Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage by Richard Hakluyt

This etext was produced by David Price, email, from the 1892 Cassell & Co. edition. VOYAGES IN SEARCH OF THE NORTH-WEST PASSAGE by Richard Hakluyt INTRODUCTION. Thirty-five years ago I made a voyage to the Arctic Seas in what Chaucer calls A little bote No bigger than a manne’s thought; it was a Phantom
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This etext was produced by David Price, email, from the 1892 Cassell & Co. edition.


by Richard Hakluyt


Thirty-five years ago I made a voyage to the Arctic Seas in what Chaucer calls

A little bote
No bigger than a manne’s thought;

it was a Phantom Ship that made some voyages to different parts of the world which were recorded in early numbers of Charles Dickens’s “Household Words.” As preface to Richard Hakluyt’s records of the first endeavour of our bold Elizabethan mariners to find North-West Passage to the East, let me repeat here that old voyage of mine from No. 55 of “Household Words,” dated the 12th of April, 1851: The Phantom is fitted out for Arctic exploration, with instructions to find her way, by the north-west, to Behring Straits, and take the South Pole on her passage home. Just now we steer due north, and yonder is the coast of Norway. From that coast parted Hugh Willoughby, three hundred years ago; the first of our countrymen who wrought an ice-bound highway to Cathay. Two years afterwards his ships were found, in the haven of Arzina, in Lapland, by some Russian fishermen; near and about them Willoughby and his companions–seventy dead men. The ships were freighted with their frozen crews, and sailed for England; but, “being unstaunch, as it is supposed, by their two years’ wintering in Lapland, sunk, by the way, with their dead, and them also that brought them.”

Ice floats about us now, and here is a whale blowing; a whale, too, very near Spitzbergen. When first Spitzbergen was discovered, in the good old times, there were whales here in abundance; then a hundred Dutch ships, in a crowd, might go to work, and boats might jostle with each other, and the only thing deficient would be stowage room for all the produce of the fishery. Now one ship may have the whole field to itself, and travel home with an imperfect cargo. It was fine fun in the good old times; there was no need to cruise. Coppers and boilers were fitted on the island, and little colonies about them, in the fishing season, had nothing to do but tow the whales in, with a boat, as fast as they were wanted by the copper. No wonder that so enviable a Tom Tidler’s ground was claimed by all who had a love for gold and silver. The English called it theirs, for they first fished; the Dutch said, nay, but the island was of their discovery; Danes, Hamburghers, Bisayans, Spaniards, and French put in their claims; and at length it was agreed to make partitions. The numerous bays and harbours which indent the coast were divided among the rival nations; and, to this day, many of them bear, accordingly, such names as English Bay, Danes Bay, and so forth. One bay there is, with graves in it, named Sorrow. For it seemed to the fishers most desirable, if possible, to plant upon this island permanent establishments, and condemned convicts were offered, by the Russians, life and pardon, if they would winter in Spitzbergen. They agreed; but, when they saw the icy mountains and the stormy sea, repented, and went back, to meet a death exempt from torture. The Dutch tempted free men, by high rewards, to try the dangerous experiment. One of their victims left a journal, which describes his suffering and that of his companions. Their mouths, he says, became so sore that, if they had food, they could not eat; their limbs were swollen and disabled with excruciating pain; they died of scurvy. Those who died first were coffined by their dying friends; a row of coffins was found, in the spring, each with a man in it; two men uncoffined, side by side, were dead upon the floor. The journal told how once the traces of a bear excited their hope of fresh meat and amended health; how, with a lantern, two or three had limped upon the track, until the light became extinguished, and they came back in despair to die. We might speak, also, of eight English sailors, left, by accident, upon Spitzbergen, who lived to return and tell their winter’s tale; but a long journey is before us and we must not linger on the way. As for our whalers, it need scarcely be related that the multitude of whales diminished as the slaughtering went on, until it was no longer possible to keep the coppers full. The whales had to be searched for by the vessels, and thereafter it was not worth while to take the blubber to Spitzbergen to be boiled; and the different nations, having carried home their coppers, left the apparatus of those fishing stations to decay.

Take heed. There is a noise like thunder, and a mountain snaps in two. The upper half comes, crashing, grinding, down into the sea, and loosened streams of water follow it. The sea is displaced before the mighty heap; it boils and scatters up a cloud of spray; it rushes back, and violently beats upon the shore. The mountain rises from its bath, sways to and fro, while water pours along its mighty sides; now it is tolerably quiet, letting crackers off as air escapes out of its cavities. That is an iceberg, and in that way are all icebergs formed. Mountains of ice formed by rain and snow– grand Arctic glaciers, undermined by the sea or by accumulation over-balanced–topple down upon the slightest provocation (moved by a shout, perhaps), and where they float, as this black-looking fellow does, they need deep water. This berg in height is about ninety feet, and a due balance requires that a mass nine times as large as the part visible should be submerged. Icebergs are seen about us now which rise two hundred feet above the water’s level.

There are above head plenty of aquatic birds; ashore, or on the ice, are bears, foxes, reindeer; and in the sea there are innumerable animals. We shall not see so much life near the North Pole, that is certain. It would be worth while to go ashore upon an islet there, near Vogel Sang, to pay a visit to the eider-ducks. Their nests are so abundant that one cannot avoid treading on them. When the duck is driven by a hungry fox to leave her eggs, she covers them with down, in order that they may not cool during her absence, and, moreover, glues the down into a case with a secretion supplied to her by Nature for that purpose. The deserted eggs are safe, for that secretion has an odour very disagreeable to the intruder’s nose.

We still sail northward, among sheets of ice, whose boundaries are not beyond our vision from the masthead–these are “floes;” between them we find easy way, it is fair “sailing ice.” In the clear sky to the north a streak of lucid white light is the reflection from an icy surface; that is, “ice-blink,” in the language of these seas. The glare from snow is yellow, while open water gives a dark reflection.

Northward still; but now we are in fog the ice is troublesome; a gale is rising. Now, if our ship had timbers they would crack, and if she had a bell it would be tolling; if we were shouting to each other we should not hear, the sea is in a fury. With wild force its breakers dash against a heaped-up wall of broken ice, that grinds and strains and battles fiercely with the water. This is “the pack,” the edge of a great ice-field broken by the swell. It is a perilous and an exciting thing to push through pack ice in a gale.

Now there is ice as far as eye can see, that is “an ice-field.” Masses are forced up like colossal tombstones on all sides; our sailors call them “hummocks;” here and there the broken ice displays large “holes of water.” Shall we go on? Upon this field, in 1827, Parry adventured with his men to reach the North Pole, if that should be possible. With sledges and portable boats they laboured on through snow and over hummocks, launching their boats over the larger holes of water. With stout hearts, undaunted by toil or danger, they went boldly on, though by degrees it became clear to the leaders of the expedition that they were almost like mice upon a treadmill cage, making a great expenditure of leg for little gain. The ice was floating to the south with them, as they were walking to the north; still they went on. Sleeping by day to avoid the glare, and to get greater warmth during the time of rest, and travelling by night–watch-makers’ days and nights, for it was all one polar day– the men soon were unable to distinguish noon from midnight. The great event of one day on this dreary waste was the discovery of two flies upon an ice hummock; these, says Parry, became at once a topic of ridiculous importance. Presently, after twenty-three miles’ walking, they had only gone one mile forward, the ice having industriously floated twenty-two miles in the opposite direction; and then, after walking forward eleven miles, they found themselves to be three miles behind the place from which they started. The party accordingly returned, not having reached the Pole, not having reached the eighty-third parallel, for the attainment of which there was a reward of a thousand pounds held out by government. They reached the parallel of eighty-two degrees forty-five minutes, which was the most northerly point trodden by the foot of man.

From that point they returned. In those high latitudes they met with a phenomenon, common in alpine regions, as well as at the Pole, red snow; the red colour being caused by the abundance of a minute plant, of low development, the last dweller on the borders of the vegetable kingdom. More interesting to the sailors was a fat she bear which they killed and devoured with a zeal to be repented of; for on reaching navigable sea, and pushing in their boats to Table Island, where some stones were left, they found that the bears had eaten all their bread, whereon the men agreed that “Bruin was now square with them.” An islet next to Table Island–they are both mere rocks–is the most northern land discovered. Therefore, Parry applied to it the name of lieutenant–afterwards Sir James–Ross. This compliment Sir James Ross acknowledged in the most emphatic manner, by discovering on his part, at the other Pole, the most southern land yet seen, and giving to it the name of Parry: “Parry Mountains.”

It very probably would not be difficult, under such circumstances as Sir W. Parry has since recommended, to reach the North Pole along this route. Then (especially if it be true, as many believe, that there is a region of open sea about the Pole itself) we might find it as easy to reach Behring Straits by travelling in a straight line over the North Pole, as by threading the straits and bays north of America.

We turn our course until we have in sight a portion of the ice- barred eastern coast of Greenland, Shannon Island. Somewhere about this spot in the seventy-fifth parallel is the most northern part of that coast known to us. Colonel–then Captain–Sabine in the Griper was landed there to make magnetic, and other observations; for the same purpose he had previously visited Sierra Leone. That is where we differ from our forefathers. They commissioned hardy seamen to encounter peril for the search of gold ore, or for a near road to Cathay; but our peril is encountered for the gain of knowledge, for the highest kind of service that can now be rendered to the human race.

Before we leave the Northern Sea, we must not omit to mention the voyage by Spitzbergen northward, in 1818, of Captain Buchan in the Dorothea, accompanied by Lieutenant Franklin, in the Trent. It was Sir John Franklin’s first voyage to the Arctic regions. This trip forms the subject of a delightful book by Captain Beechey.

On our way to the south point of Greenland we pass near Cape North, a point of Iceland. Iceland, we know, is the centre of a volcanic region, whereof Norway and Greenland are at opposite points of the circumference. In connection with this district there is a remarkable fact; that by the agency of subterranean forces, a large portion of Norway and Sweden is being slowly upheaved. While Greenland, on the west coast, as gradually sinks into the sea, Norway rises at the rate of about four feet in a century. In Greenland, the sinking is so well known that the natives never build close to the water’s edge, and the Moravian missionaries more than once have had to move farther inland the poles on which their boats are rested.

