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John Davis (English explorer)
It was made by Angelina ShalyginaпјЊthe first year student of the foreign languages
department of School of Education of FEFU
John Davis or Davys (c. 1550 – 29 December 1605) was
one of the chief English navigators and explorers under Elizabeth
I. He led several voyages to discover the Northwest Passage,
served as pilot and captain on both Dutch and English voyages to
the East Indies. He discovered the Falkland Islands (today a
Crown Dependency of the United Kingdom) in August 1592.
Davis was born in the Parish of Stoke Gabriel circa 1550
Picture 1 – The
miniature of John
and spent his childhood in Sandridge. It has been suggested that he
learned much of his seamanship as a child while plying boats
along the river Dart, and went to sea at an early age. His childhood
neighbors included Adrian and Humphrey Gilbert and their half-brother Walter Raleigh.
From early on, he also became friends with John Dee.
On 29 September 1582, Davis married Mistress Faith Fulford, daughter of Sir
John Fulford (the High Sheriff of Devon) and Dorithy Bourchier, the daughter of the
Earl of Bath. He had five children: his first son, Gilbert was baptised on 27 March 1583;
a daughter Elizabeth who died in infancy; Arthur, born 1586; John, born and died 1587;
and Philip.
It is important that Captain John Davis of Sandridge should not be confused with
a contemporary, Captain John Davis of Limehouse. Both served in the fleet of Captain
Lancaster during the first voyage of the East India Company to the East Indies
The first adventures of John Davis
John Davis had the good luck to have very special childhood neighbours in his
home and birthplace of Sandridge, Devonshire: Humphrey and Adrien Gilbert, as well
as their half-brother, Walter Raleigh. All three would be famous for their explorations,
their sea adventures and their relationship with Queen Elizabeth I. The first two were
older than Davis, but Walter was his age. In addition, one of Davis's personal friends
was John Dee, the great astronomer and mathematician. Thus, very early on, Davis was
in touch with the explorers, cartographers and scientists of his time. We don't know
where he studied but he was not yet 30 when his knowledge of navigation and scientific
cartography was recognized. Like many of his contemporaries, he was convinced of the
existence of a northwest passage that led to Asia, and his great ambition was to discover
it. Through his friends, he met the Queen's secretary, who convinced the sponsors of
Martin Frobisher's exploration a few years earlier, to finance his expedition. The
motivation for the sponsors was that the Northwest Passage would allow the English to
trade in Asia without crossing Portuguese and Spanish territories.
Davis left Dartmouth on June 7, 1585 with two ships, and followed the same
route as Frobisher, passing south of Greenland, where he met some of the Inuit of that
country. Heading up the west coast of Greenland, he then crossed to Exeter Bay, on the
coast of Baffin Island. The observations he made during this first voyage led him to
believe that the passage to Asia was either west through Cumberland Sound or north of
Davis Strait.
The following year, Davis undertook another voyage in the same area. Two of
the four ships of the expedition were sent to explore the east coast of Greenland. Davis
sailed the other two into Davis Strait up the west coast of Greenland to 67Вє north latitude.
A barrier of ice forced them to head southwest to Baffin Island and then south as far as
the estuary of Hamilton Inlet, where Native people attacked the crew. Two men were
killed and others wounded. Despite this incident, the English sailors took the time to fill
their holds with cod before returning to England in October after a five-month voyage.
Baffin Island
In January 1583 he appears to have broached his
design of a Northwest Passage to Francis Walsingham
and John Dee; various consultations followed; and in
1585 he started on his first north-western expedition. On
this he began by encountering the ice-bound east shore
of Greenland, which he followed south to Cape Farewell;
then he turned north once more and coasted the west
Picture 2 – The route across Baffin Greenland littoral some way, until, finding the sea free
from ice, he shaped a course for China going north-west.
In 66В° N, however, he encountered Baffin Island, and though he pushed some way up
Cumberland Sound, and professed to recognize in this the hoped for strait, he now
turned back (end of August).
He tried again in 1586 and 1587; in the last voyage he pushed through the straits
still named after him into Baffin Bay, coasting west Greenland to 73В° N, almost to
Upernavik, and thence making a last effort to find a passage westward along the north of
America. Many points in Arctic latitudes (Cumberland Sound, Cape Walsingham,
Exeter Sound, etc) retain names given them by Davis, who ranks with William Baffin
and Henry Hudson as the greatest of early Arctic explorers and, like Martin Frobisher,
narrowly missed the discovery of Hudson Bay via what he called the "Furious Overfall".
