Henry Hudson's first voyage, 1607
The north passage
Part 2 of 6
- Hudson's first command was the ship Hopewell (sometimes noted as
Hope-well or even Hopeful) for the Muscovy (Russia) Company in which his family had
- His aim was to discover a sea route across the Pole, or as the Company wrote, "to
discover a passage by the North Pole to Japan and China." Hudson also wanted to reach
Spice Islands (Moluccas), in the Malay Archipelago.
- Peter Plancius, Dutch geographer and Calvinist clergyman, believed pole region grew
suddenly milder and warmer thanks to five months of constant sunshine. Hudson agreed and
believed that by sailing north he would be able to navigate through open seas across the
pole. This view was shared by Rev. Samuel Purchas of England, who never ventured
more than 200 miles from his birthplace and used an idiosynchratic interpretation of
Biblical scripture to give weight to his ideas.
- January:At a meeting of the directors, Rev. Richard Hakluyt recommends Hudson as
commander of the expedition, assuring the directors of the company that Hudson is
qualified, saying, "He is an experienced seaman" and "he has in his
possession secret information that will enable him to find the northeast passage."
This is the first time Hudson's name appears in print.
- The 'secret information' was probably the 80-year-old pamphlet called Thorne's Plan
by Robert Thorne, an agent of a prosperous Bristol trading company. His father had been a
member of John Cabot's original crew. He had written a letter to Henry VIII suggesting a
northeast route th Cathay, but when Henry showed little interest, Thorne had published the
letter as a pamphlet in 1527. In it he wrote, "...there is no doubt, but sailing
Northward and passing the Pole, descending to the Equinoctial line, we shall arrive at the
Islands of Cathay, and it should be a much shorter way than any other." The pamphlet
was reprinted in Hakluyt's Principal Navigations in 1598.
- Hudson visited Hakluyt in his Bristol home and examined charts in the latter's library.
Hakluyt shoed Hudson a letter to him by the Rev. Samuel Purchas, who also believed in a
polar route, as well as both a northeast and northwest passage. Purchas wrote of a
possible voyage north, "...with how much ease, in how little time and expense the
same might be effected..."
- Hudson argued with the factors of the company over the agreed fee of 100 pds. He wanted
more and after haggling, they agree to pay him 130 pds. 5 shillings.
- The company selects the Hopewell, a three-year-old, square-rigged 80-ton ship with three
masts. She had already made six major voyages: two through the Baltic, and four to
Portugal. She was a 'bark' with two principal masts and a smaller foremast.
- According to Samuel Purchas, the first part of the ship's log was written by John
Playse. On July 11, Hudson took over as author of the remainder of the log.
- 19: Hudson, his 16-year-old son John (possibly 14) and
ten crew members prayed at St. Ethelburga's church, near London Bridge, now one of the
oldest churches in London. The crew also included: William Collins (mate); James Young;
John Colman (b o'sun); John Cooke; James Beuberry; James Skrutton; John Pleyce (Playse);
Thomas Baxter; Richard Day; James Knight.
- 23: The Hopewell leaves London. Bad weather delays them from getting much further
for the first week.
- 1: Weather finally clears, and the ship left Gravesend at the mouth of the
- 26: Arrive at the Shetland Islands. Hudson sails northwest instead of due north,
which the company had directed him to do.
- 30: Crew note the compass (magnetic) needle was deflected and believe
the voyage is under an evil spell, and would meet with disaster. Hudson had to manage his
crew to avoid mutiny.
13: After six weeks of sailing, they sight the east coast of Greenland (now
Kalaallit Nunaat), described in the journal as a "very high land for the most part
covered in snow, the remaining part bare." Weather is bad, but Hudson spends two
weeks mapping the previously unexplored coast. James Young was in the crow's nest and was
the first to sight Greenland. In his honour, Hudson named Young's Cape.
- Early-mid June: Gales from the east bring freezing weather and snow. The ship
hugs the Greenland coast while the rigging freezes and because of heavy fog, visibility
drops to zero. Hudson proceeds blindly ahead.
