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A Book of Discovery by  M. B. Synge


 

 

HUDSON FINDS HIS BAY

[273] HENRY HUDSON was another victim to perish in the hopeless search for a passage to China by the north. John Davis had been dead two years, but not till after he had piloted the first expedition undertaken by the newly formed East India Company for commerce with India and the East. It was now more important than ever to find a short way to these countries other than round by the Cape of Good Hope. So Henry Hudson was employed by the Muscovy Company "to discover a shorter route to Cathay by sailing over the North Pole."  He knew the hardships of the way; he must have realised the fate of Willoughby, the failure of Frobisher, the sufferings of Barents and his men, the difficulties of Davis—indeed, it is more than probable that he had listened to Davis speaking on the subject of Arctic exploration to the merchants of London at his uncle's house at Mortlake.

Never did man start on a bolder or more perilous enterprise than did this man, when he started for the North Pole in a little boat of eighty tons, with his little son Jack, two mates, and a crew of eight men.

"Led by Hudson with the fire of a great faith in his eyes, the men solemnly marched to St. Ethelburga Church, off Bishopsgate Street, London, to partake of Holy Communion and ask God's aid. Back to the muddy water [274] front, opposite the Tower, a hearty God-speed from the gentlemen of the Muscovy Company, pompous in self-importance and lace ruffles—and the little crew steps into a clumsy river-boat with brick-red sails."

After a six weeks' tumble over a waste of waters, Hudson arrived off the coast of Greenland, the decks of the little Hopewell  coated with ice, her rigging and sails hard as boards, and a north-east gale of wind and snow against her. A barrier of ice forbade further advance; but, sailing along the edge of this barrier—the first navigator to do so—he made for the coast of Spitzbergen, already roughly charted by Barents. Tacking up the west coast to the north, Hudson now explored further the fiords, islands, and harbours, naming some of them—notably Whale Bay and Hakluyt Headland, which may be seen on our maps of to-day. By 13th July he had reached his Farthest North, farther than any explorer had been before him, farther than any to be reached again for over one hundred and fifty years. It was a land of walrus, seal, and Polar bear; but, as usual, ice shut off all further attempts to penetrate the mysteries of the Pole, thick fog hung around the little ship, and with a fair wind Hudson turned southward. "It pleased God to give us a gale and away we steered," says the old ship log. Hudson would fain have steered Greenland way and had another try for the north. But his men wanted to go home, and home they went, through "slabbie" weather.

But the voice of the North was still calling Hudson, and he persuaded the Muscovy Company to let him go off again. This he did in the following year. Only three of his former crew volunteered for service, and one of these was his son. But this expedition was devoid of result. The icy seas about Nova Zembla gave no hope of a passage in this direction, and, "being void of hope, [275] the wind stormy and against us, much ice driving, we weighed and set sail westward."


[Illustration]

HUDSON'S MAP OF HIS VOYAGES IN THE ARCTIC.

Hudson's voyages for the Muscovy Company had already come under the notice of the Dutch, who were vying with the English for the discovery of this short route to the East. Hudson was now invited to undertake an expedition for the Dutch East India Company, and he sailed from Amsterdam in the early spring of 1809 in a Dutch ship called the Half-Moon, with a mixed crew of Dutch and English, including once more his own son. Summer found the enthusiastic explorer off the coast of Newfoundland, where some cod-fishing refreshed the crews before they sailed on south, partly seeking an opening to the west, partly looking for the colony of Virginia, under Hudson's friend, Captain John Smith. In hot, misty weather they cruised along the coast. They passed what is now Massachusetts, "an Indian country of great hills—a very sweet land." On 7th August, Hudson was near the modern town of New York, so long known as New Amsterdam, but mist hid the low-lying hills and the Half-Moon  drifted on to James River; then, driven back by a heat hurricane, he made for the inlet on the old charts, which might lead yet east.

[276] It was 2nd September when he came to the great mouth of the river that now bears his name. He had been beating about all day in gales and fogs, when "the sun arose and we saw the land all like broken islands. From the land which we had first sight of, we came to a large lake of water, like drowned land, which made it to rise like islands. The mouth hath many shores and the sea breaketh on them. This is a very good land to fall in with, and a pleasant land to see. At three of the clock in the afternoon we came to three great rivers. We found a very good harbour and went in with our ship. Then we took our nets to fish and caught ten great mullets of a foot and a half long each, and a ray as great as four men could haul into the ship. The people of the country came aboard of us, seeming very glad of our coming, and brought green tobacco—they go in deer skins, well-dressed, they desire clothes and are very civil they have great store of maize, whereof they make good bread. The country is full of great and tall oaks." To this he adds that the women had red copper tobacco pipes, many of them being dressed in mantles of feathers or furs, but the natives proved treacherous. Sailing up the river, Hudson found it a mile broad, with high land on both sides. By the night of 19th September the little Half-Moon  had reached the spot where the river widens near the modern town of Albany. He had sailed for the first time the distance covered to-day by magnificent steamers which ply daily between Albany and New York city. Hudson now went ashore with an old chief of the country. "Two men were dispatched in quest of game," so records Hudson's manuscript, "who brought in a pair of pigeons. They likewise killed a fat dog and skinned it with great haste with shells. The land is the finest for cultivation that ever I in my life set foot upon."

