Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Hudson, Henry

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HUDSON, Henry, a distinguished English navigator, of whose personal history before April 19, 1607, or after June 21, 1611, absolutely nothing is known, and whose well-earned fame rests entirely on four voyages which were all unsuccessful as regarded their immediate object, the discovery of a commercial passage to China other and shorter than that by the Cape of Good Hope. The first of these, in quest of new trade and the passage to China by the North Pole, was made for the Muscovy Company, with ten men and a boy, in the little “Hopewell” of 60 tons that had so successfully braved the dangers of Frobisher's last voyage twenty-nine years before. Sailing from the Thames on April 19, 1607, Hudson first coasted the east side of Greenland, and thence hugging the Arctic ice-barrier, proceeded to the “north-east of Newland” to near 82° N. lat. He then turned back to seek, according to his chart, the passage round the north of Greenland into Davis Straits to make trial of Lumley's Inlet, or “the furious overfall”; but, having traced the ice-barrier from 78½° to 80°, he on July 27 became convinced that by this way there is no passage, and on August 15 he returned to the Thames. Molineux's chart, published by Hakluyt about 1600, was Hudson's blind guide in this voyage, and the polar map of 1611 by Pontanus illustrates well what he attempted, and the valuable results both negative and positive which he reached. He investigated the trade prospects at Cherrie Island, and recommended his patrons to seek higher game in Newland; hence he may be called the father of the English whale-fisheries at Spitzbergen.

Next year Hudson was a second time sent by the Muscovy Company “to open the passage to China by the north-east between Newland and Nova Zemla;” this voyage lasted from April 22 to August 26, 1608. From June 12 to June 29, he raked the Barrentz Sea between 75° 30' N.W. and 71° 15' S.E. on the Goose coast of Nova Zemla, meeting with much ice and no great encouragement for trade, and deleting Willoughby Island from his chart. On July 6, “voide of hope of a north-east passage (except by the Waygats, for which I was not fitted to try or prove), I therefore resolved to use all means I could to sayle to the north-west” (still harping on Lumley's Inlet and “the furious overfall”). The failure of this second attempt satisfied the Muscovy Company, which thenceforward directed all its energies to the profitable Spitzbergen trade.

In the Autumn of 1608 Hudson “had a call” to Amsterdam, where he saw Plancius, who gave him Waymouth's journals, and Hondius, who supplied him with translations of certain Dutch papers. After some vacillating negotiations he finally undertook for the Dutch East India Company his important third voyage to find the passage to China “by the east or the west.” With a mixed crew of eighteen or twenty men he left the Texel in the “Half-Moon” on April 5, and by May 5 was in the Barrentz Sea, and soon afterwards among the ice near Costin Sareh in Nova Zemla, where he had been the year before. Some of his men becoming disheartened and mutinous (it is now supposed that he had arrived two or three months too early), he soon lost hope of effecting anything by that route, and submitted to his men, as alternative proposals, either to go to Lumley's Inlet and follow up Waymouth's light, or to make for North Virginia and seek the passage in about 40° lat., according to the letter and map sent him by his friend Captain John Smith. The latter plan was adopted, and on May 14 Hudson set his face towards the Chesapeake and China. He touched at Stromo for water, and on June 15 off Newfoundland in about 48° lat. the “Half-Moon” “spent overboord her foremast.” This accident compelled him to put into Sagadahoc (44° 1' lat.), where on July 18 a mast was procured, some communication with the Indians was had, and an unnecessary battle fought, in which the ship's two “stone murderers” were employed. Sailing again on July 25, he was off Cape Cod on August 6, and on the 9th (38° 39' lat.) “went with low sail because we were in an unknown sea.” On August 18 they made Smith's Islands, 6 or 7 miles north of the entrance to the Chesapeake. On August 28, beginning the survey where Smith left off at 37° 36' according to his map, he coasted north to Sandy Hook, passing the “overfall” of the Delaware with scarcely any notice, probably because a western inlet there would have taken him in amid Smith's surveys. On September 3, in 40° 30', he entered the fine bay now known by the name of New York. After having gone 150 miles up what is now the Hudson river, treating with the Indians, surveying the country, and trying the stream above tide-water, he became satisfied that this course did not lead to the South Sea or China, a conclusion in harmony with that of Champlain, who the same summer had been making his way south through Lake Champlain and Lake St Sacrement to the South Sea. The two explorers by opposite routes approached within 20 leagues of each other. On October 4 the “Half-Moon” weighed for the Texel, and on November 7 put in to Dartmouth, where she was seized by the English Government and the crew detained. The voyage had fallen short of Hudson's expectations, but it served many purposes perhaps as important to the world. Among other results it exploded Hakluyt's myth, which from the publication of Lok's map in 1582 to the 3d charter of Virginia in May 1609 he had lost no opportunity of promulgating, that near 40° lat. there was a narrow isthmus, formed by the sea of Verrazano, like that of Tehuantepec or Panama.

Hudson's three failures served only to increase men's confidence in the existence of a passage by the north-west, for the discovery of which a new and strong joint-stock company was accordingly formed. The command was given to Hudson, who on April 10, 1610, sailed in the “Discoverie” of 70 tons, the ship that took Waymouth in 1602 in the same direction. How he penetrated through the long straits, discovered the great bay that bears his name, at once his monument and his grave, how he and his men wintered in its southern extremity, how in coming north in the next summer, near the east coast, half way back to the straits, he, his son, and seven of his men, in a mutiny, were put into a shallop and cut adrift on Midsummer day 1611, is told in many books. The ringleaders and half the crew perished miserably, but the “Discoverie” was finally brought home to London. No more tidings were received of Hudson, but no one doubted the complete success of his voyage. A grander company was incorporated in 1612, under Prince Henry, to complete the exploration of tha passage, and to find the lost discoverer and his companions. Sir Thomas Butler was the commander in 1612, and the “Discoverie” was again the chosen ship. In 1613 the voyage was repeated by Gibbons, and once more in 1614 by Baffin; and the bay was thoroughly explored with the results which have long been universally familiar.

See Henry Hudson, the Navigator (Hakluyt Society, 1860).