Our Phantom Ship stands fairly now along the western coast of Greenland into Davis Straits. We observe that upon this western coast there is, by a great deal, less ice than on the eastern. That is a rule generally. Not only the configuration of the straits and bays, but also the earth’s rotation from west to east, causes the currents here to set towards the west, and wash the western coasts, while they act very little on the eastern. We steer across Davis Strait, among “an infinite number of great countreys and islands of yce;” there, near the entrance, we find Hudson Strait, which does not now concern us. Islands probably separate this well-known channel from Frobisher Strait to the north of it, yet unexplored. Here let us recall to mind the fleet of fifteen sail, under Sir Martin Frobisher, in 1578, tossing about and parting company among the ice. Let us remember how the crew of the Anne Frances, in that expedition, built a pinnace when their vessel struck upon a rock, stock, although they wanted main timber and nails. How they made a mimic forge, and “for the easier making of nails, were forced to break their tongs, gridiron, and fire-shovel, in pieces.” How Master Captain Best, in this frail bark, with its imperfect timbers held together by the metamorphosed gridiron and fire-shovel, continued in his duty, and did depart up the straights as before was pretended.” How a terrific storm arose, and the fleet parted and the intrepid captain was towed “in his small pinnesse, at the stern of the Michael, thorow the raging seas; for the bark was not able to receive, or relieve half his company.” The “tongs, gridyron, and fire-shovell,” performed their work only for as many minutes as were absolutely necessary, for the pinnesse came no sooner aboard the ship, and the men entred, but she presently shivered and fell in pieces, and sunke at the ship’s stern with all the poor men’s furniture.”

Now, too, as we sail up the strait, explored a few years after these events by Master John Davis, how proudly we remember him as a right worthy forerunner of those countrymen of his and ours who since have sailed over his track. Nor ought we to pass on without calling to mind the melancholy fate, in 1606, of Master John Knight, driven, in the Hopewell, among huge masses of ice with a tremendous surf, his rudder knocked away, his ship half full of water, at the entrance to these straits. Hoping to find a harbour, he set forth to explore a large island, and landed, leaving two men to watch the boat, while he, with three men and the mate, set forth and disappeared over a hill. For thirteen hours the watchers kept their post; one had his trumpet with him, for he was a trumpeter, the other had a gun. They trumpeted often and loudly; they fired, but no answer came. They watched ashore all night for the return of their captain and his party, “but they came not at all.”

The season is advanced. As we sail on, the sea steams like a line- kiln, “frost-smoke” covers it. The water, cooled less rapidly, is warmer now than the surrounding air, and yields this vapour in consequence. By the time our vessel has reached Baffin’s Bay, still coasting along Greenland, in addition to old floes and bergs, the water is beset with “pancake ice.” That is the young ice when it first begins to cake upon the surface. Innocent enough it seems, but it is sadly clogging to the ships. It sticks about their sides like treacle on a fly’s wing; collecting unequally, it destroys all equilibrium, and impedes the efforts of the steersman. Rocks split on the Greenland coast with loud explosions, and more icebergs fall. Icebergs we soon shall take our leave of; they are only found where there is a coast on which glaciers can form; they are good for nothing but to yield fresh water to the vessels; it will be all field, pack, and saltwater ice presently.

Now we are in Baffin’s Bay, explored in the voyages of Bylot and Baffin, 1615-16. When, in 1817, a great movement in the Greenland ice caused many to believe that the northern passages would be found comparatively clear; and when, in consequence of this impression, Sir John Barrow succeeded in setting afoot that course of modern Arctic exploration which has been continued to the present day, Sir John Ross was the first man sent to find the North-West Passage. Buchan and Parry were commissioned at the same the to attempt the North Sea route. Sir John Ross did little more on that occasion than effect a survey of Baffin’s Bay, and prove the accuracy of the ancient pilot. In the extreme north of the bay there is an inlet or a channel, called by Baffin Smith’s Sound; this Sir John saw, but did not enter. It never yet has been explored. It may be an inlet only; but it is also very possible that by this channel ships might get into the Polar Sea and sail by the north shore of Greenland to Spitzbergen. Turning that corner, and descending along the western coast of Baffin’s Bay, there is another inlet called Jones’ Sound by Baffin, also unexplored. These two inlets, with their very British titles, Smith and Jones, are of exceeding interest. Jones’ Sound may lead by a back way to Melville Island. South of Jones’ Sound there is a wide break in the shore, a great sound, named by Baffin, Lancaster’s, which Sir John Ross, in that first expedition, failed also to explore. Like our transatlantic friends at the South Pole, he laid down a range of clouds as mountains, and considered the way impervious; so he came home. Parry went out next year, as a lieutenant, in command of his first and most successful expedition. He sailed up Lancaster Sound, which was in that year (1819) unusually clear of ice; and he is the discoverer whose track we now follow in our Phantom Ship. The whole ground being new, he had to name the points of country right and left of him. The way was broad and open, due west, a most prosperous beginning for a North-West Passage. If this continued, he would soon reach Behring Strait. A broad channel to the right, directed, that is to say, southward, he entered on the Prince of Wales’s birthday, and so called it the “Prince Regent’s Inlet.” After exploring this for some miles, he turned back to resume his western course, for still there was a broad strait leading westward. This second part of Lancaster Sound he called after the Secretary of the Admiralty who had so indefatigably laboured to promote the expeditions, Barrow’s Strait. Then he came to a channel, turning to the right or northward, and he named that Wellington Channel. Then he had on his right hand ice, islands large and small, and intervening channels; on the left, ice, and a cape visible, Cape Walker. At an island, named after the First Lord of the Admiralty Melville Island, the great frozen wilderness barred farther progress. There he wintered. On the coast of Melville Island they had passed the latitude of one hundred and ten degrees, and the men had become entitled to a royal bounty of five thousand pounds. This group of islands Parry called North Georgian, but they are usually called by his own name, Parry Islands. This was the first European winter party in the Arctic circle. Its details are familiar enough. How the men cut in three days, through ice seven inches thick, a canal two miles and a half long, and so brought the ships into safe harbour. How the genius of Parry equalled the occasion; how there was established a theatre and a North Georgian Gazette, to cheer the tediousness of a night which continued for two thousand hours. The dreary, dazzling waste in which there was that little patch of life, the stars, the fog, the moonlight, the glittering wonder of the northern lights, in which, as Greenlanders believe, souls of the wicked dance tormented, are familiar to us. The she-bear stays at home; but the he-bear hungers, and looks in vain for a stray seal or walrus–woe to the unarmed man who meets him in his hungry mood! Wolves are abroad, and pretty white arctic foxes. The reindeer have sought other pasture-ground. The thermometer runs down to more than sixty degrees below freezing, a temperature tolerable in calm weather, but distressing in a wind. The eye-piece of the telescope must be protected now with leather, for the skin is destroyed that comes in contact with cold metal. The voice at a mile’s distance can be heard distinctly. Happy the day when first the sun is seen to graze the edge of the horizon; but summer must come, and the heat of a constant day must accumulate, and summer wane, before the ice is melted. Then the ice cracks, like cannons over-charged, and moves with a loud grinding noise. But not yet is escape to be made with safety. After a detention of ten months, Parry got free; but, in escaping, narrowly missed the destruction of both ships, by their being “nipped” between the mighty mass and the unyielding shore. What animals are found on Melville Island we may judge from the results of sport during ten months’ detention. The island exceeds five thousand miles square, and yielded to the gun, three musk oxen, twenty-four deer, sixty-eight hares, fifty-three geese, fifty-nine ducks, and one hundred and forty-four ptarmigans, weighing together three thousand seven hundred and sixty-six pounds–not quite two ounces of meat per day to every man. Lichens, stunted grass, saxifrage, and a feeble willow, are the plants of Melville Island, but in sheltered nooks there are found sorrel, poppy, and a yellow buttercup. Halos and double suns are very common consequences of refraction in this quarter of the world. Franklin returned from his first and most famous voyage with his men all safe and sound, except the loss of a few fingers, frost-bitten. We sail back only as far as Regent’s Inlet, being bound for Behring Strait.

The reputation of Sir John Ross being clouded by discontent expressed against his first expedition, Felix Booth, a rich distiller, provided seventeen thousand pounds to enable his friend to redeem his credit. Sir John accordingly, in 1829, went out in the Victory, provided with steam-machinery that did not answer well. He was accompanied by Sir James Ross, his nephew. He it was who, on this occasion, first surveyed Regent’s Inlet, down which we are now sailing with our Phantom Ship. The coast on our right hand, westward, which Parry saw, is called North Somerset, but farther south, where the inlet widens, the land is named Boothia Felix. Five years before this, Parry, in his third voyage, had attempted to pass down Regent’s Inlet, where among ice and storm, one of his ships, the Hecla, had been driven violently ashore, and of necessity abandoned. The stores had been removed, and Sir John was able now to replenish his own vessel from them. Rounding a point at the bottom of Prince Regent’s Inlet, we find Felix Harbour, where Sir John Ross wintered. His nephew made from this point scientific explorations; discovered a strait, called after him the Strait of James Ross, and on the northern shore of this strait, on the main land of Boothia, planted the British flag on the Northern Magnetic Pole. The ice broke up, so did the Victory; after a hairbreadth escape, the party found a searching vessel and arrived home after an absence of four years and five months, Sir John Ross having lost his ship, and won his reputation, The friend in need was made a baronet for his munificence; Sir John was reimbursed for all his losses, and the crew liberally taken care of. Sir James Ross had a rod and flag signifying “Magnetic Pole,” given to him for a new crest, by the Heralds’ College, for which he was no doubt greatly the better.

We have sailed northward to get into Hudson Strait, the high road into Hudson Bay. Along the shore are Esquimaux in boats, extremely active, but these filthy creatures we pass by; the Esquimaux in Hudson Strait are like the negroes of the coast, demoralised by intercourse with European traders. These are not true pictures of the loving children of the north. Our “Phantom” floats on the wide waters of Hudson Bay–the grave of its discoverer. Familiar as the story is of Henry Hudson’s fate, for John King’s sake how gladly we repeat it. While sailing on the waters he discovered, in 1611, his men mutinied; the mutiny was aided by Henry Green, a prodigal, whom Hudson had generously shielded from ruin. Hudson, the master, and his son, with six sick or disabled members of the crew, were driven from their cabins, forced into a little shallop, and committed helpless to the water and the ice. But there was one stout man, John King, the carpenter, who stepped into the boat, abjuring his companions, and chose rather to die than even passively be partaker in so foul a crime. John King, we who live after will remember you.

