Voyages in Search of The North-West Passage, by Richard Hakluyt

The Third Voyage North-Westward, Made by John Davis, Gentleman, as chief captain and pilot general for the discovery of a passage to the Isles of the Molucca, or the coast of China, in the year 1587. Written by John Janes, servant to the aforesaid Master William Sanderson.

May. — The 19th of this present month, about midnight, we weighed our anchors, set sail and departed from Dartmouth with two barques and a clincher, the one named the Elizabeth, of Dartmouth, the other the Sunshine, of London, and the clincher called the Ellin, of London; thus, in God’s name, we set forwards with wind at north-east, a good fresh gale. About three hours after our departure, the night being somewhat thick with darkness, we had lost the pinnace. The captain, imagining that the men had run away with her, willed the master of the Sunshine to stand to seawards and see if we could descry them, we bearing in with the shore for Plymouth. At length we descried her, bore with her, and demanded what the cause was; they answered that the tiller of their helm was burst, so shaping our course west-south-west, we went forward, hoping that a hard beginning would make a good ending; yet some of us were doubtful of it, failing in reckoning that she was a clincher; nevertheless, we put our trust in God.

The 21st we met with the Red Lion of London, which came from the coast of Spain, which was afraid that we had been men-of-war; but we hailed them, and after a little conference we desired the master to carry our letters for London, directed to my uncle Sanderson, who promised us safe delivery. And after we had heaved them a lead and a line, whereunto we had made fast our letters, before they could get them into the ship they fell into the sea, and so all our labour and theirs also was lost; notwithstanding, they promised to certify our departure at London, and so we departed, and the same day we had sight of Scilly. The 22nd the wind was at north-east by east, with fair weather, and so the 23rd and 24th the like. The 25th we laid our ships on the lee for the Sunshine, who was a-rummaging for a leak; they had 500 strokes at the pump in a watch, with the wind at north-west.

The 26th and 27th we had fair weather, but this 27th the pinnace’s foremast was blown overboard. The 28th the Elizabeth towed the pinnace, which was so much bragged of by the owner’s report before we came out of England, but at sea she was like a cart drawn with oxen. Sometimes we towed her, because she could not sail for scant wind.

The 31st day our captain asked if the pinnace were staunch. Peerson answered that she was as sound and staunch as a cup. This made us something glad when we saw she would brook the sea, and was not leaky.

June. — The first six days we had fair weather; after that for five days we had fog and rain, the wind being south.

The 12th we had clear weather. The mariners in the Sunshine and the master could not agree; the mariners would go on their voyage a-fishing, because the year began to waste; the master would not depart till he had the company of the Elizabeth, whereupon the master told our captain that he was afraid his men would shape some contrary course while he was asleep, and so he should lose us. At length, after much talk and many threatenings, they were content to bring us to the land which we looked for daily.

The 13th we had fog and rain.

The 14th day we discovered land at five of the clock in the morning, being very great and high mountains, the tops of the hills being covered with snow. Here the wind was variable, sometimes north-east, east-north-east, and east by north; but we imagined ourselves to be 16 or 17 leagues off from the shore.

The 15th we had reasonably clear weather.

The 16th we came to an anchor about four or five of the clock in the afternoon. The people came presently to us, after the old manner, with crying “Il y a oute,” and showed us seal-skins.

The 17th we began to set up the pinnace that Peerson framed at Dartmouth, with the boards which he brought from London.

The 18th, Peerson and the carpenters of the ships began to set on the planks.

The 19th, as we went about an island, were found black pumice stones, and salt kerned on the rocks, very white and glistering. This day, also, the master of the Sunshine took one of the people, a very strong, lusty young fellow.

The 20th, about two of the clock in the morning, the savages came to the island where our pinnace was built ready to be launched, and tore the two upper strakes and carried them away, only for the love of the iron in the boards. While they were about this practice, we manned the Elizabeth’s boat to go ashore to them. Our men, being either afraid or amazed, were so long before they came to shore, that our captain willed them to stay, and made the gunner give fire to a saker, and laid the piece level with the boat, which the savages had turned on the one side because we could not hurt them with our arrows, and made the boat their bulwark against the arrows which we shot at them. Our gunner, having made all things ready, gave fire to the piece, and fearing to hurt any of the people, and regarding the owner’s profit, thought belike he would save a saker’s shot, doubting we should have occasion to fight with men-of-war, and so shot off the saker without a bullet, we looking still when the savages that were hurt should run away without legs; at length we could perceive never a man hurt, but all having their legs, could carry away their bodies. We had no sooner shot off the piece but the master of the Sunshine manned his boat, and came rowing towards the island, the very sight of whom made each of them take that he had gotten, and fly away as fast as they could to another island about two miles off, where they took the nails out of the timber, and left the wood on the isle. When we came on shore, and saw how they had spoiled the boat, after much debating of the matter, we agreed that the Elizabeth should have her to fish withal; whereupon she was presently carried aboard and stowed. Now after this trouble, being resolved to depart with the first wind, there fell out another matter worse than all the rest, and that was in this manner: John Churchyard, one whom our captain had appointed as pilot in the pinnace, came to our captain and Master Bruton, and told them that the good ship which we must all hazard our lives in had three hundred strokes at one time as she rode in the harbour. This disquieted us all greatly, and many doubted to go in her. At length our captain, by whom we were all to be governed, determined rather to end his life with credit than to return with infamy and disgrace; and so, being all agreed, we purposed to live and die together, and committed ourselves to the ship.

