Hudson, Henry (d.1611) (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


HUDSON, HENRY (d. 1611), navigator, was not improbably, as has been conjectured, the grandson of Henry Hudson or Herdson, alderman of London, who helped to found the Muscovy Company in 1555, and died in the same year. This older Henry Hudson left many sons and kinsmen, whose names sometimes appear as Hoddesdon and Hogeson, and who all seem to have been interested in or connected with the Muscovy Company. Hudson, the navigator, is first mentioned as appointed in 1607 to command the Hopeful in a voyage set forth by the same company 'to discover the pole.' On 19 April he and the crew of the Hopeful, twelve men all told, communicated together in the church of St. Ethelburge in Bishopsgate, 'purposing to go to sea four days after.' One of the little party was Hudson's son John, who seems to have been then a lad of sixteen or eighteen; from which it may be judged that Hudson was born before rather than after 1570. The chief aim of this voyage was, in accordance with the proposal made by Robert Thorne [q.v.] eighty years before, to sail across the pole to the 'islands of spicery.' Hudson sailed from Gravesend on 1 May, and struck the east coast of Greenland in lat. 69°-70°, on 13 June; then continuing a northerly course, he again sighted the coast in lat. 73°, and named the land Cape Hold with Hope. Forced eastwards by the continuous icy barrier between Greenland and Spitzbergen, he followed the line of this barrier and came on the 28th to Prince Charles Island; thence he groped his way to the northward and along the coast of Spitzbergen, naming Hakluyt's Headland as he passed. On 13 July he was, by observation, in lat. 80° 23'. After struggling towards the north for three days longer, ignorant that he was being swept back by a southerly current, he described the land as trending far to the north beyond 82°. This remark is a test of the error in his reckoning, for the most northerly land in the Spitzbergen group is in 80° 45'. He satisfied himself, however, that there was in that quarter no passage to the pole; so, after again trying the ice barrier, he turned southwards, and discovering on his way an island then named 'Hudson's Touches,' but since identified with Jan Mayen, he arrived in the Thames on 15 Sept.

Thorne's scheme for a short and easy passage across the north pole being thus proved impracticable, Hudson, in the following year, and still in the service of the Muscovy Company, repeated the attempt which had been made by Willoughby, Barentz, and others of less note, to find a passage by the north-east. On 22 April 1608, with a crew of fifteen all told, including himself and his son John, he dropped down the river, and rounded the North Cape on 3 June. After coasting along the ice in lat. 74°-75° till the 24th, in hope of passing to the north of Novaya Zemlya, he turned to the south-east, and on the 26th sighted the land, apparently near North Goose Cape. His idea was now to pass by the Waigatz or Kara Strait, and so double 'the north cape of Tartaria,' when, as he supposed, he would find himself within easy sailing of the Pacific. The Waigatz was, however, impassable, and on 6 July, after riding out a heavy gale at anchor, 'we weighed,' he says, 'and set sail and stood to the westward, being out of hope to find passage by the north-east.' For a few days longer he endeavoured to examine Willoughby Land [see Willoughby, Sir Hugh], but the description and position of it were too vague to permit any certain identification of it, either then or now. On the 12th he stood away to the westward; on the 18th was again off the North Cape, and anchored off Gravesend on 26 Aug.

