by Richard Hakluyt March 31st, 2023
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Undertaken in June, 1585, for the discovery of the North-West Passage, written by John James Marchant, servant to the Worshipful Master William Sanderson. Certain honourable personages and worthy gentlemen of the Court and country, with divers worshipful merchants of London and of the West Countrie, moved with desire to advance God’s glory, and to seek the good of their native country, consulting together of the likelihood of the discovery of the North-West Passage, which heretofore had been attempted, but unhappily given over by accidents unlooked for, which turned the enterprisers from their principal purpose, resolved, after good deliberation, to put down their adventures, to provide for necessary shipping, and a fit man to be chief conductor of this so hard an enterprise.  The setting forth of this action was committed by the adventurers especially to the care of Master William Sanderson, merchant of London, who was so forward therein, that besides his travel, which was not small, he became the greatest adventurer with his purse, and commended unto the rest of the company one Master John Davis, a man very well grounded in the principles of the art of navigation, for captain and chief pilot of this exploit.
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Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage by Richard Hakluyt is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. THE FIRST VOYAGE OF MASTER JOHN DAVIS


Undertaken in June, 1585, for the discovery of the North-West Passage, written by John James Marchant, servant to the Worshipful Master William Sanderson.

Certain honourable personages and worthy gentlemen of the Court and country, with divers worshipful merchants of London and of the West Countrie, moved with desire to advance God’s glory, and to seek the good of their native country, consulting together of the likelihood of the discovery of the North-West Passage, which heretofore had been attempted, but unhappily given over by accidents unlooked for, which turned the enterprisers from their principal purpose, resolved, after good deliberation, to put down their adventures, to provide for necessary shipping, and a fit man to be chief conductor of this so hard an enterprise.  The setting forth of this action was committed by the adventurers especially to the care of Master William Sanderson, merchant of London, who was so forward therein, that besides his travel, which was not small, he became the greatest adventurer with his purse, and commended unto the rest of the company one Master John Davis, a man very well grounded in the principles of the art of navigation, for captain and chief pilot of this exploit.

Thus, therefore, all things being put in a readiness, we departed from Dartmouth the 7th of June towards the discovery of the aforesaid North-West Passage with two barques, the one being of fifty tons, named the Sunshine, of London, and the other being thirty-five tons, named the Moonshine, of Dartmouth.  In the Sunshine we had twenty-three persons, whose names are these following: Master John Davis, captain; William Eston, master; Richard Pope, master’s mate; John Jane, merchant; Henry Davie, gunner; William Crosse, boatswain; John Bagge, Walter Arthur, Luke Adams, Robert Coxworthie, John Ellis, John Kelly, Edward Helman, William Dicke, Andrew Maddocke, Thomas Hill, Robert Wats, carpenter, William Russell, Christopher Gorney, boy; James Cole, Francis Ridley, John Russel, Robert Cornish, musicians.

The Moonshine had nineteen persons, William Bruton, captain; John Ellis, master; the rest mariners.

The 7th of June the captain and the master drew out a proportion for the continuance of our victuals.

The 8th day, the wind being at south-west and west-south-west, we put in for Falmouth, where we remained until the 13th.

The 13th the wind blew at north, and being fair weather we departed.

The 14th, with contrary wind, we were forced to put into Scilly.

The 15th we departed thence, having the wind north and by east, moderate and fair weather.

The 16th we were driven back again, and were constrained to arrive at New Grimsby, at Scilly; here the wind remained contrary twelve days, and in that space the captain, the master, and I went about all the islands, and the captain did plan out and describe the situation of all the islands, rocks, and harbours to the exact use of navigation, with lines and scale thereunto convenient.

The 28th, in God’s name, we departed, the wind being easterly, but calm.

The 29th very foggy.

The 30th foggy.

The 1st of July we saw great store of porpoises, the master called for a harping-iron, and shot twice or thrice; sometimes he missed, and at last shot one and struck him in the side, and wound him into the ship; when we had him aboard, the master said it was a darley head.

The 2nd we had some of the fish boiled, and it did eat as sweet as any mutton.

