banner

The Avenue To the North

PASSAGE NORTH

A TRIBUTE

 

- -----We are all on a voyage of discovery. Each of us is granted a period of time on Earth. Sometimes, during our journey, it is instructive and entertaining to learn from and about those who have gone before us.

EXPLORERS

The Pacific Northwest

"Our residence here was truly forlorn; an awful silence pervaded the gloomy forests, while animated nature seemed to have deserted the neighboring country" - Captain George Vancouver, June, 1792

--- -We sat at an isolated anchorage in a cove surrounded by gloomy rainforest, enduring another bleak day of continuous rain. Capt. George Vancouver's words exactly described the dismal view out our cabin window - and he was describing an event of 214 years ago - nothing has changed.


--- -And we have not been searching down a maze of blind channels seeking a route back to the Atlantic and home. Moreover, we can listen to good music, watch a DVD or maybe a ball game on the TV and entertain ourselves through the long evenings of seemingly perpetual rain.

--- -However, when the clouds lift and the sun breaks through, there are few places on earth more enjoyable to view - even the good Captain agreed with that.

Early Exploration

--- -Traveling through the myriad islands and channels that comprise the Discovery Islands in Desolation Sound is a challenge to good seamanship. But, equipped with GPS chart plotters, radar and depth sounders navigation is simple when one considers what it must have been like exploring these waters in the days before technological aides.

-- -Drifting on anchor, with the dark forest enclosing the shore like a ragged cloak, we talked of those who came before us. The land was difficult to traverse with dense underbrush and slippery with the rains. Snow-covered mountains rose to the east, high, rugged, and impenetrable. Who were the first to challenge this land?

--- -Archeologists love to argue. I know - my brother is one. They relish such a question, especially if there are several of archeos within earshot. My brother will even argue, loudly and with vehemence, with himself for hours. Well, best I can tell, there are two primary schools of thought. The first says the first folks walked across the Bering Land Bridge, during the Ice Age when sea level was hundreds of feet lower and it was relatively easy to traipse from Siberia to Alaska without getting your feet wet - except for the ever-present cold rain. Hunters followed the big game animals across the tundra of the Pleistocene.

Musk Ox in Nunavut

--- -So this wasn't a Sunday stroll - if the mammoths went easterly so did the hunting families dependent upon them for the evening barbeque. Interestingly, much of the central part of Alaska was ice-free during the ice ages and it was well populated with animals (and people).

13,500 Ago - A Corridor to the South


--- -Now, the noisy hue and cry of the second school of thought - North America was first settled by mariners - sea-going families of fisherman and seal hunters following the shoreline of Siberia into present Alaska and then southerly down the coast of Canada. There was plenty of food along the edge of the sea, and the farther south they went the better the weather and hunting.

--- -Truth is, there were probably those johnny-come-latelys walking along behind the mammoths thousands of years after those who paddled south along the shores, fishing. In a few millennia, those first fishing families spread out across the continent and settled from Pt. Barrow to the tip of Tierra del Fuego.

--- -Every species has individuals who 'buck the trend.' Here we were, El and I, cruising northerly along the coast - along these very shores that once witnessed the first North American resident humans paddling the opposite direction. We, too, had once trundled northerly overland, camping across the land, as far as the Arctic Ocean, moving against that former tide of human settlement. Because of our experiences in the northland, both along the coasts and inland through the barren grounds, we could perhaps appreciate, more than most modern folks, the challenge met by those first humans.

---- -

Canoeing The Thelon River - Nunavut--- ------ ---- ---- ---- -- -In the High Arctic

--- -"I remember so clearly," El said as we sat in the cockpit, during a lull in the rain, watching seals hauling out onto the nearby rocks. "We were on the Thelon River, in Nunavut. We had flown in on a float plane that had to land at a remote lake in order to refuel from cached barrels of fuel in order to continue on to our remote launch site. Our guide said it was the most remote site in North America - farthest from any habitation. We had come ashore to rest from our paddling against the wind. I was walking along the edge of the tundra - where it was being eroded by the river. And there it was - a Clovis spear point, beautifully etched from white quartz. It was longer than my hand and was perfectly shaped. There, in such a remote spot, even today, was a perfect remnant from those who had hunted there so long ago."

