While Spain and Portugal explored and controlled the sea routes across the southern hemisphere in the 16th century, the English in particular made repeated attempts to find a way to Asia on the north-western route through the polar region until the 19th century. The following article presents the travels of the British and Americans who, under unimaginable hardships, pursued the goal of exploring unknown regions of the world.
Although they never reached their actual destination, these expeditions contributed to the exploration of the Arctic Ocean. It was not until the Norwegian ROALD AMUNDSEN that the search for the Northwest Passage was successful between 1903 and 1906. The construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1859-69 shortened the sea route to India, China and Southeast Asia. From now on it was no longer necessary to drive around the African continent to reach Asia. England secured the area of influence around the Suez Canal and initiated the high phase of its imperialist policy.
In 1497 JOHN CABOT (1450-1498) discovered Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia on the American east coast. Like CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, he was looking for a western passage from Europe to India. He hoped to find the way to the Indian Ocean in a north-westerly direction. The outlines of the American continent and the Pacific Ocean were still unknown to him and his time. After the Viking LEIF ERIKSSON, JOHN CABOT was the first European to reach mainland North America. JOHN CABOT’s reports of the abundance of fish off the coast of Newfoundland attracted many fishermen from the European coastal areas to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in the summers that followed,who settled there for fishing in temporary storage areas.
JOHN CABOT was actually called GIOVANNI CABOTO; he was an Italian navigator in the service of the English crown.
SIR MARTIN FROBISHER
In 1576 the Englishman SIR MARTIN FROBISHER (1535-1594), who also hoped to find a north-west passage, discovered Baffin Island. He and his crew were the first Europeans to come into contact with Eskimos. They believed in the people with the Tatar features, who were hostile towards the Europeans, that they would finally meet Asians and returned to England convinced that they had reached Asia.
HENRY HUDSON undertook several sea expeditions from England in search of a north-west passage. While trying to look for a passage towards Asia along the east coast of North America, he came across the mouth of the Hudson River at the site of today’s New York (1609). He sailed more than 200 km upstream and explored the valley of the Hudson River. His achievements also lie in the discovery of Jan Mayen Island off the coast of Greenland (1607), and Hudson Bay (1610-1611), which is named after him. On the final expedition he went on a ship called The Discovery. After getting the Hudson Strait had passed through (also named after him), he thought he could see the Pacific in front of him in the vast expanse of water of Hudson Bay. He turned further south, got into increasingly thick ice fields and finally had to winter in James Bay. When he wanted to resume the search for a passage in the spring, his team mutinied. He was abandoned in an open boat along with his son and five loyal men and remained missing.
HENRY HUDSON’s reports of whales and walruses in the ocean north of the Arctic Circle sparked a wave of whaling and fishing expeditions. The English and the Dutch fought fierce competition to set up whaling stations.
The Hudson Bay was soon considered the ideal starting point for the fur trade in the region. The Hudson Bay Company (short for: Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay) was founded in 1670 as a private trading company and received the rights to trade in fur and hunt in the area around the bay from King CHARLES II. It competed with the neighboring trading companies of the French colonists in Canada. The Hudson’s Bay Company controlled the entire area around Hudson Bay and James Bay. They established trading posts (1682 Fort Nelson, which later became inYork Factory was renamed) and established trade contacts with the Inuit and Indians of the region. These not only played an important role as fur suppliers, but with their knowledge they were also of great help as guides in opening up the interior of the country. The Hudson’s Bay Company was instrumental in the exploration and mapping of this region of Canada. It eventually claimed the entire area of the so-called Northwest Territories (i.e. one third of the area of Canada) as property under its administration. In 1869 the Hudson’s Bay Company sold this vast territory to the newly formed Dominion of Canada.
SIR JOHN FRANKLIN
The expedition to which SIR JOHN FRANKLIN set out on May 19, 1845 at the age of 59, ended in tragedy. FRANKLIN had already led several research trips in northern Canada. This now, which was to be his last, was carried out with two sailing ships, Erebus and Terror, which also had propellers powered by steam. Their mission was to find a north-west passage across Lancaster Sound to the Bering Strait, that is, to the Pacific. Northeast of Baffin Island they were last sighted in July 1845 from a whaling boat. With the help of numerous search expeditions that were carried out from 1848 onwards, it was finally possible to reconstruct the fate of FRANKLIN and his people:
After a battle against the pack ice for more than a year, the Erebus and the Terror had succeeded through the labyrinth of the islands and canals first to the west and then south to the vicinity of King William Island to get. Here they were enclosed by the ice in the winter of 1846. Her provisions lasted for a year and a half. When the crews failed to free one of the ships from the ice by April 1848, the men left the ships and tried to reach a Hudson’s Bay Company station on foot over hundreds of kilometers. Shattering traces found later clearly proved that none of the men, weakened by hunger and cold, survived.
This tragedy, as well as the search and rescue expeditions that followed, made it clear that the Northwest Passage, even when found, was of no use to merchant shipping because of the dangers and obstacles posed by the polar ice.
ROBERT EDWIN PEARY and MATTHEW A. HENSON
The Americans ROBERT EDWIN PEARY and MATTHEW A. HENSON were the first people to reach the North Pole on April 6, 1909 . Naval officer PEARY had been ambitiously planning this venture for 23 years. Several times he had tried in vain to get to the North Pole. The experience he gained in the process benefited him on his last attempt. He himself drafted the plans for the Roosevelt ship , which was specially reinforced against the pressure of the pack ice and, with a 1000 hp steam engine, could advance further north than any other ship before him. PEARY chose Inuit as his companion. He had learned from the Inuit that igloos offer the best protection against cold and storms in the Arctic. He had the Inuit make fur clothing for all participants. Dog sleds should serve as a means of transport for the final leg of the journey. Advance teams, which were changed regularly, prepared the way through ice barriers, some of which were fifteen meters high. So the expedition made good progress. Finally PEARY, HENSON and four Inuit covered the last 240 km to the North Pole alone.