Tin: Dream of a
North-West Passage—C'abot, Froibisher, Davis, Hudson, Button, James, and
Other Explorers—Career of Radisson and Groseilliers—Charles II.
Interested in the Commercial Exploitation of Hudson's Bay—Prince Rupert,
and the Experimental Expeditions—Gillam Builds First British Fort in
North Central America—Granting of H. B.. Co.'s Charter—Territory
Subsequently Affected—Provisions of the Charter—Shareholder's Oath.
The founding of British
interests in that portion of America in which Saskatchewan lies was the
practical outcome of an impractical dream. Ever since it had been
realized that Columbus was in error in supposing that he had reached the
eastern limits of India, the most adventurous spirits of Europe had
fostered the hope of discovering a waterway to Asia through or around
the American continent. Englishmen devoted themselves chiefly to the
endeavor to find such a passage by way of the Arctic Seas and the vast
archipelago of the North.
It will be remembered
that in the reign of Henry YII., John and Sebastian Cabot, nominally in
the employ of the English King, reached the American mainland. The
letters patent under which they served indicate the valuable nature of
the encouragement at first offered by Princes to those who were to
double their empires for them. The document informs us that Henry VII.
granted to his "beloved John Cabot, citizen of Venice, to Lewis,
Sebastian and Santius, sones of the said John, full and free authority,
leave and power upon their own proper costs and charges to seek out,
discover and finde, whatever isles, countries, regions or provinces of
the heathen and infidels, which before this time have been unknown to
all Christians." Incidentally, one-fifth of Cabot's net gains was to go
to his royal patron. However, as Cabot took possession of Cape Breton
Island in the name of England, he received from King Henry a special
reward of £10. In a second voyage John Cabot made the first serious
attempt to find a northern passage to Asia. For centuries thereafter the
enterprise was pursued with extraordinary persistency and at enormous
financial loss to its various promoters.
Almost sixty years
after Cabot's preliminary voyage. Captain Martin Frobisher continued the
search for the passage to Cathay and India, sailing west and north with
thirty-five men. distributed among a ten-ton pinnance and two other toy
ships of about twenty or twenty-five tons each. This sturdy old mariner,
under the encouragement of Queen Elizabeth, twice renewed his attempt (
1577-1578). Seven years later the great task was in the hands of John
Davis, who also made three attempts, and narrowly missed the discovery
of Hudson's Bay.
This important feat,
however, was reserved for Henry Hudson. His famous voyages fall within
the period of 1607 and 1611. In the first of these expeditions he
pierced the northern seas as far as 60° north latitude and discovered
the polar drift, subsequently utilized by Hansen. His crew consisted of
ten men and his own little boy. and their adventures were terrific in
When he made his second
voyage, only three members of the old crew re-enlisted. This time he
attempted to find the desired waterway by skirting the coasts of Norway
and following the current. As usual, the outward voyage continued until
the inevitable mutiny occurred, whereupon Hudson returned home.
The Dutch East India
Company, however, immediately invited Hudson to make another voyage and
under their auspices. For obvious reasons it was possible to secure but
few except the most desperate characters to serve on these expeditions.
Hudson's crew consisted of Lascars. Buccaneers, Asiatics, two Englishmen
of his old crew and his own sou. The unfortunate commander was soon all
but helpless in the hands of this motley crowd. He was forced to change
his route, to abandon the search for the northern passage and sail
southward along the .American coast. It was as a result of this mutiny
that Hudson became the discoverer of New York harbor and Hudson's river.
On his return Hudson and his fellow Englishmen were commanded by the
Government not to go on such an expedition again, but to stay at home
and serve their country!
Nevertheless, in 1610
Hudson set out on his fourth and last voyage. The financial expense was
borne largely by private members of the Muscovy Company, which had sent
Hudson forth in 1607 and 1608. After spending a month in the straits
since then known by his name, he ultimately entered and was the first
definitely to explore that vast inland sea, which was to form a
waterway, if not to China, to a region probably of more immediate
importance to the reader. Of course, the men mutinied, but Hudson
wintered in the bay. Agnes Laut thinks it was at the mouth of the Moose
River, though it is more general!) supposed to be off the Nelson. When
spring returned half his crew were ill with scurvy and the mutineers
seized the ship, marooning Hudson, his son and eight sick men in an open
boat. Such was the price that this heroic explorer paid for his fame and
for the addition he made to the world's store of knowledge.
Coldly in splendor
The Arctic evening. The waste
Of desolate waters, thy sea,
Washes its desolate shores;
And on its far reaches, a sail,
Lonely, outcast and forlorn;—
Like solitary bird with wing
Wounded and broken, and spent,
Seeking in vain its nest
On some dim, oceanward crag:—
Glimmers a space, and is gone.
