HBC Sailing ‘North About’ from ‘London River’, 1670-1920

Previous: “Introductory Remarks on Observing ‘This Part of the World’*: Past Perceptions and Present Viewpoints


Pilot Book

In the past, sailors were producers of knowledge gained through experience. As an integral part of their work-craft, this knowledge was valued and specially held.[1] In the case of Hudson’s Bay Company [HBC] mariners — according to the complaints of non-HBC seafarers such as Arthur Dobbs in the 1740s and Lieutenant Edward Chappell of the Royal Navy in 1814 — their knowledge was not widely circulated.[2] In waters of “very dangerous and troublesome” repute, access to reliable information could mean the difference between success and failure, life and death.[3] Seafarers therefore recorded information that they considered important in journals, ship’s logs, sea charts, and pilot books.[4]

Sea chart, detail, showing Hudson Bay, from Edward Wright, engraving, Plate of All The World, Certaine Errors in Navigation (London: Joseph Moxon, 1655/1657). See also Osher Map Library, University of Southern Maine, for full map with enlarged view, http://usm.maine.edu/maps/exhibition/8/3/sub-/where-the-winds-blow.

Imaginings about the features of seas are common in early chronicles of voyages penned to solicit sponsorship and accolades from moneyed and influential individuals, and in later accounts meant for publication to a mass audience. Surviving documents written by seamen for seamen, however, indicate that what mattered to sailors was practical knowledge about routes actually sailed.

Log Book

Mariners made note of the height, force, direction, and timing of tides. They made note of work aloft. Taking in and letting out of sails mattered to the progress of the voyage – its direction, and the speed of transit. Journal pages devoted to the latter two features show that while sailors were concerned about instances of delay, they were equally wary of excessive speed. In both cases, they were concerned about the possibility of disaster. If their ship did not move, sailors faced confinement without adequate provisions. If the ship moved too fast, they risked a broken spar, a lost rudder, or losing the entire vessel. Sailors were concerned with food, the state of their clothing, and the state of their health. Above all, sailors were concerned with knowing where they were. Determining location was the “great difficulty in all navigation at sea.”[5]

A voyage to Hudson Bay was an ongoing exercise in ascertaining whereabouts: once a present point of reference was determined, everything hinged on knowing the position of a next point along the path to the final destination. Calculating how to get to the next point, as well as recognizing it on arrival, depended on foreknowledge.

In the mid-eighteenth century, Captain William Coats expressly styled his manuscript on Hudson Bay voyaging as a “real” geography that supplied sailors, particularly navigators, with what they needed to know, as opposed to what vested interests arguing the merits of such voyages wanted to be told. His practical guidebook opened with the observation that, previously, a compendium of knowledge such as his “has not been attempted by any person that I know of.”[6]

Although his text included observations on what sort of people, speaking what languages, seamen might expect to encounter, as well as on where and how fresh provisions might be procured, Coats concentrated primarily on matters of navigation, his discussions accompanied by descriptions of physical features that marked passages of the voyage. However, when it came to describing the passage out from London, “from whence we sail on the entrance of this voyage,” he averred that because “all ships are bound to take pilots from hence,” the first part, to as far as Oxfordness/Oxford Ness, “is sufficiently taken care of.”[7] Since the passage was already well known by sailors whose business it was to navigate it, he did not discuss it further.

Coat’s Geography, 1852. Source: Googlebooks/Internet Archive http://www.archive.org/details/ser1works11hakluoft

Although Coats’ original work apparently did detail England and Scotland’s shores north from Oxford Ness (a peninsula in the Thames estuary, between Woodbridge and Aldenborough) to the Orkney Islands, John Barrow, editor of the text when it was published in 1852, explained in a footnote that this information had not been included, because “of no interest or value” to a reading public intent at that time on learning about arctic exploration.[8]

The following pages reconstruct, from observations supplied in log books, journals, and historical texts, a description of the first two passages of an HBC ship’s adventure – from London to Oxford Ness, and from there to the Orkneys – to balance the representation of the voyage and to forestall any misapprehension that a ship’s departure was either simply, or quickly accomplished. Hazards and discomforts experienced while sailing for the North West were not confined to distant waters. Leaving London for the Atlantic was not necessarily an instance of plain sailing.

View of Gravesend, 1662, “Drawn by John Moore,” in Robert Peirce Cruden, The History of Gravesend (W. Pickering, 1843), 400, Googlebooks http://books.google.ca/books?id=VeUVAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Strictly speaking, HBC ships took their departure not from the city of London, but from Gravesend Reach. The town of Gravesend was situated approximately thirty-five kilometres, or twenty-two miles down river from “the metropolis of Great Briton,” on the south bank, not quite at the mouth of the Thames.[9] The river, according to England’s inaugural historian Baeda, or Bede, had become “the emporium for many nations” as early as A.D. 604.[10] By the eighteenth century, English poet Alexander Pope envisioned the river as central to Britain attaining its imperial promise when he wrote:

The time shall come, when free as seas or wind

Unbounded Thames shall flow for all mankind,

Whole nations enter at each swelling tyde,

And seas but join the regions they divide;[11]

To sailors, the tide-swelled portion was the ‘London River,’ named according to custom for the port that it served. The name ‘Thames’ they reserved for the course above the tidal reaches that allowed their vessels’ navigation.[12]

Tilt-boat out from Gravesend, from P.C. Canot, engraving, 1753, in Cruden, History of Gravesend, 417, Googlebooks http://books.google.ca/books?id=VeUVAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

After a French force razed the Parish of Gravesend in 1377, the inhabitants had been encouraged to rebuild by way of receiving a royal grant of the exclusive right to transport ships’ passengers to and from London, “on condition that they should provide boats for that purpose.” Passengers paid fares – known as ‘the Long Ferry’ – either per person or for the hire of an entire ‘Tilt Boat.’[13] According to Edward Hasted’s eighteenth-century history of the town, “The signal for their departure is the ringing of a bell, which continues a quarter of an hour, during which they are obliged to depart. They go to London every flood, and return … on the like signal, with every ebb.” He added, “it is almost incredible what numbers of people pass every tide, as well by night as by day, between this town and London.”[14]

London Docks 1840s.