(Davis' 2nd voyage)
"The seventh of July, being very desirious to search the habitation of this
countrey, I went my selfe with our new pinnesse into the body of the land, thinking it to
be firme continent, and passing by a very large river, a great flaw of winde tooke me,
whereby we were constrained to seeke succor for that night, which being had, I landed
with the most part of my company, and went to the toppe of a high mountaine, hoping
from thence to see into the county: but the mountaines were so many and so mighty as
that my purpose prevailed not: my selfe having esyyed a very strange sight, especially to
me that never before saw the like, which was a mighty whirlwinde taking by the water in
very great quantity, furiously mounting it into ayze, which whirlewinde was not for a
puffe or blast, but continually for the space of three houres, with very little intermission,
which fith it was in the course that it should passe, we were constrained that night to
take by our lodging under the rocks."
(Hakluyt 1589, 783)
Davis primarily described the Inuit of Greenland, where he had stopped, but we
can perhaps infer something about the Baffin Island Inuit from his observations. Davis's
friendly approach towards the Inuit changed when he discovered that they had stolen his
anchor. They had become displeased with their visitor earlier, when Davis interrupted
their religious ceremonies. Davis's accounts tell of the many difficulties involved in the
meeting between Europeans and Inuit.
Command of the Black Dog
Picture 3 – The signature of John Davis
Picture 4 – John Davis: the captain of Black Dog
In 1588 he seems to have commanded Black Dog against the Spanish Armada; in
1589 he joined the Earl of Cumberland off the Azores; and in 1591 he accompanied
Thomas Cavendish on his last voyage, with the special purpose, as he tells us, of
searching for that north-west passage "upon the back parts of America" (ie from the
western coast). After the rest of Cavendish's expedition returned unsuccessful, he
continued to attempt on his own account the passage of the Strait of Magellan; though
defeated here by foul weather, he discovered the Falkland Islands in August 1592 aboard
the vessel Desire. His crew was forced to kill around 125,000 penguins for food while
on the Falkland Islands. They stored the penguin meat as well as they could and sailed
for home, but the meat spoiled once they reached the tropics. This made the passage
home disastrous, and he brought back only fourteen of his seventy-six men.
Later expeditions
From 1596 to 1597, Davis seems to have sailed with Sir Walter Raleigh to CГЎdiz
and the Azores, as master of Raleigh's ship; from 1598 to 1600, he accompanied a Dutch
expedition to theEast Indies as pilot, sailing from Flushing and returning to Middleburg,
while carefully charting and recording geographical details. He narrowly escaped
destruction from treachery at Achin onSumatra.
From 1601 to 1603, he accompanied Sir James Lancaster as chief pilot on the
first voyage of the English East India Company. In December 1604, he sailed again for
the same destination as pilot to Sir Edward Michelborne or Michelbourn. On this
journey, he was killed off Bintan Island near Singapore by one of his captive "Japanese"
pirates whose vessel he had just seized.
In the centuries after his death, the importance of Dutch whalers actually led the
settlements along Greenland's western coast to be called "Straat Davis" after their name
for the Strait, while "Greenland" was used to refer to the eastern shore, erroneously
presumed to be the site of the Norse Eastern Settlement.
In 1601-1603 he accompanied Sir James Lancaster as Chief pilot on the first
voyage of the British East India Company; and in December 1604 he sailed again for the
same destination as pilot to Sir Edward Michelborne (or Michelbourn). On this journey
he was killed by Japanese pirates off the Malay peninsula. The account of Davis' last
voyage was written by Michelborne on his return to the Kingdom of England in 1606.
Davis's explorations in the Arctic were published by Richard Hakluyt and
appeared on his world map. Davis himself published a valuable treatise on practical
navigation called The Seaman's Secrets in 1594 and a more theoretical work called The
World's Hydrographical Description in 1595. The account of Davis's last voyage was
written by Michelborne on his return to England in 1606.
The list of using literature
John Davis // Encyclopedia Britannica –
The voyages and works of John Davis, the navigator (1880) // London :
Printed for the Hakluyt Society –
A life of John Davis, the navigator, 1550-1605, discoverer of Davis straits //
New York Dodd, mead & company –
John Davis (English explorer) // Wikipepedia, the free encyclopedia –
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