Foxe Luke

Luke Foxe was denied a berth as mate on John Knight's 1606 East India Company voyage to find the North West Passage, but his diligent pursuit of cartographic and hydrographic knowledge of the Arctic led to his acquaintance with nautical writer and stationer John Tapp, globe maker Thomas Sterne, and Henry Briggs, Professor of Astronomy at Oxford. Briggs instilled in Foxe his unwavering conviction of the existence of a North West Passage, instructed him in applying advanced mathematics to navigation, and in 1629 supported Foxe's petition to the Crown for aid to mount an expedition. Thomas Button lent his support when the Lords of the Admiralty consulted him about the feasibility of the proposal. Thus, Foxe was given use of the 70-ton Charles, which was refitted for the voyage, although too late to embark during 1630. The death of Briggs and the dwindling of Foxe's financial backers might have ended the venture, but word of a similar expedition, under the command of Thomas James and financed by Bristol merchants, elicited the support of other London investors, including John Wolstenholme and diplomat Thomas Roe.

Foxe was unable to recruit men with experience of northern ice, so he was compelled to accept Trinity House's selection of officers and crew, including Dunne as ship's master and Yourin as mate. With 20 other men and boys, provisions for 18 months, and "a Mappe of all my Predecessors Discoveries, His Majesty's Instructions, with a Letter to the Emperour of Japan," Foxe sailed from Deptford in England on May 5, 1631, two days after Thomas James left Bristol. Foxe reached Kirkwall in the Orkneys on May 19. Westering along the 60th parallel brought the Charles to fog-bound Cape Farewell, Greenland, on June 13.

Crossing the Davis Strait, Foxe sighted Cape Chidley, and entered Hudson Strait on June 22. Dodging icebergs, and bedeviled by both erratic compass readings and his crew's demand for greater liquor rations, Foxe coasted the northern shore of Hudson Strait for more than a fortnight. Turning south, past Mill and Salisbury Islands on July 10, he stopped at Nottingham Island the following day, passed Mansel Island on July 17, Coats Island and Cary Swan's Nest two days later, and passed along the southern shore of Southampton Island, before landing on an island he christened Roe's Welcome, a name thereafter applied to the surrounding strait between Cape Kendall and Cape Fullerton. There, on July 27, Foxe reached Button's "furthest north" and encountered a cemetery. The Inuit custom of knees-to-chest burial led Foxe to assume that the occupants were a race of pigmies.

Foxe spent another month sailing south along the western shore of Hudson Bay, which Button had explored in 1612-1613. Despite staying close inshore, and anchoring by night, Foxe missed seeing both Chesterfield and Rankin Inlets, perhaps because of bad weather. Foxe investigated the tidal flow that Button had observed at the mouth of the Churchill River, then continued south, and reached Port Nelson on August 9, where he found the remains of Button's winter encampment, including a tent, hogsheads, broken anchors, a gun, shot, and a cross. After the small pinnace stowed aboard the Charles was assembled, Foxe explored upriv-er, amid dense spruce forest. He nailed a new inscription on Button's cross and renamed the area New Yorkshire, then sailed southeast, as frost and flocks of migrating geese heralded imminent winter. On August 29, at the mouth of the Winisk River, between Port Nelson and James Bay, Thomas James's ship, the Henrietta Maria, hove into view, and the next day Foxe went aboard to dine on roast partridge and confer with his rival.

James suggested that Foxe seek a safe, winter harbor, but Foxe took his leave on August 31, after presenting his host with some small arms, and headed east. Rounding Cape Henrietta Maria, he entered James Bay, and closed the gap between the discoveries of Button and Henry Hudson. At approximately 55° 14' N, on September 4, he turned northward, at a cape he dubbed Wolstenholme's ultima vale, after his principal sponsor, for he was certain no passage lay that way. After sighting and naming the Sleeper Islands, Foxe reached Coats Island on September 8, passed Southampton Island near Seahorse Point, and, from September 15 to 20 recorded numerous soundings and observations while sailing up Foxe Basin, where he found the tides flowing from the southeast, not the west as Button had reported. Rounding the Foxe Peninsula, just beyond the promontory that he named Cape Dorchester, he reckoned that he had crossed the Arctic Circle on September 20.

Two days later, Foxe calculated that he had reached his furthest north at 66°47'—a probable exaggeration of one degree—and backtracked to continue his exploration among the islands along the north shore of Hudson Strait. He reached Resolution Island on September 28, amid proliferating ice and an exhausted and querulous crew, so Foxe wisely headed home, doubling Cape Chidley through heavy seas on October 5. Although the open seas were free of icebergs, Foxe deemed it safer to follow the southern route, and wrote that on October 31 he "came into the Downes with all my men recovered and sound, not having lost one Man, nor boy, nor any manner of Tackling, having beene forth neere 6 moneths."

Foxe was a good observer and excellent navigator, who vividly described what he saw, measured, and, in the case of polar bears, tasted. The first to circumnavigate Hudson Bay, completing the work of Hudson,

Button, Robert Bylot, and William Baffin, Foxe dispelled visions of any westward passage therein. Further English interest in the Passage lay dormant until the Hudson's Bay Company's ill-fated 1719 expedition. Although Foxe deserved much credit for his discoveries, as well as for not losing a single life, he was criticized by Thomas Roe and others for not wintering and continuing to search for the Passage in which he still firmly believed. This criticism was fed not only by his recalcitrant officers, but also by his arrogant manner. Thus, James, a less-experienced mariner, reaped great public acclaim, despite achieving less.

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