--- -"We checked it with archeologists, and they said it was probably lost by a hunter soon after humans had crossed into North America, around 14,000 years ago according to mitochondrial DNA and archeological evidence."

--- We left that spear point exactly where the hunter lost it and we found it.

--- -We saw midden piles of shells farther north on this trip to Alaska - direct evidence of the dinner parties held by the 'old ones.'

--- -"This country that seems so formidable to us must have been comfortable 'home' for those earlier folks. Here they had their homes, their children, buried their parents - here they lived and loved," El said scrutinizing the shore littered with mussel shells, seals, and gulls.

--- -"But not so for those who came later," I said, glancing up to those high barrier mountains. I had read that the first arrivals from non-native cultures might have been Chinese sailors - some remnants have been found along the coast. Were they blown hopelessly off-course or were they part of an exploration eastward? There is no record.

The First Europeans

--- -Europeans knew about sailing routes to the Pacific, around Cape of Good Hope and southern tip of Africa since the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias rounded the "Cape of Storms" in 1488. They also knew of the presence of North America across the Atlantic since early Vikings had crossed the ocean about 1,006 years ago (give or take a few).

- -- -

The Day After We Rounded the Cape of Good Hope and Bartolomeu Dias on His Rounding of The Cape

--- -In January, 1503, Christopher Columbus on his fourth and final voyage, searched the coast of Panama, convinced the isthmus was a peninsula. He was unable to find El Estrecho Secreto, the Secret Strait. He was ill, his ships worm-infested, and his food rotten. Shipwrecked, he wasn't able to leave for the return to Spain until almost two years later.

--- -Nine years later, Balboa, "silent upon a peak in Darien'" saw the Pacific across the isthmus of Panama. Now, if there was just a way to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific by water the world and its riches would be open to the discoverers. Balboa's colonies were the first mainland New World European settlements. Those settlers soon melted back into the jungle when no water route, connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific, was discovered. When Balboa returned to Spain, he was beheaded.

--- -Since there was no passage through Darien, European dreams turned to a Northwest Passage. Such hopes funded many an expedition.

--- -The Spanish claimed the Pacific as their water and were exploring and settling it's eastern and western margins. In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo cruised north to Cape Mendocino, in California, under the Spanish flag, claiming possession for Spain.

--- -The British privateer, Sir Francis Drake, in 1579, was secretly cruising the Spanish waters of the eastern Pacific. He was perhaps the first European to see the northwest coast of North America, but logs and charts from his secret voyage around the world were lost. He was convinced he had found the Straits of Anian (as the western entrance to the Northwest Passage was known in the 16th century.)

--- -The British claimed mastery of the North Atlantic. Many British expeditions were mounted in the last years of the 16th and earliest 17th century to find a northwest passage from the Atlantic side. These explorers searched and named many geographic features in the northeast of North America. After the extreme hardships in these northern latitudes, no further exploration was attempted to find the Passage from the Atlantic for almost 100 years.

--- -The Spanish continued their explorations and colonizing throughout the eastern Pacific. In 1604, the Tres Reyes, captained by Martin de Aguilar, cruised north as part of a three ship expedition under Sebastian Vizcaino. Aguilar named Cape Blanco, the westernmost point on the Oregon coast.

--- -The first published account of a discovery of the Northwest Passage was in 1625. A Greek navigator sailing for Spain, Apostolos Valerianos, known to the Spanish as Juan de Fuca, sailing the west coast of North America found a wide inlet at 48 degrees north (the latitude of the present-day Straits of Juan de Fuca) in 1592. He sailed through it for twenty days, discovering many islands and promontories and claimed them for Spain. He believed he was in the Straits of Anian and then exited through a strait, re-entering the Pacific and returned to Acapulco. When he returned to Europe the Englishman, Michael Locke, published his diary describing Juan de Fuca's discovery of the 'Straits of Anian.' Unfortunately, the diary was romanticized with improbable tales so was generally disbelieved, although Juan de Fuca had perhaps been cruising inside Vancouver Island.

