A report of Master Iohn Dauis of his three Voyages made for the discouerie of the Northwest passage, taken out of a Treatise of his. Intituled the worlds Hydrographicall description.
Now there onely resteth the North parts of America, vpon which coast my selfe haue had most experience of any in our age: for thrise I was that way imployed for the discouery of this notable passage, by the honourable care and some charge of Syr Francis Walsingham knight, principall secretary to her Maiestie, with whom diuer noble men and worshipfull marchants of London ioyned in purse and willingnesse for the furtherance of that attempt, but when his honour dyed the voyage was friendlesse, and mens mindes alienated from aduenturing therein.
The 1. voyage. In my first voyage not experienced of the nature of those climates, and hauing no direction either by Chart, Globe, or other certaine relation in what altitude that passage was to be searched, I shaped a Northerly course and so sought the same toward the South, and in that my Northerly course I fell vpon the shore which in ancient time was called Groenland, fiue hundred leagues distant from the Durseys Westnorthwest Northerly, the land being very high and full of mightie mountaines all couered with snowe, no viewe of wood, grasse or earth to be seene, and the shore two leagues off into the sea so full of yce as that no shipping could by any meanes come neere the same. The lothsome view of the shore, and irksome noyse of the yce was such, as that it bred strange conceits among vs, so that we supposed the place to be wast and voyd of any sensible or vegitable creatures, whereupon I called the same Desolation: so coasting this shore towards the South in the latitude of sixtie degrees, I found it to trend towards the West, I still followed the leading thereof in the same height, and after fifty or sixtie leagues it fayled and lay directly North, which I still followed, and in thirtie leagues sayling vpon the West side of this coast by me named desolation, we were past al the yce and found many greene and pleasant Iles bordering vpon the shore, but the maine were still couered with great quantities of snow, I brought my ship among those Isles and there moored to refresh our selues in our weary trauell, in the latitude of sixtie foure degrees or thereabout. The people of the countrey hauing espied our shippes came downe vnto vs in their Canoas, and holding vp their right hand to the Sunne and crying Yliaout, would strike their breasts: we doing the like the people came aboard our shippes, men of good stature, vnbearded, small eyed and of tractable conditions, by whome as signes would permit, we vnderstood that towards the North and West, there was a great sea, and vsing the people with kindeness in giuing them nayles and kniues which of all things they most desired, we departed, and finding the sea free from yce supposing our selves to be past al daunger we shaped our course Westnorthwest thinking thereby to passe for China, but in the latitude of sixtie sixe degrees we fell with another shore, and there found another passage of twenty leagues broad directly West into the same, which we supposed to be our hoped straight, we entred into the same thirtie or fortie leagues, finding it neither to wyden nor streighten, then considering that the yeere was spent (for this was the fiue of August) not knowing the length of the straight and dangers thereof, we tooke it our best course to returne with notice of our good successe for this small time of search. And so returning in a sharpe fret of Westerly windes the 19 of September we arriued at Dartmouth. The 2. voyage. And acquainting Master Secretary Walsingham with the rest of the honourable and worshipfull aduenturers of all our proceedings, I was appointed againe the second yere to search the bottome of this straight, because by all likelihood it was the place and passage by vs laboured for. In this second attempt the marchants of Exeter, and other places of the West became aduenturers in the action, so that being sufficiently furnished for sixe moneths, and hauing direction to search these straights, vntill we found the same to fall into another sea vpon the West side of this part of America, we should againe returne: for then it was not to be doubted, but shipping with trade might safely be conueied to China, and the parts of Asia. We departed from Dartmouth, and arriuing vpon the South part of the coast of Desolation coasted the same vpon his West shore to the latitude of sixtie six degrees, and there anchored among the Isles bordering vpon the same, where we refreshed our selues, the people of this place came likewise vnto vs, by whom I vnderstood through their signes that towards the North the sea was large. At this place the chiefe ship whereupon I trusted, called the Mermayd of Dartmouth, found many occasions of discontentment, and being vnwilling to proceed shee there forsook me. Then considering how I had giuen my faith and most constant promise to my worshipfull good friend Master William Sanderson, who of all men was the greatest aduenturer in that action, and tooke such care for the performance thereof, that he hath to my knowledge at one time disbursed as much money as any fiue others whatsoever, out of his purse, when some of the companie haue bene slacke in giuing in their aduenture: And also knowing that I should loose the fauour of M. Secretary Walsingham, if I should shrink from his direction; in one small barke of 30 Tonnes, whereof