Here on aim island, Charlton Island, near our entrance to the bay, in 1631, wintered poor Captain James with his wrecked crew. This is a point outside the Arctic circle, but quite cold enough. Of nights, with a good fire in the house they built, hoar frost covered their beds, and the cook’s water in a metal pan before the fire was warm on one side and froze on the other. Here “it snowed and froze extremely, at which time we, looking from the shore towards the ship, she appeared a piece of ice in the fashion of a ship, or a ship resembling a piece of ice.” Here the gunner, who hand lost his leg, besought that, “for the little the he had to live, he might drink sack altogether.” He died and was buried in the ice far from the vessel, but when afterwards two more were dead of scurvy, and the others, in a miserable state, were working with faint hope about their shattered vessel, the gunner was found to have returned home to the old vessel; his leg had penetrated through a port-hole. They “digged him clear out, and he was as free from noisomeness,” the record says, “as when we first committed him to the sea. This alteration had the ice, and water, and time, only wrought on him, that his flesh would slip up and down upon his bones, like a glove on a man’s hand. In the evening we buried him by the others.” These worthy souls, laid up with the agonies of scurvy, knew that in action was their only hope; they forced their limbs to labour, among ice and water, every day. They set about the building of a boat, but the hard frozen wood had broken their axes, so they made shift with the pieces. To fell a tree, it was first requisite to light in fire around it, and the carpenter could only labour with his wood over a fire, or else it was like stone under his tools. Before the boat was made they buried the carpenter. The captain exhorted them to put their trust in God; “His will be done. If it be our fortune to end our days here, we are as near Heaven as in England. They all protested to work to the utmost of their strength, and that they would refuse nothing that I should order them to do to the utmost hazard of their lives. I thanked them all.” Truly the North Pole has its triumphs. If we took no account of the fields of trade opened by our Arctic explorers, if we thought nothing of the wants of science in comparison with the lives lost in supplying them, is not the loss of life a gain, which proves and tests the fortitude of noble hearts, and teaches us respect for human nature? All the lives that have been lost among these Polar regions are less in number than the dead upon a battle-field. The battle-field inflicted shame upon our race–is it with shame that our hearts throb in following these Arctic heroes? March 31st, says Captain James, “was very cold, with snow and hail, which pinched our sick men more than any time this year. This evening, being May eve, we returned late from our work to our house, and made a good fire, and chose ladies, and ceremoniously wore their names in our caps, endeavouring to revive ourselves by any means. On the 15th, I manured a little patch of ground that was bare of snow, and sowed it with pease, hoping to have some shortly to eat, for as yet we could see no green thing to comfort us.” Those pease saved the party; as they came up the young shoots were boiled and eaten, so their health began to mend, and they recovered from their scurvy. Eventually, after other perils, they succeeded in making their escape.

A strait, called Sir Thomas Rowe’s Welcome, leads due north out of Hudson Bay, being parted by Southampton Island from the strait through which we entered. Its name is quaint, for so was its discoverer, Luke Fox, a worthy man, addicted much to euphuism. Fox sailed from London in the same year in which James sailed from Bristol. They were rivals. Meeting in Davis Straits, Fox dined on board his friendly rival’s vessel, which was very unfit for the service upon which it went. The sea washed over them and came into the cabin, so says Fox, “sauce would not have been wanted if there had been roast mutton.” Luke Fox, being ice-bound and in peril, writes, “God thinks upon our imprisonment within a supersedeas;” but he was a good and honourable man as wall as euphuist. His “Sir Thomas Rowe’s Welcome” leads into Fox Channel: our “Phantom Ship” is pushing through the welcome passes on the left-hand Repulse Bay. This portion of the Arctic regions, with Fox Channel, is extremely perilous. Here Captain Lyon, in the Griper, was thrown anchorless upon the mercy of a stormy sea, ice crashing around him. One island in Fox Channel is called Mill Island, from the incessant grinding of great masses of ice collected there. In the northern part of Fox Channel, on the western shore, is Melville Peninsula, where Parry wintered on his second voyage. Here let us go ashore and see a little colony of Esquimaux.

Their limits are built of blocks of snow, and arched, having an ice pane for a window. They construct their arched entrance and their hemispherical roof on the true principles of architecture. Those wise men, the Egyptians, made their arch by hewing the stones out of shape; the Esquimaux have the true secret. Here they are, with little food in winter and great appetites; devouring a whole walrus when they get it, and taking the chance of hunger for the next eight days–hungry or full, for ever happy in their lot–here are the Esquimaux. They are warmly clothed, each in a double suit of skins sewn neatly together. Some are singing, with good voices too. Please them, and they straightway dance; activity is good in a cold climate: Play to them on the flute, or if you can sing well, sing, or turn a barrel-organ, they are mute, eager with wonder and delight; their love of music is intense. Give them a pencil, and, like children, they will draw. Teach them and they will learn, oblige them and they will be grateful. “Gentle and loving savages,” one of our old worthies called them, and the Portuguese were so much impressed with their teachable and gentle conduct, that a Venetian ambassador writes, “His serene majesty contemplates deriving great advantage from the country, not only on account of the timber of which he has occasion, but of the inhabitants, who are admirably calculated for labour, and are the best I have ever seen.” The Esquimaux, of course, will learn vice, and in the region visited by whale ships, vice enough has certainly been taught him. Here are the dogs, who will eat old coats, or anything; and, near the dwellings, here is a snow-bunting–robin redbreast of the Arctic lands. A party of our sailors once, on landing, took some sticks from a large heap, and uncovered the nest of a snow-bunting with young, the bird flew to a little distance, but seeing that the men sat down, and harmed her not, continued to seek food and supply her little ones, with full faith in the good intentions of the party. Captain Lyon found a child’s grave partly uncovered, and a snow- bunting had built its nest upon the infant’s bosom.

Sailing round Melville Peninsula, we come into the Gulf of Akkolee, through Fury and Hecla Straits, discovered by Parry. So we get back to the bottom of Regent’s Inlet, which we quitted a short time ago, and sailing in the neighbourhood of the magnetic pole, we reach the estuary of Back’s River, on the north-east coast of America. We pass then through a strait, discovered in 1839 by Dean and Simpson, still coasting along the northern shore of America, on the great Stinking Lake, as Indians call this ocean. Boats, ice permitting, and our “Phantom Ship,” of course, can coast all the way to Behring Strait. The whole coast has been explored by Sir John Franklin, Sir John Richardson, and Sir George Back, who have earned their knighthoods through great peril. As we pass Coronation Gulf–the scene of Franklin, Richardson, and Back’s first exploration from the Coppermine River–we revert to the romantic story of their journey back, over a land of snow and frost, subsisting upon lichens, with companions starved to death, where they plucked wild leaves for tea, and ate their shoes for supper; the tragedy by the river; the murder of poor Hood, with a book of prayers in his hand; Franklin at Fort Enterprise, with two companions at the point of death, himself gaunt, hollow-eyed, feeding on pounded bones, raked from the dunghill; the arrival of Dr. Richardson and the brave sailor; their awful story of the cannibal Michel;–we revert to these things with a shudder. But we must continue on our route. The current still flows westward, bearing now large quantities of driftwood out of the Mackenzie River. At the name of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, also, we might pause, and talk over the bold achievements of another Arctic hero; but we pass on, by a rugged and inhospitable coast, unfit for vessels of large draught–pass the broad mouth of the Youcon, pass Point Barrow, Icy Cape, and are in Behring Strait. Had we passed on, we should have found the Russian Arctic coast line, traced out by a series of Russian explorers; of whom the most illustrious– Baron Von Wrangell–states, that beyond a certain distance to the northward there is always found what he calls the Polynja (open water). This is the fact adduced by those who adhere to the old fancy that there is a sea about the Pole itself quite free from ice.

We pass through Behring Straits. Behring, a Dane by birth, but in the Russian service, died here in 1741, upon the scene of his discovery. He and his crew, victims of scurvy, were unable to manage their vessel in a storm; and it was at length wrecked on a barren island, there, where “want, nakedness, cold, sickness, impatience, and despair, were their daily guests,” Behring, his lieutenant, and the master died.

Now we must put a girdle round the world, and do it with the speed of Ariel. Here we are already in the heats of the equator. We can do no more than remark, that if air and water are heated at the equator, and frozen at the poles, there will be equilibrium destroyed, and constant currents caused. And so it happens, so we get the prevailing winds, and all the currents of the ocean. Of these, some of the uses, but by no means all, are obvious. We urge our “Phantom” fleetly to the southern pole. Here, over the other hemisphere of the earth, there shines another hemisphere of heaven. The stars are changed; the southern cross, the Magellanic clouds, the “coal-sack” in the milky way, attract our notice. Now we are in the southern latitude that corresponds to England in the north; nay, at a greater distance from the Pole, we find Kerguelen’s Land, emphatically called “The Isle of Desolation.” Icebergs float much further into the warm sea on this side of the equator before they dissolve. The South Pole is evidently a more thorough refrigerator than the North. Why is this? We shall soon see. We push through pack-ice, and through floes and fields, by lofty bergs, by an island or two covered with penguins, until there lies before us a long range of mountains, nine or ten thousand feet in height, and all clad in eternal snow. That is a portion of the Southern Continent. Lieutenant Wilkes, in the American exploring expedition, first discovered this, and mapped out some part of the coast, putting a few clouds in likewise–a mistake easily made by those who omit to verify every foot of land. Sir James Ross, in his most successful South Pole Expedition, during the years 1839-43, sailed over some of this land, and confirmed the rest. The Antarctic, as well as the Arctic honours he secured for England, by turning a corner of the land, and sailing far southward, along an impenetrable icy barrier, to the latitude of seventy-eight degrees, nine minutes. It is an elevated continent, with many lofty ranges. On the extreme southern point reached by the ships, a magnificent volcano was seen spouting fire and smoke out of the everlasting snow. This volcano, twelve thousand four hundred feet high, was named Mount Erebus; for the Erebus and Terror long sought anxiously among the bays, and sounds, and creeks of the North Pole, then coasted by the solid ice walls of the south.

H. M.

A DISCOURSE WRITTEN BY SIR HUMPHREY GILBERT, KNIGHT. To prove a Passage by the North-West to Cathay and the East Indies.


When I gave myself to the study of geography, after I had perused and diligently scanned the descriptions of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and conferred them with the maps and globes both antique and modern, I came in fine to the fourth part of the world, commonly called America, which by all descriptions I found to be an island environed round about with the sea, having on the south side of it the Strait of Magellan, on the west side the Mare de Sur, which sea runneth towards the north, separating it from the east parts of Asia, where the dominions of the Cathaians are. On the east part our west ocean, and on the north side the sea that severeth it from Greenland, through which northern seas the passage lieth, which I take now in hand to discover.

Plato in his Timaeus and in the dialogue called Critias, discourses of an incomparable great island then called Atlantis, being greater than all Africa and Asia, which lay westward from the Straits of Gibraltar, navigable round about: affirming, also, that the princes of Atlantis did as well enjoy the governance of all Africa and the most part of Europe as of Atlantis itself.

Also to prove Plato’s opinion of this island, and the inhabiting of it in ancient time by them of Europe, to be of the more credit: Marinaeus Siculus, in his Chronicle of Spain, reporteth that there hath been found by the Spaniards in the gold mines of America certain pieces of money, engraved with the image of Augustus Caesar; which pieces were sent to the Pope for a testimony of the matter by John Rufus, Archbishop of Constantinum.