But thou wert not
Great soul of the seafaring blood.
Thou pioneer pilot of dreams,
Thou finder of oceans remote
In the ultimate Empires of man.
Hendrick Hudson, 'tis here
That thou hast graven thy name,
To be a word of great need
In the thoughts of men for all time,
Not in thy mighty stream.
Splendid and vast, of the south,
Where 'twixt its mountainward walls,
It surges beneficent tides
Triumphant and glad, to the main.
But here in thy northern
Of the short red summers of joy
And the long dark winters of dream.
Is the gulf of thy world-fame to be:
Great Englishman! Outfaring soul!
Immortal, with that high band.
Bold Raleigh and Franklin and Drake,
Thy brother pilots: where surges
Heave on the crimson edge
Of ocean's ultimate rim
O'er horizons of vastness and morn.
Here, where thou
Sail on! Sail on! sail on! till we come
To the long lost passage; that path
From Europe to furthermost Ind;—
That road once open; when man.
In that rare, golden age of the past,
Did compass all earth in a span
Of Godlike effort and dream.
This road, which thine innermost soul
Knew well earth's seeker must find;—
As find it, he shall, some day;
And prove that high courage, that faith
Which led thee onward, great soul,
Out on thy last drear voyage;—
But left thee forsaken, forlorn,
Betrayed and lost, but not quelled,
Only thy trust in God left,
On those drifts of thy desolate main.
When word reached
England of Hudson's fate, Sir Thomas Button was sent to endeavor to find
and bring him back home, if, perchance, he and his companions had
escaped to land, but no tidings were ever received of the deserted men.
Button made careful explorations, but, unfortunately, his diary was
never made public. However, from the point of view of our present
narrative his expedition was of great importance: he discovered the
important Nelson River, which is, in point of fact, merely that portion
of the Saskatchewan lying between Lake Winnipeg and the Great Bay.
Into an account of the
explorations in Hudson's Bay conducted by Captain Gibbons, Robert Bylot,
William Baffin, Captain Hawbridge, Captain Jones, Captain Luke Fox and
Captain James, we cannot enter. James explored the hay which
consequently bears his name, though it had been entered previously by
Hudson himself. James entered upon Carlelon Island where lie built a
house. However, his experience was so disheartening that for a
generation 110 English expedition re-entered the bay.
Indeed, when at last
British interests were to become definitely established upon the shores
of Hudson's Bay. it was through the initiative of two Frenchmen, Medart
Chouart de Groseilliers and his brother-in-law, Pierre Esprit Radisson.
Radisson had come over
from France to Canada in his early vouth and indeed still was but a lad
when he was captured and adopted by the Mohawks. After his escape from
these undesirable companions, he went overland to the upper Mississippi,
with the combined purposes of pursuing explorations and carrying on the
fur trade. In these adventurous undertakings Groseilliers was his
partner. They visited the Crees and Sioux and heard from the Indians of
the Great Bay of the North. Whether they aclually visited Prince Rupert,
the organizer and first Radisson, the French adventurer, upon Governor.
whose initiative the Company was organized.
it has been a subject
of dispute. Among the numerous writers who have discussed the question
Professor George Bryce and Agnes Laut may be taken as typical. The
former considers the claim of the two Frenchmen invalid, whereas the
latter is quite convinced that it is sound. It may be added that other
students of the original documents think that it is by a
misunderstanding of Radisson's words that he is credited with ever
claiming to have readied the Inland Sea, in person, on this occasion.
At all events, the
season iii which this northern excursion is said to have occurred was
eminently successful from a commercial standpoint, and the adventurers
returned to Quebec with a very large cargo of furs. Having escaped with
their spoils from the savages, the unfortunate partners now encountered
the more serious peril involved in dependence upon the respectable
banditti of civilized society. The Governor of Canada found sufficient
pretext for confiscating the rewards of their toils and dangers and the
young Frenchmen either lied or were expelled to Cape Breton, and thence
to Port Royal in Acadia, 1664. They appealed to the Court of France for
redress and for aid in conducting an expedition by water to the Inland
Sea they are alleged to have visited; and the French Court, in
accordance with precedent, promised freely but did nothing. The
explorers then went to Boston, where they endeavored to interest
merchants and mariners. Captain Zachariah Gillam, indeed, offered his
ship, but when he and his French colleagues reached the terrifying
Hudson straits, he chose discretion as the better part of valor and
returned home. The disappointed Frenchmen then chartered two ships 011
their own account, but this enterprise involved them in more disaster
and litigation, and, according to Agnes Laut. one of their ships was
wrecked, so their proposed northern journey was again prevented.
