T WO years only after the tragedy of Henry Hudson, another Arctic explorer appears upon the scene. William Baffin was already an experienced seaman in the prime of life; he had made four voyages to the icy north, when he was called on by the new Company of Merchants of London—"discoverers of the North-West Passage"—formed in 1612, to prepare for another voyage of discovery. Distressed beyond measure at the desertion of Henry Hudson, the Muscovy Company had dispatched Sir Thomas Button with our old friend Abacuk Prickett to show him the way. Button had reached the western side of Hudson's Bay, and after wintering there returned fully convinced that a north-west passage existed in this direction. Baffin returned from an expedition to Greenland the same year. The fiords and islets of west Greenland, the ice-floes and glaciers of Spitzbergen, the tidal phenomena of Hudson's Strait, and the geographical secrets of the far-northern bay were all familiar to him. "He was, therefore, chosen as mate and associate "to Bylot, one of the men who had deserted Hudson, but who had sailed three times with him previously and knew well the western seas. So in "the good ship called the Discovery," of fifty-five tons, with a crew of fourteen men and two boys, William Baffin sailed for the northern seas. May found the expedition on the coast of Greenland, with a gale of wind and great islands of ice. However, Baffin crossed Davis Strait, and after a struggle with ice at the entrance to Hudson's Strait he sailed along the northern side till he reached a group of islands which he named Savage Islands. For here were Eskimos again—very shy and fearful of the white strangers. "Among their tents," relates Baffin, "all covered with seal skins, were running up and down about forty dogs, most of them muzzled, about the bigness of our mongrel mastiffs, being a brindled black colour, looking almost like wolves. These dogs they used instead of horses, or rather as the Lapps do their deer, to draw their sledges from place to place over the ice, their sledges being shod or lined with bones of great fishes to keep them from wearing out, and the dogs have furniture and collars very fitting."
The explorers went on bravely till they were stopped by masses of ice. They thought they must be at the mouth of a large bay, and, seeing no prospect of a passage to the west, they turned back. When, two hundred years later, Parry sailed in Baffin's track he named this place Baffin Land "out of respect to the memory of that able and enterprising navigator."
The Discovery arrived in Plymouth Sound by September, without the loss of one man—a great achievement in these days of salt junk and scurvy.
"And now it may be," adds Baffin, "that some expect I should give my opinion concerning the Passage. To these my answer must be that doubtless there is a Passage. But within this Strait, which is called Hudson Strait, I am doubtful, supposing to the contrary."
Baffin further suggested that if there was a Passage it must now be sought by Davis Strait.
Accordingly another expedition was fitted out and Baffin had his instructions: "For your course, you must make all possible haste to Cape Desolation; and from hence you, William Baffin, as pilot, keep along the coast of Greenland and up Davis Strait, until you come toward the height of 80 degrees, if the land will give you leave. Then shape your course west and southerly, so far as you shall think it convenient, till you come to the latitude of 60 degrees, then direct your course to fall in with the land of Yedzo, leaving your further sailing southward to your own discretion: although our desires be if your voyage prove so prosperous that you may have the year before you that you go far south as that you may touch the north part of Japan from whence we would have you bring home one of the men of the country and so, God blessing you, with all expedition to make your return home again."
The Discovery had proved a good little ship for exploration, so she was again selected by Baffin for this new attempt in the far north. Upon 26th March 1616 she sailed from Gravesend, arriving off the coast of Greenland in the neighbourhood of Gilbert Sound about the middle of May. Working against terrible winds, they plied to the northward, the old ship making but slow progress, till at last they sighted "Sanderson his Hope," the farthest point of Master Davis. Once more English voices broke the silence of thirty years. The people who appeared on the shore were wretchedly poor. They lived on seals' flesh, which they ate raw, and clothed themselves in the skins. Still northwards they sailed, cruising along the western coast. Though the ice was beginning to disappear the weather kept bitterly cold, and on Midsummer Day the sails and ropes were frozen too hard to be handled. Stormy weather now forced them into a sound which they named Whale Sound from the number of whales they discovered here. It was declared by Baffin to be the "greatest and largest bay in these parts."
But beyond this they could not go; so they sailed across the end of what we now know as Baffin's Bay and explored the opposite coast of America, naming one of the greater openings Lancaster Sound, after Sir James Lancaster of East India Company fame.
"Here," says Baffin pitifully, "our hope of Passage began to grow less every day."
It was the old story of ice, advancing season, and hasty conclusions.
"There is no hope of Passage to the north of Davis' Straits," the explorer further asserts; but he asserts wrongly, for Lancaster Sound was to prove an open channel to the West.
Baffin's map of his voyages to the north.
So he returned home. He had not found the Passage, but he had discovered the great northern sea that now bears his name. The size of it was for long plunged in obscurity, and the wildest ideas centred round the extent of this northern sea. A map of 1706 gives it an indefinite amount of space, adding vaguely: "Some will have Baffin's Bay to run as far as this faint Shadow," while a map of 1818 marks the bay, but adds that "it is not now believed."
For the next two hundred years the icebound regions of the north were practically left free from invasion, silent, inhospitable, unapproachable.
But while these Arctic explorers were busy battling with the northern seas to find a passage which should lead them to the wealth of the East, others were exploring the New World and endeavouring by land and river to attain the same end.