--- -More than a hundred years passed before Europeans again explored the North Pacific. In the 1720s reports from Russian fur traders following ancient trade routes, both coastal and on land, spoke of land to the east of Siberia. Russian tsar Peter the Great ordered a scientific expedition to the Far East in order to determine, among other things, whether Asia and North America were connected. Peter's successor, Catherine I, in 1741, outfitted the Great Northern Expedition, led by the Dane Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov. They eventually charted the Bering Strait, crossed to North America, and reached 55°N on the Alaskan coast, proving that no land bridge existed. Of the 77 men aboard Bering's ship, only 46 survived and Bering was not one of them. Russian sea-otter hunters trapped and traded in Alaska following this expedition and Russia claimed possession of Alaska.

Vitus Bering

--- -In 1772, Samuel Hearne (a hero of mine, since my childhood days) had trekked across the barren grounds from Churchill, on Hudson Bay, to the mouth of the Coppermine River, far to the northwest on the Arctic Ocean. His journey, sponsored by the Hudson's Bay Company, proved there was no Northwest Passage anywhere in the mid latitudes of the continent.

- -

The Barrens - Samuel Hearne - He Passed by Here

Early Spanish Explorers

--- -We knew that Spanish explorers were active in exploring the Pacific coast, but a glance at a chart of Desolation Sound fairly rings with Hispanic resonance - Redonda, Cortes, and Quadra Islands and Malaspina Strait for instance. Who were those explorers from a far off country who must have been poking around in these waters naming geography so different than theirs?

--- -A few years ago, El and I wondered about the Spanish conquistadores who were so instrumental in exploring, conquering, and devastating the New World and its residents. So, we took three months to explore the Iberian Peninsula with a quest to spend time in the home towns of the most famous (infamous) conquistadores. In many cases, it became evident from the sere, parched brown of their home regions in Extramadura Spain that there was little to be gained by remaining at home. But who were the Spaniards who cruised the Pacific Northwest?

--- -One hundred fifty years after the voyage of Juan de Fuca, the Spanish Empire had a foothold in California; their furthest penetration north had been Cape Blanco on the Oregon coast. They maintained hegemony from Chile to Mexico. When they heard of the Russian expeditions and land claims to Alaska, they were incensed. Pope Alexander VI had handed Spain all the Pacific margin of the Americas under the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494.

--- -Samuel Hearne's exploration from Hudson Bay to the Arctic Ocean demonstrated another threat. There was obvious British interest in finding the Northwest Passage, and the discovery of such a trade route by British would threaten Spanish interests in the Pacific. It was time for Spain to explore and begin settlement along what they considered to be their north Pacific coast, and if there was a passage through the continent, they should be the ones to claim it.

--- -The Spanish had a distinct advantage in the eastern Pacific over other European powers - they lived there! Their settlements there were never threatened by other European powers, except by pirates or buccaneers. There were no other European colonies on the east Pacific coast. Their settlements in Mexico could (and did) supply vessels, crew and provisions for exploration north.

--- -No Europeans had detailed maps of the northeast Pacific, at the latitude of Canada today, and Spaniards had only made a few reconnaissance trips. It was time to rectify this, but it was decided to keep the results as Spanish state secrets to prevent incursion by other Europeans.

--- -They sent a secret expedition northerly in January 1774. It sailed under the command of Juan Joseph Pérez Hernandez, in the Santiago. Pérez was the first European to record the coast of Washington. He continued north until he reached the northern end of the Queen Charlotte Islands, but bad weather and fog prevented a close examination of the coast. Pérez was also the first European to enter Nootka Bay, about half way up the outside of Vancouver Island. Natives, however had frequented these coasts for at least 4,300 years, according to archeological evidence. Pérez traded with the large native settlement in Nootka, but bad weather again precluded a landing. He claimed the entire coast he had cruised as a Spanish possession.