Groseilliers were now at their wits' end. when, to the great good
fortune of England, they met Sir George Carteret, Vice Chamberlain -to
the King and Treasurer of the Royal Navy, who was visiting America on
his Majesty's business. He was profoundly interested in their proposal
to open up trade with the natives via the Inland Sea, and advised them
to return with him and lay their project before King Charles II of
England. on their way across they were captured by Dutch privateers and
put ashore in Spain. At last after many further adventures, they reached
England, where, through Carteret's influence, they were able to present
their scheme to King Charles in person. October 25, i6f>f>. The
undertaking appealed strongly to the "Merrv Monarch." who was keenly
interested in commerce, and though immediate action was stayed by the
plague and London fire, the King instructed James. Duke of York, the
Commander of His Navy, to place a vessel at the disposal of the
Frenchmen, with a view to undertaking further exploration and the
establishment of trade in the Bay.
The King's cousin,
Prince Rupert, Duke of Cumberland and Count Palatine of the Rhine, had
heavy claims upon King Charles for services both to him and his father,
and had, as yet, been unrewarded. He was accordingly given a share in
this enterprise and. together with a group of friends, undertook the
expenses of wages and victualling. Dutch spies learning of the proposed
undertaking' endeavored to bribe Radisson and' his kinsman into
deserting the service of England for that of Holland. Failing in this
they plotted the ruin of the prestige of the young Frenchmen, by causing
them to be prosecuted on a trumped-up charge of counterfeiting. Radisson
and Groseilliers were exonerated and H. M. S. "Eaglet." and the "Xonsuch"
under Captain Gillam. to whom we have already referred, were chartered
for the initial voyage. Groseilliers sailed on the "Nonsuch" and
Radisson on the "Eaglet," leaving England in June. i6C>S. The following
passages are selected from the sailing orders given to the Captains:
"You are to saile with
the first wind that presents, keeping company with each other to your
place of rendezvous.3 You are to saile to such place as Mr. Gooseberry"4
and Mr. Radisson shall direct to trade with the Indians there,
delivering the goods you carry in small parcels of no more than fifty
pounds worth at a time out of each ship, the furs in exchange to stowe
in each ship before delivering out any more goods, according to the
particular advice of Mr. Gooseberry and Mr. Radisson . . .
'"You are to take
notice that the Nampunpeage which you carry with you is part of our
joynt cargoes, wee having bought it for money for Mr. Gooseberry and Mr.
Radisson to be delivered by small quantities with like caution as the
other goods . . .
"You are to have in
your thought the discovery of the passage into the South Sea and to
attempt it with the advice and direction of Mr. Gooseberry and Mr.
Radisson, they having told us that it is only seven daies paddling or
sailing from the River where they intend to trade unto the Stinking Lake
and not above seven daies more to tbe straight which leads into that Sea
they call the South Sea, and from thence but forty or fifty leagues into
the Sea itself . . .
"Lastly, we advise and
require yon to use the said Mr. Gooseberry and Mr. Radisson with all
manner of civility and courtesy and to take care that
"Agnes Laut claims to
be the first to show that the initiation of this supremely important
enterprise is due to Charles himself and not to Prince Rupert. Conquest
of the Great North West. Vol. I. p. 104.
encountered lierce storms and the vessels were driven apart. Indeed, the
Jiaylet, with Radisson on board, was so seriously dismantled that its
commander was obliged to return to England. The Admiralty then granted
Radisson another vessel, the U'azrro, in which he set sail in March,
1869. Again the northern tempest checkmated his plans and he was forced
Meantime Captain Gillam
and Groseillicr had been more fortunate. They entered the bay, took
possession of the southern coasts and gave the name of Prince Rupert to
a large river emptying into the south cast corner of James Bay, where
they also built the first British fort in North Central America, calling
it Fort Charles. The Nonsuch left the bay in June, 1669, and was
anchored in the Thames when Radisson returned in the Vavcro. A secret
application was now made by the promoters of the trading enterprise for
the formal issue of a Royal Charter, which was granted in the following
Thus was established
one of the most commercial organizations of modern times. "To the
Honorable, the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England, trading
in Hudson's Bay," was entrusted the exploitation and control of the
greater part of the American continent. The real extent of the
stupendous territory through which they were ultimately to operate was,
of course, as yet unknown. As time passed bv, however, their trading
posts spread throughout the present Canadian North West, through a vast
region south of the Columbia River, extending to California, through
Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, and even into far away Hawaii."
