Baffin William

During England's protracted 16th-century war with Spain, no effort was made to follow up John Davis's Arctic discoveries of 1585-1587 until 1602, when companies of London merchants launched a renewed search for the North West Passage. In 1612, four merchants of the North West Company sponsored James Hall's voyage to pursue trade, rumored silver deposits, and the ever-elusive North West Passage. William Baffin first appeared in records as chief pilot aboard Patience, which was dispatched from Hull on April 22, 1612 to the coast of Greenland, with Andrew Barker's Heart's Ease. On July 8 at Cockin Sound

(Sukkertoppen, 65°45' N), Baffin became the first English mariner to calculate and record his longitude by celestial observation. The expedition reached 67° N, but was curtailed by Hall's death at the hands of Inuit at Ramel's Fjord (Amerdloq) on July 22, and returned to England on September 11. Baffin's account includes descriptions of the Inuit.

Baffin was next in the service of the Muscovy Company for two of its annual whaling expeditions to Spitsbergen. From May 13 to September 6, 1613, he piloted Captain Benjamin Joseph's Tiger, which protected a small English fleet of whalers, and drove numerous foreign vessels from the region. On April 16, 1614, Baffin and Joseph again embarked for Spitsbergen aboard Thomasine, with a still larger fleet, which also included Heart's Ease, now commanded by Thomas Maramaduke. Thomasine and Heart's Ease undertook exploration of Spitsbergen's northern coast. Ice retarded progress, but shallops were launched to press eastward beyond Woodfjorden and Wijdefjorden. Baffin and Robert Fotherby reached the western shore of Hinlopen Strait (80° N 17° E). The fleet returned to London on October 4, 1614.

On March 15, 1615, Baffin sailed as pilot of the 55-ton Discovery, commanded by Robert Bylot. Both ship and captain had formerly served on expeditions by Henry Hudson (1610-1611), Sir Thomas Button (1612-1613), and William Gibbons (1614), and were now sent to continue their search via Hudson's Strait, spurred by the promise of triple wages for the crew of 14 men and two boys if a North West Passage were found. Greenland was sighted on May 6, Discovery rounded Cape Farewell on May 10, and Resolution Island at the mouth of Hudson Strait was attained on May 27. Baffin's skill as a scientific navigator was employed surveying the south coast of the island which later bore his name, as well as Salisbury, Nottingham, Mill, and Southampton islands, astride the Foxe Channel. Landing often to take celestial fixes and record his position, he also recorded compass variations and closely observed the currents, tidal flows, and ice movement. While en route on April 26,1615, he recorded the first lunar calculation of longitude to be made by a ship under way, by measuring the occultation of a star by the moon. Using yet another technique to calculate longitude, he fixed his position on June 21 at 74°05' W, which was confirmed to be within a degree of accuracy by Parry in 1821. Although Baffin's calculations of longitude were not always this accurate, those for latitude later revealed errors of no more than five to ten minutes. Discovery made landfall at Plymouth on September 8, 1615, and Baffin rewarded the expedition's sponsors with his log and a chart—the only one of his to survive—which accurately located the discoveries of Hudson and Button as well as his own.

Based on his tidal observations, Baffin concluded that no viable westward passage would be found in Hudson Bay or the Foxe Basin, but suggested that it might lie north of Davis Strait. As a result, on March 26, 1616, Bylot and Baffin were again dispatched aboard Discovery, bound for Davis Strait. After foul weather delays, they cleared Plymouth on April 19, reached the west coast of Greenland (65°20' N) in mid-May, and proceeded northward up the coast. On May 30, they passed Davis's furthest north, "Sanderson's Hope," explored the nearby Upernavik ("Women's") Islands (72°47' N), and described the Inuit in some detail. In quick succession, they reached and named Sir Dudley Digges Cape and Wolstenholme Fjord (76°35' N) on July 3, Whale Sound (Hvalsund, 77°30' N) on July 4, and on July 5 reached the mouth of Smith Sound (77°45' N), which they named for Sir Thomas Smythe. This exceeded Davis's furthest north by more than 360 miles, thus setting a record only broken 236 years later by Edward A. Inglefield. Sailing onward, past the Cary Islands, around Baffin Bay, and charting the east coasts of Ellesmere and Devon Islands, on July 10 and 12 Discovery reached two wide, eastward-running sounds, choked with ice, which were christened for Alderman Jones and Sir James Lancaster. Failing to recognize Lancaster Sound as the gateway to the true North West Passage, Baffin and Bylot continued south, past the islands that bear their names, to about 65°40' N, near the entrance to Cumberland Sound. They judged their mission a failure, and since they were no longer in unexplored waters and crew members were falling ill with scurvy, they made for Cockin Sound on the Greenland coast, and reached Dover on August 30, 1616. This voyage, achieved without loss of life, represented a triumph of navigation and Arctic discovery. Unfortunately, Purchas parsimoniously published only an abbreviated version of Baffin's account, and omitted altogether his navigation tables and detailed chart, publishing instead a map by Henry Briggs, which preserved the illusion of a North West Passage through Hudson Bay. This led to the dismissal of Baffin's discoveries, until they were corroborated by Sir John Ross's expedition in 1818, the very year Sir John Barrow published his own skeptical views of Baffin's claims, while acknowledging Purchas's culpability as an editor.

Although the results of his expeditions discouraged further pursuit of a North West Passage, and despite his own skepticism, Baffin's subsequent service with the East India Company has been attributed to his desire to seek out the Passage from the west. Although he never returned to the Arctic, he had established himself as England's most skillful navigator prior to James Cook.

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