This summer has been a momentous time for the discussion and study of exploration due to the discovery of HMS Erebus from Franklin’s Expedition. Expeditions in search of the North West passage were conducted by many under the umbrella of the Royal Navy, including Cook, Sir James Clark Ross, Sir John Ross, and Sir William Parry. The Arctic was not the only focus, and Royal Navy officers took part in exploration expeditions to the Antarctic, as well as Africa. During the 18th and 19th centuries, British Imperialism (and indeed, hubris) was a major driving factor behind exploration.
That was not Britain (or England)’s first involvement with the Arctic, or the hunt for the North-West Passage. Certainly, explorers as far back as the 15th Century had been trying to find ways to get to India and the East without circling around Africa. Considering Canada, Jacques Cartier first explored Quebec and the East Coast in the 1530s. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Martin Frobisher made three voyages, exploring aspects of Labrador, and naming Frobisher Bay. Shortly following the accession of King James I, Henry Hudson was also trying to find the Northwest Passage. In 1611, on his third voyage, while in James Bay a mutiny resulted in him being cast off in a small boat with his son and several others.
Hudson, and Hudson’ Bay is an incredibly important aspect for Canadian history, and a reflection on the Elizabethan, and Early Stuart exploration that reflected an entirely different type of expansion, completely unrelated to the later imperialism that drove Franklin, Rhodes and the Victorian explorers. In 1670, a Royal Charter created the The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay, now known as the Hudson’s Bay Company. Ninety years before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the British state’s acquisition of the colony of New France, an English Merchant Adventure Company was awarded a monopoly, and ownership over much of what would become Canada.
As we can see from the map to the right, England’s first (albeit private) territorial move into what is now Canada did not come from the St Lawrence, but rather through into Hudson’s Bay. Note the location of York Factory, the main trading post. Although the HBC was given control over this land, it was not about territorial ambition, but rather the control of the resources contained in this territory, specifically furs. As a result, the main English settlement was their port, rather than further into the territory. This was still a threat to the French colony to the South-East, and in 1697 the Hudson’s Bay Company and Royal Navy was defeated in the Battle of Hudson’s Bay, where one Royal Navy warship (the Hampshire) and the Hudson’s Bay ships Royal Hudson’s Bay and Dering were defeated by three French frigates. This battle came at the end of King William’s War (1689-1697) but resulted in the French seizure and destruction of York Factory. Despite this setback, the Hudson’s Bay Company became an incredibly important and powerful entity, and was very important in the exploration of Canada’s vast wilderness. If you’re interested in the Early-Modern exploration of Canada, or the future development of the Hudson’s Bay Company, check out the following books.
On Henry Hudson:
Half Moon: Henry Hudson and the Voyage that Redrew the Map of the World
Douglas Hunter, 2009
$5.99 (on sale)
This book is an excellent discussion of the 1609 voyage of Henry Hudson in the Half Moon, on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, that goes beyond the narrative to explore the Anglo-Dutch rivalry of the early 17th Century.
Henry Hudson: New World Voyager
Edward Butts, 2009
$9.99 (on sale)
In 1610 Hudson sailed from England on what would be his most famous voyage–to search for a Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic. This was also his last exploration. Only a few of the men under his command lived to see England again. Hudson’s expedition was one of great discovery and even greater disaster. Extreme Arctic conditions and Hudson’s own questionable leadership resulted in the most infamous mutiny in Canadian history, and a mystery that remains unsolved.
On the Hudson’s Bay Company
The Fur-Trade Fleet: Shipwrecks of the Hudson’s Bay Company
Anthony Dalton, 2011
In mid-July 1925, the SS “Bayeskimo” ran into heavy drift ice at the entrance of Hudson Strait. As the ice moved north, squeezing the hull, the officers stood by helplessly as the ship sank. She was one of hundreds of ship in the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade flee that sailed the subarctic and beyond the Arctic Circle, servicing far-flung posts. During these arduous voyages, many of them came to grief under conditions that would test the mettle of any ship.
The Hudson’s Bay Company’s 1835 Steam Ship Beaver
John McKay, 2001
The story of the “Beaver”, the first steam powered vessel to challenge the remote, largely uncharted coast of the Pacific northwest coast of North America. A combination of technical manual and historical text, this book will appeal to modelers and history buffs. Approximately 100 pages are devoted to descriptions of “Beaver’s” machinery including joints, shafts, paddle wheels, pumps, valves, and engines.