When brave men first sailed across the broad Atlantic they had no thought of finding new lands. What they sought was a new way to the old and known land of India—a new way to the lands of spice and gold. When they reached America, many of those old sailors thought that they had reached India. But when the new land proved not to be India, they said, "These are but islands. Let us sail beyond them and still reach India."
Not until many voyages had been made, not until the white-winged ships had been turned back again and again from the rocky shores of America, were men convinced at last that these were no islands, but a vast continent which barred the way. Then the vision of a new way to India took another shape. Then began the quest for a narrow inlet or passage round or through the great continent. By sailing north-westward it was hoped to find a way which, leading through snow and ice, should at last bring men beneath the glowing sun of India. And thus began the famous quest for the North-West Passage. So it was that Englishmen, instead of making use of the lands which Cabot had found and claimed, almost forgot that claim and gave their lives and spent their gold trying still to find the new way to the land of sunshine.
Among the many brave men who sailed the seas in search of this passage we remember Henry Hudson, because he gave his name to a great inland sea in the north of America, and to the strait leading to it.
Hudson sailed four times to the land of snow. He, too, like Cartier, met with Red Indians. On one voyage he gave them presents of hatchets, spades, and stockings. When he returned next time he was very much amused to find that the Indians had hung the spades and hatchets round their necks as ornaments, and had made tobacco-pouches of the stockings. Amid much laughter the Englishmen put handles on the spades and shafts to the hatchets, and showed the simple savages their proper use by digging the ground and cutting down trees.
One story told about Hudson is interesting, because it is very like a story found in English history. Perhaps Hudson had read that story when he was a little boy.
It is said that once Hudson and his men landed. As usual, the Indians came about them, wondering at the great winged canoes and the pale faces of the men who had come in them. Hudson managed to make himself understood by the savages, and after a time he told them that he wanted some land as he would like to live there. The red men did not wish to give him any land. "Then give me as much as this bullock skin will enclose," said Hudson, throwing it down.
"Yes, you may have that," said the "Redskins grinning and laughing at the white man's jest.
Then Hudson and his men began to cut the skin round and round into a long rope no thicker than a child's finger, being careful always not to break the rope. When it was finished they spread it out in a great circle enclosing a large piece of land.
The Indians were very much astonished when they saw how clever the white men were. They did not know that it was in this same way that the Britons had been cheated by the Saxons, hundreds of years before.
On the 17th of April 1610 a.d. , Hudson, in the good ship Discovery, sailed out from the Thames. He had started upon his last voyage from which he was never to return. Up to the north of Scotland steered the brave adventurers, then away to Greenland and the land of ice. When June came, and the birds were singing in the sunshine at home, these daring men were sailing a wintry sea where great ice-mountains floated.
These ice-mountains were a terrible danger, for suddenly one would overturn and plunge into the sea. Had the little ship been near, it would have been crushed beneath the falling mass and sunk in the icy waters. So the sailors tried to steer away from them. But ever thicker and faster they gathered around the ship.
With despair in his heart but keeping a brave face Hudson sailed on. But still thicker and thicker the cruel, white ice-mountains gathered. They were like a pack of hungry wolves eager to crush the frail little vessel between their angry jaws. At last the ship was so shut in that it could move no more.
Then there were murmurs loud and angry among the crew. Hudson came to them. In his heart he never expected to see home again. Still he kept a brave face and tried to encourage his men. He brought his map and showed them that they had sailed further into the land of ice and snow than any Englishman had done before. Was that not something of which to be proud?
"Now will ye go on or will ye turn back?" he asked.
"Would that we were at home, ay, anywhere if only out of this ice," they replied.
"Why has the master brought us to die like dogs in this Far North?"
"Had I a hundred pounds I would give ninety of them to be at home."
"But nay," said the carpenter, "had I a hundred pounds I would not give ten in such a cause. Rather would I keep my money, and by God's grace would bring myself and it safe home."
And so there was much useless talk and many angry words. But at length, leaving their grumbling, the men set to work to save the ship from the ice, and after much labour and time they cleared the ice-blocks and steered again into the open sea.
Then once more they sailed onward escaping many dangers, enduring many hardships. Sometimes they saw land, sometimes there was only the sea around them. They suffered from cold and hunger too. In the ship at starting there was only food enough for six months. Now eight months had passed, it was November, and they were far from home. Their hands and feet were frost-bitten. Many of them fell ill and could work no more.
Hudson did all he could. He took great care of the food which was left, and he offered rewards to any of the men who should kill beast, bird, or fish. For they could not hope to live to see home again unless that they found much wild game to help out their scanty store of food. At one time they caught many sea-fowl. At another they could only find moss and such poor plants as grew upon the snowy land. So the winter passed and spring came and their store of food grew less and less.
