Henry Ellis spent most of his life traveling and writing books. Most remarkable was his participation in the expedition to Hudson Bay in 1746-1747 and his report published the following year.
This expedition to the Canadian Arctic was financed privately by selling shares in the venture. A committee of English merchants was responsible for all the planning and organizing. The two expedition ships, the Dobbs Galley and the California, were under the command of Captain William Moore and Captain Francis Smith, and in May 1746 the expedition was ready to depart. Ellis, who can also be found among the list of subscribers, joined the expedition at the very last minute. He was in Italy when the expedition was outfitted and he first came on board the Dobbs Galley when the ships anchored at Gravesend on May 10. In his own words, Ellis was hired within 18 h as "Agent for the Proprietors," representing the merchants' interests throughout the voyage. He had to "make exact Draughts of all the new-discovered Countries, the Bearings and Distance of Head-Lands," to "mark the Soundings, Rocks, and Shoals upon the Coasts," assist in "determining the several Circumstances attending Tides, such as their Time, Height, Force, Direction, etc.," "to examine the saltiness of the Water," "to observe the Variation of the
Compass" and "the different Natures of the Soil," and to collect "Metals, Minerals, and all kinds of Natural Curiosities" (Ellis, 1748). In order to be able to fulfill these many tasks, one can only assume that Ellis had had some training in cartography, drafting, and hydrography before he left England.
The expedition's main task was to find the North West Passage or at least to solve this geographical problem, but like so many other expeditions they had to return without having found the passage or its entrance. Since Martin Frobisher's three expeditions in 1576, 1577, and 1578 to what later became Frobisher Bay, numerous expeditions searched for this shorter passage over Arctic waters to the treasures of Asia. In Ellis's time, a new dispute arose between Arthur Dobbs and Captain Middleton as to whether or not there was access to the North West Passage along the west coast of Hudson Bay.
In July 1746, the expedition entered Hudson Strait where the first "Esquimaux Indians" (Ellis, 1748) came on board to trade. In early August, they doubled Digges Island at the entrance of Hudson Bay, then passed Mansel Island and Southampton Island, to explore the western shore of Hudson Bay around Marble Island before they turned southward to winter in the Hayes River. Close to York Fort, they built their winter quarters. During the winter they had few contacts with Cree Indians, whom Ellis described in his book. At Hayes River they experienced a severe winter, losing several men due to scurvy. The next June they were ready to continue their discovery and went northward again. They made it to Cape Churchill and Centry Island before they started to examine the coastline around Whale Cove, Corbett Island, Rankin Inlet, Marble Island, Chesterfield Inlet, and Cape Fullerton until Wager Bay. Several times they went ashore and traded with local Inuit. On August 19, they decided to go back to England, where they arrived on October 14, 1747.
In 1748, a year after their return, Ellis published his description of the land and its people at H. Whitridge in London. The same year the clerk of the California, Theodore Swaine Charles Drage, also published his own account of the voyage. Drage's book only includes one engraving of an Inuk in his kayak, but Ellis's original report was richly illustrated with two maps and nine copperplate engravings depicting the Arctic landscape, the animals, and Inuit involved in everyday activities such as fire drilling, sealing, and kayaking. Even though Drage's book supplements Ellis's observations, because several times they searched in two separate groups, it never received the same attention as Ellis's report.
Ellis's book was reprinted several times and was translated into several languages. In 1748, the English edition was reprinted in Ghent, in 1750 a German edi tion was published in Gottingen, and a French one was printed in Leiden. Therefore, Ellis's report must have reached a large circle of readers in Europe, and one can state without exaggeration that in the 18 th century, Ellis's book, together with Hans Egede's Perlustration and Cranz's Historie, belonged to the standard literature about the Eastern Arctic and its inhabitants. Ellis's book was essential for anyone interested in this field, and later generations of authors still use it as an important source.
In his report, Ellis attempted exhaustive descriptions of the "Esquimaux Indians" (Ellis, 1748) they had encountered on several occasions. He especially admired the kayak, described their warm fur clothing, the different hunting equipment, their winter and summer dwellings, and also their physical features. Ellis's illustrations and descriptions also clearly point out the differences between the Inuit they met at the entrance of Hudson Strait (Southern Baffinland Inuit) and the Inuit they met at the western shores of Hudson Bay including the inhabitants on Wager Bay (most likely different groups of Caribou Inuit and Iglulik Inuit).
All in all, like many other early authors, Ellis drew a picturesque and not always completely accurate picture of the Inuit way of life in his report. As with many other European authors, Ellis was fascinated by the ability of the Inuit to survive in the harsh Arctic environments. By contrast, he was convinced of their uncivilized, inferior nature. Ellis also did not forget the mercantile interests that led to the expedition. He suggested a more efficient exploitation of the Inuit for England's growing whaling and sealing industry by providing English weapons to the natives, whom he described as "a very harmless and inoffensive people" (Ellis, 1748) and by employing them in the enterprise.
Was this article helpful?
Lets start by identifying what exactly certain boats are. Sometimes the terminology can get lost on beginners, so well look at some of the most common boats and what theyre called. These boats are exactly what the name implies. They are meant to be used for fishing. Most fishing boats are powered by outboard motors, and many also have a trolling motor mounted on the bow. Bass boats can be made of aluminium or fibreglass.