Moreover, this was not only thought of Plato, but by Marsilius Ficinus, an excellent Florentine philosopher, Crantor the Grecian, Proclus, also Philo the famous Jew (as appeareth in his book De Mundo, and in the Commentaries upon Plato), to be overflown, and swallowed up with water, by reason of a mighty earthquake and streaming down of the heavenly flood gates. The like thereof happened unto some part of Italy, when by the forcibleness of the sea, called Superum, it cut off Sicily from the continent of Calabria, as appeareth in Justin in the beginning of his fourth book. Also there chanced the like in Zeeland, a part of Flanders.

And also the cities of Pyrrha and Antissa, about Palus Meotis; and also the city Burys, in the Corinthian Gulf, commonly called Sinus Corinthiacus, have been swallowed up with the sea, and are not at this day to be discerned: by which accident America grew to be unknown, of long time, unto us of the later ages, and was lately discovered again by Americus Vespucius, in the year of our Lord 1497, which some say to have been first discovered by Christopher Columbus, a Genoese, Anno 1492.

The same calamity happened unto this isle of Atlantis six hundred and odd years before Plato’s time, which some of the people of the south-east parts of the world accounted as nine thousand years; for the manner then was to reckon the moon’s period of the Zodiac for a year, which is our usual month, depending a Luminari minore.

So that in these our days there can no other main or island be found or judged to be parcel of this Atlantis than those western islands, which now bear the name of America; countervailing thereby the name of Atlantis in the knowledge of our age.

Then, if when no part of the said Atlantis was oppressed by water and earthquake, the coasts round about the same were navigable, a far greater hope now remaineth of the same by the north-west, seeing the most part of it was since that time swallowed up with water, which could not utterly take away the old deeps and channels, but, rather, be many occasion of the enlarging of the old, and also an enforcing of a great many new; why then should we now doubt of our North-West Passage and navigation from England to India, etc., seeing that Atlantis, now called America, was ever known to be an island, and in those days navigable round about, which by access of more water could not be diminished?

Also Aristotle in his book De Mundo, and the learned German, Simon Gryneus, in his annotations upon the same, saith that the whole earth (meaning thereby, as manifestly doth appear, Asia, Africa, and Europe, being all the countries then known) to be but one island, compassed about with the reach of the Atlantic sea; which likewise approveth America to be an island, and in no part adjoining to Asia or the rest.

Also many ancient writers, as Strabo and others, called both the ocean sea (which lieth east of India) Atlanticum Pelagus, and that sea also on the west coasts of Spain and Africa, Mare Atlanticum; the distance between the two coasts is almost half the compass of the earth.

So that it is incredible, as by Plato appeareth manifestly, that the East Indian Sea had the name of Atlanticum Pelagus, of the mountain Atlas in Africa, or yet the sea adjoining to Africa had name Oceanus Atlanticus, of the same mountain; but that those seas and the mountain Atlas were so called of this great island Atlantis, and that the one and the other had their names for a memorial of the mighty Prince Atlas, sometime king thereof, who was Japhet, youngest son to Noah, in whose time the whole earth was divided between the three brethren, Shem, Ham, and Japhet.

Wherefore I am of opinion that America by the north-west will be found favourable to this our enterprise, and am the rather emboldened to believe the same, for that I find it not only confirmed by Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient philosophers, but also by the best modern geographers, as Gemma Frisius, Munsterus, Appianus Hunterus, Gastaldus, Guyccardinus, Michael Tramesinus, Franciscus Demongenitus, Barnardus, Puteanus, Andreas Vavasor, Tramontanus, Petrus Martyr, and also Ortelius, who doth coast out in his general map (set out Anno 1569) all the countries and capes on the north-west side of America from Hochelega to Cape de Paramantia, describing likewise the sea-coasts of Cathay and Greenland, towards any part of America, making both Greenland and America islands disjoined by a great sea from any part of Asia.

All which learned men and painful travellers have affirmed with one consent and voice, that America was an island, and that there lieth a great sea between it, Cathay, and Greenland, by the which any man of our country that will give the attempt, may with small danger pass to Cathay, the Moluccas, India, and all other places in the east in much shorter time than either the Spaniard or Portuguese doth, or may do, from the nearest part of any of their countries within Europe.

What moved these learned men to affirm thus much I know not, or to what end so many and sundry travellers of both ages have allowed the same; but I conjecture that they would never have so constantly affirmed, or notified their opinions therein to the world, if they had not had great good cause, and many probable reasons to have led them thereunto.

Now lest you should make small account of ancient writers or of their experiences which travelled long before our times, reckoning their authority amongst fables of no importance, I have for the better assurance of those proofs set down some part of a discourse, written in the Saxon tongue, and translated into English by Master Noel, servant to Master Secretary Cecil, wherein there is described a navigation which one other made, in the time of King Alfred, King of Wessex, Anne 871, the words of which discourse were these: “He sailed right north, having always the desert land on the starboard, and on the larboard the main sea, continuing his course, until he perceived that the coast bowed directly towards the east or else the sea opened into the land he could not tell how far, where he was compelled to stay until he had a western wind or somewhat upon the north, and sailed thence directly east along the coast, so far as he was able in four days, where he was again enforced to tarry until he had a north wind, because the coast there bowed directly towards the south, or at least opened he knew not how far into the land, so that he sailed thence along the coast continually full south, so far as he could travel in the space of five days, where he discovered a mighty river which opened far into the land, and in the entry of this river he turned back again.”

Whereby it appeareth that he went the very way that we now do yearly trade by S. Nicholas into Muscovia, which way no man in our age knew for certainty to be sea, until it was since discovered by our Englishmen in the time of King Edward I., but thought before that time that Greenland had joined to Normoria Byarmia, and therefore was accounted a new discovery, being nothing so indeed, as by this discourse of Ochther’s it appeareth.

Nevertheless if any man should have taken this voyage in hand by the encouragement of this only author, he should have been thought but simple, considering that this navigation was written so many years past, in so barbarous a tongue by one only obscure author, and yet we in these our days find by our own experiences his former reports to be true.

How much more, then, ought we to believe this passage to Cathay to be, being verified by the opinions of all the best, both antique and modern geographers, and plainly set out in the best and most allowed maps, charts, globes, cosmographical tables, and discourses of this our age and by the rest not denied, but left as a matter doubtful.


1. All seas are maintained by the abundance of water, so that the nearer the end any river, bay, or haven is, the shallower it waxeth (although by some accidental bar it is sometime found otherwise), but the farther you sail west from Iceland, towards the place where this strait is thought to be, the more deep are the seas, which giveth us good hope of continuance of the same sea, with Mare del Sur, by some strait that lieth between America, Greenland, and Cathay.

2. Also, if that America were not an island, but a part of the continent adjoining to Asia, either the people which inhabit Mangia, Anian, and Quinzay, etc., being borderers upon it, would before this time have made some road into it, hoping to have found some like commodities to their own.

3. Or else the Syrians and Tartars (which oftentimes heretofore have sought far and near for new seats, driven thereunto through the necessity of their cold and miserable countries) would in all this time have found the way to America and entered the same had the passages been never so strait or difficult, the country being so temperate, pleasant, and fruitful in comparison of their own. But there was never any such people found there by any of the Spaniards, Portuguese, or Frenchmen, who first discovered the inland of that country, which Spaniards or Frenchmen must then of necessity have seen some one civilised man in America, considering how full of civilised people Asia is; but they never saw so much as one token or sign that ever any man of the known part of the world had been there.

4. Furthermore, it is to be thought, that if by reason of mountains or other craggy places the people neither of Cathay or Tartary could enter the country of America, or they of America have entered Asia if it were so joined, yet some one savage or wandering-beast would in so many years have passed into it; but there hath not any time been found any of the beasts proper to Cathay or Tartary, etc., in America; nor of those proper to America in Tartary, Cathay, etc., or in any part of Asia, which thing proveth America not only to be one island, and in no part adjoining to Asia, but also that the people of those countries have not had any traffic with each other.

5. Moreover at the least some one of those painful travellers which of purpose have passed the confines of both countries, with intent only to discover, would, as it is most likely, have gone from the one to the other, if there had been any piece of land, or isthmus, to have joined them together, or else have declared some cause to the contrary.

6. But neither Paulus Venetus, who lived and dwelt a long time in Cathay, ever came into America, and yet was at the sea coasts of Mangia over against it, where he was embarked and performed a great navigation along those seas; neither yet Veratzanus or Franciscus Vasquez de Coronado, who travelled the north part of America by land, ever found entry from thence by land to Cathay, or any part of Asia.

7. Also it appeareth to be an island, insomuch as the sea runneth by nature circularly from the east to the west, following the diurnal motion of the Primum Mobile, and carrieth with it all inferior bodies movable, as well celestial as elemental; which motion of the waters is most evidently seen in the sea, which lieth on the south side of Africa, where the current that runneth from the east to the west is so strong (by reason of such motion) that the Portuguese in their voyages eastward to Calicut, in passing by the Cape of Good Hope, are enforced to make divers courses, the current there being so swift, as it striketh from thence, all along westward, upon the straits of Magellan, being distant from thence near the fourth part of the longitude of the earth: and not having free passage and entrance through that frith towards the west, by reason of the narrowness of the said strait of Magellan, it runneth to salve this wrong (Nature not yielding to accidental restraints) all along the eastern coasts of America northwards so far as Cape Frido, being the farthest known place of the same continent towards the north, which is about four thousand eight-hundred leagues, reckoning therewithal the trending of the land.

8. So that this current, being continually maintained with such force as Jacques Cartier affirmeth it to be, who met with the same, being at Baccalaos as he sailed along the coasts of America, then, either it must of necessity have way to pass from Cape Frido through this frith, westward towards Cathay, being known to come so far only to salve his former wrongs by the authority before named; or else it must needs strike over upon the coast of Iceland, Lapland, Finmark, and Norway (which are east from the said place about three hundred and sixty leagues) with greater force than it did from the Cape of Good Hope upon the strait of Magellan, or from the strait of Magellan to Cape Frido; upon which coasts Jacques Cartier met with the same, considering the shortness of the cut from the said Cape Frido to Iceland, Lapland, etc. And so the cause efficient remaining, it would have continually followed along our coasts through the narrow seas, which it doeth not, but is digested about the north of Labrador by some through passage there through this frith.

The like course of the water, in some respect, happeneth in the Mediterranean Sea (as affirmeth Contorenus), where, as the current which cometh from Tanais and the Euxine, running along all the coasts of Greece, Italy, France, and Spain, and not finding sufficient way out through Gibraltar by means of the straitness of the frith, it runneth back again along the coasts of Barbary by Alexandria, Natolia, etc.

It may, peradventure, be thought that this course of the sea doth sometime surcease and thereby impugn this principle, because it is not discerned all along the coast of America in such sort as Jacques Cartier found it, whereunto I answer this: That albeit in every part of the coast of America or elsewhere this current is not sensibly perceived, yet it hath evermore such like motion, either the uppermost or nethermost part of the sea; as it may be proved true, if you sink a sail by a couple of ropes near the ground, fastening to the nethermost corners two gun chambers or other weights, by the driving whereof you shall plainly perceive the course of the water and current running with such like course in the bottom. By the like experiment you may find the ordinary motion of the sea in the ocean, how far soever you be off the land.

