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The Discovery

by Gwain Hamilton

Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1965, Volume 10, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

The story of the ship Discovery deserves an honored place in any history of Manitoba. She was one of the first ships of record to plow the unknown waters of Hudson Bay. She carried members of six expeditions during the year 1602 and 1616, in which some of the first explorations in what is now Manitoba were carried out.

Captain George Weymouth sailed in her on his abortive attempt in 1602 to find the elusive Northwest Passage. Henry Hudson made his last fateful journey to the inland sea that bears his name in the Discovery in 1610, when mutineers cast Hudson, his young son, and some sick crew members adrift and sailed her home again.

She was one of two ships commanded by Captain Thomas Button when he wintered off Port Nelson in 1612. Her crew members were the first known white men to winter in what is now a part of Manitoba. Scurvy exacted a heavy tribute in lives and by spring only enough men survived to sail one ship home again. The other, a naval vessel, the Resolution was left to the mercy of wind and tide in the estuary of a river Button named for his sailing master, Francis Nelson. Nelson was one of the scurvy victims.

She made her fourth voyage to The Bay in 1614 with Captain William Gibbons in command. Gibbons, a nephew of Button who had survived the 1612-13 expedition, had no success in finding the passage.

Captain Robert Bylot and William Baffin were captain and pilot respectively of the last two expeditions in which this ship played such an honorable role, in 1615 and 1616.

Ernest S. Dodge, in his book, Northwest By Sea described the Discovery as a "fishing vessel".

An interesting sidelight in the history of this gallant ship is that at least two other ships searching for the same passage carried the same name. One was commanded by Captain Christopher Middleton in 1741. And Captain James Cook, seeking the northwest passage from the west coast in 1776 commanded two ships. One was named Discovery. The other was the Resolution, the same names as the ships commanded by Button more than 100 years earlier.

Page revised: 18 July 2009

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