During the following winter Hudson entered into negotiations with the Dutch East India Company, and in their service he sailed from Amsterdam on 25 March 1609 with two ships, the Good Hope and Half Moon, he himself in the latter. His primary intention was again to attempt the passage through the Waigatz as in the former year; but off the coast of Novaya Zemlya his crew, consisting mostly of Dutchmen, refused to go on, and compelled him to turn back; the Good Hope is heard of no more and would seem to have made straight for Holland, while Hudson, in the Half Moon, stretched across the Atlantic to the coast of Nova Scotia, and thence southwards as far as lat. 35°; from which turning northwards he carefully examined the coast, looking into Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and reaching Sandy Hook on 2 Sept. The story of a strait through the continent in or about lat. 40° had been long since discredited, but had lately been revived, apparently by Indian reports of the great chain of lakes; and Hudson, having now satisfied himself of its falsehood, devoted the next month to an examination of the river which has since borne his name, and which he ascended to near the position of the present Albany. On 4 Oct. he came again into the sea, and returned to England on 7 Nov. This was the end of Hudson's Dutch connection, and on 17 April 1610 he sailed from London in the Discovery, fitted out at the cost of Sir Thomas Smythe, Sir Dudley Digges, and John Wolstenholme, to attempt the north-west passage. By the end of June he had groped his way into the strait since known by his name; on 3 Aug. he passed out of it, between Digges Island and Cape Wolstenholme, into the bay beyond, and spent the next three months ‘in a labyrinth without end,’ apparently in the examination of the eastern shore and the adjacent islands. By the end of October the Discovery was in the extreme south of James Bay, and on 1 Nov. was hauled aground in a place judged fitting to winter in, possibly near Moose Fort; on the 10th she was frozen in. The winter passed miserably enough; provisions were not too plentiful, and the supply of game or fish was scanty. Some months before Hudson had quarrelled with his mate, Juet, whom he displaced, appointing Robert Bylot [q.v.] in his stead. There was consequently an ill-feeling in the ship which the winter hardships did not lessen. It may well be that Hudson's temper became morose and suspicious: he was accused of favouritism, and of unfairly distributing the provisions. He had a violent quarrel with one of his favourites, a dissolute fellow named Green, who acted as his clerk, and now reviled him in the strongest terms. Finally, as they broke out of the ice, he displaced Bylot, and appointed one King to do his duty. This seems to have turned the scale. It is impossible to speak of the details, for the accounts are very meagre and all come through a suspicious channel. It is, however, certain that on 23 June 1611 Hudson was seized, bound, and put into the small boat or shallop: with him eight others, including John, his son, and King the new mate, after a sharp struggle, in which four men were killed, were put into the boat; it was then cut adrift and never seen again. That Hudson and all his companions perished miserably cannot be doubted. On board the Discovery Bylot was elected master: provisions were very short, and in endeavouring to kill some deer their party was attacked by the Eskimos, and Green with four others slain. On the passage home Juet and others died. Only a miserable remnant survived to reach England, and those almost spent with famine and sickness. They were thrown into prison, but would seem to have been very shortly released and admitted to further employment and confidence. Bylot sailed the following year in Button's voyage to Hudson's Bay [see Button, Sir Thomas]. It is probable that the death of Juet, and still more of Green, stood the mutineers in good stead: the whole blame of the murder of Hudson and his companions was laid on them, and those who came home were perhaps judged to have expiated their crime by their sufferings.

Hudson's personality is shadowy in the extreme, and his achievements have been the subject of much exaggeration and misrepresentation. The river, the strait, the bay, and the vast tract of land which bear his name have kept his memory alive; but in point of fact not one of these was discovered by Hudson. All that can be seriously claimed for him is that he pushed his explorations further than his predecessors, and left of them a more distinct but still imperfect record. It has been conclusively shown by Dr. Asher that the river, the strait, and the bay were all marked in maps many years before the time of Hudson. What Hudson really did was to show, in four several voyages, that the passage to Cathay was certainly not the simple thing that it had been represented by Thorne and others; that there was no strait through the continent of North America in a low latitude, and that if there was one in a high latitude it could scarcely be of any practical value. He tried in fact all the routes that had been suggested, and these having all failed, there is little doubt that had he lived he would have examined beyond Davis Strait and have anticipated Baffin's discoveries of a few years later [see Baffin, William]. He was a bold, energetic, and able man, zealous in the cause to which he had devoted himself, though prevented by cruel fortune from achieving any distinct success. Hudson's son John, the companion of all his historical voyages, perished with him. In April 1614 his widow applied to the East India Company for some employment for another son, 'she being left very poor.' The company considered that the boy had a just claim on them, as his father had 'perished in the service of the commonwealth;' they accordingly placed him for nautical instruction in the Samaritan, and gave 5l. towards his outfit.

[Asher's Henry Hudson the Navigator, edited, with an Introduction, for the Hakluyt Society, 1860, is an almost exhaustive account of all that is known of Hudson's career, and includes the earliest accounts of his voyages as published in England by Purchas in 1625, and in Holland by Hessel-Geritz in 1612-13, by Van Meteren in 1614, and by De Laet in 1625, as well as later notices. A few interesting facts concerning the last voyage and the mutiny have been supplied by W. J. Hardy (St. James's Gazette, 20 April 1887). In an Historical Inquiry concerning Henry Hudson, 1866, J. M. Read has attempted to trace Hudson's family, but in the absence of evidence he offers nothing beyond ingenious and probable conjecture. A full bibliography of the subject is given by Asher, p.258.]

J. K. L.