Lighters of ships completing their cargoes and provisioning at Gravesend supplemented the ferry traffic – the Reach having officially become part of the ‘London docks’ at the opening of the eighteenth century. By Hasted’s time, the river had become fairly congested and it was no easy task to take a ship up or down “by reason of the mass of vessels of all sorts and sizes at moorings intended for the accommodation of less than half the number.”[15]

Ariel view of the London docks located off the Thames, with the London River receding in the background.

Tilt boats and passenger ferries were still plying the river in the nineteenth century. Letitia Hargrave, waiting to depart for Hudson Bay in 1840, marvelled at the “extraordinary” number of vessels seen to “splash about in every part.”[16] She observed as well that a number of moorings upriver from Gravesend were assigned to prison hulks, which she found to be “shocking looking places.” In her assessment, the HMS Dreadnought, used as a hospital ship for sailors and their dependants, also took up considerable space. She commented, “I had imagined nothing like the Dreadnought for size, it is tremendous.”[17]

See also Edward William Cooke, print, “The Dreadnought, 104 Guns, At present Lying off Greenwich for The Seaman’s Hospital,” c.1857, National Maritime Museum, London, PAD 6149, NMM Collections Online, http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/explore/object.cfm?ID=PAD6149 (accessed 13 Nov. 2007); PAD 6061, “The Dreadnought, 104 Guns, until recently lying off Greenwich,” http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/explore/object.cfm?ID=PAD6061 (accessed 13 Nov. 2007); and PAF8002 “HMS ‘Grampus’ as a hospital ship off Greenwich,”http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/explore/object.cfm?ID=PAF8002 (accessed 13 Nov. 2007).

Traffic increased on the waterway to the twentieth century. Steam driven transport, a source of wonder for Hargrave in 1840, was commonplace by 1859. The town, which she had found “only remarkable for quiet and shrimps,” had become a popular leisure destination mid-century, though as historian Nigel Yates noted, “Gravesend had more or less ceased to be considered a seaside resort by 1900.”[18]

Shoreline view near Barking.

The decline was perhaps connected to the “immense” streams of “poisonous” effluent, which flowed in culverts from London to empty into the river a few miles above Gravesend at Cross Ness and Barking. By 1891, according to an account published in the illustrated guidebook, Rivers of Great Britain, from the point of outlet to Gravesend and beyond, vessels were “afloat on a tide of sewage. It discolours the water all around; it is sometimes churned up in the wheels of paddle-steamers; the odour of it assails the nostrils at every turn.”[19]

Of Gravesend itself, Hargrave had noted that, for a town of perhaps 6,000, the houses were large and seemed occupied by lodgers in numbers well beyond what census figures intimated. Most of the houses, she opined, were “generally full of seamen, and here are several good inns, taverns, and other such houses for their accommodation.”[20]

Illustration of Gravesend in the nineteenth century, based on an engraving originally published in William Gaspey, Tallis’s Illustrated London: In Commemoration of the Great Exhibition of All Nations in 1851, Forming a Complete Guide to the British Metropolis and Its Environs, Illustrated by Upwards of Two Hundred Steel Engravings from Original Drawings and Daguerreotypes with Historical and Descriptive Letterpress by William Gaspey, Esq., 2 vols. (London: John Tallis and Company, 1851-2). See also “Great Expectations, Notes on the Novel: Issue 16,” Stanford University, Discovering Dickens website, http://images.google.ca/imgres?imgurl=http://dickens.stanford.edu/images/Issue%252016/gravesend.jpg (accessed 8 Feb. 2008).

Seen from the river, from before Hargrave’s time to well after, the buildings of the town appeared to have “tumbled down haphazard from the top of the hill at the back” towards the three and a half mile long Reach.[21] Rivers of Great Britain described the town as:

usually more populous with shipping than any other point between the Nore Light Ship and the Pool [immediately below London Bridge]. All outward bound ships must take their pilots on board at Gravesend, and so it frequently occurs that here the last farewells are said and the last kisses are given. In the Reach, vessels wait for the changing of the tide, so that at one period of the day it is full of ships with their sails furled, and, at another, of vessels newly spreading their canvas to the wind. A breezy, stirring place is Gravesend Reach.[22]

Prior to routine use of steam tugs, HBC ships made their way from the Reach under their own sail, or if necessary towed by oarsmen in boats.[23] If the wind was favourable, after “a great deal of firing” of signal guns, outward bound HBC ships sailed down river, navigated the Nore sandbank of the river’s estuary, and congregated with their consorts at anchor at the lower end of the “Hoope” (Hope Bay) in the Downs – a roadstead that accessed both the ‘British Sea’/English Channel/La Manche and the North/German Sea.[24]

London River and Thames Estary, showing the Downs, lower right (obscured here, but right click the image to view, or see map http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_the_River_Thames_downstream_from_London_1840.JPG).

The Downs was a nineteen-kilometre (twelve-mile) long, and approximately five-kilometre (three-mile) wide stretch of water that ran from the North Foreland at Ramsgate to the South Foreland at Hope Bay along the east coast of Kent behind the “fatal” Goodwin Sands.[25] The shoal-protected area provided a safe place to wait for favourable winds and, if necessary, the assignment of an escort from among the Royal Navy vessels that moored there.

The Goodwin Sands, see History of the Goodwin Sands, UK Shore  http://uk-shore.com/blog/2008/05/goodwin-sands-history ; and images of ships beating upon the sands at http://www.ramsgatelifeboat.org.uk/art-gallery.htm

The passage from Gravesend to the Downs, some forty kilometres, or twenty-five miles of sailing past flat marshlands, could take twenty-four hours to complete under good conditions without assistance from a steam tug. John Franklin, aboard the HBC vessel Prince of Wales in 1819, reported that two days had elapsed, due to waiting on favourable winds and tide, before the passage could be completed.[26]

Typically, at an agreed upon signal, ships of the HBC convoy would sail northward from the Downs, first weaving their way across the estuary through channels such as the Swin or the Sledway, to pass by Oxford Ness for Yarmouth Roads. Franklin reported a delay in this portion of the journey as well, noting that only after a “week’s beating about” were they satisfactorily out of the estuary.[27]

Ships threading the Thames estuary bereft of wind. Charles Brooking, oil painting, eighteenth century.