The 3rd we had more in sight, and the master went to shoot at them, but they were so great, that they burst our irons, and we lost both fish, irons, pastime, and all; yet, nevertheless, the master shot at them with a pike, and had well-nigh gotten one, but he was so strong, that he burst off the bars of the pike and went away.  Then he took the boat-hook, and hit one with that; but all would not prevail, so at length we let them alone.

The 6th we saw a very great whale, and every day after we saw whales continually.

The 16th, 17th, and 18th we saw great store of whales.

The 19th of July we fell into a great whirling and brustling of a tide, setting to the northward; and sailing about half a league we came into a very calm sea, which bent to the south-south-west.  Here we heard a mighty great roaring of the sea, as if it had been the breach of some shore, the air being so foggy and full of thick mist, that we could not see the one ship from the other, being a very small distance asunder; so the captain and the master, being in distrust how the tide might set them, caused the Moonshine to hoist out her boat and to sound, but they could not find ground in three hundred fathoms and better.  Then the captain, master, and I went towards the breach to see what it should be, giving charge to our gunners that at every blast they should shoot off a musket shot, to the intent we might keep ourselves from losing them; then coming near to the breach, we met many islands of ice floating, which had quickly compassed us about.  Then we went upon some of them, and did perceive that all the roaring which we heard was caused only by the rolling of this ice together.  Our company seeing us not to return according to our appointment, left off shooting muskets and began to shoot falconets, for they feared some mishap had befallen us; but before night we came aboard again, with our boat laden with ice, which made very good fresh water.  Then we bent our course toward the north, hoping by that means to double the land.

The 20th, as we sailed along the coast, the fog brake up, and we discovered the land, which was the most deformed, rocky, and mountainous land that ever we saw, the first sight whereof did show as if it had been in form of a sugar loaf, standing to our sight above the clouds, for that it did show over the fog like a white liste in the sky, the tops altogether covered with snow, and the shore beset with ice a league off into the sea, making such irksome noise as that it seemed to be the true pattern of desolation, and after the same our captain named it the land of desolation.

The 21st the wind came northerly and overblew, so that we were constrained to bend our course south again, for we perceived that we were run into a very deep bay, where we were almost compassed with ice, for we saw very much towards the north-north-east, west, and south-west; and this day and this night we cleared ourselves of the ice, running south-south-west along the shore.

Upon Thursday, being the 22nd of this month, about three of the clock in the morning, we hoisted out our boat, and the captain, with six sailors, went towards the shore, thinking to find a landing-place, for the night before we did perceive the coast to be void of ice to our judgment; and the same night we were all persuaded that we had seen a canoe rowing along the shore, but afterwards we fell in some doubt of it, but we had no great reason so to do.  The captain, rowing towards the shore, willed the master to bear in with the land after him; and before he came near the shore, by the space of a league, or about two miles, he found so much ice that he could not get to land by any means.  Here our mariners put to their lines to see if they could get any fish, because there were so many seals upon the coast, and the birds did beat upon the water, but all was in vain: the water about this coast was very black and thick, like to a filthy standing pool; we sounded, and had ground in 120 fathoms.  While the captain was rowing to the shore our men saw woods upon the rocks, like to the rocks of Newfoundland, but I could not discern them; yet it might be so very well, for we had wood floating upon the coast every day, and the Moonshine took up a tree at sea not far from the coast, being sixty foot of length and fourteen handfuls about, having the root upon it.  After, the captain came aboard, the weather being very calm and fair, we bent our course toward the south with intent to double the land.

The 23rd we coasted the land which did lie east-north-east and west-south-west.

The 24th, the wind being very fair at east, we coasted the land, which did lie east and west, not being able to come near the shore by reason of the great quantity of ice.  At this place, because the weather was somewhat cold by reason of the ice, and the better to encourage our men, their allowance was increased.  The captain and the master took order that every mess, being five persons, should have half a pound of bread and a can of beer every morning to breakfast.  The weather was not very cold, but the air was moderate, like to our April weather in England.  When the wind came from the land or the ice it was somewhat cold, but when it came off the sea it was very hot.