They were fierce, unruly men, those daring sailors, and now they greeted their master with dark and sullen looks. They were starving, and they believed that he had stores of food which he kept hidden from them. So to quiet them Hudson served out a fortnight's bread at one time. But this made matters no better. They were so hungry that they could not make it last. The terrible gnawing pain was such that one man ate his whole fortnight's allowance in a day.
Louder grew the murmurs, darker the looks with which the master was greeted. Men met and whispered together in dim corners. They would no longer wait, they would no longer suffer, and at last their wicked plans were made. As Hudson stepped on deck early one June morning, two men seized him, while a third pinned his arms behind. In a few minutes he was bound and helpless.
"Men," he cried, "what is this? What do you mean?"
"You will soon see," they replied," when you get into the boat."
Then looking over the side Hudson saw the ship's boat ready launched. He understood. These cruel men meant to turn him adrift on the icy waters.
But all were not against the master. One man who had a sword fought fiercely. But several of the mutineers threw themselves upon him and soon he too was bound. Another, the carpenter, had been kept prisoner below. Now he broke free and rushed on deck.
"Men," he cried, taking his stand beside the captain, "what are you doing? Do you all want to be hanged when you get home?"
"I care not," answered one; "of the two I would rather hang at home than starve abroad."
"Come, let be, you shall stay in the ship," said another.
"I will not stay unless you force me," boldly replied the carpenter as he faced the sullen, angry men. "I will rather take my fortune with my master."
"Go, then," they said, "we will not hinder you."
Then the sick and the lame were dragged out of their cabins and thrust into the boat along with Hudson and his son who was but a boy of about sixteen. Only one of the sick they did not send away. He crawled to the cabin door, and there, on his knees, he prayed the mutineers to repent of what they were doing. "For the love of God," he cried, "do it not"
"Keep quiet," they answered, "get into your cabin. No one is harming you."
At last, nine wretched men were packed into the little boat. Then the ship moved out of the ice dragging it behind. As they sailed slowly along, Hudson and the other poor fellows were not without hope that the mutineers would relent and take them aboard again. But there was no chance of that. Even while Hudson was still upon the ship, some of the sailors had begun to break open the chests and rifle the stores. Now all law and order was at an end. They seized upon the food like hungry wolves. They sacked the ship as if it had been the fortress of an enemy. There was no thought of taking aboard again the master who had held them in check.
"These cruel men meant to turn Hudson adrift on the icy waters."
As they steered clear of the ice, a sailor leaned over the ship's side. He cut the rope which bound the little boat to the stern. Then they shook out their sails and fled as if from an enemy. Soon they vanished from sight, and the little boat was but a speck upon the cold grey waters.
That little boat was never seen again. What became of brave Hudson and his son, of the gallant carpenter who stood by him, and of all the poor sick men thus cast adrift upon the icy waters, will never be known. Let us hope that death came to them quickly, that the blue waves upon which Hudson had loved to sail were kind to him, and that soon he found a grave beneath them. Where he lies we cannot tell, but the great bay and strait which bear his name are a fitting monument for so gallant a sailor.
Of the mutineers few reached home. Some were killed in a fight with savages. Others died from hunger and cold. The sufferings of those who remained were terrible. They had at length little to eat but candles. One of them, who lived to come home and who told the tale afterwards, said that the bones of a fowl fried in candle-grease and eaten with vinegar made a very good dish.
At length the wretched men became so weak that they could no longer work the sails. Only one had strength to steer. They were but gaunt skeletons, haggard and pale, when their ship drifted to the coast of Ireland, and they at last reached home.
As soon as they arrived in England they were all put in prison. But they were soon set free again. Perhaps the sufferings through which they had passed had been punishment enough even for their ill deeds.
Our fathers died for England at the outposts of the world;
Our mothers toiled for England where the settlers' smoke upcurled;
By packet, steam, and rail,
By portage, trek, and trail,
They bore a thing called Honour in hearts that did not quail,
Till the twelve great winds of heaven saw the scarlet sign unfurled.
And little did they leave us of fame or land or gold;
Yet they gave us great possessions in a heritage untold;
For they said, "Ye shall be clean,
Nor ever false or mean,
For God and for your country and the honour of your queen,
Till ye meet the death that waits you with your plighted faith unsold.
"We have fought the long great battle of the liberty of man,
And only ask a goodly death uncraven in the van;
We have journeyed travel-worn
Through envy and through scorn,
And the faith that was within us we have stubbornly upborne,
For we saw the perfect structure behind the rough-hewn plan.
"We have toiled by land and river, we have laboured on the sea;
If our blindness made us blunder, our courage made us free.
We suffered or we throve,
We delved and fought and strove;
But born to the ideals of order, law, and love,
To our birthright we were loyal, and loyal shall ye be!"
O England, little mother by the sleepless northern tide,
Having bred so many nations to devotion, trust, and pride,
Very tenderly we turn
With willing hearts that yearn
Still to fence you and defend you, let the sons of men discern
Wherein our right and title, might and majesty, reside.