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Henry Hudson

Henry HudsonBorn: c. 1570
Died: 22-Jun-1611
Location of death: Hudson Bay
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Missing (lost at sea)

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Explorer

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Sought a Northeast Passage

English navigator and explorer. Nothing is known of his personal history excepting such as falls within the period of the four voyages on which his fame rests. The first of these voyages in quest of new trade and a short route to China by way of the North Pole, in accordance with the suggestion of Robert Thorne (d. 1527), was made for the Muscovy Company with ten men and a boy in 1607. Hudson first coasted the east side of Greenland, and being prevented from proceeding northwards by the great ice barrier which stretches from there to Spitzbergen, sailed along it until he reached Newland, as Spitzbergen was then called, and followed its northern coast to beyond 80 N. latitude. On the homeward voyage he accidentally discovered an island in latitude 71 which he named Hudson's Touches, and which has since been identified with Jan Mayen Island. Molineux's chart, published by Richard Hakluyt about 1600, was Hudson's blind guide in this voyage, and the polar map of 1611 by Pontanus illustrates well what he attempted, and the valuable results both negative and positive which he reached. He investigated the trade prospects at Bear Island, and recommended his patrons to seek higher game in Newland; hence he may be called the father of the English whale-fisheries at Spitzbergen.

Next year Hudson was again sent by the Muscovy Company to open a passage to China, this time by the northeast route between Spitzbergen and Novaya Zemlya, which had been attempted by his predecessors and especially by the Dutch navigator Willem Barents. This voyage lasted from the 22nd of April to the 26th of August 1608. He raked the Barents Sea in vain between 75 30' N.W. and 71 15' S.E. for an opening through the ice, and on the 6th of July, "voide of hope of a north-east passage (except by the Waygats, for which I was not fitted to trie or prove)", he resolved to sail to the northwest, and if time and means permitted to run a hundred leagues up Lumley's Inlet (Frobisher Strait) or Davis's "overfall" (Hudson Strait). But his voyage being delayed by contrary winds he was finally compelled to return without accomplishing his wish. The failure of this second attempt satisfied the Muscovy Company, which from that point directed all its energies to the profitable Spitzbergen trade.

Towards the end of 1608 Hudson "had a call" to Amsterdam, where he saw the celebrated cosmographer the Rev. Peter Plancius and the cartographer Hondius, and after some delay, due to the rivalry which was exhibited in the attempt to secure his services, he undertook for the Dutch East India Company his important third voyage to find a passage to China either by the northeast or northwest route. With a mixed crew of eighteen or twenty men he left the Texel in the "Half-Moon" on the 6th of April, and by the 5th of May was in the Barents Sea, and soon afterwards among the ice near Novaya Zemlya, where he had been the year before. Some of his men becoming disheartened and mutinous (it is now supposed that he had arrived two or three months too early), he lost hope of effecting anything by that route, and submitted to his men, as alternative proposals, either to go to Lumley's Inlet and follow up Waymouth's light, or to make for North Virginia and seek the passage in about 40 latitude, according to the letter and map sent him by his friend Captain John Smith. The latter plan was adopted, and on the 14th of May Hudson set his face towards the Chesapeake and China. He touched at Stromo in the Faroe Islands for water, and on the 15th of June off Newfoundland the "Half-Moon" "spent overboard her foremast." This accident compelled him to put into the Kennebec river, where a mast was procured, and some communication and an unnecessary encounter with the Indians took place. Sailing again on the 26th of July, he began on the 28th of August the survey where Smith left off, at 37 36' according to his map, and coasted northwards. On the 3rd of September, in 40 30', he entered the fine bay of New York, and after having gone 150 miles up the river which now bears his name to near the position of the present Albany, treating with the Indians, surveying the country, and trying the stream above tide-water, he became satisfied that this course did not lead to the South Sea or China, a conclusion in harmony with that of Samuel de Champlain, who the same summer had been making his way south through Lake Champlain and Lake St. Sacrement (now Lake George). The two explorers by opposite routes approached within 20 leagues of each other. On the 4th of October the "Half-Moon" weighed for the Texel, and on the 7th of November arrived at Dartmouth, where she was seized and detained by the English government, Hudson and the other Englishmen of the ship being commanded not to leave England, but rather to serve their own country. The voyage had fallen short of Hudson's expectations, but it served many purposes perhaps as important to the world. Among other results it exploded Hakluyt's myth, which from the publication of Lok's map in 1582 to the 2nd charter of Virginia in May 1609 he had lost no opportunity of promulgating, that near 40 latitude there was a narrow isthmus, formed by the sea of Verrazano, like that of Tehuantepec or Panama.

Hudson's confidence in the existence of a Northwest Passage had not been diminished by his three failures, and a new company was formed to support him in a fourth attempt, the principal promoters being Sir Thomas Smith (or Smythe), Sir Dudley Digges and John (afterwards Sir John) Wolstenholme. He determined this time to carry out his old plan of searching for a passage up Davis's "overfall" -- so-called in allusion to the overfall of the tide which Davis had observed rushing through the strait. Hudson sailed from London in the little ship "Discovery" of 55 tons, on the 17th of April 1610, and entered the strait which now bears his name about the middle of June. Sailing steadily westward he entered Hudson Bay on the 3rd of August, and passing southward spent the next three months examining the eastern shore of the bay. On the 1st of November the "Discovery" went into winter quarters in the S.W. corner of James Bay, being frozen in a few days later, and during the long winter months which were passed there only a scanty supply of game was secured to eke out the ship's provisions. Discontent became rife, and on the ship breaking out of the ice in the spring Hudson had a violent quarrel with a dissolute young fellow named Henry Greene, whom he had befriended by taking him on board, and who now retaliated by inciting the discontented part of the crew to put Hudson and eight others (including the sick men) out of the ship. This happened on the 22nd of June 1611. Robert Bylot was elected master and brought the ship back to England. During the voyage home Greene and several others were killed in a fight with the Eskimo, while others again died of starvation, and the feeble remnant which reached England in September were thrown into prison. No more tidings were ever received of the deserted men.

Although it is certain that the four great geographical landmarks which today serve to keep Hudson's memory alive, namely the Hudson Bay, Strait, Territory and River, had repeatedly been visited and even drawn on maps and charts before he set out on his voyages, yet he deserves to take a very high rank among northern navigators for the mere extent of his discoveries and the success with which he pushed them beyond the limits of his predecessors. The rich fisheries of Spitzbergen and the fur industry of the Hudson Bay Territory were the immediate fruit of his labors.

    Dutch East India Company
    Declared Legally Dead



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