.

    When the party of natives was encountered, Vancouver went ashore to trade with

    them, leaving Puget in the yawl. When he returned, Puget reported that the Indians

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    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    about the boat were troublesome with thieving, and Vancouver then ordered the

    boats to get under way, but this the natives strove to prevent.

            "WE had however put off from the rocks," Vancouver wrote, "and had partly

    got the use of our oars, without being obliged to resort to any hostile measures,

    when the largest of the canoes, under the steerage of an old woman, with a re–

    markably large lip ornament, laid us on board across the bow; this vixen instant–

    ly snatched up the lead line that was lying there, and lashed her canoe with it to

    the boat; whilst a young man, appearing to be the chief of the party, seated him–

    self in the bow of the yawl, and put on a mask resembling a wolf's face, com–

    pounded with the human countenance. About this time the Indian who had first

    visited us, watching his opportunity, stole a musket out of the boat. Our sit–

    uation was now becoming very alarming; we had discovered too late the treacher–

    ous designs of these people, and, to add to our embarrassment, the launch was yet

    too far distant to afford us any immediate succor. The only chance we had for our

    preservation was, if possible, to ward off the blow by a kind of parley, until

    our friends might come up, who were hastening with their utmost exertions to our

    assistance. With these ideas, I went forward with the musket in my hand in order

    to speak to the chief; on which the surrounding Indians, about fifty in number,

    seized their daggers, brandished their spears, and pointed them towards us in all

    directions. I was not yet without hopes of effecting an amicable separation,

    without being under the necessity of resorting to extremities. The chief instant–

    ly quitted the boat at my request, and gave me to understand by signs, that if I

    would lay down my musket, his people would lay down their arms; on my disposing

    of my gun, the conditions were complied with on all sides, and tranquility ap–

    peared likely to be restored; nor do I believe that any thing further would have

    happened, had they not been instigated by the vociferous efforts of their female

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    conductress; who seemed to put forth all the powers of her turbulent tongue

    to excite, or rather to compel the men, to act with hostility towards us. Her

    language appeared to have most effect upon those who were towards the stern

    of the boat, and who were likewise greatly encouraged by a very ferocious

    looking old man in a middling sized canoe. This old fellow, assisted by his

    companions, seized hold of our oars on the starboard side, and prevented their

    being used."

            When Vancouver was about to despair for their fate, the launch party had

    fot within pistol shot, and he decided that the time had come for vigorous

    action. He gave the signal to open fire. The natives leapt from their canoes

    into the water and tried to use the canoes as shelters. Others retired to the

    high cliffs overlooking the beach and pelted the explorers with stones. Some

    had stolen muskets, but fortunately their shots did no damage. Vancouver named

    the place where the Indians were first seen, Traitor Cove (bay, on present-day

    maps), and the spot of their final encounter, Escape Point.

            Vancouver was inclined not to put the blame primarily upon the Indians.

    "I am extremely concerned to be compelled to state here," he wrote, "that many

    of the traders from the civilized world have not only pursued a line of conduct

    deiamterically opposite to the true principles of justice in their commercial

    dealings, but have fomented discords, and stirred up contentions, between the

    different tribes, in order to increase the demand for their destructive engines.

    They have been likewise eager to instruct the natives in the use of European

    arms of all descriptions; and have shown by their own example, that they con–

    sider gain as the only object of pursuit, and whether this be acquired by fair

    and honorable means, or otherwise, so long as the advantage is secured, the

    manner how it is obtained seems to have been with too many of them, but a

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    secondary consideration."

            Completing the circumnavigation of the archipelago, with the two wounded

    men in improvised bunks, they made haste to their base, where they found their

    shipmates anxiously awaiting them. They had been away 23 days, in which they

    had traveled upwards of 700 miles, while, on the other hand, having never been

    at any time farther away from the ships in a straight line than about 60 miles.

            The survey was continued northward to the extremity of what Vancouver

    named the Price of Wales Archipelago, turning south at what he called Port

    Protection. From August 17th, when they left their base in Observation Inlet,

    till September 21st, when they turned south, they had been engaged in the ex–

    ploration of the channels and islands which now form the southern extremity of

    the Alaska Panhandle, extending from 54° 40′ N. latitude to 56° 20′ N., the

    latitude which Vancouver fixed for Port Protection.

            Nootka was reached on October 5th, and San Francisco on the 19th. Here he

    found that he was not so welcome as on his previous visit — needless to say,

    Quadra was no longer there — and consequently did not linger, but on the 24th

    set sail for Monterey, where he was no better treated, continuing down the coast

    to San Diego, with a stop en route at beautiful Santa Barbara. From San Diego

    he proceeded to the Sandwich Islands.

            He found a warm welcome there; Tamaahmaah and his people treated him as an

    old friend. During the winter spent in the islands, Vancouver increased his in–

    fluence with the king to such an extent that the latter agreed to cede his terri–

    tories to the British Crown and signed a document to that effect, but the cession

    was never ratified by the British Government. Not only did Vancouver do what he

    believed was a good stroke of business for the British king, but he did Tamaahmaah

    a good turn as well. It appears that the king and his consort were estranged

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    owing to the queen's alleged adultery. In spite of that, however, Vancouver

    discovered that the king was not averse to a reconciliation if the royal face

    could in some way be saved. Vancouver was entertaining the queen and her

    retinue in his cabin when the king arrived, ostensibly unexpectedly.

