|A Book of Discovery|
|by M. B. Synge|
|A fascinating account of the world's famous explorers, including the early travelers in ancient times, the discovery of the New World, explorations in Africa and Australia, and the expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. Many of the explorers tell part of their story in their own words. Amply illustrated with reproductions of early maps and charts, as well as old woodcuts, drawings, paintings, and miniatures. Emphasis is placed on the explorers' 'record of splendid endurance, of hardships bravely borne, of silent toil, of courage and resolution unequalled in the annals of mankind, of self-sacrifice unrivalled and faithful lives laid ungrudgingly down.' Ages 12-18 |
 BUT even while Drake was sailing round the world, and Frobisher's search for a north-west passage had been
diverted into a quest for gold, men's minds were still bent on the achievement of reaching Cathay by some
northern route. A discourse by Sir Humphrey Gilbert to prove the existence of a passage by the north-west to
Cathay and the East Indies, in ten chapters, was much discussed, and the Elizabethan seamen were still bent on
"When I gave myself to the study of geography," said Sir Humphrey, "and came to the fourth part of the world,
commonly called America, which by all descriptions I found to be an island environed round by sea, having on
the south side of it the Strait of Magellan, on the west side the Sea of the South, which sea runneth toward
the north, separating it from the east parts of Asia, and on the north side the sea that severeth it from
Greenland, through which Northern Seas the Passage lieth which I take now in hand to discover."
The arguments of Sir Humphrey seemed conclusive, and in 1585 they chose John Davis, "a man well grounded in
the principles of the art of navigation," to search for the North-West Passage to China. They gave him two
little ships, the Sunshine of fifty tons, with a crew of seventeen seamen, four musicians, and a
boy, and the Moonshine of thirty-five tons. It was a daring venture, but the expedition was
ill-equipped to battle with the icebound
 seas of the frozen north. The ships left Dartmouth on 7th June, and by July they were well out on the Atlantic
with porpoises and whales playing round them. Then came a time of fog and mist, "with a mighty great roaring
of the sea." On 20th July they sailed out of the fog and beheld the snow-covered mountains of Greenland,
beyond a wide stream of pack-ice—so gloomy, so "waste, and void of any creatures," so bleak and
inhospitable that the Englishmen named it the Land of Desolation and passed on to the north. Rounding the
point, afterwards named by Davis Cape Farewell, and sailing by the western coast of Greenland, they hoped to
find the passage to Cathay. Landing amid the fiords and the "green and pleasant isles" about the coast, they
anchored a while to refresh, and named their bay Gilbert Sound, after Sir Humphrey and Davis' own little boy,
Gilbert, left at home.
"The people of the country," says Davis, "having espied our ships, came down unto us in their canoes, holding
up their right hand toward the sun. We doing the like, the people came aboard our ships, men of good stature,
unbearded, small-eyed, and of tractable conditions. We bought the clothes from their backs, which were all
made of seals' skins and birds' skins, their buskins, their hose, their gloves, all being commonly sewed and
These simple Greenlanders who worshipped the sun gave Davis to understand that there was a great and open sea
to the north-west, and full of hope he sailed on. But he soon abandoned the search, for the season was
advancing, and, crossing the open sea, he entered the broad channel named after him Davis Strait, crossed the
Arctic Circle, and anchored under a promontory, "the cliffs whereof were orient as gold," naming it Mount
Raleigh. Here they found four white bears of "a monstrous bigness," which they took to be goats or wolves,
till on nearer
 acquaintance they were discovered to be great Polar bears. There were no signs of human life, no wood, no
grass, no earth, nothing but rock, so they coasted southwards, and to their joy they found an open strait to
the west free from ice. Eagerly they sailed the little Moonshine and Sunshine up the
opening, which they called Cumberland Sound, till thick fogs, and adverse winds drove them back. Winter was
now advancing, the six months' provisions were ended, and, satisfied with having found an open passage
westward, Davis sailed home in triumph to fit out another expedition as soon as spring came round. His news
was received with delight. "The North-West Passage is a matter nothing doubtful," he affirmed, "but at any
time almost to be passed, the sea navigable, void of ice, the air tolerable, and the waters very deep."
FROM A WATER-COLOR DRAWING BY JOHN WHITE, WHO VOYAGED
WITH FROBISHER AND DAVIS.
With this certainty of success the merchants readily fitted out another expedition, and Davis sailed early in
May 1586 with four ships.
