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George Vancouver

(1757—1798) naval officer and hydrographer


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(1757–98),

English navigator and explorer. He began his career in the Royal Navy as a midshipman when he served under Captain James Cook on his second and third voyages. He subsequently served in the West Indies, taking part in the victory of Lord Rodney (1719–92) over the French in the battle of the Saints in 1782.

In 1791 Vancouver was appointed to command an expedition to the north-west coast of America and on 1 April he sailed in HMS Discovery, a new ship of 530 tons, accompanied by the Chatham of 135 tons. Proceeding by way of the Cape of Good Hope and the south-west coast of Australia, where he discovered and surveyed King George Sound, he continued on to Dusky Bay, New Zealand, which he was the first to explore and survey, and arrived at Tahiti on 30 December.

After a stay of three weeks at Tahiti and a month at the Hawaiian Islands, the two ships sailed on to sight the Californian coast near Cape Mendocino on 18 April 1792 and then sailed northwards until reaching Juan de Fuca Strait. Passing through it, Vancouver entered and surveyed the island-studded water beyond, a deep inlet which he named Puget Sound after one of his officers aboard the Discovery. Continuing his survey, Vancouver discovered the insularity of the island that bears his name, and sailed down its western coast to Nootka Sound where, in accordance with his instructions, he accepted the cession of the territory by the Spanish who had occupied it since 1789.

After the midwinter months had been spent at Hawaii, exploration of the American coast was resumed in April 1793, the stretch between 35° N. and 56° N. being surveyed before the end of the year. During Vancouver's third stay in Hawaii, in January 1794, the Polynesian King Kamehameha formally ceded the island to the King of Great Britain; Vancouver accepted this, but the annexation appears never to have been officially ratified.

In March 1794, the expedition, having completed a survey of the other islands of the Hawaiian group, sailed north again to survey Cook's Inlet and Prince William Sound in Alaska, proving that the former was not a river estuary as had been surmised. Further surveys southwards down the coast were made to connect with the work of the preceding year, after which the two ships steered for home via Cape Horn, visiting, among other places, Valparaiso, where it was necessary to stay some weeks to make repairs. Both ships finally reached the Thames in October 1795.

Though Vancouver lacked Cook's humanity and acquired a reputation for harsh and even brutal disciplinary methods, he was otherwise a worthy disciple of the great navigator. His surveys were of a very high standard; and though there was one short outbreak of scurvy during the voyage, the expedition lost only six men, all killed in accidents, during the four years and nine months it was away. See also exploration by sea.Anderson, B., Surveyor of the Sea (1960).

Subjects: Maritime History.


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