John Davis, 1543-1605

Portrait

Biographical note

One of the chief English navigators and explorers under Elizabeth I, especially in Polar regions.

In January 1583 he appears to have broached his design of a Northwest Passage to Francis Walsingham and John Dee; various consultations followed; and in 1585 he started on his first north-western expedition. On this he began by encountering the ice-bound east shore of Greenland, which he followed south to Cape Farewell; thence he turned north once more and coasted the west Greenland littoral some way, until, finding the sea free from ice, he shaped a course for China going north-west. In 66° N, however, he encountered Baffin Island, and though he pushed some way up Cumberland Sound, and professed to recognize in this the hoped strait, he now turned back (end of August).

He tried again in 1586 and 1587; in the last voyage he pushed through the straits still named after him into Baffin Bay, coasting west Greenland to 73° N., almost to Upernavik, and thence making a last effort to find a passage westward along the north of America. Many points in Arctic latitudes (Cumberland Sound, Cape Walsingham, Exeter Sound, etc) retain names given them by Davis, who ranks with William Baffin and Henry Hudson as the greatest of early Arctic explorers and, like Martin Frobisher, narrowly missed the discovery of Hudson Bay via Hudsons Straits (the Furious Overfall of Davis).

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