9. Also, there cometh another current from out the north-east from the Scythian Sea (as Master Jenkinson, a man of rare virtue, great travel, and experience, told me), which runneth westward towards Labrador, as the other did which cometh from the south; so that both these currents must have way through this our strait, or else encounter together and run contrary courses in one line, but no such conflicts of streams or contrary courses are found about any part of Labrador or Newfoundland, as witness our yearly fishers and other sailors that way, but is there separated as aforesaid, and found by the experience of Barnarde de la Torre to fall into Mare del Sur.

10. Furthermore, the current in the great ocean could not have been maintained to run continually one way from the beginning of the world unto this day, had there not been some through passage by the strait aforesaid, and so by circular motion be brought again to maintain itself, for the tides and courses of the sea are maintained by their interchangeable motions, as fresh rivers are by springs, by ebbing and flowing, by rarefaction and condensation.

So that it resteth not possible (so far as my simple reason can comprehend) that this perpetual current can by any means be maintained, but only by a continual reaccess of the same water, which passeth through the strait, and is brought about thither again by such circular motion as aforesaid, and the certain falling thereof by this strait into Mare del Sur is proved by the testimony and experience of Barnarde de la Torre, who was sent from P. de la Natividad to the Moluccas, 1542, by commandment of Anthony Mendoza, then Viceroy of Nova Hispania, which Barnarde sailed 750 leagues on the north side of the Equator, and there met with a current which came from the north-east, the which drove him back again to Tidore.

Wherefore this current being proved to come from the Cape of Good Hope to the strait of Magellan, and wanting sufficient entrance there, is by the necessity of Nature’s force brought to Terra de Labrador, where Jacques Cartier met the same, and thence certainly known not to strike over upon Iceland, Lapland, etc., and found by Barnarde de la Torre, in Mare del Sur, on the backside of America, therefore this current, having none other passage, must of necessity fall out through this strait into Mare del Sur, and so trending by the Moluccas, China, and the Cape of Good Hope, maintaineth itself by circular motion, which is all one in Nature with motus ab oriente in occidentem.

So that it seemeth we have now more occasion to doubt of our return than whether there be a passage that way, yea or no: which doubt hereafter shall be sufficiently removed; wherefore, in my opinion reason itself grounded upon experience assureth us of this passage if there were nothing else to put us in hope thereof. But lest these might not suffice, I have added in this chapter following some further proof thereof, by the experience of such as have passed some part of this discovery, and in the next adjoining to that the authority of those which have sailed wholly through every part thereof.


1. Paulus Venetus, who dwelt many years in Cathay, affirmed that he had sailed 1,500 miles upon the coast of Mangia and Anian, towards the north-east, always finding the seas open before him, not only as far as he went, but also as far as he could discern.

2. Also Franciscus Vasquez de Coronado, passing from Mexico by Cevola, through the country of Quiver to Sierra Nevada, found there a great sea, where were certain ships laden with merchandise, the mariners wearing on their heads the pictures of certain birds called Alcatrarzi, part whereof were made of gold and part of silver; who signified by signs that they were thirty days coming thither, which likewise proveth America by experience to be disjoined from Cathay, on that part, by a great sea, because they could not come from any part of America as natives thereof; for that, so far as is discovered, there hath not been found there any one ship of that country.

3. In like manner, Johann Baros testifieth that the cosmographers of China (where he himself had been) affirm that the sea coast trendeth from thence north-east to fifty degrees of septentrional latitude, being the farthest part that way, which the Portuguese had then knowledge of; and that the said cosmographers knew no cause to the contrary, but that it might continue farther.

By whose experiences America is proved to be separate from those parts of Asia, directly against the same. And not contented with the judgments of these learned men only, I have searched what might be further said for the confirmation hereof.

4. And I found that Franciscus Lopez de Gomara affirmeth America to be an island, and likewise Greenland; and that Greenland is distant from Lapland forty leagues, and from Terra de Labrador fifty.

5. Moreover Alvarez Nunmius, a Spaniard, and learned cosmographer, and Jacques Cartier, who made two voyages into those parts, and sailed five hundred miles upon the north-east coasts of America.

6. Likewise Hieronimus Fracastorius, a learned Italian, and traveller in the north parts of the same land.

7. Also Jacques Cartier, having done the like, heard say at Hochelaga, in Nova Francia, how that there was a great sea at Saguinay, whereof the end was not known: which they presupposed to be the passage to Cathay. Furthermore, Sebastian Cabot, by his personal experience and travel, has set forth and described this passage in his charts which are yet to be seen in the Queen’s Majesty’s Privy Gallery at Whitehall, who was sent to make this discovery by King Henry VII. and entered the same straits, affirming that he sailed very far westward with a quarter of the north, on the north side of Terra de Labrador, the 11th of June, until he came to the septentrional latitude of sixty-seven and a half degrees, and finding the seas still open, said, that he might and would have gone to Cathay if the mutiny of the master and mariners had not been.

Now, as these men’s experience have proved some part of this passage, so the chapter following shall put you in full assurance of the rest by their experiences which have passed through every part thereof.


The diversity between brute beasts and men, or between the wise and the simple, is, that the one judgeth by sense only, and gathereth no surety of anything that he hath not seen, felt, heard, tasted, or smelled: and the other not so only, but also findeth the certainty of things, by reason, before they happen to be tried, wherefore I have added proofs of both sorts, that the one and the other might thereby be satisfied.

1. First, as Gemma Frisius reciteth, there went from Europe three brethren though this passage: whereof it took the name of Fretum trium fratrum.

2. Also Pliny affirmeth out of Cornelius Nepos (who wrote fifty- seven years before Christ) that there were certain Indians driven by tempest upon the coast of Germany which were presented by the King of Suevia unto Quintus Metellus Celer, then Pro-Consul of France.

3. And Pliny upon the same saith that it is no marvel, though there be sea by the north, where there is such abundance of moisture; which argueth, that he doubted not of a navigable passage that way, through which those Indians came.

4. And for the better proof that the same authority of Cornelius Nepos is not by me wrested to prove my opinion of the North-West Passage, you shall find the same affirmed more plainly in that behalf by the excellent geographer Dominicus Marius Niger, who showeth how many ways the Indian sea stretcheth itself, making in that place recital of certain Indians that were likewise driven through the north seas from India, upon the coasts of Germany, by great tempest, as they were sailing in trade of merchandise.

5. Also, whiles Frederick Barbarossa reigned Emperor, A.D. 1160, there came certain other Indians upon the coast of Germany.

6. Likewise Othon, in the story of the Goths, affirmeth that in the time of the German Emperors there were also certain Indians cast by force of weather upon the coast of the said country, which foresaid Indians could not possibly have come by the south-east, south-west, nor from any part of Africa or America, nor yet by the north-east: therefore they came of necessity by this our North-West Passage.


1. They could not come from the south-east by the Cape of Good Hope, because the roughness of the seas there is such–occasioned by the currents and great winds in that part–that the greatest armadas the King of Portugal hath cannot without great difficulty pass that way, much less, then, a canoe of India could live in those outrageous seas without shipwreck, being a vessel but of very small burden, and the Indians have conducted themselves to the place aforesaid, being men unexpert in the art of navigation.

2. Also, it appeareth plainly that they were not able to come from along the coast of Africa aforesaid to those parts of Europe, because the winds do, for the most part, blow there easterly or from the shore, and the current running that way in like sort, would have driven them westward upon some part of America, for such winds and tides could never have led them from thence to the said place where they were found, nor yet could they have come from any of the countries aforesaid, keeping the seas always, without skilful mariners to have conducted them such like courses as were necessary to perform such a voyage.

3. Presupposing also, if they had been driven to the west, as they must have been, coming that way, then they should have perished, wanting supply of victuals, not having any place–once leaving the coast of Africa–until they came to America, north of America, until they arrived upon some part of Europe or the islands adjoining to it to have refreshed themselves.

4. Also, if, notwithstanding such impossibilities, they might have recovered Germany by coming from India by the south-east, yet must they without all doubt have struck upon some other part of Europe before their arrival there, as the isles of Madeira, Portugal, Spain, France, England, Ireland, etc., which, if they had done, it is not credible that they should or would have departed undiscovered of the inhabitants; but there was never found in those days any such ship or men, but only upon the coasts of Germany, where they have been sundry times and in sundry ages cast ashore; neither is it like that they would have committed themselves again to sea, if they had so arrived, not knowing where they were, nor whither to have gone.

5. And by the south-west it is impossible, because the current aforesaid, which cometh from the east, striketh with such force upon the Straits of Magellan, and falleth with such swiftness and fury into Mare de Sur, that hardly any ship–but not possibly a canoe, with such unskilful mariners–can come into our western ocean through that strait from the west seas of America, as Magellan’s experience hath partly taught us.

6. And further, to prove that these people so arriving upon the coast of Germany were Indians, and not inhabiters of any part either of Africa or America, it is manifest, because the natives, both of Africa and America, neither had, or have at this day, as is reported, other kind of boats than such as do bear neither masts nor sails, except only upon the coasts of Barbary and the Turks’ ships, but do carry themselves from place to place near the shore by the oar only.


1. It is likely that there should be no through passage by the north-east whereby to go round about the world, because all seas, as aforesaid, are maintained by the abundance of water, waxing more shallow and shelving towards the end, as we find it doth, by experience, in the Frozen Sea, towards the east, which breedeth small hope of any great continuance of that sea to be navigable towards the east, sufficient to sail thereby round about the world.

2. Also, it standeth scarcely with reason that the Indians dwelling under the Torrid Zone could endure the injury of the cold air, about the northern latitude of 80 degrees, under which elevation the passage by the north-east cannot be, as the often experiences had of all the south part of it showeth, seeing that some of the inhabitants of this cold climate, whose summer is to them an extreme winter, have been stricken to death with the cold damps of the air, about 72 degrees, by an accidental mishap, and yet the air in such like elevation is always cold, and too cold for such as the Indians are.

3. Furthermore, the piercing cold of the gross thick air so near the Pole will so stiffen the sails and ship tackling, that no mariner can either hoist or strike them–as our experience, far nearer the south than this passage is presupposed to be, hath taught us–without the use whereof no voyage can be performed.

4. Also, the air is so darkened with continual mists and fogs so near the Pole, that no man can well see either to guide his ship or to direct his course.

5. Also the compass at such elevation doth very suddenly vary, which things must of force have been their destruction, although they had been men of much more skill than the Indians are.

