Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fox, Luke

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948221Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 20 — Fox, Luke1889Charles Henry Coote

FOX, LUKE (1586–1635), navigator, son of Richard Fox, seaman and assistant of the Trinity House at Kingston-upon-Hull, was born at Hull 20 Oct. 1586. 'Having been sea-bred from his boystime,' he acquired his knowledge of seamanship in voyages southward to France, Spain, and the Mediterranean, and northward to the Baltic, Denmark, and Norway, varied by 'imployments along the coasts' of England and crossing the North Sea. In 1606 he offered his services as mate to John Knight in that able seaman's last and fatal voyage to Greenland, but was rejected by the promoters on account of his youth. Henceforth the whole of his thoughts were devoted to Arctic exploration, but more particularly to the north-west passage. He writes: 'At the returnes home of all ships from thence I enquired of the masters, mates, and others that were that way imployed, whereby I gathered from reports and discourse and manuscripts how farre they had proceeded.' If we except Captain Hawkridge's abortive voyage of 1619, Fox was the true successor of Bylot and Baffin (1615) in Arctic exploration. Earlier voyages had been made by Sir Thomas Button [q. v.] in 1612, by Henry Hudson [q. v.] in 1606, by Captain Weymouth in 1585-7.

Fox's earliest patron was the famous mathematician, Henry Briggs [q. v.], also a Yorkshireman, and professor of geometry at Oxford. He, with the assistance of his friend, Sir J. Brooke, was the first to direct the royal attention to Fox's voyage. The project first took shape in 1629, in a 'Petition of Luke Fox to the king for a small supply of money towards the discovery of a passage by the north-west to the South Sea, Hudson and Sir Thomas Button having discovered a great way, and given great hopes of opening the rest' (State Papers, p. 105). In reply to this a pinnace of the royal navy of seventy tons was placed at the disposal of the adventurers, but the setting forth was deferred until the following year. In the interval Briggs died; half the adventurers having fallen away, the voyage would have been abandoned but for the news that the Bristol merchants had projected a similar voyage from their port. Their rival scheme was the well-known voyage of Captain Thomas James [q. v.], which left Bristol 3 May 1631. This news caused a spirit of emulation among the London merchants, which, with the assistance of Sir T. Roe and Sir J. Wolstenholme, resulted in the setting forth of Fox in the Charles pinnace with a crew of twenty men and two boys victualled for eighteen months. Fox sailed from the Pool below London Bridge 30 April 1631 (MS. Journal, f. 23). He anchored off Whitby, where he landed, and reached Kirkwall in the Orkneys 19 May. Sailing thence due west on the sixty parallel he made land 20 June on the north side of Frobisher Bay; two days later he sighted Cape Chidley, off the south shore of Hudson's Strait, six leagues distant. Passing Resolution Island two leagues south on 23 June, his crew saw in the harbour on the west side the smoke of the camp-fire of Captain James, who had put in there for repairs. From this date until 11 July Fox worked his way along the north shore of Hudson's Strait until he reached a position between Mill and Salisbury Islands. Thence he proceeded to the south of Coates Island until 19 July, when he commenced his search for the undiscovered passage by the north-west. On 27 July he reached the furthest point of Button, on 'Sir T. Roe's Welcome' Island, where he found traces of native sepulture, which he carefully examined. Being prohibited by his instructions from proceeding to a higher latitude than 63° N. in this direction, he turned southward along the west shore of Hudson's Bay until 27 Aug., when he entered the mouth of the Nelson River, where he found the remaining half of an inscribed board erected by Button, which he replaced by a new one of his own. Hence he sailed E.S.E. sixty-one leagues until 30 Aug., when he met his rival, Captain James, in the Maria of Bristol, with whom, after some trouble in getting on board, he dined and spent seventeen hours. Fox bluntly tells us that he found his host 'no seaman.' After adieux, Fox proceeded on his course down to 55° 14’, or Wolstenholme's ultima vale, now known as Cape Henrietta Maria, at the head of James Bay. On 3 Sept. he turned the head of his ship northward until he reached Cape Pembroke on Coates Island five days later. From 15 to 20 Sept. Fox was employed in making the remarkable series of observations on the channel that bears his name on the west shore of what is now known as Baffin Land. On 22 Sept., after reaching 'Fox his farthest,' Fox turned the head of his ship homeward, continuing his observations among the numerous islands and sounds off the north shore of Hudson's Strait, which have never been marked in our admiralty charts. On 28 Sept. Fox found himself, with nearly half his crew worn out with cold and fatigue, once more off Resolution Island, at the entrance to the strait. On 5 Oct. he made Cape Chidley; two days later he writes that they were 'revived by warmth in open sea, most of us ready to fall down with the rest who were down already.' On account of the absence of the moon he directed his course homeward south-east to the English Channel instead of the shorter, but more dangerous one by way of the North Sea. On 31 Oct. he concludes: 'Came into the Downs with all my men recovered and sound, not having lost one man or boy, nor any manner of tackling, having been forth neere six months.' Fox is best known by the following work, which contains the results of his voyage: ' North-west Fox, or Fox from the Northwest Passage . . . with briefe Abstracts of the Voyages of Cabot, Frobisher, Davis, Weymouth, Knight, Hudson, Button, Gibbons, Bylot, Baffin, Hawkridge . . . Mr. James Hall's three Voyages to Groynland . . . with the Author his owne Voyage, being the xvith . . . T. Fawcett and B. Alsop, imp. London,' 1635, 4to. This curious book was entered for the Stationers' Company 15 Dec. 1634 (Arber, iv. 331). It was accompanied by a large folded map of the Arctic regions, now rarely found in the book, but which is one of the most interesting and important documents in the history of Arctic exploration. References to two other journals of the voyage will be found below. It would appear that Fox was allowed to pass the closing years of his life in neglect. Towards the end of his book he says that he had 'wash't the Blackmore these five yeares, having yet received neither sallery, wages, or reward, except what some few gentlemen hath, I know not whether in curtesse or charity, bestowed upon me, having before had my meanes taken from me in the time of warres, betwixt France, Spain, and us ' (p. 268). Fox, who was a younger brother of the Trinity House, died at Whitby in July 1635.

[Arber's Reg. Stat. Company, iv. 331-2; Charlton's Hist. of Whitby. 1779, p. 315; Corlass's Hull Authors, 1879 (Captain Luke Fox (N. W. Fox), London, 1635, &c.); Rundell's Voyages toward the North-West, 1849 (Hakluyt Soc.); Sheahan's Hist. of Hull, 1864; Sainsbury's State Papers, Col. Ser., America and West Indies, 1574-1660, 8vo, p. 105; Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 19302 (two Journals, one by Captain Luke Fox, the other by the master of the Charles, eighteenth-century copies, more or less perfect).]

C. H. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.129
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line
132 ii 25 Fox, Luke: for iv. 331-2 read iv. 305-6