At Yarmouth, HBC ships regrouped, taking advantage of “the only relatively safe anchorage,” along the east coast before the Tyne, at Newcastle.[28] Well known though shipping lanes along England’s coast were to mariners of Captain Coats’ day – and the readers of editor Barrow’s – these were also known to be dangerous shores and ships in difficulty were common. Captain John Turner and crew of the King George in 1803, for example, took time to aid one of “several ships [that] received damage” in a heavy squall – the non-HBC Victory, which had “lost her Bowsprit, Foretopmast and main yard.”[29]

Ship in distress off England. See also http://www.bbc.co.uk/guernsey/content/articles/2009/02/04/hms_victory_history_feature.shtml.

On this passage, as on other journeys, once HBC ships were safely at anchor at Yarmouth, a signal was fired for a boat to take ashore the Gravesend pilots who had navigated the exit from the London River and the entrance through the sands that sheltered the Roads.[30]

Yarmouth Roads. Francis Holman, n.d. Source: http://www.wikigallery.org/

After a variable wait at Yarmouth – from several hours to several days – the ships navigated the “intricate passage of the Cockle Gat” through the protective sands off Yarmouth and resumed their journey north.[31]

Flamborough a.k.a. ‘Flambro’ Head, East Yorkshire, England. “Proof engraving by William Miller after J M W Turner, published in Art and Song. A Series of Original Highly Finished Steel Engravings from Masterpieces of Art of the Nineteenth Century. Bell, Robert (Ed), Bell and Daldy, London 1867.” Source: Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flamborough_Head_engraving_by_William_Miller_after_John_Martin.jpg#file

Landmarks along the east coast of England such as ‘Flambro’ Head, Whitby Abbey, Hartlepool, and Tinmouth Castle that were passed on the way to Buchanness, ‘Johnny Groat’s House’ and Duncansby Head in Scotland, would be noted in journals, although, depending on wind direction and weather conditions, they were not necessarily seen.

“Tinmouth Castle from the North with a view of the Haven &c, Northumberland,” in Henry Boswell, The Antiquities of England and Wales (1786).

On any given day, as Hargrave recorded, a ship might be wrapped in impenetrable fog, or perhaps “carried far out to sea,” where scenery could be limited: sometimes “deep blue sky,” and “boundless” water were the only display.[32] On one occasion, she remarked that the waves were studded with sails and seagulls – perhaps evidence of fishing activity.[33]


On another, Isobel Finlayson, fellow passenger aboard the Prince Rupert [V], witnessed an “immense shoal of Mackarel [sic],” which on approaching “made a rushing sound and shone brilliant colours.” Finlayson also observed in her journal that at one point the vessel sailed “sufficiently near the coast [opposite England] to trace every landmark and village on its picturesque shores.”[34]

Mary Louisa Lambton Bruce, Countess of Elgin and Kinkardine, pencil sketch, “Dutch Fishing Boats, N. Sea,” dated 23 June 1837. Source: Library and Archives Canada, James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, and family fonds (R977). Copyright: expired.

The route followed during this leg of the journey off England’s coast headed north in order to round Scotland through Pentland Firth, and was known as going ‘north about.’ Although making departure from the Channel, or going ‘west about,’ was an option, it was not considered optimal.[35] The Company had favoured the north about route since the initial voyage of 1668 for several reasons.

First, during times of war privateers were less frequently encountered and more readily evaded.[36] The danger of a Channel departure had been illustrated in 1689 when the Hudson’s Bay and Northwest Fox encountered French privateers and the latter ship, newly built and purchased with borrowed money, was taken. The escape of the equally new and similarly financed Hudson’s Bay did not come without cost to the Company. The captain reported that on putting the damaged vessel into Plymouth for repairs, a good proportion of the seamen deserted outright, and the remainder refused to sail any further when it became clear there would be no naval escort.[37]

A second set of considerations, related to practical seafaring, meant mariners favoured heading north about as well. Contrary westerly winds were easier to deal with in more open seas than the Channel afforded: sufficient space was needed for sailors to effect operations and complete manoeuvres such as tacking and wearing their ships. With available crosswise reach restricted by the channel’s shorelines – the one patrolled by a potentially hostile power – a ship could spend several days crossing back and forth in the face of an adverse wind, the sailors handling the sails to the point of exhaustion, with little or no appreciable headway gained.[38]

The location of the Orkney Islands relative to the latitude of Cape Farewell at the tip of Greenland and the entrance to Hudson Strait. Source, derived from a map in Andrew O’Dell, “Geographical Controls of Agriculture in Orkney and Shetland,” Economic Geography 11, no. 1. (January, 1935): 2.

Once out into the open ocean, the north about route had further advantages. Especially in the days of rudimentary navigational tools when position was determined by ‘dead reckoning,’ meridian sailing to Hudson Strait by way of observing the sun and North Star and holding to the bands between the 56th and 60th parallels, “as wind and weather presents,” was a straightforward course to set and follow.[39] It had the added benefit in summer of giving “more chance of favourable winds than in the zone of ‘westerly variables’ further south.”[40] In addition, the prevalent patterns of wind readily allowed traversing the North Atlantic Drift region to take advantage of the East and West Greenland currents.[41]

Schematic of major currents in the North Atlantic:

Na – North Atlantic Drift; Eg – East Greenland; La -Labrador; Wg – West Greenland; Ei – East Iceland; Ir – Irminger; Ni – North Iceland; Ng -Norwegian; Nc – North Cape; Sb – Spitsbergen; Gu – Gulf Stream; Po – Portugal Current. Solid Lines – Relatively warm currents. Broken Lines – Relatively cold currents. Map derived from G. Dietrich, G., K. Kalle, W. Krauss and G. Siedler, General Oceanography: An Introduction, 2d ed., trans. Susanne Ulrich Roll and Hans Ulrich Roll (New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1980).