6. Moreover, all bays, gulfs, and rivers do receive their increase upon the flood, sensibly to be discerned on the one side of the shore or the other, as many ways as they be open to any main sea, as the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, Sinus Bodicus, the Thames, and all other known havens or rivers in any part of the world, and each of them opening but on one part to the main sea, do likewise receive their increase upon the flood the same way, and none other, which the Frozen Sea doth, only by the west, as Master Jenkinson affirmed unto me, and therefore it followeth that this north-east sea, receiving increase only from the west, cannot possibly open to the main ocean by the east.

7. Moreover, the farther you pass into any sea towards the end of it, of that part which is shut up from the main sea, as in all those above-mentioned, the less and less the tides rise and fall. The like whereof also happeneth in the Frozen Sea, which proveth but small continuance of that sea toward the east.

8. Also, the farther ye go towards the east in the Frozen Sea the less soft the water is, which could not happen if it were open to the salt sea towards the east, as it is to the west only, seeing everything naturally engendereth his like, and then must it be like salt throughout, as all the seas are in such like climate and elevation. And therefore it seemeth that this north-east sea is maintained by the river Ob, and such like freshets as the Pontic Sea and Mediterranean Sea, in the uppermost parts thereof by the river Nile, the Danube, Dnieper, Tanais, etc.

9. Furthermore, if there were any such sea at that elevation, of like it should be always frozen throughout–there being no tides to hinder it–because the extreme coldness of the air in the uppermost part, and the extreme coldness of the earth in the bottom, the sea there being but of small depth, whereby the one accidental coldness doth meet with the other; and the sun, not having his reflection so near the Pole, but at very blunt angles, it can never be dissolved after it is frozen, notwithstanding the great length of their day: for that the sun hath no heat at all in his light or beams, but proceeding only by an accidental reflection which there wanteth in effect.

10. And yet if the sun were of sufficient force in that elevation to prevail against this ice, yet must it be broken before it can be dissolved, which cannot be but through the long continue of the sun above their horizon, and by that time the summer would be so far spent, and so great darkness and cold ensue, that no man could be able to endure so cold, dark, and discomfortable a navigation, if it were possible for him then and there to live.

11. Further, the ice being once broken, it must of force so drive with the winds and tides that no ship can sail in those seas, seeing our fishers of Iceland and Newfoundland are subject to danger through the great islands of ice which fleet in the seas, far to the south of that presupposed passage.

12. And it cannot be that this North-East Passage should be any nearer the south than before recited, for then it should cut off Ciremissi and Turbi, Tartarii, with Vzesucani, Chisani, and others from the continent of Asia, which are known to be adjoining to Scythia, Tartary, etc., with the other part of the same continent.

And if there were any through passage by the north-east, yet were it to small end and purpose for our traffic, because no ship of great burden can navigate in so shallow a sea, and ships of small burden are very unfit and unprofitable, especially towards the blustering north, to perform such a voyage.


It is as likely that they came by the north-west as it is unlikely that they should come either by the south-east, south-west, north- east, or from any other part of Africa or America, and therefore this North-West Passage, having been already so many ways proved by disproving of the others, etc., I shall the less need in this place to use many words otherwise than to conclude in this sort, that they came only by the north-west from England, having these many reasons to lead me thereunto.

1. First, the one-half of the winds of the compass might bring them by the north-west, veering always between two sheets, with which kind of sailing the Indians are only acquainted, not having any use of a bow line or quarter wind, without the which no ship can possibly come, either by the south-east, south-west, or north-east, having so many sundry capes to double, whereunto are required such change and shifts of winds.

2. And it seemeth likely that they should come by the north-west, because the coast whereon they were driven lay east from this our passage, and all winds do naturally drive a ship to an opposite point from whence it bloweth, not being otherwise guided by art, which the Indians do utterly want, and therefore it seemeth that they came directly through this, our strait, which they might do with one wind.

3. For if they had come by the Cape of Good Hope, then must they, as aforesaid, have fallen upon the south parts of America.

4. And if by the Strait of Magellan, then upon the coasts of Africa, Spain, Portugal, France, Ireland, or England.

5. And if by the north-east, then upon the coasts of Ciremissi, Tartarii, Lapland, Iceland, Labrador, etc., and upon these coasts, as aforesaid, they have never been found.

So that by all likelihood they could never have come without shipwreck upon the coasts of Germany, if they had first struck upon the coasts of so many countries, wanting both art and shipping to make orderly discovery, and altogether ignorant both of the art of navigation and also of the rocks, flats, sands, or havens of those parts of the world, which in most of these places are plentiful.

6. And further, it seemeth very likely that the inhabitants of the most part of those countries, by which they must have come any other way besides by the north-west, being for the most part anthropophagi, or men-eaters, would have devoured them, slain them, or, at the leastwise, kept them as wonders for the gaze.

So that it plainly appeareth that those Indians–which, as you have heard, in sundry ages were driven by tempest upon the shore of Germany–came only through our North-West Passage.

7. Moreover, the passage is certainly proved by a navigation that a Portuguese made, who passed through this strait, giving name to a promontory far within the same, calling it after his own name, Promontorium Corterialis, near adjoining unto Polisacus Fluvius.

8. Also one Scolmus, a Dane, entered and passed a great part thereof.

9. Also there was one Salva Terra, a gentleman of Victoria in Spain, that came by chance out of the West Indies into Ireland, Anno 1568, who affirmed the North-West Passage from us to Cathay, constantly to be believed in America navigable; and further said, in the presence of Sir Henry Sidney, then Lord Deputy of Ireland, in my hearing, that a friar of Mexico, called Andre Urdaneta, more than eight years before his then coming into Ireland, told him there that he came from Mare del Sur into Germany through this North-West Passage, and showed Salva Terra–at that time being then with him in Mexico–a sea-card made by his own experience and travel in that voyage, wherein was plainly set down and described this North-West Passage, agreeing in all points with Ortelius’ map.

And further this friar told the King of Portugal (as he returned by that country homeward) that there was of certainty such a passage north-west from England, and that he meant to publish the same; which done, the king most earnestly desired him not in any wise to disclose or make the passage known to any nation. For that (said the king) IF ENGLAND HAD KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE THEREOF, IT WOULD GREATLY HINDER BOTH THE KING OF SPAIN AND ME. This friar (as Salva Terra reported) was the greatest discoverer by sea that hath been in our age. Also Salva Terra, being persuaded of this passage by the friar Urdaneta, and by the common opinion of the Spaniards inhabiting America, offered most willingly to accompany me in this discovery, which of like he would not have done if he had stood in doubt thereof.

And now, as these modern experiences cannot be impugned, so, least it might be objected that these things (gathered out of ancient writers, which wrote so many years past) might serve little to prove this passage by the north of America, because both America and India were to them then utterly unknown; to remove this doubt, let this suffice, that Aristotle (who was 300 years before Christ) named the Indian Sea. Also Berosus (who lived 330 before Christ) hath these words, GANGES IN INDIA.

Also in the first chapter of Esther be these words: “In the days of Ahasuerus, which ruled from India to Ethiopia,” which Ahasuerus lived 580 years before Christ. Also Quintus Curtius, where he speaketh of the Conquest of Alexander, mentioneth India. Also Arianus Philostratus, and Sidrach, in his discourses of the wars of the King of Bactria, and of Garaab, who had the most part of India under his government. All which assumeth us that both India and Indians were known in those days.

These things considered, we may, in my opinion, not only assure ourselves of this passage by the north-west, but also that it is navigable both to come and go, as hath been proved in part and in all by the experience of divers as Sebastian Cabot, Corterialis, the three brethren above named, the Indians, and Urdaneta, the friar of Mexico, etc.

And yet, notwithstanding all which, there be some that have a better hope of this passage to Cathay by the north-east than by the west, whose reasons, with my several answers, ensue in the chapter following.


Because you may understand as well those things alleged against me as what doth serve for my purpose, I have here added the reasons of Master Anthony Jenkinson, a worthy gentleman, and a great traveller, who conceived a better hope of the passage to Cathay from us to be by the north-east than by the north-west.

He first said that he thought not to the contrary but that there was a passage by the north-west, according to mime opinion, but he was assured that there might be found a navigable passage by the north- east from England to go to all the east parts of the world, which he endeavoured to prove three ways.

The first was, that he heard a fisherman of Tartary say in hunting the morse, that he sailed very far towards the south-east, finding no end of the sea, whereby he hoped a through passage to be that way.

Whereunto I answered that the Tartars were a barbarous people, and utterly ignorant in the art of navigation, not knowing the use of the sea-card, compass, or star, which he confessed true; and therefore they could not (said I) certainly know the south-east from the north-east in a wide sea, and a place unknown from the sight of the land.

Or if he sailed anything near the shore, yet he, being ignorant, might be deceived by the doubling of many points and capes, and by the trending of the land, albeit he kept continually along the shore.

And further, it might be that the poor fisherman through simplicity thought that there was nothing that way but sea, because he saw mine land, which proof (under correction) giveth small assurance of a navigable sea by the north-east to go round about the world, for that he judged by the eye only, seeing we in this clear air do account twenty miles a ken at sea.

His second reason is, that there was an unicorn’s horn found upon the coast of Tartary, which could not come (said he) thither by any other means than with the tides, through some strait in the north- east of the Frozen Sea, there being no unicorns in any part of Asia, saving in India and Cathay, which reason, in my simple judgment, has as little force.

First, it is doubtful whether those barbarous Tartars do know an unicorn’s horn, yea or no; and if it were one, yet it is not credible that the sea could have driven it so far, it being of such nature that it cannot float.

Also the tides running to and fro would have driven it as far back with the ebb as it brought it forward with the flood.

There is also a beast called Asinus Indicus (whose horn most like it was), which hath but one horn like an unicorn in his forehead, whereof there is great plenty in all the north parts thereunto adjoining, as in Lapland, Norway, Finmark, etc., as Jocobus Zeiglerus writeth in his history of Scondia.

And as Albertus saith, there is a fish which hath but one horn in his forehead like to an unicorn, and therefore it seemeth very doubtful both from whence it came, and whether it were an unicorn’s horn, yea or no.

His third and last reason was, that there came a continual stream or current through the Frozen Sea of such swiftness, as a Colmax told him, that if you cast anything therein, it would presently be carried out of sight towards the west.

Whereunto I answered, that there doth the like from Palus Maeotis, by the Euxine, the Bosphorus, and along the coast of Greece, etc., as it is affirmed by Contarenus, and divers others that have had experience of the same; and yet that sea lieth not open to any main sea that way, but is maintained by freshets, as by the Don, the Danube, etc.

In like manner is this current in the Frozen Sea increased and maintained by the Dwina, the river Ob, etc.

Now as I have here briefly recited the reasons alleged to prove a passage to Cathay by the north-east with my several answers thereunto, so will I leave it unto your judgment, to hope or despair of either at your pleasure.


1. By the north-east, if your winds do not give you a marvellous speedy and lucky passage, you are in danger (of being so near the Pole) to be benighted almost the one half of the year, and what danger that were, to live so long comfortless, void of light (if the cold killed you not), each man of reason or understanding may judge.