--- -The following year, two more ships left Mexico. Bruno de Heceta (Hezeta y Dudagoita) captained the well-used Santiago and Juan Pérez was, this time, its pilot, drawing on his previous experience. Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra (a name to feature prominently in Northwest events) captained the Sonora, piloted by Francisco Mourelle. They found abandoned Russian fur-trading establishments, dismissed their presence, and officially took possession of the territory for Spain. At Point Grenville, in present-day Washington, seven sailors sent ashore for water and wood were massacred by 300 Native people within sight of the crew on shipboard, who were too distant to help. Heceta decided to return home. On this journey, Heceta described "currents and the seething of the waters" that "lead me to believe that it may be the mouth of some great river or some passage to another sea." Some believe this to be the discovery of the Columbia River, on August 17, 1775.

--- -Bodega y Quadra continued north on his own. At 58º N, he disembarked and extended Spain's land claims to the north of that designated by Perez. Then, not having seen a single Russian, he went back down the coast, making topographical surveys, convinced the Russians were not a territorial threat.

James Cook

--- -Britain was rising as a global naval power in the late 18th century. In July 1776, James Cook, the greatest navigator of the age, began his third circumnavigation with orders to search for the Northwest Passage and explore the northwest coast of the continent. In 1778, Cook and his ships the Resolution and Discovery arrived on the Northwest coast at 44°33' N. He was to take possession of "territories useful" to England without contesting the rights that the Spanish or Russians had established.

--- ---- -James Cook paused off the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula on March 22, 1778 which he named Cape Flattery. It was so named because an opening along the coast "flattered" (deceived) the Captain and crew with the hope of finding a harbor. Cook noted in the logbook: "In this very latitude geographers have placed the pretended Strait of Juan de Fuca. But nothing of that kind presented itself to our view, nor is it probable that any such thing ever existed." Interestingly, he was cruising by the southern entrance to the Strait as he rounded Cape Flattery.

--- -Later in March, he stopped in Nootka harbor, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, to repair his ships, where he set up a temporary observatory. George Vancouver was a midshipman aboard Cook's ship Discovery and was among the first Europeans known to have stepped ashore on Vancouver Island.

Cook Meeting Natives at Nootka

--- -Departing Nootka, bad weather forced Cook to remain offshore and he didn't have a landfall until Alaska. Over the next few months Cook ranged northward along the coast to the Bering Strait, about 70°N, where he was stopped by a wall of ice. Although he did not check the entire coast in detail, he found it unlikely that any passage east existed. Cook turned back to meet his tragic death in Hawaii on 14 February 1779 although his ships under the command of Charles Clerke resumed the fruitless Arctic search until Clerke in turn died of consumption.

Spain's Reaction

--- -The Spaniards feared the consequences of Cook's voyage into their territorial water. The Spanish viceroy was instructed to oppose Cook should he venture to California, but the viceroy believed this was diplomatically risky and delayed the departure of a new Spanish expedition northward until 1779 when Cook's expedition was well to the west. He sent the frigates Princesa and Favorita under the command of Lieutenants Ignacio de Artega and the second in command, a familiar name, Bodega y Quadra. They were to give an account of the situation on the northwest coast. Mourelle, the pilot on the earlier trip north by Bodega y Quadra, piloted this expedition as well. They conducted detailed surveys along the coast as far as the Russian posts in Alaska.

--- -Spain was briefly at war with England but peace was reestablished in 1783.For a short time after the war, Spain considered expeditions to the north to be fruitless since their land claims were well established and they had maps of the coast as far north as Alaska. There was little competition from other Europeans, so they saw no reason to publicize their logs or charts. Consequently, no further explorations were mounted. But this soon changed, due to a strange circumstance.

A Furry Tale

--- -Unlike the Spaniards, the British published accounts and detailed charts from Cook's voyages in 1784 in the belief this would strengthen future claims to the region, and, in a most unexpected way, it did.