In the preamble to the
Charter, Charles declared that his "dear and entirely beloved cousin,
Prince Rupert." and other gentlemen whose names are recited, "have at
their own great cost and charges undertaken an expedition for Hudson's
Bay in the North West part of America for the discovery of a new passage
into the South Sea and for finding some trade in fur, minerals, and
other considerable commodities, and by such their undertaking have
already made such discoveries as to encourage them to proceed further in
pursuance of their said design by means whereof there may probably arise
very great advantage to us and our Kingdom. Accordingly, being desirous
to promote all endeavors tending to the public good of our people, to
the end that the said Governor and Company of Adventurers of England may
be encouraged to undertake and effectually to prosecute the said design
. . . we have given . . . and by these presents for us our heirs and
successors do give, grant and confirm unto the said Governor and Company
and their successors the sole trade and commerce of all those seas,
straits, bays, rivers, lakes, creeks, sounds in whatsoever latitude they
shall be, that lie within the entrance of the straits, commonly called
Hudson's Straits, together with all the lands and territories upon the
countries, coasts and confines of the seas, bays, lakes, rivers, creeks
and sounds aforesaid, that are not already actually possessed by or
granted to any of our subjects, or possessed by the subjects of any
other Christian Prince or State, with the fishing of all sorts of fish,
whales, sturgeons and all other royal fishes in the seas, bays, inlets
and rivers within the premises and the fish therein taken, together to
the royalty of the sea upon the coasts within the limits aforesaid, and
all mines royal, as well discovered as not discovered . . . to be found
. . . within the territories . . . aforesaid; and that the said land be
from henceforth reckoned and reputed as one of our plantations and
colonies in America, called 'Rupert's Land'; and, further, we do . . .
make, create and constitute the said Governor and Company . . . and
their successors the true and absolute lords and proprietors of the same
territory, limits and place aforesaid . . . yielding and paying yearly
to us, our heirs and successors for the same, two elks and two black
beavers whensoever and so often as we, our heirs and successors shall
happen to enter into the said countries; and ... it shall be lawful to
and for them ... to make, ordain and constitute such and so many
reasonable laws ... as to them . . . shall seem necessary and convenient
. . . and at their pleasure to revoke and alter the same ... as the
occasion shall require; . . . And, furthermore, of our ample and
abundant grace, certain knowledge and mere motion, we . . . our heirs
and successors do grant unto the said Governor and Company and their
successors . . . that they and their successors . . . shall forever
hereafter have, use and enjoy not only the whole entire and only trade
and traffic ... to and from the territory, limits and places aforesaid,
but also the sole and entire trade and traffic to and from all havens,
bays, rivers, lakes and seas into which they shall find entrance or
passage by water or land out of the territories, limits or places
aforesaid, and to and with all the natives inhabiting or which shall
inhabit within the territories . . . and to and with all other nations
inhabiting any of the coasts adjacent to the said territories; . . . and
we do grant that neither the said territories . . . nor any part thereof
. . . shall be visited, frequented or haunted by any of the subjects of
us, our heirs or successors . . . unless it be by the license of the
said Governor and Company . . . upon pain that every such person or
persons . . . shall incur our indignation and the forfeit and loss of
the goods . . . brought into this realm of England or any of the
dominions of the same . . . and moreover we do give and grant unto the
said Governor and Company, free liberty to make peace or war with any
prince or people that are not Christians in any place where the said
company shall have any plantations, forts or factories, or adjacent
thereto; . . . And we do hereby strictly charge and command all and
singular, our admirals, vice-admirals, justices, mayors, sheriffs,
constables, bailiffs and all and singular our officers, ministers,
liegemen and subjects whatsoever to be aiding, favoring, helping and
assisting to the said Governor and Company and their successors . . .
and every of them . . . when any of you shall thereunto be required; any
statute, act, ordinance, proviso or restraint ... or any other matter,
cause or thing whatsoever to the contrary, in any wise,
Truly, when Charles
undertook to give, he did it royally!
This account of the
founding of British interests in North Western America, and of the
entrusting of them to the Hudson's Bay Company, may very well close with
the quoting of the oath taken by the shareholders and their successors:
"I doe sweare to bee
True and faithful to ye Govern'r and Comp'y of Adventurers of England
Trading into Hudson's Bay and to my power will support and maintain the
said comp'v and the privileges of ve same; all bve laws and orders not
repeated which have been or shall 'be made by ye Govern'r and Comp'y I
wil to my best knowledge truly observe and keepe; the secrets of ye said
company, which shall be given me 'in charge to conceale, I will not
disclose; and during the joint stock of ye said comp'y I will not
directly or indirectly trade to ye limitts of ye said comp'y's charter
without the Govern'r, the deputy Govern'r and committee. So help me.
In the following
chapter we shall recount in part the success and failure of this great
experiment in empire-building by means of private commercial enterprise,
and see to what extent English sovereignty in the North Western America
has been disputed or endangered.