Although Captain Coats described these as a “languid” set of currents, the direction and duration of flow were convenient. They were “sett to southward, and inclined to westward [sic]” carrying a ship at the rate of “six, eight, or nine mile a day up until the longitude of Cape Farewell” on the southernmost tip of Greenland, after which the currents flowed directly to Cape Warwick on the south coast of Resolution Island at the entrance to Hudson Strait.[42]

A third incentive for holding to the north about route was that by 1702 the Orkney Islands had become convenient sources of Company labour. The valuation of HBC governor John Nixon, that Orcadians were “a hardy people both to endure hunger, and could, and are subject to obedience [sic],” was one reason for taking on workers at Orkney.[43]

Of equal concern in terms of recruitment, however, was that once HBC ships were clear of England, Company captains were less liable to lose crew members, craftsmen, and others engaged for Hudson Bay to naval impressment.[44]

Added to this, younger Orkneymen, faced with limited avenues for finding gainful employment on their home islands, were favourably disposed to sign on as sailors, coal traders, fishers, or whalers on what were, from their harbours, relatively short voyages to northern waters.

Orkneymen were often, therefore, experienced sailors, unfazed at the prospect of cold water voyaging, and appreciative of the comparably remunerative terms of HBC contracts – though they signed on for wages lower than those offered to English and Irish prospects.[45]

As for reaching the Orkneys in HBC ships, the islands were easier to access by going north about than by threading through the “innumerable” islands off Ireland and western Scotland where the tides were reported to be “so powerful and so distracted, that none but a person sufficiently acquainted are capable to take charge of a ship.”[46]

Orkney Islands, Sea Passages, and Channels.

Even so, wind, tide, and the standing waves of Pentland Firth could present difficulties – especially if sailing at night or in fog. Coats described the Orkney Islands in 1759 as “a cluster of islands so high and bold, and the sea so deap, and washed with so violent a tide, that the navigation through these islands has been in a great measure disused (except by persons very well acquainted) untill very lately [sic]”[47] He further avowed that “Danes, Swedes, and Dutch India men” had lost enough ships in the passage to finally decide on ranging “into the North Sea 100 or 200 leagues more than was necessary in their passage to or from the Western Ocean” and leave off traversing its “convenient way” altogether.

The presumably ‘very well acquainted’ HBC captains and pilots who continued to use the route had been aided in 1750 by Murdock Mackenzie’s publication of eight maps accompanied with “suitable directions for sailors.” These, in Coats’ estimation, dealt with shoals and violent tides “with such care and circumspection, and so plain and practicable to the meanest understanding, that it is now not only safe but most commodious navigation.”[48]

Murdock Mackenzie chart showing the Orkney Islands.

Helpful charts notwithstanding, adverse weather remained an element with which to contend. In 1862 James McDougall reported that over the span of some forty-eight hours HBC Captain David Herd and the Prince of Wales were taken “upward of 100 [miles] to the N.E. of Orkney” or “200 miles to leeward” of the hoped for Firth, and that it took an additional two days to right the situation.[49]

William Edward Parry had had better luck in making the Firth on his non-HBC expedition of 1821, but “while standing through, the wind backed to the westward of north, with heavy squalls, which would not have allowed us to clear the land with the ebb-tide.”[50] The Hecla and Fury therefore sought a safe harbour, of which the Orkneys were reputed to have “sufficiente to shelter and secure all the ships of the known world [sic].”[51] They took refuge at Widewall, on the west coast of South Ronaldsay for three days, after which they advanced only as far as Longhope of the east coast of Hoy before they again anchored, this time for eight days, to wait out the “strong and unfavourable winds.”[52]

Having been under sail for approximately two weeks since leaving Gravesend, HBC ships did not normally exit the North Sea by way of Pentland Firth directly to the Atlantic. Instead they made their way towards Hoy Sound, through the wide basin of Scapa Flow and then the narrower passage of Graemesay Sound. Of the passages and channels that separated the islands of Orkney, Holm Sound and Hoy Sound particularly were known for having plenty of good anchor ground and more moderate tides.[53]

Before making a final departure, the vessels would make an extended stay within the Cairstone Roads of Hamnavoe Inlet. There they anchored in a “fine natural harbour sheltered by various small islands and surrounded by bleak and sterile hills, covered with short stunted grass, scarcely a tree or shrub … to be seen,” but complemented by the town of Stromness.[54]

The ‘close’ at Stromess. See also J. Storer Clouston, The Beaver 16, no. 3 (Dec., 1936): 4.

A variety of visitors penned descriptions of Stromness, including Hargrave and Finlayson in 1840, John McDougall in 1862, and Isaac Cowie in 1867. When such accounts are compared to that furnished in 1936 by J. Storer Clouston, author, historian, and resident of the nearby town of Orphir, a timelessness of the town’s aspect while it served as the HBC’s final European port of call is suggested.

Stromness stood at the foot of a hill at harbour’s edge, as Finlayson recorded, “built so close to the shore, that the houses appear to rise out of the water, many of their walls being washed by the sea.”[55] She also remarked that it held greater aesthetic appeal when viewed from a distance. McDougall agreed that although the site was “beautiful,” the town itself was in need “of a great deal of improvement both sanatory & architectural [sic].”[56] By Clouston’s time, ‘improved’ or not, the town remained small and appeared “quaint”:

There was just room for a single narrow street between the foot of a high steep slope and the water of the little bay, and as the hill-face curved this way and that the street followed the curves, twisting, rising, and falling along the water’s edge. On either hand crow-stepped gables line this tortuous lane styled by courtesy a street, with, on one side, picturesque little courtyards and alleys every now and then mounting the hill as high as they can climb, and, on the other, a row of small piers behind the houses, and between them glimpses of green translucent water. This goes on for a mile or more.[57]