--- -When James Cook was cruising off Alaska, some of his men collected sea otter pelts from natives, as well as other mementos and trinkets. Later, they sold those furs at a fabulous price to Chinese traders. This was reported in the logs of Cook's expedition. British merchants read that account with great interest. Suddenly, the northeast Pacific coast represented a far greater interest than a mythical passage - money!

Sea Otter

--- -Almost immediately, fur trading merchants outfitted vessels to cruise to the Pacific and by 1786 British and American fur merchants were trading with the natives in the Northwest.-

--- -The next year, British fur trader Charles William Barkley rounded Cape Flattery and recognized the passage between the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island. He entered it onto his charts as the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and believed it to be the Northwest Passage reigniting commercial interests. A route from the Northwest to the Atlantic would greatly reduce time to the United States east coast and England!

--- -The Russians, meanwhile, were sidelined. They had few men and no military presence in the Northwest. To bolster their claims, Czarina Catherine II ordered a military expedition to establish Russian rights to all land north of the 55th parallel (north of the Queen Charlotte Islands). It was to leave in 1789, but in 1787 a war began between Russia, Turkey and Sweden and the expedition was cancelled, and thus ended Russian interest south of their previously published claims to Alaska.

--- -The Spanish were aroused by these traders in 'their' territory. Spanish King Carlos III ordered more expeditions to the north to protect their sovereignty.

--- -In response, September 1788, Alexandro Malaspina, a renowned Spanish naval captain, proposed to the government of Spain the organization of a political-scientific expedition similar to that of James Cook, using two corvettes, to visit almost all the Spanish possessions in America and Asia. Such a voyage would reestablish Spain's claims and prestige. But, before his expedition could set sail events got out of hand back in Nootka.

--- -Also in 1788, in response to the orders by King Carlos III, the Princesa and San Carlos, under the command of Esebàn José Martinez, cruised up to the Pacific coast as far north as Kodiak Island. Returning, he encountered with alarm several English and American merchant ships along the coast of British Columbia. When he arrived at Nootka, on May 5, 1789, he found three fur-trading ships there. Two were American, and not a problem to the Spanish, since they did not consider Americans a threat to Spanish sovereignty. The third ship, although under Portuguese flag, had an all British crew. Martinez also learned from the Natives that John Meares, a former British naval officer, had stopped in Nootka the previous year and built not only temporary structures but a ship!

--- -A short time later, while Martinez was constructing an artillery platform and some buildings, Captain James Colnett sailed into Nootka from China. Colnett was an experienced skipper, having earlier sailed as a midshipman aboard the H.M.S. Resolution on Cook's second voyage. He was now a British maritime fur trader. His arrival at Nootka with Chinese workers confirmed Martinez's contention that he had received orders from England to build a fur-trading post. This was simply too much for the Spaniard to accept - this was a direct affront to Spanish territory. He confronted Colnett, who refused to submit to Spanish authority. An argument ensued between them and Martinez arrested Colnett who, during the heated discussion, had put his hand on his sword. Soon another British ship, the Princess Royal, arrived from China and Martinez ordered the seizure of the English ships. He sent them to the Spanish naval base at San Blas, Mexico.


--- -Lt. Esteban Jose Martinez (Museo Naval, Madrid)

--- -Interestingly, the natives who had previously ignored arguments between Europeans as inconsequential now became involved in the dispute. They protested Martinez's action since the seizure prevented them from the profits of trading with the British. An unhappy chief, Callicum, went to meet Martinez, and his angry shouts were interpreted as insults. The impulsive Martinez fired a musket into the air to frighten him. Unfortunately, one of the Spanish soldiers, thinking that Martinez had missed his mark, fired his gun and killed the First Nation chief.

1792 - Cannon and Musket Fire Against the Natives

--- -In spite of this delicate situation with both British and natives, the Spaniards managed to build a "presidio," a frontier fort that included barracks, a battery of cannons, eighty soldiers and a villa for the officers.