            "The instant that he saw her his countenance expressed great surprise,"

    wrote Vancouver, "he became immediately silent, and attempted to retire; but

    having posted myself for the especial purpose of preventing his departure I

    caught his hand, and joining it with the queen's, their reconciliation was


            But the winter wore on and Vancouver had to give over affairs of state

    and affairs of the heart for the more important business to which he had been

    assigned. The Chatham had already sailed; the Discovery headed across the

    Pacific to a prearranged rendezvous at Cook's River. The latter arrived first,

    reaching the entrance to Cook's River on April 12th, and Vancouver proceeded

    to a thorough exploration of the inlet. In this he was greatly impeded by the

    earliness of the season for that latitude, the furious tides for which the inlet

    is famous, the drifting ice which, in the rushing tides, was dangerous, and ex–

    tensive stretches of shoal water. He reached the head of the inlet on May 6th,

    established its latitude and longitude, and settled for all time the question

    as to whether the Northwest Passage existed in that place.

            "Thus terminated," Vancouver wrote, "this very extensive opening on the

    coast of North-West America, to which, had the great and first discoverer of it,

    whose name it bears, dedicated one more day to its further examination, he would

    have spared the theoretical navigators, who had followed him in their closets,

    the task of ingeniously ascribing to this arm of the ocean a channel, through

    which a north-west passage, existing according to their doctrines, might ultimately

    be discovered."

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            It is probable that the great Captain Cook was quite satisfied when he

    turned back within a day's journey of the inlet's head that this was no outlet

    of a Northwest Passage. It was only because they had never seen the place them–

    selves — or anything like it — that the "theoretical navigators" were able to

    persuade themselves that it was other than it appeared to be.

            Vancouver, and later Puget, when he came up, were visited by several parties

    of Russians while they were there, and they also met parties of natives who gave

    evidence of extensive contact with Europeans.

            After leaving Cook's Inlet on May 15th, they turned south and conducted

    an extensive examination of Prince William Sound which was completed on June

    17th. There they again found Russian establishments which, with those in Cook's

    Inlet, were the only ones seen by Vancouver during his extensive explorations,

    of the coast that was even then claimed by Russia and which eventually, through

    the carelessness of British negotiators, and despite Vancouver's patient labors,

    would be surrendered to that country.

            Down the coast the two ships sailed, leaving their tracks upon the charts

    for all time, marked by the typically British names given to the geographical

    features by Vancouver. One, however, was not English: Point Couverden, the

    promontory marking the northern limit of Cross Sound, he called after the Dutch

    version of the family name.

            Lynn Canal, a long narrow fjord, running back about 90 miles from the gen–

    eral line of the coast, was named, of course, for Vancouver's Norfolk birthplace,

    and a bay on its eastern shore called Berners Bay after his mother. In later

    years, when dispute arose over the ownership of the land about Lynn Canal, the

    great work done by Vancouver counted little to the advantage of his country, nor

    was any weight given to the fact that he had taken possession of it for the British

    017      |      Vol_XV-0858                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    king and named the land along whose coast his parties had been the first to

    explore New Norfolk.

            Admiralty Island, Seymour Canal, Douglas Island, Stephens' Passage, all

    were named and surveyed; and the map still presents a record of Vancouver's

    love of his native Norfolk in such names as Port Snettisham and Holkham Bay;

    the wide passage between Baranof Island and Admiralty Island he called Chatham

    Strait and the extensive sound opening out of the latter to the eastward he

    called Prince Frederick's Sound.

            By the end of July the season's work had tied in with that done in 1793;

    and at the spot Vancouver placed on his chart the name Port Conclusion. No

    man in the whole history of exploration had made such a comprehensive survey

    of such a long stretch of intricate coast line as he had just completed. Van–

    couver's stature increased with the passing of time.

            The return voyage was round the Horn. The ships left Nootka on October

    17th, called at Monterey and San Diego in passing; stopped for water at Cocos

    Island and Galapagos; and put in at Valparaiso, Chile, where the crews recovered

    from the only serious attack of scurvy during the expedition, and where repairs

    were made to hulls and rigging. Rounding the Horn, they set a course for St.

    Helena, [ ?] where the Chatham and Discovery had arranged to meet. Before

    reaching St. Helena, the feud between Vancouver and Menzies broke into open

    rupture. On his arrival in England, Vancouver demanded Menzies' trial by court–

    martial, but the demand was dropped before the proceedings had begun.

            At St. Helena Vancouver learned that war had begun between Great Britain and

    the United States of Holland. Shortly after, he saw the Dutch East India ship

    Macassar entering the bay and lost no time in putting a crew aboard, claiming

    her as his prize of war. The Chatham was sent to Brazil with dispatches: Johnst one

    018      |      Vol_XV-0859                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biography. LeBourdais: George Vancouver

    was put in command of the prize; and, on July 15, 1795, the Discovery set her

    course for home, reaching the Shannon September 13th after an absence of four

    years, eight months, and twenty-nine days.

            From the time of his return until his death, less than three years later,

    Vancouver was engaged in writing the account of his voyage, living most of

    that time at Petersham. His brother John assisted him, and the work was all

    but completed at the time of the author's death. John finished the final

    volume. When Vancouver died on May 10, 1798, a prematurely aged man not yet

    forty-one, no record was left of what the fatal illness was, but from some

    of the characteristics of his illness and their effects on his behavior, it is

    surmised by some writers that his disease was pulmonary tuberculosis.

            When it is realized that his formal education ended when he first went

    to sea at the age of fifteen, his Voyage of Discovery , though written in the

    formal and somewhat stilted manner of the 18th century, is as much a monument

    as the great voyage itself and his scientific and geographical achievements.

    Few of the names on the maps of the world are as worthily bestowed as those

    that perpatuate his memory on the west coast of North America.


    Cook, James Voyages into the Pacific Ocean . London, 1784. Godwin, George Vancouver, A Life. London, 1930. Howay, F. W. British Columbia, The Making of a Province . Toronto, 1928. Vancouver, George Voyage of Discovery , etc. London, 1798.


    D. M. LeBourdais

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