Over its history, the harbour sheltered a large number of ships – as many as four hundred fishing vessels at a time from 1888 to the end of the herring boom at about the turn of the century – and the town was subject to the equally large influx of people associated with the vessels.[58]

The pressure on water resources was significant, with the harbour serving as a general disposal area for bilge, ballast, and sewage. Although by 1900 nearly all of the six public and seventy private wells were severely polluted, Logan’s well continued to serve as a source of fresh water for outgoing ships until it was sealed in 1931.[59]

After spending anywhere from one to three weeks in Stromness, ships passed through Graemsay Sound’s “racing tideway,” which ran at eight to nine knots between the high cliffs of the Island of Hoy and the ‘Black Craig’ of the Orkney Mainland.[60] MacDougall described both of these elevations as, “literally covered with sea birds.”[61]

Departure was taken from Hoyhead. As Joseph Conrad explained in his 1906 publication, Mirror of the Sea, aboard ship the term departure signified not “so much a sea event as a definite act entailing a process, the precise observation of certain landmarks by means of the compass card.”[62]

The distinctive topography of Hoy provided suitable landmarks above the waterline and below. Soundings taken at the base of Hoyhead indicated that here the sea floor dropped suddenly to thirty fathoms, while, in McDougall’s words, viewed from the deck of a ship:

the island rises abruptly – starting as it were out of the sea, whereas the others are generally of a flat character – It consists of a Mountain very steep, of two peaks covered with heather, in some places nothing but bare rock & deep ravines running down the side. … the high precipice of Hoy which stands facing the Atlantic … is the highest precipice in Britain being 1400 feet high, the sea foaming against its perpendicular sides like thunder.”[63]

Hoy, which could be seen from a distance of “upwards of twenty leagues,” was additionally marked by a singular promontory, four hundred and fifty feet high, styled “The old Man of Hoy” on account of its silhouette.[64] Out from Hoy, any pilots newly engaged to negotiate passage through the Orkney Islands or Hoy Sound would be dropped off – the ‘old Man’ serving to mark their return to shore.

‘The Old Man of Hoy,’ after an engraving by William Daniell c. 1813..Source: Isaac Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 63.

Departing from Hoy, having been perhaps a month or more under sail, HBC sailors left behind the relatively well known, but nonetheless numerous and difficult to navigate natural hazards that marked all passages around the British Isles. In addition to rocks, shoals, and troubling tides, by this point in their voyage, they had escaped other dangers as well. The likelihood of encountering pirates, gunships of hostile navies, and officers of their own navy bent on impressment, grew less as their distance from Britain increased.

Within a short space, they also left behind, for a number of weeks to come, the possibility of determining their whereabouts by sighting features associated with particular landforms – from hills, to birds, to floating debris. The experienced among a ship’s complement, however – whether possessed or not of a master mariner’s skill sets and navigational tools – knew where their vessel was headed, what sights to watch for, and which of these confirmed that their time spent working at sea had decreased their vessel’s distance from its destination.

Next: Crossing the North Atlantic

[1] See Eric W. Sager, Seafaring Labour: The Merchant Marine of Atlantic Canada, 18201914 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989), 8–10, who counts knowledge as a facet of skill and establishes that skill is an element of craft.


[2] See Arthur Dobbs, A Short Narrative and Justification of the Proceedings of the Committee appointed by the Adventurers, to prosecute the Discovery of the Passage to the Western Ocean of America and to Open and Extend the Trade, and Settle the Countries beyond Hudson’s Bay… now laid before the publick, for their future consideration (1744; facsimile reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint, 1967), 9–10, 17, 25–27; also William Coats, The Geography of Hudson’s Bay: being the remarks of Captain W. Coats, in many voyages to that locality, between the years 1727 and 1751: with an appendix containing extracts from the log of Capt. Middleton on his voyage for the discovery of the North-west passage in H.M.S. Furnace in 1741–2, ed. John Barrow (London: Hakluyt Society, 1852), 1–4, for his assessment of Dobb’s accusations of Company secrecy; Glyndwr Williams, “The Hudson’s Bay Company and Its Critics in the Eighteenth Century,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th ser., 20 (1970): 151; D.W. Moodie. “Science and Reality: Arthur Dobbs and the Eighteenth-Century Geography of Rupert’s Land,” Journal of Historical Geography 2, no. 4 (October 1976): 293–300; Richard I. Ruggles, “Governor Samuel Wegg, Intelligent Layman of the Royal Society, 1753–1802,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 32, no. 2 (March 1978): 181–99; also Edward Chappell, Narrative of a voyage to Hudson’s Bay in His Majesty’s ship Rosamond: containing some account of the north-eastern coast of America and of the tribes inhabiting that remote region (London: J. Mawman, 1817), 175. In 1814, Lieutenant Edward Chappell of the Royal Navy complained that due to the continuing concealment of information by “jealous” sailing officers of the HBC: “Nothing can be more incorrect than the chart supplied me by the Admiralty for the guidance of a man-of-war [HMS Rosamond] in Hudson’s Straits, it absolutely bears no resemblance to the channel of which it is meant to be an exact delineation” [italics in original].

[3] Captain Caruthers quoted in Great Britain, Parliament, House of Commons, Report from the Committee Appointed to Inquire into the State and Condition of the countries adjoining to Hudson’s Bay, and of the trade carried on there … 1749 (London: House of Commons, 1749), 230, who reported the waters of Hudson Bay to be “very dangerous and troublesome”; also Charles N. Bell, “Navigation of Hudson Bay and Straits,” Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba Transactions, 1st ser., no. 7 (read 10 May 1883), who complains about the “much-advertised-as-being-dreadful” reputation of Northern waters. Ernest J. Chambers, ed., Canada’s Fertile Northland: A Glimpse of the Enormous Resources of Part of the Unexplored Regions of the Dominion, Evidence Heard before a Select Committee of the Senate of Canada during the Parliamentary Session of 1906–7, and the Report based thereon (Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1907), 119, notes “As to the preparation of reliable charts of these waters, a good deal requires to be done yet.” T.H. Manning, “Explorations on the East Coast of Hudson Bay,” The Geographical Journal 109, no. 1/3 (January–March 1947): 58–75, notes the lack of cartographic knowledge. E.G.R. Taylor, “Introduction,” in Copy-book of letters outward &c: begins 29th May, 1680 ends 5 July, 1687, ed. E.E. Rich, with A.M. Johnson (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1948), xvii–xxviii, supplies an informative discussion on HBC mapping, attitudes toward knowledge management, and resultant inaccuracies. See also W. Gillies Ross, Whaling and Eskimos: Hudson Bay 1860–1915 (Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1975), 43–44; and Richard I. Ruggles, A Country So Interesting: The Hudson’s Bay Company and Two Centuries of Mapping 16701870 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991), 25–27, 32, 33, plates 1–3, 8a, 14, 15.