- 20: The weather clears and Hudson steers northeast, away from Greenland for
'Newland' (Spitzbergen, discovered by the Dutch in 1596).
- 21: He reaches 73° latitude and names the land he sights 'Hold With Hope'
(Greenland). He wrote he wanted to see the northern end of Greenland which was
"unknown to any Christian."
- 25: The crew spied three 'grampus' swimming towards the ship. Sometimes
identified as Risso's dolphin, it may have also been a killer whale (Orca), which was
considered a bad omen.
- 27:Ice continues to force Hudson northeast and the ship reaches the western
shores of West Spitzbergen Island near 'Vogel Hooke' (Bird Cape, discovered by Barents).
- 1: Hopewell arrives at a great inlet - "almost a bay"
- 6: The ship enters a "very green sea."
- 8: Crew spot many "sea-horses, or morses" - seals and walrus.
- 11: Henry Hudson takes over writing the log from John Playse. Several of the crew
are sick from eating unsalted bear meat the day before.
- 12: "A sea setting us upon the ice has brought us close to danger,"
Hudson wrote. But a "small gale" saves them. At midnight, Collins spots land to
the south southwest (Spitzbergen). Hudson notes Collins as the boatswain in his entry,
while he's entered as mate earlier, and notes Colman as the mate.
- 13: Hudson reaches 80°23', about 577 nautical miles from the pole, but the way
north is blocked by ice. The crew spots many whales in the water.
- 14: Hudson reaches North East Land, the northern island in the group. He stops in
what would later be called Whale Bay (now Collin's Bay, 750 miles north of the Arctic
Circle) for the large pods of whales they found in the sheltered bay. One whale gets
caught in a fishing line but passes under the keel without harming the ship. Hudson calls
the land Collin's Cape after the boatswain who first saw it. The crew explored the island,
hunted game and found many whale bones and morse teeth there. His reports would quickly
spawn a new whaling industry in England. Hudson notes the midnight sun in his journal.
- 15: Hopewell sails northeast along the coast with "little wind and
reasonably warm" weather. To others, Hudson may have called this land the "Seven
Icebergs" although he didn't record it in his log.
- 16: Surrounded by ice, he attempts to get closer to the land ('Newland') they see
to the northeast but is blocked. Hudson writes in his journal he believes there is no
passage over the north pole. The land ahead of them, Hudson wrote, may extend as far north
as 82° or perhaps "even further." However, he added, "this land may be
profitable to those that will adventure it." The Hopewell heads back down the coast,
southwest to Collin's Cape.
- 22: Hudson veers northwest again
- 27: Hopewell barely avoids a collision with a breakaway iceberg. Hudson manages to
escape by putting crew in the boat and hard rowing to pull the ship out of its path.
Hudson heads southeast.
- 31: Realizing he has little good weather left for exploring, and unable to go
further north, Hudson finally decided to return to England.
- On his return south, Hudson names a tiny, previously unnoticed island Hudson's
Touches around 71°N. At this point he was roughly 400 miles off course. Seven years
later, Dutch explorers thinking they were the first to see it, called the island Jan Mayen
Island, which it remains today. Hudson did not record this event in his journal, but it is
recorded by Captain Edge, of the Muscovy Company, in Brief Discoverie of the Muscovia
Merchants. The island became a popular hunting site for walrus hunters, who killed the
animals for their tusks, much as they killed the whales in Spitzbergen.
- 15: Put in at the Faroe Islands.
- 15: Returned to Tilbury, England, after 3 1/2 months away.
- The company asks Hudson to lead a new whaling venture to the Spitzbergens, but he still
believed there was a passage, so he declined. However, the English and other nations
quickly reacted, sending whaling fleets to the islands, and within a decade had decimated
the gentle giant mammals. Without the whales, interest in Spitzbergen declined, and they
were ignores for the next 400 years, until an international treaty gave them to Norway in
- During the winter that followed, he dedicated himself to preparing for another voyage to
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