Voyages in Search of a Northwest passage 1741-1747

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Author: Barr, William (1950- ) and Glyndwr Williams (editors)

Year: 1994-5

Publisher: Hakluyt Society

Place: London


2 Volumes: Volume 1 subtitled: The Voyage of Christopher Middleton 1741-1742 xii+333 with 8 maps, 3 illustrations including frontispiece, bibliography and index; Volume 2 subtitled: The Voyage of William Moor and Francis Smith 1746 1747 xv+393 pages with frontispiece, 13 maps, 6 illustrations, bibliography and index. Octavo (8 3/4" x 5 1/2") issued in blue cloth with gilt lettering to spine and gilt sailing ship to front cover. Translated by Anthony Mango. Second Series, volumes 177 and 181. First edition.

The eighteenth century saw a resurgence of hope that a Northwest Passage - that elusive target of European seamen over the centuries - might yet be found. Prompted by the Irish MP Arthur Dobbs, the Admiralty sent the Furnace and Discovery to Hudson Bay in 1741 in search of navigable passage to the Pacific. The expedition was commanded by Christopher Middleton, until his resignation in March 1741 a sea-captain in the service of the Hudson Bay Company. With his actions closely scrutinized by his former employers and colleagues, concerned about possible interference with the fur trade, Middleton wintered at the Company fort at Churchill. From there in the summer of 1742 he sailed farther north along the west coast of Hudson Bay than any previous European explorer, charting Wager Bay, Repulse Bay and Frozen Strait; but he failed to find a passage. After his return to England he found himself accused of negligence and corruption. Dobbs attacked both him and the Hudson's Bay Company in a campaign which ruined Middleton's professional reputation and opened the way for further expedition to the Bay. The second volume deals with the privately-financed expedition sent four years later on the same quest, commanded by William Moor and Francis Smith. Once more, Arthur Dobbs was the prime mover, this time with the help of an association of merchants, the North West Committee, and once more he was to be disappointed by the outcome. Quarrelsome captains, tensions during the wintering at York Factory, confused explorations, and rival accounts, made a mockery of the hopes of Dobbs and his associates. After the return of the expedition, the attention of its sponsors turned to a direct attack on the monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company. Although the Northwest Passage continued to be used as a weapon against the Company, the question of its existence slipped from center-stage to the wings. Whatever else the expeditions of 1741-2 and 1746-7 accomplished, the publicity given to their explorations brought a greatly increased interest in Hudson Bay and its hinterland. This interest was not always accompanied by accurate and dispassionate information. Even so, a comparison of the knowledge available about the geography, trade and native inhabitants of the Bay area at the time of the Parliamentary enquiry of 1749 with the situation before Middleton's voyage, represents a breakthrough in British perceptions of the Canadian sub-Arctic.


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