[4] See Robert Putman, Early Sea Charts (New York: Abbeville Press, 1983).

[5] Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World (New York: Harper Perennial, 2005), 79.

[6] Coats, Geography, 1. Although begun in 1744, a century later Coats’ manuscript remained unpublished – whether and how widely any copies circulated during that period is unknown. See Glyndwr Williams, “Coats, William,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online [DCB] <http://www.biographi.ca/ EN/index.html> (accessed 2004–2008).

[7] Coats, Geography, 4.

[8] John Barrow, ed., in Coats, Geography, 4 n.2.

[9] Coats, Geography, 4; J. Williams, “The Last Voyage of the Stork,” The Beaver 19, no. 2 (September 1939): 44; Edward Hasted, “Parishes: Gravesend,” The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, vol. 3 (Canterbury: W. Bristow, 1797), 319–35, cached at British History Online <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=62861&gt; (accessed 12 November 2007).

[10] Bede quoted in Charles Capper, The Port and Trade of London (London: Smith, Elder and Company, 1862), 4.

[11] Alexander Pope, “Windsor-Forest,” 1713, text taken from The Works of Alexander Pope (1736), online version, ed. Jack Lynch (accessed 11 November 2007), lines 395–98; and Alexander Pope, “Windsor Forest,” PDF, text based on The Works of Alexander Pope (1736), ed. and annotated by Alok Ayady (accessed 11 November 2007). See also Vincent Carretta, “Anne and Elizabeth: The Poet as Historian in Windsor Forest,” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 21, no. 3 (summer 1981): 433, 435–37, on British destiny; and John Richardson, “Alexander Pope’s Windsor Forest: Its Context and Attitudes toward Slavery,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 35, no. 1 (autumn 2001): 2–3, 5, 7, on Britain’s ideals, trade, and the Asiento/contract with Spain, won through the Treaty of Utrecht, on the slave trade.

[12] Mike Millichamp, “London River Lights” (accessed 25 September 2007); and H.M. Tomlinson, “The Foreshore,” in London River (Garden City NY: Garden City Publishing, 1921), 4–6, the portion of the tidal river that was of use to sailors extended approximately to Richmond.

[13] Hasted, “Parishes: Gravesend,” 319–35. See also Rivers of Great Britain: The Thames, from Source to Sea, descriptive, historical, pictorial (London: Cassell and Company, 1891), 290.

[14] Hasted, “Parishes: Gravesend,” 319–35.

[15] “History of the Port of London pre 1908,” History of the Port, Port of London Authority <http://www.portoflondon.co.uk/display_fixedpage.cfm/id/238&gt; (accessed 8 October 2007).

[16] Letitia Hargrave, The Letters of Letitia Hargrave, ed. Margaret Arnett MacLeod (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1947), 24, 25, 31. See also Robert M. Ballantyne, Hudson’s Bay, or, Every-day life in the wilds of North America during six years’ residence in the territories of the honourable Hudson’s Bay Company (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1848), 3; and Rivers of Great Britain, 288–336. See, “The Port of London: Busy Scene on the River Thames,” illustration, Antique prints: Views of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (accessed 17 November 2007). The work is attributed to brothers William and Edward Francis Finden, nineteenth-century engravers in London. See W.A.C., ed., The Ports, Harbours, Watering Places, and Coast Scenery of Great Britain, Illustrated by Views Taken on the Spot by W.H. Bartlett, with Descriptions by William Beattie M.D., Finden’s Ports and Harbours, vol. I (London: George Virtue, 1842), 182.

[17] Hargrave, Letters, 25. See, Edward William Cooke, “The Dreadnought, 104 Guns, at Present Lying off Greenwich for The Seaman’s Hospital,” print, ca. 1857, PAD6149, National Maritime Museum  [NMM] Collections Online (accessed 13 November 2007); see also Cooke, “The Dreadnought, 104 Guns, until Recently Lying off Greenwich,” print, PAD6061, and “HMS ‘Grampus’ as a hospital ship off Greenwich,” PAF8002, NMM Collections Online (accessed 13 November 2007).

[18] Rivers of Great Britain, 291, notes that sail persisted: “the tall three master is by no means an unfamiliar object, and … one may encounter schooners and brigs and brigantines galore. Nor has the number of lighters and wherries and dumb-barges diminished [sic].” MacLeod, “Introduction,” Letters, xxxi; Nigel Yates ed., Kent in the Twentieth Century (Rochester NY: Boydell & Brewer, 2001), 347; see also W.A.C., Ports, Harbours, 182–83, who notes “The great facilities of communication with the metropolis, the salubrity of the air, the beauty of the surrounding scenery, and the public amusements …, have contributed to render Gravesend the most frequented town on the river. The thousands of visitors who here keep holiday during six or eight months of the year have insured resources to the inhabitants, more to be depended on than the fluctuations of trade. New houses, new streets, hotels, reading rooms, public baths, and pleasures gardens, have all appeared in succession since the introduction of steam on the river … The harbour, generally enlivened by East and West Indiamen at anchor; the incessant passing and repassing of steamers to every part of the coast and kingdom; with private yachts and pleasure-boats skimming past, or lying off the piers, with their holiday freight of joyous citizens, give a never-failing interest and spirit to the whole picture; and present … more animation and variety than is to be met with in any other part of the river.”