Hudson had not found a way to China, but he had [277] found the great and important river that now bears his name. Yet he was to do greater things than these, and to lose his life in the doing. The following year, 1610, found him once more bound for the north, continuing the endless search for a north-west passage—this time for the English, and not for the Dutch. On board the little Discovery  of fifty-five tons, with his young son, Jack, still his faithful companion, with a treacherous old man as mate, who had accompanied him before, with a good-for-nothing young spendthrift taken at the last moment "because he wrote a good hand," and a mixed crew, Hudson crossed the wide Atlantic for the last time. He sailed by way of Iceland, where "fresh fish and dainty fowl, partridges, curlew, plover, teale, and goose" much refreshed the already discontented crews, and the hot baths of Iceland delighted them. The men wanted to return to the pleasant land discovered in the last expedition, but the mysteries of the frozen North still called the old explorer, and he steered for Greenland. He was soon battling with ice upon the southern end of "Desolation," whence he crossed to the snowy shores of Labrador, sailing into the great straits that bear his name to-day. For three months they sailed aimlessly about that "labyrinth without end" as it was called by Abacuk Prickett who wrote the account of this fourth and last voyage of Henry Hudson. But they could find no opening to the west, no way of escape.


[Illustration]

A SHIP OF HUDSON'S FLEET.

[278] Winter was coming on, "the nights were long and cold, and the earth was covered with snow." They were several hundred miles south of the straits, and no way had been found to the Pacific; they had followed the south shore "to the westernmost bay of all," James Bay, but lo! there was no South Sea. Hudson recognised the fact that he was land-bound and winter-bound in a desolate region, with a discontented crew, and that the discontent was amounting to mutiny. On 1st November they hauled up the ship and selected a wintering place. Ten days later they were frozen in, and snow was falling continuously every day. "We were victualled for six months, and of that which was good," runs the record. For the first three months they shot "partridges as white as milk," but these left with the advent of spring, and hunger seized on the handful of Englishmen wintering in this unknown land. "Then we went into the woods, hills, and valleys—and the moss and the frog were not spared." Not till the month of May did the ice begin to melt and the men could fish. The first day this was possible they caught "five hundred fish as big as good herrings and some trout," which revived their hopes and their health. Hudson made a last despairing effort to find a westward passage. But now the men rose in mutiny. "We would rather be hanged at home than starved abroad!" they cried miserably.

So Hudson "fitted all things for his return, and first delivered all the bread out of the bread room (which came to a pound apiece for every man's share), and he wept when he gave it unto them." It was barely sufficient for fourteen days, and even with the fourscore small fish they had caught it was "a poor relief for so many hungry bellies."

With a fair wind in the month of June, the little Discovery  was headed for home. A few days later she [279] was stopped by ice. Mutiny now burst forth. The "master" and his men had lost confidence in each other. There were ruffians on board, rendered almost wild by hunger and privation. There is nothing more tragic in the history of exploration than the desertion of Henry Hudson and his boy in their newly discovered bay. Every detail of the conspiracy is given by Prickett. We know how the rumour spread, how the crew resolved to turn the "master" and the sick men adrift and to share the remaining provisions among themselves. And how in the early morning Hudson was seized and his arms bound behind him.

"What does this mean?" he cried.

"You will know soon enough when you are in the shallop," they replied.

The boat was lowered and into it Hudson was put with his son, while the "poor, sick, and lame men were called upon to get them out of their cabins into the shallop." Then the mutineers lowered some powder and shot, some pikes, an iron pot, and some meal into her, and the little boat was soon adrift with her living freight of suffering, starving men—adrift in that icebound sea, far from home and friends and all human help. At the last moment the carpenter sprang into the drifting boat, resolved to die with the captain sooner than desert him. Then the Discovery  flew away with all sail up as from an enemy.

And "the master" perished—how and when we know not.

Fortunately the mutineers took home Hudson's journals and charts. Ships were sent out to search for the lost explorer, but the silence has never been broken since that summer's day three hundred years ago, when he was deserted in the waters of his own bay.


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