George Dixon: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

Author Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

George Dixon

EA-Biography (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

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.

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 years.
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 Remarks. 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

EA-Biog. Lamb: George Dixon

published The Navigator's Assistant . He is believed to have died about 1800.

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