I recently ran across this account of the search for the Northwest Passage. I was going to write something massive and clever tying it all in to global warming, but I didn’t see a really good way to do that. So, instead, I present this bit of history all raw.
Just a couple of notes: I thought that the reasoning Captain Vancouver used to deduce there was no water-route to the east coast of the American continent was clever and persuasive. I also note that Captain Vancouver (in a portion that I did not transcribe) was proud of the fact that when he returned to England after a four-and-a-half year voyage that he had not lost a single sailor to accident or disease. I also note (not from this account at all) that Captain Vancouver was the floggingest captain in the Pacific at the time. (By contrast, Captain Bligh was the most sparing of the lash.)
Also, when Vancouver called at St. Helena, he found the breadfruit trees that Bligh had planted there in poor condition, due to a prolonged drought. I couldn’t fit that in either, but thought it was interesting.
Thus, a shapeless and ill-formed post. But one, I hope, with some amusement value.
Annual Register, 1798, volume 40, pp 495-496
The labors of this voyage have much lessened the grounds of reasonable hope that any navigable water-communication exists, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, through the continent of America:—but that they are ‘as conclusive as possible,’ will not, by many, be readily admitted. Whatever contempt may be shewn for closet discoveries, they have certainly some support, while there remain openings without any ascertained termination, for the indulgence of speculative fancies concerning a N. W. passage. It may likewise be argued that, as the river Columbia and Port des Français were passed by captain Vancouver, if not without being noticed, without being thought worthy of examination, so might other openings equally have escaped observation; and this may seem the more probable, as the entrances both into Columbia river and Port des Français are so narrow, that, at a very moderate distance from the land, their appearance would be too inconsiderable to attract notice. The river Columbia was found navigable, and appeared to continue so, at the most advanced station to which it was explored; and several navigable branches, or rivers, which fell into it, were seen; for the examination of which there was no opportunity. That this river may have communication with some of the lakes already known, is not very improbable. The natives reported that it extended to a great distance inland. There is, however, very little prospect, even if a depth of water sufficient should be found to continue, that it would be practicable for ships to navigate upwards, against so strong and constant a current.
The arm of the sea within Cross Sound, named Lynn Canal, though not navigable for large ships, had the appearance of continuing much farther navigable for small vessels; which, with the circumstance of its situation, (‘approaching nearer,’ captain Vancouver observes, ‘to those interior waters of the continent, which are said to be known to the traders and travellers from the opposite side of America, than we had found the waters of the North Pacific penetrate in any former instance,’) makes it an object of consideration. In the mention of unexamined openings, Port St. Francisco must not be omitted; and this, if we may judge from the account given in the narrative, is not among the least promising.
The strongest circumstances against the probability of a communication by water, through North America, is the following, noticed in the concluding paragraph of captain Vancouver’s account:
‘In all the parts of the continent on which we landed, we no where found any roads or paths through the woods, indicating the Indians on the coast having any intercourse with the natives of the interior part of the country, nor were there any articles of the Canadian or Hudson’s bay traders found amongst the people with whom we met, on any part of the continent or external sea-shores of this extensive country.’
On the whole, we must be allowed to repeat, that the prospect is considerably lessened, but, that, it is by no means yet proved that a N. W. passage does not exist.