2. Also Mangia, Quinzai, and the Moluccas, are nearer unto us by the north-west than by the north-east more than two-fifths, which is almost by the half.

3. Also we may have by the rest a yearly return, it being at all times navigable, whereas you have but four months in the whole year to go by the north-east, the passage being at such elevation as it is formerly expressed, for it cannot be any nearer the south.

4. Furthermore, it cannot be finished without divers winterings by the way, having no havens in any temperate climate to harbour in there, for it is as much as we can well sail from hence to S. Nicholas, in the trade of Muscovy, and return in the navigable season of the year, and from S. Nicholas, Ciremissi, Tartarii, which standeth 80 degrees of the septentrional latitude, it is at the left 400 leagues, which amounteth scarce to the third part of the way, to the end of your voyage by the north-east.

5. And yet, after you have doubled this Cape, if then there might be found a navigable sea to carry you south-east according to your desire, yet can you not winter conveniently until you come to sixty degrees and to take up one degree running south-east you must sail twenty-four leagues and three four parts, which amounteth to four hundred and ninety-five leagues.

6. Furthermore, you may by the north-west sail thither, with all easterly winds, and return with any westerly winds, whereas you must have by the north-east sundry winds, and those proper, according to the lie of the coast and capes, you shall be enforced to double, which winds are not always to be had when they are looked for; whereby your journey should be greatly prolonged, and hardly endured so near the Pole, as we are taught by Sir Hugh Willoughbie, who was frozen to death far nearer the south.

7. Moreover, it is very doubtful whether we should long enjoy that trade by the north-east if there were any such passage that way, the commodities thereof once known to the Muscovite, what privilege soever he hath granted, seeing pollice with the maze of excessive gain, to the enriching of himself and all his dominions, would persuade him to presume the same, having so great opportunity, to distribute the commodities of those countries by the Naruc.

But by the north-west we may safely trade without danger or annoyance of any prince living, Christian or heathen, it being out of all their trades.

8. Also the Queen’s Majesty’s dominions are nearer the North-West Passage than any other great princes that might pass that way, and both in their going and return they must of necessity succour themselves and their ships upon some part of the same if any tempestuous weather should happen.

Further, no prince’s navy of the world is able to encounter the Queen’s Majesty’s navy as it is at this present; and yet it should be greatly increased by the traffic ensuing upon this discovery, for it is the long voyages that increase and maintain great shipping.

Now it seemeth unnecessary to declare what commodities would grow thereby if all these things were as we have heretofore presupposed and thought them to be; which next adjoining are briefly declared.


1. It were the only way for our princes to possess the wealth of all the east parts (as they term them) of the world, which is infinite; as appeareth by the experience of Alexander the Great in the time of his conquest of India and the east parts of the world, alleged by Quintus Curtius, which would be a great advancement to our country, wonderful enriching to our prince, and unspeakable commodities to all the inhabitants of Europe.

2. For, through the shortness of the voyage, we should be able to sell all manner of merchandise brought from thence far better cheap than either the Portuguese or Spaniard doth or may do. And, further, share with the Portuguese in the east and the Spaniard in the west by trading to any part of America through Mare del Sur, where they can no manner of way offend us.

3. Also we sailed to divers marvellous rich countries, both civil and others, out of both their jurisdictions, trades and traffics, where there is to be found great abundance of gold, silver, precious stones, cloth of gold, silks, all manner of spices, grocery wares, and other kinds of merchandise of an inestimable price, which both the Spaniard and Portuguese, through the length of their journeys, cannot well attain unto.

4. Also, we might inhabit some part of those countries, and settle there such needy people of our country which now trouble the commonwealth, and through want here at home are enforced to commit outrageous offences, whereby they are daily consumed with the gallows.

5. Moreover, we might from all the aforesaid places have a yearly return, inhabiting for our staple some convenient place of America, about Sierra Nevada or some other part, whereas it shall seem best for the shortening of the voyage.

6. Beside the exporting of our country commodities, which the Indians, etc., much esteem, as appeareth in Esther, where the pomp is expressed of the great King of India, Ahasuerus, who matched the coloured clothes wherewith his houses and tents were apparelled with gold and silver, as part of his greatest treasure, not mentioning velvets, silks, cloth of gold, cloth of silver, or such like, being in those countries most plentiful, whereby it plainly appeareth in what great estimation they would have the cloths of this our country, so that there would be found a far better vent for them by this means than yet this realm ever had; and that without depending either upon France, Spain, Flanders, Portugal, Hamborough, Emden, or any other part of Europe.

7. Also here we shall increase both our ships and mariners without burdening of the State.

8. And also have occasion to set poor men’s children to learn handicrafts, and thereby to make trifles and such like, which the Indians and those people do much esteem; by reason whereof, there should be none occasion to have our country cumbered with loiterers, vagabonds, and such like idle persons.

All these commodities would grew by following this our discovery without injury done to any Christian prince by crossing them in any of their used trades, whereby they might take any just occasion of offence.

Thus have I briefly showed you some part of the grounds of my opinion, trusting that you will no longer judge me fantastic in this matter, seeing I have conceived no hope of this voyage, but am persuaded thereunto by the best cosmographers of our age, the same being confirmed both by reason and certain experiences.

Also this discovery hath been divers times heretofore by others both proposed, attempted, and performed.

It hath been proposed by Stephen Gomez unto Carolus, the fifth emperor in the year of our Lord 1527, as Alphonse Ullva testifieth in the story of Carolus’ life, who would have set him forth in it (as the story mentioneth) if the great want of money, by reason of his long wars, had not caused him to surcease the same.

And the King of Portugal, fearing lest the emperor would have persevered in this his enterprise, gave him, to leave the matter unattempted, the sum of 350,000 crowns; and it is to be supposed that the King of Portugal would not have given to the emperor such sums of money for eggs in moonshine.

It hath been attempted by Corterialis the Portuguese, Scolmus the Dane, and by Sebastian Cabot in the time of King Henry VII.

And it hath been performed by the three brethren, the Indians aforesaid, and by Urdaneta, the friar of Mexico.

Also divers have proposed the like unto the French king, who hath sent two or three times to have discovered the same; the discoverers spending and consuming their victuals in searching the gulfs and bays between Florida and Labrador, whereby the ice is broken to the after-comers.

So that the right way may now be easily found out in short time, and that with little jeopardy and less expenses.

For America is discovered so far towards the north as Cape Frido, which is at 62 degrees, and that part of Greenland next adjoining is known to stand but at 72 degrees; so that we have but 10 degrees to sail north and south to put the world out of doubt hereof; and it is likely that the King of Spain and the King of Portugal would not have sat out all this while but that they are sure to possess to themselves all that trade they now use, and fear to deal in this discovery lest the Queen’s Majesty, having so good opportunity, and finding the commodity which thereby might ensue to the commonwealth, would cut them off and enjoy the whole traffic to herself, and thereby the Spaniards and Portuguese with their great charges should beat the bush and other men catch the birds; which thing they foreseeing, have commanded that no pilot of theirs, upon pain of death, should seek to discover to the north-west, or plat out in any sea-card any through passage that way by the north-west.

Now, if you will impartially compare the hope that remaineth to animate me to this enterprise with those likelihoods which Columbus alleged before Ferdinando, the King of Castilia, to prove that there were such islands in the West Ocean as were after by him and others discovered, to the great commodity of Spain and all the world, you will think then that this North-West Passage to be most worthy travel therein.

For Columbus had none of the West Islands set forth unto him either in globe or card, neither yet once mentioned of any writer (Plato excepted, and the commentaries upon the same) from 942 years before Christ until that day.

Moreover, Columbus himself had neither seen America nor any other of the islands about it, neither understood he of them by the report of any other that had seen them, but only comforted himself with this hope, that the land had a beginning where the sea had an ending. For as touching that which the Spaniards do write of a Biscaine which should have taught him the way thither, it is thought to be imagined of them to deprive Columbus of his honour, being none of their countryman, but a stranger born.

And if it were true of the Biscaine, yet did he but hit upon the matter, or, at the least, gathered the knowledge of it by conjectures only.

And albeit myself have not seen this passage, or any part thereof, but am ignorant of it as touching experience as Columbus was before his attempt was made, yet have I both the report, relation, and authority of divers most credible men, which have both seen and passed through some and every part of this discovery, besides sundry reasons for my assurance thereof, all which Columbus wanted.

These things considered and impartially weighed together, with the wonderful commodities which this discovery may bring, especially to this realm of England, I must needs conclude with learned Baptista Ramusius, and divers other learned men, who said that this discovery hath been reserved for some noble prince or worthy man, thereby to make himself rich, and the world happy: desiring you to accept in good part this brief and simple discourse, written in haste, which, if I may perceive that it shall not sufficiently satisfy you in this behalf, I will then impart unto you a large discourse, which I have written only of this discovery.

And further, because it sufficeth not only to knew that such a thing there is, without ability to perform the same, I will at leisure make you partaker of another simple discourse of navigation, wherein I have not a little travelled, to make myself as sufficient to bring these things to effect as I have been ready to offer myself therein.

And therein I have devised to amend the errors of usual sea-cards, whose common fault is to make the degrees of longitude in every latitude of one like bigness.

And have also devised therein a spherical instrument, with a compass of variation for the perfect knowing of the longitude.

And a precise order to prick the sea-card, together with certain infallible rules for the shortening of any discovery, to know at the first entering of any strait whether it lies open to the ocean more ways than one, how far soever the sea stretcheth itself into the land.

Desiring you hereafter never to mislike with me for the taking in hand of any laudable and honest enterprise, for if, through pleasure and idleness, we purchase shame, the pleasure vanisheth, but the shame remaineth for ever.

And therefore, to give me leave without offence always to live and die in this mind, THAT HE IS NOT WORTHY TO LIVE AT ALL THAT FOR FEAR OR DANGER OF DEATH SHUNNETH HIS COUNTRY’S SERVICE AND HIS OWN HONOUR, seeing death is inevitable, and the fame of virtue immortal. Wherefore, in this behalf, Mutare vel timere sperno.

Learnedly written by Master Richard Willes, Gentleman.

Four famous ways there be spoken of to those fruitful and wealthy islands, which we do usually call Moluccas, continually haunted for gain, and daily travelled for riches therein growing. These islands, although they stand east from the meridian, distant almost half the length of the world, in extreme heat under the equinoctial line, possessed of infidels and barbarians, yet by our neighbours great abundance of wealth there is painfully sought in respect of the voyage dearly bought, and from thence dangerously brought home to us. Our neighbours I call the Portuguese, in comparison of the Molucchians for nearness unto us, for like situation westward as we have for their usual trade with us; for that the far south- easterings do know this part of Europe by no other name than Portugal, not greatly acquainted as yet with the other nations thereof. Their voyage is very well understood of all men, and the south-eastern way round about Africa, by the Cape of Good Hope, more spoken of, better known and travelled, than that it may seem needful to discourse thereof any farther.