Now the 21st, having brought all our things aboard, about eleven or twelve of the clock at night we set sail and departed from those isles, which lie in 64 degrees of latitude, our ships being now all at sea, and we shaping our course to go coasting the land to the northwards, upon the eastern shore, which we called the shore of our merchants, because there we met with people which traffic with us; but here we were not without doubt of our ship.

The 22nd and 23rd we had close fog and rain.

The 24th, being in 67 degrees and 40 minutes, we had great store of whales, and a kind of sea-birds which the mariners call cortinous. This day, about six of the clock at night, we espied two of the country people at sea, thinking at the first they had been two great seals, until we saw their oars, glistering with the sun. They came rowing towards us as fast as they could, and when they came within hearing they held up their oars and cried “Il y a oute,” making many signs, and at last they came to us, giving us birds for bracelets, and of them I had a dart with a bone in it, or a piece of unicorn’s horn, as I did judge. This dart he made store of, but when he saw a knife he let it go, being more desirous of the knife than of his dart. These people continued rowing after our ship the space of three hours.

The 25th, in the morning, at seven of the clock, we descried thirty savages rowing after us, being by judgment ten leagues off from the shore. They brought us salmon peels, birds, and caplin, and we gave them pins, needles, bracelets, nails, knives, bells, looking-glasses, and other small trifles; and for a knife, a nail, or a bracelet, which they call ponigmah, they would sell their boat, coats, or anything they had, although they were far from the shore. We had but few skins of them, about twenty; but they made signs to us that if we would go to the shore, we should have more store of chicsanege. They stayed with us till eleven of the clock, at which time we went to prayer, and they departed from us.

The 26th was cloudy, the wind being at south.

The 27th fair, with the same wind.

The 28th and 29th were foggy, with clouds.

The 30th day we took the height, and found ourselves in 72 degrees and 12 minutes of latitude, both at noon and at night, the sun being five degrees above the horizon. At midnight the compass set to the variation of 28 degrees to the westward. Now having coasted the land which we called London Coast from the 21st of this present till the 30th, the sea open all to the westwards and northwards, the land on starboard side east from us, the wind shifted to the north, whereupon we left that shore, naming the same Hope Sanderson, and shaped our course west, and ran forty leagues and better without the sight of any land.

July. — The 2nd we fell in with a mighty bank of ice west from us, lying north and south, which bank we would gladly have doubled out to the northwards, but the wind would not suffer us, so that we were fain to coast it to the southwards, hoping to double it out that we might have run so far west till we had found land, or else to have been thoroughly resolved of our pretended purpose.

The 3rd we fell in with the ice again, and putting off from it we sought to the northwards, but the wind crossed us.

The 4th was foggy, so was the 5th; also with much wind at north.

The 6th being very clear, we put our barque with oars through a gap in the ice, seeing the sea free on the west side, as we thought, which falling out otherwise, caused us to return after we had stayed there between the ice.

The 7th and the 8th, about midnight, by God’s help we recovered the open sea, the weather being fair and calm; and so was the 9th.

The 10th we coasted the ice.

The 11th was foggy, but calm.

The 12th we coasted again the ice, having the wind at west-north-west. The 13th, bearing off from the ice, we determined to go with the shore, and come to an anchor, and to stay five or six days for the dissolving of the ice, hoping that the sea from continually beating it, and the sun with the extreme force of heat, which it had always shining upon it, would make a quick despatch, that we might have a further search upon the western shore. Now when we were come to the eastern coast, the water something deep, and some of our company fearful withal, we durst not come to an anchor, but bore off into sea again. The poor people, seeing us go away again, came rowing after us into the sea, the waves being somewhat lofty. We trucked with them for a few skins and darts, and gave them beads, nails, needles, and cards, they pointing to the shore as though they would show us great friendship; but we, little regarding their courtesy, gave them the gentle farewell, and so departed.