Spanish Fort at Nootka in 1793 (Watercolor by Sigismund Bacstrum, Parks Canada)

--- -Thus, the first European establishment on Canada's west coast was Spanish due to an argument between two hot-headed men.

--- -When news of the seizure of British merchantmen during time of peace reached England, this affront to British pride resulted in an immediate mobilization for war. Ironically, those furs casually collected and carried by Cook's men brought Spain and England to the brink of war!

--- -In the convoluted fashion of 18th century European politics, it was France that decided the issue. Although the French Revolution had broken out in July 1789, the French armed forces were still relatively intact and King Louis XVI was still on the throne. France had mobilized its Navy to demonstrate its alliance with Spain in its claim to Nootka and Spain's colonial empire. But, by August, the French Assembly declared they would not go to war against freedom, signaling they would withdraw from their alliance with Spain.

--- -Fortunately, British war fever had subsided and without French support, Spain began negotiations. On October 28, 1790, in Madrid, the two countries signed the Nootka Bay Convention that stated the two colonial powers both had rights to the northwest coast north of California. Each would have access to the other's establishments. Commissioners from each country would be named to settle the details of the agreement. The two commissioners named were George Vancouver, captain in the Royal Navy and the great Spanish explorer Bodega y Quadra, now captain in the Spanish navy.

A Sidelight to History

--- -There is an interesting post script to the seizure of those British ships at Nootka. One of these ships, the Princess Royal, was renamed the Princesa Real and sailed to Mexico. There the New Spain Viceroy Revillagigedo decided to avoid further conflict with the British and planned the return of the Princesa Real to the British at Nootka. In 1790, she sailed north for Nootka. When they arrived there were no British there. -

--- -Manuel Quimper used the Princesa Real for a two month exploration of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan islands. Since there was still no sign of the British at Nootka, Quimper sailed the Princesa Real back to Mexico after his voyage of exploration.

--- -Commander Bodega y Quadra ordered Quimper to sail the Princesa to Macao where she would be returned to the British, and, en route, to chart the Hawaiian Islands. While in Hawaii, by one of those quirks of fate, Quimper encountered James Colnett, the very person from whom the Spanish seized the Princesa at Nootka two years before. Colnett threatened to seize the ship but when he saw Quimper readying for combat he backed down and let Quimper sail her to Macao. There, shortly after arrival, the Princesa Real was badly damaged by a typhoon and scrapped.

Another Miscellaneous Tale

--- -Another sidenote to history: the fort built by Fidalgo at Neah Bay was abandoned after several months, since the harbor was too poorly protected to maintain ships at anchor. There was sufficient time, however, to plant a garden. The potatoes planted there soon became a staple of the Makah and the unique potato is now marketed as the Ozette Potato (named for one of the five Makah villages nearby).

Malaspina And His Men

--- -The Malaspina expedition, designed to mirror Cook's voyage, finally arrived at the Spanish outpost in Nootka Sound in March 1790. The two corvettes, Descubierta and Atrevida, had been designed and built specially for the expedition and named by Malaspina in honor of James Cook's Discovery and Resolution. Malaspina met with the resident Commandante of Nootka, our old friend Bodega y Quadra. He then cruised as far as Alaska's Cook Inlet. On his return, he spent about a month at Nootka before returning to Mexico. En route, he missed the entrance to the Columbia River due to summer fog. The vessels returned to Spain via Cape Horn in 1792.

Capt Alejandro Malaspina (Museo Naval, Madrid)

--- -After examining the political situation of the Spanish colonies in the Pacific, Malaspina concluded that instead of plundering them economically, Spain should develop a confederation of states whose members would conduct international trade. He suggested that Spain should abandon the military domination of far-off lands and establish a Pacific Rim trading bloc, managed by the Spaniards from Acapulco. This remarkably modern concept was unacceptable to Spanish royalty, and he was imprisoned for treason.