The 25th of this month we departed from sight of this land at six of the clock in the morning, directing our course to the north-westward, hoping in God’s mercy to find our desired passage, and so continued above four days.

The 29th of July we discovered land in 64 degrees 15 minutes of latitude, bearing north-east from us.  The wind being contrary to go to the north-westward, we bear in with this land to take some view of it, being utterly void of the pester of ice, and very temperate.  Coming near the coast we found many fair sounds and good roads for shipping, and many great inlets into the land, whereby we judged this land to be a great number of islands standing together.  Here, having moored our barque in good order, we went on shore upon a small island to seek for water and wood.  Upon this island we did perceive that there had been people, for we found a small shoe and pieces of leather sewed with sinews and a piece of fur, and wool like to beaver.  Then we went upon another island on the other side of our ships, and the captain, the master, and I, being got up to the top of a high rock, the people of the country having espied us made a lamentable noise, as we thought, with great outcries and screechings; we, hearing them, thought it had been the howling of wolves.  At last I halloed again, and they likewise cried; then we, perceiving where they stood—some on the shore, and one rowing in a canoe about a small island fast by them—we made a great noise, partly to allure them to us and partly to warn our company of them.  Whereupon Master Bruton and the master of his ship, with others of their company, made great haste towards us, and brought our musicians with them from our ship, purposing either by force to rescue us, if needs should so require, or with courtesy to allure the people.  When they came unto us we caused our musicians to play, ourselves dancing and making many signs of friendship.  At length there came ten canoes from the other islands, and two of them came so near the shore where we were that they talked with us, the other being in their boats a pretty way off.  Their pronunciation was very hollow through the throat, and their speech such as we could not understand, only we allured them by friendly embracings and signs of courtesy.  At length one of them, pointing up to the sun with his hand, would presently strike his breast so hard that we might hear the blow.  This he did many times before he would any way trust us.  Then John Ellis, the master of the Moonshine, was appointed to use his best policy to gain their friendship, who shook his breast and pointed to the sun after their order, which when he had divers times done they began to trust him, and one of them came on shore, to whom we threw our caps, stockings, and gloves, and such other things as then we had about us, playing with our music, and making signs of joy, and dancing.  So the night coming we bade them farewell, and went aboard our barques.

The next morning, being the 30th of July, there came thirty-seven canoes rowing by our ships calling to us to come on shore; we not making any great haste unto them, one of them went up to the top of the rock, and leaped and danced as they had done the day before, showing us a seal skin, and another thing made like a timbrel, which he did beat upon with a stick, making a noise like a small drum.  Whereupon we manned our boats and came to them, they all staying in their canoes.  We came to the water’s side, where they were, and after we had sworn by the sun after their fashion they did trust us.  So I shook hands with one of them, and he kissed my hand, and we were very familiar with them.  We were in so great credit with them upon this single acquaintance that we could have anything they had.  We bought five canoes of them; we bought their clothes from their backs, which were all made of seal skins and birds’ skins; their buskins, their hose, their gloves, all being commonly sewed and well dressed, so that we were fully persuaded that they have divers artificers among them.  We had a pair of buskins of them full of fine wool like beaver.  Their apparel for heat was made of birds’ skins with their feathers on them.  We saw among them leather dressed like glover’s leather, and thick thongs like white leather of good length.  We had of their darts and oars, and found in them that they would by no means displease us, but would give us whatsoever we asked of them, and would be satisfied with whatsoever we gave them.  They took great care one of another, for when we had bought their boats then two other would come, and carry him away between them that had sold us his.  They are a very tractable people, void of craft or double dealing, and easy to be brought to any civility or good order, but we judged them to be idolaters, and to worship the sun.