The second way lieth south-west, between the West Indies, or South America, and the south continent, through that narrow strait where Magellan, first of all men that ever we do read of, passed these latter years, caving thereunto therefore his name. This way, no doubt, the Spaniards would commodiously take, for that it lieth near unto their dominions there, could the eastern current and Levant winds as easily suffer men to return as speedily therewith they may be carried thither; for the which difficulty, or rather impossibility of striving against the force both of wind and stream, this passage is little or nothing used, although it be very well known.

The third way, by the north-east, beyond all Europe and Asia, that worthy and renowned knight Sir Hugh Willoughbie sought to his peril, enforced there to end his life for cold, congealed and frozen to death. And, truly, this way consisteth rather in the imagination of geographers than allowable either in reason, or approved by experience, as well it may appear by the dangerous trending of the Scythian Cape set by Ortellius under the 80th degree north, by the unlikely sailing in that northern sea, always clad with ice and snow, or at the least continually pestered therewith, if haply it be at any time dissolved, beside bays and shelves, the water waxing more shallow towards the east, to say nothing of the foul mists and dark fogs in the cold clime, of the little power of the sun to clear the air, of the uncomfortable nights, so near the Pole, five months long.

A fourth way to go unto these aforesaid happy islands, the Moluccas, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, a learned and valiant knight, discourseth of at large in his new “Passage to Cathay.” The enterprise of itself being virtuous, the fact must doubtless deserve high praise, and whensoever it shall be finished the fruits thereof cannot be small; where virtue is guide, there is fame a follower, and fortune a companion. But the way is dangerous, the passage doubtful, the voyage not thoroughly known, and therefore gainsaid by many, after this manner.

First, who can assure us of any passage rather by the north-west than by the north-east? do not both ways lie in equal distance from the North Pole? stand not the North Capes of either continent under like elevation? is not the ocean sea beyond America farther distant from our meridian by thirty or forty degrees west than the extreme points of Cathay eastward, if Ortellius’ general card of the world be true? In the north-east that noble knight–Sir Hugh Willoughbie perished for cold, and can you then promise a passenger any better hap by the north-west, who hath gone for trial’s sake, at any time, this way out of Europe to Cathay?

If you seek the advice herein of such as make profession in cosmography, Ptolemy, the father of geography, and his eldest children, will answer by their maps with a negative, concluding most of the sea within the land, and making an end of the world northward, near the 63rd degree. The same opinion, when learning chiefly flourished, was received in the Romans’ time, as by their poets’ writings it may appear. “Et te colet ultima Thule,” said Virgil, being of opinion that Iceland was the extreme part of the world habitable toward the north. Joseph Moletius, an Italian, and Mercator, a German, for knowledge men able to be compared with the best geographers of our time, the one in his half spheres of the whole world, the other in some of his great globes, have continued the West Indies land, even to the North Pole, and consequently cut off all passage by sea that way.

The same doctors, Mercator in other of his globes and maps, Moletius in his sea-card, nevertheless doubting of so great continuance of the former continent, have opened a gulf betwixt the West Indies and the extreme northern land; but such a one that either is not to be travelled for the causes in the first objection alleged, or clean shut up from us in Europe by Greenland, the south end whereof Moletius maketh firm land with America, the north part continent with Lapland and Norway.

Thirdly, the greatest favourers of this voyage cannot deny but that, if any such passage be, it lieth subject unto ice and snow for the most part of the year, whereas it standeth in the edge of the frosty zone. Before the sun hath warmed the air and dissolved the ice, each one well knoweth that there can be no sailing; the ice once broken through the continual abode, the sun maketh a certain season in those parts. How shall it be possible for so weak a vessel as a ship is to hold out amid whole islands, as it were, of ice continually beating on each side, and at the mouth of that gulf, issuing down furiously from the north, safely to pass, when whole mountains of ice and snow shall be tumbled down upon her?

Well, grant the West Indies not to continue continent unto the Pole, grant there be a passage between these two lands, let the gulf lie nearer us than commonly in cards we find it set, namely, between the sixty-first and sixty-fourth degrees north, as Gemma Frisius in his maps and globes imagineth it, and so left by our countryman Sebastian Cabot in his table which the Earl of Bedford hath at Theinies; let the way be void of all difficulties, yet doth it not follow that we have free passage to Cathay. For example’s sake, you may coast all Norway, Finmarke, and Lapland, and then bow southward to St. Nicholas, in Moscovy. You may likewise in the Mediterranean Sea fetch Constantinople and the mouth of the Don, yet is there no passage by sea through Moscovy into Pont Euxine, now called Mare Maggiore. Again, in the aforesaid Mediterranean Sea we sail to Alexandria in Egypt, the barbarians bring their pearl and spices from the Moluccas up the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf to Suez, scarcely three days’ journey from the aforesaid haven; yet have we no way by sea from Alexandria to the Moluccas for that isthmus or little trait of land between the two seas. In like manner, although the northern passage be free at sixty-one degrees latitude, and the west ocean beyond America, usually called Mare del Sur, known to be open at forty degrees elevation for the island of Japan, yea, three hundred leagues northerly of Japan, yet may there be land to hinder the through passage that way by sea, as in the examples aforesaid it falleth out, Asia and America there being joined together in one continent. Nor can this opinion seem altogether frivolous unto any one that diligently peruseth our cosmographers’ doings. Josephus Moletius is of that mind, not only in his plain hemispheres of the world, but also in his sea-card. The French geographers in like manner be of the same opinion, as by their map cut out in form of a heart you may perceive as though the West Indies were part of Asia, which sentence well agreeth with that old conclusion in the schools, Quid-quid praeter Africum et Europam est, Asia est, “Whatsoever land doth neither appertain unto Africa nor to Europe is part of Asia.”

Furthermore, it were to small purpose to make so long, so painful, so doubtful a voyage by such a new found way, if in Cathay you should neither be suffered to land for silks and silver, nor able to fetch the Molucca spices and pearl for piracy in those seas. Of a law denying all aliens to enter into China, and forbidding all the inhabiters under a great penalty to let in any stranger into those countries, shall you read in the report of Galeotto Petera, there imprisoned with other Portuguese, as also in the Japanese letters, how for that cause the worthy traveller Xavierus bargained with a barbarian merchant for a great sum of pepper to be brought into Canton, a port in Cathay. The great and dangerous piracy used in those seas no man can be ignorant of that listeth to read the Japanese and Indian history.

Finally, all this great labour would be lost, all these charges spent in vain, if in the end our travellers might not be able to return again, and bring safely home into their own native country that wealth and riches they in foreign regions with adventure of goods and danger of their lives have sought for. By the north-east there is no way; the South-East Passage the Portuguese do hold, as the lords of those seas. At the south-west, Magellan’s experience hath partly taught us, and partly we are persuaded by reason, how the eastern current striketh so furiously on that strait, and falleth with such force into that narrow gulf, that hardly any ship can return that way into our west ocean out of Mare del Sur. The which, if it be true, as truly it is, then we may say that the aforesaid eastern current, or Levant course of waters, continually following after the heavenly motions, loseth not altogether its force, but is doubled rather by another current from out the north- east, in the passage between America and the North Land, whither it is of necessity carried, having none other way to maintain itself in circular motion, and consequently the force and fury thereof to be no less in the Strait of Anian, where it striketh south into Mare del Sur beyond America (if any such strait of sea there be), than in the strait of Magellan, both straits being of like breadth, as in Belognine Salterius’ table of “New France,” and in Don Diego Hermano de Toledo’s card for navigation in that region, we do find precisely set down.

Nevertheless, to approve that there lieth a way to Cathay at the north-west from out of Europe, we have experience, namely of three brethren that went that journey, as Gemma Frisius recordeth, and left a name unto that strait, whereby now it is called Fretum Trium Fratrum. We do read again of a Portuguese that passed this strait, of whom Master Frobisher speaketh, that was imprisoned therefore many years in Lisbon, to verify the old Spanish proverb, “I suffer for doing well.” Likewise, An. Urdaneta, a friar of Mexico, came out of Mare del Sur this way into Germany; his card, for he was a great discoverer, made by his own experience and travel in that voyage, hath been seen by gentlemen of good credit.

Now if the observation and remembrance of things breedeth experience, and of experience proceedeth art, and the certain knowledge we have in all faculties, as the best philosophers that ever were do affirm truly the voyage of these aforesaid travellers that have gone out of Europe into Mare del Sur, and returned thence at the north-west, do most evidently conclude that way to be navigable, and that passage free; so much the more we are so to think, for that the first principle and chief ground in all geography, as Ptolemy saith, is the history of travel, that is, reports made by travellers skilful in geography and astronomy, of all such things in their journey as to geography do belong. It only remaineth, that we now answer to those arguments that seemed to make against this former conclusion.

The first objection is of no force, that general table of the world, set forth by Ortellius or Mercator, for it greatly skilleth not, being unskilfully drawn for that point, as manifestly it may appear unto any one that compareth the same with Gemma Frisius’ universal map, with his round quartered card, with his globe, with Sebastian Cabot’s table, and Ortellius’ general map alone, worthily preferred in this case before all Mercator’s and Ortellius’ other doings: for that Cabot was not only a skilful seaman, but a long traveller, and such a one as entered personally that strait, sent by King Henry VII. to make this aforesaid discovery, as in his own discourse of navigation you may read in his card drawn with his own hand, that the mouth of the north-western strait lieth near the 318th meridian, between 61 and 64 degrees in the elevation, continuing the same breadth about ten degrees west, where it openeth southerly more and more, until it come under the tropic of Cancer; and so runneth into Mare del Sur, at the least 18 degrees more in breadth there than it was where it first began; otherwise I could as well imagine this passage to be more unlikely than the voyage to Moscovy, and more impossible than it for the far situation and continuance thereof in the frosty clime: as now I can affirm it to be very possible and most likely in comparison thereof, for that it neither coasteth so far north as the Moscovian passage doth, neither is this strait so long as that, before it bow down southerly towards the sun again.

The second argument concludeth nothing. Ptolemy knew not what was above 16 degrees south beyond the equinoctial line, he was ignorant of all passages northward from the elevation of 63 degrees, he knew no ocean sea beyond Asia, yet have the Portuguese trended the Cape of Good Hope at the south point of Africa, and travelled to Japan, an island in the east ocean, between Asia and America; our merchants in the time of King Edward the Sixth discovered the Moscovian passage farther north than Thule, and showed Greenland not to be continent with Lapland and Norway: the like our north-western travellers have done, declaring by their navigation that way the ignorance of all cosmographers that either do join Greenland with America, or continue the West Indies with that frosty region under the North Pole. As for Virgil, he sang according to the knowledge of men in his time, as another poet did of the hot zone.