The 14th we had the wind at south. The 15th there was some fault either in the barque or the set of some current, for we were driven six points out of our course. The 16th we fell in with the bank of ice, west from us. The 17th and 18th were foggy. The 19th, at one o’clock afternoon, we had sight of the land which we called Mount Raleigh, and at twelve of the clock at night we were athwart the straits which we discovered the first year. The 20th we traversed in the mouth of the strait, the wind being at west with fair and clear weather. The 21st and 22nd we coasted the northern coast of the straits. The 23rd, having sailed 60 leagues north-west into the straits at two o’clock afternoon, we anchored among many isles in the bottom of the gulf, naming the same the Earl of Cumberland’s Isles, where, riding at anchor, a whale passed by our ship and went west in among the isles. Here the compass set at 30 degrees westward variation. The 24th we departed, shaping our course south-east to recover the sea. The 25th we were becalmed in the bottom of the gulf, the air being extremely hot. Master Bruton and some of the mariners went on shore to course dogs, where they found many graves, and trains spilt on the ground, the dogs being so fat that they were scant able to run.

The 26th we had a pretty storm, the wind being at south-east. The 27th and 28th were fair. The 29th we were clear out of the straits, having coasted the south shore, and this day at noon we were in 64 degrees of latitude. The 30th in the afternoon we coasted a bank of ice which lay on the shore, and passed by a great bank or inlet which lay between 63 and 62 degrees of latitude, which we called Lumley’s Inlet. We had oftentimes, as we sailed along the coast, great roots, the water as it were whirling and overfalling, as if it were the fall of some great water through a bridge. The 31st as we sailed by a headland, which we named Warwick’s Forehand, we fell into one of those overfalls with a fresh gale of wind, and bearing all our sails, we looking upon an island of ice between us and the shore, had thought that our barque did make no way, which caused us to take marks on the shore. At length we perceived ourselves to go very fast, and the island of ice which we saw before was carried very forcibly with the set of the current faster than our ship went. This day and night we passed by a very great gulf, the water whirling and roaring as it were the meeting of tides.

August. — The 1st, having coasted a bank of ice which was driven out at the mouth of this gulf, we fell in with the southernmost cape of the gulf, which we named Chidlie’s Cape, which lay in 6 degrees and 10 minutes of latitude. The 2nd and 3rd were calm and foggy, so were the 4th, 5th, and 6th. The 7th was fair and calm, so was the 8th, with a little gale in the morning. The 9th was fair, and we had a little gale at night. The 10th we had a frisking gale at west-north-west; the 11th fair. The 12th we saw five deer on the top of an island, called by us Darcie’s Island. And we hoisted out our boat, and went ashore to them, thinking to have killed some of them. But when we came on shore and had coursed them twice about the island they took the sea, and swain towards islands distant from that three leagues. When we perceived that they had taken the sea, we gave them over, because our boat was so small that it could not carry us and row after them, they swam so fast; but one of them was as big as a good pretty cow, and very fat; their feet as big as ox-feet. Here upon this island I killed with my piece a grey hare.

The 13th in the morning we saw three or four white bears, but durst not go on shore unto them for lack of a good boat. This day we struck a rock seeking for a harbour, and received a leak, and this day we were in 54 degrees of latitude. The 14th we stopped our leak in a storm not very outrageous at noon.

The 15th, being almost in 51 degrees of latitude, and not finding our ships, nor (according to their promise) being any mark, token, or beacon, which we willed to set up, and they protested to do so upon every headland, sea, island, or cape, within 20 leagues every way off from their fishing place, which our captain appointed to be between 54 and 55 degrees — this 15th, I say, we shaped our course homeward for England, having in our ship but little wood, and half a hogshead of fresh water. Our men were very willing to depart, and no man more forward than Peerson, for he feared to be put out of his office of stewardship; he was so insatiate that the allowance of two men was scant sufficient to fill his greedy appetite; but because every man was so willing to depart, and considering our want, I doubted the matter very much, fearing that the seething of our men’s victuals in salt water would breed diseases, and being but few (yet too many for the room, if any should be sick), and likely that all the rest might be infected therewith, we consented to return for our own country, and so we had the 16th there with the wind at south-west.

The 17th we met a ship at sea, and as far as we could judge it was a Biscayan; we thought she went a-fishing for whales, for in 52 degrees or thereabout we saw very many.

The 18th was fair with a good gale at west.

The 19th fair also, but with much wind at west and by south.

And thus, after much variable weather and change of winds, we arrived the 15th of September in Dartmouth, Anno 1587, giving thanks to God for our safe arrival.

A letter of the said Master John Davis, written to Master Sanderson of London, concerning his fore-written voyage.

Good Master Sanderson — With God’s great mercy I have made my safe return in health with all my company, and have sailed 60 leagues farther than my determination at my departure. I have been in 73 degrees, finding the sea all open, and 40 leagues between laud and land; the passage is most certain, the execution most easy, as at my coming you shall fully know. Yesterday, the 15th of September, I landed all weary, therefore I pray you pardon my shortness.

Sandridge, this 16th of September, Anno 1587. Yours equal as mine own, which by trial you shall best know,

JOHN DAVIS.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38