M. Sanderson was owner, alone without farther company I proceeded on my voyage, and arriuing at these straights followed the same 80 leagues, vntill I came among many Islands, where the water did ebbe and flow sixe fadome vpright, and where there had bene great trade of people to make traine. The North Parts of America all Islands. But by such things as there we found, wee knew that they were not Christians of Europe that had vsed that trade: in fine by searching with our boat, we found small hope to passe any farther that way, and therefore recouered the sea and coasted the shore towards the South, and in so doing (for it was too late to search towards the North) we found another great inlet neere 40 leagues broad, where the water entred in with violent swiftnesse, this we also thought might be a passage; for no doubt the North partes of America are all Islands by ought that I could perceiue therein: but because I was alone in a small barke of thirtie tunnes, and the yeere spent, I entred not into the same, for it was now the seuenth of September, but coasting the shore towards the South wee saw an incredible number of birds: hauing diuers fishermen aboord our Barke they all concluded that there was a great skull of fish, we being vnprouided of fishing furniture with a long spike nayle made a hooke, and fastened the same to one of our sounding lines, before the baite was changed we tooke more then fortie great Cods, the fish swimming so abundantly thicke about our barke as is incredible to bee reported, of which with a small portion of salt that we had we preserved some thirtie couple, or thereaboutes, and so returned for England. And hauing reported to M. Secretarie Walsingham the whole successe of this attempt, he commanded me to present vnto the most honourable Lord high Treasurour of England, some part of that fish: which when his Lordship saw, and heard at large the relation of this second attempt, I receiued fauourable countenance from his honour, aduising me to prosecute the action, of which his Lordship conceiued a very good opinion. The next yere, although diuers of the aduenturers fell from the Action, as all the Westerne marchants, and most of those in London: yet some of the aduenturers both honourable and worshipfull continued their willing fauour and charge, so that by this meanes the next yere two shippes were appointed for the fishing and one pinnesse for the discouerie.
The 3. voyage. Departing from Dartmouth, thorough Gods mercifull fauour, I arriued at the place of fishing, and there according to my direction I left the two ships to follow that busines, taking their faithful promise not to depart vntill my returne vnto them, which should be in the fine of August, and so in the barke I proceeded for this discouerie: but after my departure, in sixeteene dayes the two shippes had finished their voyage, and so presently departed for England, without regard of their promise: my selfe not distrusting any such hard measure proceeded for the discouerie, and followed my course in the free and open sea betweene North and Northwest to the latitude of 67 degrees, and there I might see America West from me, and Gronland, which I called Desolation, East: then when I saw the land of both sides I began to distrust it would prooue but a gulfe: notwithstanding desirous to know the full certainty I proceeded, and in 68 degrees the passage enlarged, so that I could not see the Westerne shore: thus I continued to the Latitude of 73 degrees in a great sea, free from yce, coasting the Westerne shoure of Desolation: the people came continually rowing out vnto me in their Canoas, twenty, forty, and one hundred at a time, and would giue me fishes dryed, Salmon, Salmon peale, Cod, Caplin, Lumpe, Stone-base and such like, besides diuers kinds of birds, as Partrige, Fesant, Guls, Sea birds, and other kinds of flesh: I still laboured by signes to know from them what they knew of any sea toward the North, they still made signes of a great sea as we vnderstood them, then I departed from that coast, thinking to discouer the North parts of America: and after I had sailed towards the West 40 leagues, I fel vpon a great banke of yce: the winde being North and blew much, I was constrained to coast the same toward the South, not seeing any shore West from me, neither was there any yce towards the North, but a great sea, free, large, very salt and blew, and of an vnsearchable depth: So coasting towards the South I came to the place where I left the ships to fish, but found them not. Then being forsaken and left in this distresse referring my self to the mercifull prouidence of God, I shaped my course for England, and vnhoped for of any, God alone releeuing me, I arriued at Dartmouth. By this last discouery it seemed most manifest that the passage was free and without impediment toward the North: but by reason of the Spanish Fleete and vnfortunate time of M. Secretaries death, the voyage was omitted and never sithens attempted. The cause why I vse this particular relation of all my proceedings for this discouery, is to stay this obiection, why hath not Dauis discouered this passage being thrise that wayes imploied? How far I proceeded and in what forme this discouery lieth, doth appeare vpon the Globe which M. Sanderson to his very great charge hath published, for the which he deserueth great fauor and commendations.90
90 The full text of Davis’s account is given in Vol. vi., p. 250 of this Edition.
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