During the time of our abode among these islands we found reasonable quantity of wood, both fir, spruce, and juniper; which, whether it came floating any great distance to these places where we found it, or whether it grew in some great islands near the same place by us not yet discovered, we know not.  But we judge that it groweth there farther into the land than we were, because the people had great store of darts and oars which they made none account of, but gave them to us for small trifles as points and pieces of paper.  We saw about this coast marvellous great abundance of seals sculling together like sculls of small fish.  We found no fresh water among these islands, but only snow-water, whereof we found great pools.  The cliffs were all of such ore as Master Frobisher brought from Meta Incognita.  We had divers shewes of study or Moscovie glass, shining not altogether unlike to crystal.  We found an herb growing upon the rocks whose fruit was sweet, full of red juice, and the ripe ones were like currants.  We found also birch and willow growing like shrubs low to the ground.  These people have great store of furs as we judged.  They made shows unto us the 30th of this present, which was the second time of our being with them, after they perceived we would have skins and furs, that they would go into the country and come again the next day with such things as they had; but this night the wind coming fair the captain and the master would by no means detract the purpose our discovery.  And so the last of this month, about four of the clock in the morning, in God’s name we set sail, and were all that day becalmed upon the coast.

The 1st of August we had a fair wind, and so proceeded towards the north-west for our discovery.

The 6th of August we discovered land in 66 degrees 40 minutes of latitude altogether void from the pester of ice; we anchored in a very fair road, under a very brave mount, the cliffs whereof were as orient as gold.  This mount was named Mount Raleigh; the road where our ships lay at anchor was called Totnes Road; the sound which did compass the mount was named Exeter Sound; the foreland towards the north was called Dier’s Cape; the foreland towards the south was named Cape Walsingham.  So soon as we were come to an anchor in Totnes Road under Mount Raleigh we espied four white bears at the foot of the mount.  We, supposing them to be goats or wolves, manned our boats and went towards them, but when we came near the shore we found them to be white bears of a monstrous bigness; we, being desirous of fresh victual and the sport, began to assault them, and I being on land, one of them came down the hill right against me.  My piece was charged with hail-shot and a bullet; I discharged my piece and shot him in the neck; he roared a little, and took the water straight, making small account of his hurt.  Then we followed him with our boat, and killed him with boars’ spears, and two more that night.  We found nothing in their maws, but we judged by their dung that they fed upon grass, because it appeared in all respects like the dung of a horse, wherein we might very plainly see the very straws.

The 7th we went on shore to another bear, which lay all night upon the top of an island under Mount Raleigh, and when we came up to him he lay fast asleep.  I levelled at his head, and the stone of my piece gave no fire; with that he looked up and laid down his head again; then I shot, being charged with two bullets, and struck him in the head; he, being but amazed, fell backwards, whereupon we ran all upon him with boar spears and thrust him in the body, yet for all that he gripped away our boar spears and went towards the water, and as he was going down he came back again.  Then our master shot his boar spear and struck him in the head, and made him to take the water, and swim into a cove fast by, where we killed him and brought him aboard.  The breadth of his fore foot from one side to the other was fourteen inches over.  They were very fat, so as we were constrained to cast the fat away.  We saw a raven upon Mount Raleigh.  We found withies, also, growing low like shrubs, and flowers like primroses in the said place.  The coast is very mountainous, altogether without wood, grass, or earth, and is only huge mountains of stone, but the bravest stone that ever we saw.  The air was very moderate in this country.

The 8th we departed from Mount Raleigh, coasting along the shore which lieth south-south-west and east-north-east.

The 9th our men fell in dislike of their allowance because it was so small as they thought.  Whereupon we made a new proportion, every mess, being five to a mess, should have four pound of bread a day, twelve wine quarts of beer, six new land fishes, and the flesh days a gin of pease more; so we restrained them from their butter and cheese.

The 11th we came to the most southerly cape of this land, which we named the Cape of God’s Mercy, as being the place of our first entrance for the discovery.  The weather being very foggy we coasted this north land; at length when it brake up we perceived that we were shot into a very fair entrance or passage, being in some places twenty leagues broad and in some thirty, altogether void of any pester of ice, the weather very tolerable, and the water of the very colour, nature, and quality of the main ocean, which gave us the greater hope of our passage.  Having sailed north-west sixty leagues in this entrance, we discovered certain islands standing in the midst thereof, having open passages on both sides.  Whereupon our ships divided themselves, the one sailing on the north side, the other on the south side of the said isles, where we stayed five days, having the wind at south-east, very foggy, and foul weather.