[19]Rivers of Great Britain, 326–27. See also “Local ingredients – the sands of the Thames,” http://throughthesandglass.typepad.com/through_the_sandglass/2009/08/local-ingredients—the-sands-of-the-thames.html ; and “The Great Stink,” http://www.martinfrost.ws/htmlfiles/great_stink.html.

[20] Hargrave, Letters, 28; see also Hasted, “Parishes: Gravesend,” 319–35; and “Historical British Censuses,” Census Reports, A Vision of Britain through Time, Great Britain Historical GIS Project, University of Portsmouth <http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/census/index.jsp&gt; (accessed 14 November 2007), which shows census figures for Gravesend that are higher than Hargrave’s estimate.

[21] Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea, electronic text (1906; London: Electric Book Co., ca. 2001), 132. See William Gaspey, “Gravesend,” illustration, Tallis’s Illustrated London: In Commemoration of the Great Exhibition of All Nations in 1851, Forming a Complete Guide to the British Metropolis and Its Environs …, vol. 2 (London: John Tallis and Company, 1852), 158b.

[22] Rivers of Great Britain, 333, 336; see also “Gravesend Waterfront, 1895,” photograph, Centre for Kentish Studies, Thames Pilot <http://www.thamespilot.org.uk/ixbin/hixclient.exe?a=query&p= thames&f=generic_objectrecord%2ehtm&_IXFIRST_=1&_IXMAXHITS_=1&%3dcms_con_core_identifier=tp%2dkn%2d001_gravesend_front_1895%2di%2d00%2d001%2etif&t=tp%2dtp%2dsourcetosea_gravesend&s=BwAMKuGnzMQ> (accessed 13 November 2007); also Karl Moritz, “On the Thames, 31st May,” in Travels in England in 1782 (London, 1886) <http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/text/chap_ page.jsp? t_id=Moritz&c_id=2&p_id=283#pn_1> (accessed 14 November 2007); John Marius Wilson, “Gravesend,” Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870–72), A Vision of Great Britain through Time, Great Britain GIS Project, University of Portsmouth <http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/descriptions/entry_page. jsp?text_id=780130&word=NULL> (accessed 14 November 2007); and John Bartholomew, Gazetteer of the British Isles (1887), A Vision of Great Britain through Time, Great Britain GIS Project, University of Portsmouth <http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/descriptions/entry_page.jsp?text_id=1901370&word= NULL> (accessed 14 November 2007), for earlier descriptions of the town and its setting.

[23] See W.C.R., “The Vital Role of Tugs on the Thames,” The Port (May/June 2003): 2, Port of London Authority pdfs/pp/111.pdf> (accessed 10 September 2008), which notes that one of the first tugs was the screw steamer Hibernia, launched in 1884 by William Watkins – who, as owner of the HBC, had sold Rupert’s Land to Canada; also Williams, “Last Voyage of the Stork,” 44.

[24] Hargrave, Letters, 44. See HBCA, C.1/1021, Ship’s Logs, Seahorse, 1751; and C.1/413, Ship’s Logs, King George, 1802, for examples of passage through the estuary; also Henry Kelsey, “Memmorandum in ye hudsons bay frigatt [sic], June ye 2d 1696,” in The Kelsey Papers, ed. John Warkentin (Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1994), 20. Williams, “Last Voyage of the Stork,” 44, notes that in 1908 the vessel was towed from Gravesend to the estuary of the Thames. A.R. Williamson, “Voyage of the ‘Discovery’ 1911,” part I, The Beaver 62, no. 4 (spring 1983): 14, notes the Discovery steamed out of the river and estuary under a “sea pilot” who would have normally been discharged at “the Sunk Light Vessel” but due to rough water was not transferred to the “Harwich pilot boat” until off Oxfordness. E. Chappell, Narrative of a voyage to Hudson’s Bay in His Majesty’s ship Rosamond, containing some account of the north eastern coast of America and of the tribes inhabiting that remote region (London: J. Mawman, 1817), 6, reported that the Admiralty vessels procured pilots at the Nore in 1814 for the journey to Orkney.

[25] R.M. Ballantyne, The Floating Light of the Goodwin Sands, (1870; London James Nisbet & Co., [19–]), Project Gutenburg Ebook #21735 (accessed 20 November 2007), describes the single-masted, red painted lightship as, “conspicuous in its royal colour … to mark the fair-way between the white cliffs of Old England and the outlying shoals – distinguished in daylight by a huge ball at its mast-head, and at night by a magnificent lantern with argand lamps and concave reflectors, which shot its rays like lightning far and wide over the watery waste, while, in thick weather, when neither ball nor light could be discerned, a sonorous gong gave its deep-toned warning to the approaching mariner, and let him know his position amid the surrounding dangers”; see also Conrad, Mirror of the Sea, 13031, for a later, but similar description; “The Treacherous Goodwins,” Heritage, Whitecliffs County (accessed 20 November 2007); John Warkentin, ed., “Introduction,” in Kelsey Papers, xix, xxiii, and Kelsey, Kelsey Papers, 21.

[26] John Franklin, Narrative of a journey to the shores of the Polar Sea in the years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 (London: John Murray, 1823), 1.

[27] Franklin, Narrative of a journey, 2.

[28] Chappell, Narrative of a voyage to Hudson Bay’s, 11, describes the town of Yarmouth as “a large straggling place; consisting of one or two good streets, and many narrow lanes; with open spaces here and there, like squares. The church has a most beautiful spire. The town does not contain any magnificent buildings.” Kelsey, “A Journal of a Voyage by Gods permission in ye deering frigott from England to hudsons bay P Capt crimmington Commr. &c In 1698 kept by me henry kelsey [sic],” in Kelsey Papers, 73, notes he sent his pilot on shore at Thropness; see also HBCA, C.1/1026, Ship’s Logs, Seahorse, 1756.

[29] HBCA, C.1/414, Ship’s Log, King George, 1803, 19 June.