The little Moonshine and Sunshine were included in the new fleet, but Davis himself
commanded the Mermaid of one hundred and twenty tons. The middle of June found him on the west
coast of Greenland, battling his way with great blocks of ice to his old quarters at Gilbert Sound. What a
warm welcome they received
 from their old Eskimo friends; "they rowed to the boat and took hold on the oars and hung about with such
comfortable joy as would require a long discourse to be uttered." Followed by a wondering crowd of natives
eager to help him up and down the rocks, Davis made his way inland to find an inviting country, "with earth
and grass such as our moory and waste grounds of England are"; he found, too, mosses and wild flowers in the
sheltered places. But his business lay in the icy waters, and he boldly pushed forward. But ice and snow and
fog made further progress impossible; shrouds, ropes, and sails were turned into a frozen mass, and the crew
was filled with despair. "Our men began to grow sick and feeble and hopeless of good success, and they advised
me that in conscience I ought to regard the safety of mine own life with the preservation of theirs, and that
I should not through my over-boldness leave their widows and fatherless children to give me bitter curses."
So Davis rearranged his crews and provisions, and with the Moonshine and a selection of his best
men he determined to voyage on "as God should direct him," while the Mermaid should carry the
sick and feeble and faint-hearted home. Davis then crossed over the strait called by his name and explored the
coast about Cumberland Sound. Again he tried here to discover the long-sought passage, but the brief summer
season was almost past and he had to content himself with exploring the shores of Labrador, unconsciously
following the track made by John Cabot eighty-nine years before.
But on his return home the merchants of London were disappointed. Davis had indeed explored an immense extent
of coast-line, and he had brought back a cargo of cod-fish and five hundred seal skins, but Cathay seemed as
far off as ever. One merchant prince, Sanderson by name, was still very keen, and he helped Davis to fit out
 another expedition. With three ships, the Sunshine, the Elizabeth, and the Helen, the
undaunted Arctic explorer now found himself for the third summer in succession at his old halting-place,
Gilbert's Sound, on the west coast of Greenland.
Leaving his somewhat discontented crews to go fishing off the coast of Labrador, he took the little twenty-ton
pinnace, with a small party of brave spirits like his own, and made his way northwards in a free and open sea.
The weather was hot, land was visible on both sides, and the English mariners were under the impression that
they were sailing up a gulf. But the passage grew wider and wider, till Davis found himself with the sea all
open to west and north. He had crossed the Arctic Circle and reached the most northerly point ever yet reached
by an explorer. Seeing on his right a lofty cliff, he named it "Sanderson his Hope," for it seemed to give
hope of the long-sought passage to Cathay.
It was a memorable day in the annals of discovery, 30th June 1587, when Davis reached this famous point on the
coast of Greenland. "A bright blue sea extended to the horizon on the north and west, obstructed by no ice,
but here and there a few majestic icebergs with peaks snowy shooting up into the sky. To the eastward were the
granite mountains of Greenland, and beyond them the white line of the mightiest glacier in the world. Rising
immediately above the tiny vessel was the beetling wall of Hope Sanderson, with its summit eight hundred and
fifty feet above sea-level. At its base the sea was a sheet of foam and spray. It must have been a scene like
fairyland, for, as Davis remarked, there was "no ice towards the north, but a great sea, free, large, very
salt and blue, and of an unsearchable depth."
But again disappointment awaited him. That night a wind from the north barred further advance as a mighty
 bank of ice some eight feet thick came drifting down toward the Atlantic. Again and again he attempted to get
on, but it was impossible, and reluctantly enough he turned the little ship southwards.
"This Davis hath been three times employed; why hath he not found the passage?" said the folk at home when he
returned and reported his doings. How little they realised the difficulties of the way. The commander of the
twenty-ton Ellen had done more than any man had done before him in the way of Arctic exploration.
He had discovered seven hundred and thirty-two miles of coast from Cape Farewell to Sanderson's Hope; he had
examined the whole coast of Labrador; he had "converted the Arctic regions from a confused myth into a defined
area." "He lighted Baffin into his bay. He lighted Hudson into his strait. He lighted Hans Egede to the scene
of his Greenland labour." And more than this, says his enthusiastic biographer: "His true-hearted devotion to
the cause of Arctic discovery, his patient scientific research, his loyalty to his employers, his dauntless
gallantry and enthusiasm form an example which will be a beacon-light to maritime explorers for all time to
"And Davis three times forth for the north-west made,
Still striving by that course t'enrich the English trade;
And as he well deserved, to his eternal fame,
There, by a mighty sea, immortalised his name."
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