Button Sir Thomas

The charts that accompanied the return of Henry Hudson's mutinous crew in 1611 lent further impetus to London's merchant "adventurers" in their search for a North West Passage. The mutineers were not charged because of a lack of hostile witnesses but primarily in deference to their newly acquired Arctic expertise. Some were even allowed to accompany a new expedition led by Sir Thomas Button, a Welsh naval captain with a distinguished war record and good connections at court. Under the patronage of Henry, Prince of Wales, and the 288 investors of the newly formed North West Company, the Resolution and Hudson's former vessel, the Discovery, left London in mid-April, three months before the company's belated receipt of its royal charter dated July 26, 1612. Resolution was a naval vessel that Button had selected as early as January on the advice of his friend, Phineas Pett, master shipwright and advisor to the Prince of Wales. The Prince presented Button with elaborately detailed sailing instructions, which neglected to direct Button to search for the betrayed and ill-fated Hudson. Button also carried letters from

King James optimistically addressed to foreign sovereigns, including the Emperor of Japan. The ships' personnel included John Ingram, in command of the Discovery, Abacuck Prickett and Robert Bylot, who had both escaped charges of mutiny against Hudson, and William Gibbons and William Hawkeridge, who later, like Bylot, commanded expeditions to explore Hudson Bay.

Button made a landfall at Resolution Island, at the mouth of the Hudson Strait, and christened it after his flagship. After traversing the ice-laden strait, the expedition reached the rock-bound cliffs of the Digges Islands (62°35' N; 77°50'-78°03' W), which lie near Cape Wolstenholm, at the mouth of Hudson Bay. A shore party sent to hunt black guillemots, which nest there in profusion, was attacked by Inuit, who were repelled with gunfire, killing at least one and wounding others. Later, a second landing party, sent ashore for fresh water, was ambushed by Inuit, who killed five of the Englishmen, while a sixth escaped death only by swimming back to his ship.

Once again sailing westward, Button discovered and named Coats Island, as well as "Cary Swan's Nest" on that island's southern extremity, and crossed Hudson Bay to a point approximately 60°40' N on its western coast, which, in frustration, he named "Hopes Checkt." Sailing south, he discovered the estuary of the Nelson River, which he named for the Resolution's sailing master, Robert Nelson, who died and was buried there. From mid-August 1612, Button established a winter anchorage on Root Creek at Port Nelson, near present-day York Factory. Button had set out with provisions for 18 months, and the local game was abundant, but nonetheless the expedition was ill-equipped to cope with the long, hard winter. So many of the men died that Button resolved to abandon the Resolution.

When the ice broke up the following June, Button coasted northward to Button Bay and the estuary of the Churchill River. According to the map by cartographer Henry Briggs, published in Purchas, a large tidal flow was observed there, and the location was dubbed "Hubbart's Hope," for crewman Josias Hubbart, who prepared a chart of the voyage, which was subsequently lost. Button inexplicably failed to explore upstream: this omission led Luke Foxe to a futile search there for the passage two decades later. Button continued sailing north along the coast, past Rankin and Chesterfield Inlets, perhaps as far as 65° N, south of Wager Bay in the sound he named "Roe's Welcome," but which he mistook for a bay. Turning south from this farthest point at the end of July, and sailing through storm and fog, the expedition skirted the south coasts of Coats and Southampton Islands, which Button, mistaking the Fisher Strait for an inlet, assumed to be one and the same. Pressing further eastward, Button landed on Mansel Island, which he named for his relative and patron, Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Mansel, Treasurer of the Navy, and where he discovered the ruins of Inuit dwellings and numerous native artifacts. He obeyed his sailing instructions by making careful tidal observations between Coats and Mansel islands, and reached Cape Wolstenholm by August 19. Button made further tidal observations as far north as Salisbury Island, but these only confirmed his opinion that the desired westward passage must lie further north, which he later claimed his too-rigid instructions had prevented him from exploring. Turning the Discovery toward home, the expedition reached London on September 27, 1613, after a remarkably swift passage of 16 days.

Button succeeded in exploring hundreds of miles of coastline in Hudson Bay, identified and named several islands, and established to his own satisfaction that the North West Passage must lie elsewhere. Nearly two decades later, when Luke Foxe and Thomas James were preparing to renew the search for a North West Passage, the Admiralty solicited Button's views on the matter. From his home in Cardiff, he traveled to London with the journal of his voyage. There he reiterated his strong belief in the existence of the passage, and that it would be found to the north of Hudson Bay. In 1613, however, Samuel Purchas and Henry Briggs were denied direct access to Button's journal, perhaps because the North West Company believed it might undermine efforts to finance further exploring expeditions, such as those subsequently led by Gibbons and Bylot. The initial suppression and later loss of Button's journal resulted in the later publication by Foxe of mere fragments based upon transcriptions and anecdotes from Sir Thomas Roe, William Hawkeridge, and Abacuck Prickett. Despite the misleadingly optimistic description on the map by Briggs, Button's achievements as an explorer suffered an eclipse, and his name, which Briggs had assigned to much of the surface of Hudson Bay, lost its significance.

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