Cartography Series: Because who doesn’t love looking at old maps? This blog series looks at the cartographic development of Canada.
This map is historic not just because it is the first to show the Hudson Bay, but there is a story of tragedy and death behind it.
Henry Hudson was initially employed by the Dutch East India Company in 1609 to locate a new trading route to Asia. Unable to do this, he instead explored the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, plus the area that would become New York. This detour would actually be used later by the Dutch to establish New Amsterdam and lay claim to the region.
In 1610, backed by the Virginia Company and the British East India Company, Hudson set sail abroad the Discovery back to North America to once again try to find the Northwest Passage. This time he actually went north and sailed into the bay that would eventually bear his name, via Labrador. He spent a few months mapping the area, but was unable to find the Northwest Passage before the ice set in and trapped them for the winter. When the ice melted in the spring of 1611, Hudson wanted to continue north, but his crew were like, “yeeeeeah, not happening.” Hudson, his son, and five crew members were rounded up, put on a small boat, and abandoned at sea. No one ever saw them again.
Last Voyage Of Henry Hudson (1881) by John Collier
As such, the above map comes to us from Abacuk Pricket, one of the mutineers who survived the voyage back to England. (Only 8/13 lived. The survivors stated that the mutiny was led by three men who conveniently happened to be dead. The survivors were charged with murder, not mutiny, and were all acquitted). Pricket’s account caught the attention of Hessel Gerritsz, a Dutch cartographer.
On the right of the map you can see Yslandt and Groenlandia, Iceland and Greenland. Behind the text (an account of Hudson’s determination) towards the bottom-center is Northern Quebec. On the far left side you will see Mare Magnum (latin for ‘great sea’) as Hudson believed he had found the Pacific Ocean. The bottom left corner depicts James Bay (the southern most part of Hudson’s Bay; where Hudson was cast adrift). Hudson’s tragic tale combined with the skyrocketing interest in the Northwest Passage resulted in this map becoming the most popular of its day. Gerritsz sold them as fast as he could print copies and the map sparked an influx in quests to find the Northwest Passage. The success of the map also led to Gerritsz becoming the lead cartographer for the Dutch East India Company.
McNaughton, Douglas, “The Ghost of Henry Hudson,” Mercator’s World, 1999.
Wilson, Harry, “First Map of Hudson Bay,” Canadian Geographic, January/February 2014 issue. Accessed from: http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/magazine/jf14/first-map-of-hudson-bay.asp