The 14th we went on shore and found signs of people, for we found stones laid up together like a wall, and saw the skull of a man or a woman.

The 15th we heard dogs howl on the shore, which we thought had been wolves, and therefore we went on shore to kill them.  When we came on land the dogs came presently to our boat very gently, yet we thought they came to prey upon us, and therefore we shot at them and killed two, and about the neck of one of them we found a leathern collar, whereupon we thought them to be tame dogs.  There were twenty dogs like mastiffs, with pricked ears and long bushed tails; we found a bone in the pizels of their dogs.  Then we went farther and found two sleds made like ours in England.  The one was made of fir, spruce, and oaken boards, sawn like inch boards; the other was made all of whalebone, and there hung on the tops of the sleds three heads of beasts which they had killed.  We saw here larks, ravens, and partridges.

The 17th we went on shore, and in a little thing made like an oven with stones I found many small trifles, as a small canoe made of wood, a piece of wood made like an image, a bird made of bone, beads having small holes in one end of them to hang about their necks, and other small things.  The coast was very barbarous, without wood or grass.  The rocks were very fair, like marble, full of veins of divers colours.  We found a seal which was killed not long before, being flayed and hid under stones.

Our captain and master searched still for probabilities of the passage, and first found that this place was all islands with great sounds passing between them.

Secondly, the water remained of one colour with the main ocean without altering.

Thirdly, we saw to the west of those isles three or four whales in a scull, which they judged to come from a westerly sea, because to the eastward we saw not any whale.

Also, as we were rowing into a very great sound lying south-west from whence these whales came, upon the sudden there came a violent countercheck of a tide from the south-west against the flood which we came with, not knowing from whence it was maintained.

Fifthly, in sailing 20 leagues within the mouth of this entrance we had sounding in 90 fathoms, fair, grey, oozy sand, and the farther we run into the westwards the deeper was the water, so that hard aboard the shore among these isles we could not have ground in 330 fathoms.

Lastly, it did ebb and flow six or seven fathom up and down, the flood coming from divers parts, so as we could not perceive the chief maintenance thereof.

The 18th and 19th our captain and master determined what was best to do, both for the safe guard of their credits and satisfy of the adventurers, and resolved if the weather brake up to make further search.

The 20th, the wind came directly against us, so they altered their purpose, and reasoned both for proceeding and returning.

The 21st, the wind being north-west, we departed from these islands, and as we coasted the south shore we saw many fair sounds, whereby we were persuaded that it was no firm land but islands.

The 23rd of this month the wind came south-east, very stormy and foul weather.  So we were constrained to seek harbour upon the south coast of this entrance, where we fell into a very fair sound, and anchored in 25 fathoms of green, oozy sand, where we went on shore, where we had manifest signs of people, where they had made their fire, and laid stones like a wall.  In this place we saw four very fair falcons, and Master Bruton took from one of them his prey, which we judged by the wings and legs to be a snipe, for the head was eaten off.

The 24th, in the afternoon, the wind coming somewhat fair, we departed from this road, purposing by God’s grace to return for England.

The 26th we departed from sight of the north land of this entrance, directing our course homewards, until the 10th of the next month.

The 10th September we fell with the Land of Desolation, thinking to go on shore, but we could get never a good harbour.  That night we put to sea again thinking to search it the next day; but this night arose a very great storm, and separated our ships so that we lost the sight of the Moonshine.

The 13th about noon (having tried all the night before with a goose wing) we set sail, and within two hours after we had sight of the Moonshine again.  This day we departed from this land.

The 27th of this month we fell with sight of England.  This night we had a marvellous storm, and lost the Moonshine.

The 30th September we came into Dartmouth, where we found the Moonshine, being come in not two hours before.

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This book is part of the public domain. Richard Hakluyt (2002). Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved October 2022

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