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Forsaking Hudson

Today is the anniversary of a really unfortunate historical event. On this day in 1611 the crew aboard the ship Discovery mutinied and cast their captain, Henry Hudson, his son and seven other crewmen adrift in a small boat in the large Canadian Bay that now bears his name (Hudson’s Bay).

Henry Hudson. Accession number: LP 2656

Hudson is probably one of the most well-known explorers of the Age of Exploration, but like others of the time, most of his successful discoveries were made by accident. Hudson’s first voyage occurred when he was hired by the Muscovy Company to try and find a route to China by sailing through the Arctic. His first voyage started in April 1607 when he sailed with a crew of ten, including his son, along the coast of Greenland to the Arctic Circle. Eventually the ship reached Spitsbergen and although he failed to find a route through the ice, they did see lots of whales, walruses and some seals.

Unfortunately, the voyage was difficult and Hudson had trouble with his crew, enough trouble that it may have caused some of the bad feelings that led to the mutiny in 1611—although why he rehired those same crew on his later voyages is beyond me, it doesn’t seem like such a smart idea! If he didn’t hire the same guys he must have been a real piece of work.

The Muscovy Company hired Hudson to search for a northern route to China again in 1608. This time Hudson decided to head towards Novaya Zemlya in northern Russia. Just like the previous voyage he had trouble with his crew, saw plenty of animals (including a mermaid!) and could not navigate through the ice.

D’Halve Maen, ca 1600. Accession number: MD 141

In 1609, it was the Dutch East India Company that hired Hudson to find a northeast passage to Asia. The expedition left in April 1609 in the ship Half Moon. This time, when Hudson found the route blocked by heavy ice he did what every good explorer does, he completely disregarded his orders, turned the ship around and began searching for a northWEST passage through the ice.

Amazingly, Hudson’s voyage sailed across the Atlantic and down the coast of North America all the way down to Jamestown. After that, the expedition headed back north and it was at this point that he explored 150 miles of the river that would eventually receive his name (Hudson River in New York). On the return trip, he made what was supposed to be a brief stop in England and the English would not let him complete his voyage (they weren’t happy with the Dutch at the time).

By this point, Hudson was the most experienced Arctic explorer in Europe so England hired him to sail again in search of a northwest passage. Hudson, his son and crew left England in the ship Discovery on April 17, 1610 this time heading for northern Canada. They ended up in James Bay, which sits at the southernmost part of the large strait that, yet again, would eventually bear Hudson’s name. By this point it should be pretty obvious with so many great bodies of water named after him that Hudson was pretty darn important.

They searched the bay for some time, but never found an outlet to the Pacific. When the winter ice closed in around them, the expedition was forced ground Discovery and wait until winter was over to continue their voyage. As you would expect, being trapped on a small vessel for months led to some serious tension between Hudson and his crew.

Hudson’s Last Voyage. Print based on an oil painting from 1881 by Hon. John Maler Collier. Accession number: LP 630

In June of 1611 the ship was finally freed from the ice. Hudson insisted on continuing his search for the northwest passage while his disgruntled crew thought it was a waste of time and wanted to go home. His crew came up with a “compromise” that put Hudson, his son and several sick crew members in a small boat to continue the expedition while they took Discovery back to England. Hudson was never seen again.

Henry Hudson, The celebrated and unfortunate Navigator, abandoned by his crew in Hudson’s Bay the 11th of June 1610 [sic]. Accession number: LP 3756 [I don’t know about you but Hudson looks pretty peeved in this image.]

When Discovery arrived back in England without Hudson, the crew were accused of murder. During the ensuing trial the remaining crew admitted to abandoning Hudson but no one was convicted of murder or punished for the mutiny that cost the world one of the great explorers of the Age of Exploration.

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