--- -Cayetano Valdés and Dioniso Alcalá Galiano, both officers on Malaspina's Descubierta, elected to remain in Mexico. In 1791, they were dispatched by Bodega y Quadra to explore the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia aboard the schooners Sutíl and Mexicana. They proceeded to Bellingham Bay, and inside the indentation of Birch Bay, they saw the lights of a vessel, and in the early morning hours, they met a longboat containing an English naval officer, Lieutenant Broughton. He informed them that the British ships Discovery and Chatham were nearby. A few days later, the Spaniards met Captain George Vancouver.

George Vancouver

--- -The sidebars of history are fascinating to us. Captain George Vancouver is the best known surveyor of the Pacific Northwest, but for a few twists of fate, his name would be unknown. First, while sailing with Capt. James Cook, he almost lost his life to the same party of Hawaiians who the next day killed Cook. Second, when the British planned an expedition to explore in detail the Northwest coast, they chose Capt. Henry Roberts as leader. He, like Vancouver, had also sailed on Cook's second and third expeditions into the Pacific. Vancouver was to be second in command. But, when Britain mobilized for war with Spain after the Nootka incident, work on the ships of exploration was halted and Roberts was sent to the West Indies. When news of the signing of the convention arrived in England in early November, work on the ships resumed and, in mid-November, Vancouver, on a nearby warship, was recalled to London. In mid-December, he was named leader of the expedition. The name Roberts, instead of Vancouver, faded from the history of the Pacific Northwest.

--- -Vancouver's flagship, the Discovery (named after the ship on which Vancouver had accompanied Cook on his last voyage of exploration) was commissioned January 1st, 1790. On April, 1st, the Discovery accompanied by the small armed tender, Chatham, departed from Falmouth.

--- -His instructions were simple. Most importantly, survey the coast between 30° and 60°N to determine if there was a Northwest Passage. Second, winter in the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands and survey them. Lastly, receive from Spanish officers at Nootka "such lands or buildings as are to be restored to the British subjects."

--- -During the first summer along the coast, when Vancouver met the Spanish schooners Sutíl and Mexicana in Bellingham Bay, the meeting was cordial. Respectfully the Spanish and English expeditions exchanged information on their surveys and arranged for a joint expedition northward.

Natives Meeting the Sutil and Mexicana in Guemes Channel (Painting by Jose Cardero, Museo Naval, Madrid) Mt. Hood in Background

--- -The four ships proceeded north through Malaspina Channel and worked together until mid-summer when the Spaniards left to examine the mainland coastline, while Vancouver continued through Discovery Passage and Johnstone Strait to Queen Charlotte Sound. He continued around Cape Caution and into the labyrinthine windings of Fitzhugh Sound, Burke Channel and the Bentinck Arms. Galiano and Valdés continued their mapping and, in the process, circumnavigated Vancouver Island. Many geographic landmarks were named by these men.

--- -Both men later fought in the naval battle of Trafalgar. Alcalá Galiano died in the battle in command of the vessel Bahama. Valdés survived the battle, in command of the Fortuno. But, like Malaspina, he had liberal political views and later in life was ironically exiled to Britain.

Alcala Galiano (Museo Naval, Madrid)

The Nootka Conference

--- -In August,1792, Vancouver proceeded to the Spanish settlement at Nootka to meet his supply ship and engage in the required conference with the Spanish.

--- -It is important to understand that by the time Vancouver arrived in 1792, Spain had sent at least ten expeditions up the Pacific coast, many as far as Alaska, and had mapped the coast in great detail. They had not publicized their discoveries with maps, even though their marine surveyors had done some fine work. The Spanish were truly the explorers of coastal British Columbia. They also had built the first permanent post on the coast, at Nootka. Now was the moment that the British 'intruders' must, by way of the Convention, resolve the issue of sovereignty and relationships.

--- -Vancouver was an exceptionally competent naval captain and surveyor. But, most importantly, he must have been a remarkable personality, as well. His fine relationships established with Galiano and Valdéz had certainly set the stage. They had cruised together for months before their arrival at Nootka, dividing surveying responsibilities and sharing the results.

Capt. Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra (Museo Naval, Madrid)

--- -The Spanish Commandant of Nootka was another exceptional man, Bodega y Quadra. From contemporary descriptions, he was a born leader and a gentleman. Bodega y Quadra and Vancouver spent the last days of August exchanging civilities and permitting a warm friendship to develop between them. They enjoyed each other's company, sharing stories and festive dinners on silver plate. Although they became close friends, they could not agree on what to do about Meares's little fur-trading post and the claims to Nootka Sound.

--- -Vancouver suggested that England receive possession of Nootka and Clayoquot and that Neah Bay be considered a free port for both nations. Quadra politely disagreed. What they did agree on was a name for the large island upon which their discussions took place. Amicably called "Quadra and Vancouver's Island," time and the eventual domination of the British removed the words 'Quadra and' from the title. The men decided to share all the map information of Spanish and British exploration. In spite of their good relations, or perhaps because of them, they could not agree on the details of the transfer of properties specified in the Convention and, by mutual agreement, submitted the problem to their respective governments. They parted on the best of terms with Quadra headed south to the Spanish possessions in California and Vancouver heading to winter in the Sandwich Islands.

Vancouver Continues His Voyage

--- -Vancouver spent the remaining summers of 1793 and 1794 continuing his surveying. Having mapped as far north as 59°12', Vancouver came to the conclusion that all the bays, inlets and river mouths he saw were dead ends and there was no passage to the Atlantic.

--- -Vancouver's charts were the best ones available until the middle of the next century. It was an accomplishment worthy of comparison with the surveys of Cook, and the frequent references to Cook in the published Voyage show that he was ever the ideal Vancouver had in mind. John Cawte Beaglehole, the authority on Cook, remarks that of all the men who trained under him Vancouver was "the only one whose work as a marine surveyor was to put him in the class of his commander."

--- -Hundreds of the names he gave to every island, islet, channel and promontory are familiar to all cruisers of Northwestern waters. Hear the names of his officers and you will understand Vancouver's geographic importance: Baker, Puget, Whidby, Broughton, Johnstone, Mudge - and the names of his ships, Discovery and Chatham - names that are known to all who cruise these waters. Vancouver's was the longest surveying expedition in the history of the Northwest - over four and a half years. The distance sailed was approximately 65,000 miles, to which the smaller ship's boat excursions are estimated to have added 10,000 miles. In that lengthy cruise in difficult waters, only one man died of disease, another died of shellfish poisoning and four were drowned - a remarkable record that attests to the care the skipper had for his men.

--- -On return to England, with failing health, Vancouver soon retired to Petersham, on the outskirts of London where he prepared his journal for publication. The lengthy publication was within 100 pages of completion when Vancouver died on May 12, 1798 at the age of 40. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Peter's, Petersham, England. His grave in Petersham is the scene of an annual commemorative ceremony by the Province of British Columbia.

Spanish Eclipse

--- -Since both the Spanish and English explorations showed that there was no water passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic, the European nations lost interest in the north-west coast. European merchants continued their trade without hindrance by governments. On January 11, 1794, England and Spain signed an agreement declaring that both were leaving the region. On March 23, 1795 the Nootka "presidio" was dismantled. So ended the Spanish reign on the northwest coast, and three hundred years of Spanish New World influence was soon eclipsed. Only the names of some straits and islands from Oregon to Alaska remain as testimony to Spanish presence on this coast.

--- -The conflict over possession of this region continued between the new United States and England but marine excursions did not figure prominently in this struggle so we will not consider that as part of our cruising story. One day, in the future, a new country would occupy this land: Canada.

--- -As to the Northwest Passage, it would not be successfully navigated until the twentieth century when, in 1903-06, Roald Amundsen, (who would later beat Scott to the South Pole), made the full transit by sea in the Gjöa. It was left to a Norwegian to accomplish the crossing of the Northwest Passage, but as he himself pointed out, the fact that it was possible had been due to the earlier search by British seamen.

We Know Ourselves by Studying Those Who Came Before Us -

(09/06)

Top | Home