[30] Honor, “Sailing Ships Yarmouth Roads,” Mariners-L Archives, Rootsweb (posted 12 May 2003) (accessed 6 January 2008), supplies the following quote from David Higgins, The Beachman (Lavenham Suffolk: Terence Dalton, 1987): “The Roads was a rendezvous for all vessels sailing the East Coast; they would often anchor therein for several weeks, becalmed, awaiting a favourable wind or riding out rough weather. When conditions became more favourable, thousands of vessels would be seen leaving the Roads, taking several hours to pass through.” See also Hargrave, Letters, 46; James McDougall, transcript, “Young Apprentice,” part I, The Beaver 32, no. 1 (June 1952), 8. William Edward Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage From the Atlantic to the Pacific, Performed in the Years 1821–22–23, In His Majesty’s Ships Fury and Hecla … (New York: E. Duyckinck, G. Long, Collins & Co., Collins & Hannay, W.B. Gilley, and Henry I. Megarey, 1824), 2, notes that he dropped his pilots off on a sloop bound for Leith while he was off  Buchanness – having been unable to put to shore earlier because of the wind.

[31] Franklin, Narrative of a journey, 4. Honor, “Sailing Ships Yarmouth Roads,” explains the Cockle Gatway was at the north end of the sands off Yarmouth, a series of banks that were the result of currents collecting eroded materials, and were constantly changing in shape and position.

[32] Hargrave, Letters, 48, 49. HBCA, E.12/5-7, “My Notebook,” Isobel  G[raham] Finlayson Journal (1840), 1112. See also Chappell, Narrative of a voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 1112; and David Learmonth, “To Labrador by Sail,” The Beaver 78, no. 2 (April/May 1998): 36.

[33] See Kelsey, “Memmorandum in ye hudsons bay frigatt, June ye 18th Thursday [sic],” [1696]

in Kelsey Papers, 21.

[34] Finlayson, “Notebook,” 20, 1112. See also Barrow, “Introduction,” in Geography, 4; HBCA, C.1/1021, Ship’s Log, Seahorse, 1751.

[35] See, for example, HBCA, B.3/a/8, Albany Post Journal, 1717, Peter Clemens, “A Journall One Borde ye Dilligenc Sloop By Godss Assistance From Church hle Towards Albany Rivor In Hudsons Bay So God Send us a Good Voige: Amen [sic].” See also Ian K. Steele, The English Atlantic 1675–1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 86; John Alwin, “Mode, Pattern and Pulse: Hudson’s Bay Company Transport, 16701821,” Ph.D. diss. (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1978), 40, also notes that the convoys sometimes sailed “south and then west through the English Channel.”

[36] Isaac Cowie, The Company of Adventurers: A Narrative of Seven Years in the Service of the Hudson’s Bay Company during 1867–1874, On the Great Buffalo Plains with Historical and Biographical notes and comment (Toronto: William Briggs, 1913), 62. HBCA, C.1/1027, Ship’s Logs, Sea Horse, 1757, reported enemy sails in the vicinity of Tinmouth and Banbrough Castles and that HMS Sole Bay gave chase. Later in the journey, the entire convoy chased a Danish flyboat off “Lewes Island.”

[37] Oliver Warner, “Voyaging to York Factory,” The Beaver 37, no. 3 (winter 1957): 1920; E.E. Rich, The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company 1670–1870, vol. I (London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1958), 25457; Alan Cameron, “Ships of Three Centuries,” The Beaver 50, no. 1 (summer 1970): 13; Alwin, “Mode, Pattern and Pulse,” 54.

[38] See David G. Fitz-Enz, Old Ironsides: Eagle of the Sea (Lanham MD: Taylor Trade Publications, 2004), 208.

[39] Coats, Geography, 10. See, Andrew O’Dell, “Geographical Controls of Agriculture in Orkney and Shetland,” map, Economic Geography 11, no. 1 (January 1935): 2, showing the location of the Orkney Islands relative to the latitude of Cape Farewell and the entrance to Hudson Strait.

[40] Williamson, “Voyage of the ‘Discovery’,” part I, 14; Coats, Geography, 10. See also Tim Ball, “Company Town: Rugged Stromness in the Orkneys sent many men to the fur trade,” The Beaver 68, no. 3 (June/July 1988): 46; and Steele, English Atlantic, 86, who holds a different view, asserting that the west about route was “less in the teeth of the prevailing westerlies than the ‘north-about’ required.” F. Kenneth Hare, “The Westerlies,” Geographical Review 50, no. 3 (July 1960): 346, explains, however, that the ‘northern westerlies’ were high altitude winds, “that is, 15,00030,000 feet,” above the Earth’s surface that blew “from a westerly point.” He describes the surface winds beneath as “not predominantly from the west” in all areas, and subject to “seasonal fluctuation in extent and position.” This is well illustrated by the placement of wind roses in early charts of the North Atlantic. They suggest that a ship was more likely to encounter headwinds the more it attempted to cross the North Atlantic gyre below the 56th to 60th parallels north latitude. For examples see Blaeu, “Regiones sub Polo Artico,” in Atlas Major: ‘The Greatest and Finest Atlas ever Published,’ ed. Peter Van Der Krogt (Los Angeles, Taschen, 2006), 3233; William Jansz Blaeu and Johannes and Pieter Blaeu, “Sea chart of the coasts of Europe,” in Early Sea Charts, ed. Robert Putman (New York: Abbeville Press, 1983), 7677; Gerard Mercator, “Sea chart of the North Atlantic,” in Early Sea Charts, 8687; and Pieter Goos, “Sea chart of the seas around Greenland and Iceland,” in Early Sea Charts, 9899.

[41] See G. Dietrich, G., K. Kalle, W. Krauss and G. Siedler, map, General Oceanography: An Introduction, 2d ed., trans. Susanne Ulrich Roll and Hans Ulrich Roll (New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1980), showing the major currents of the North Atlantic.

[42] Coats, Geography, 10, 11, 23; see also C. Ikminger, “Currents and Icedrifts on the Coasts of Iceland,” Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London 5, no. 5 (18601861): 225.

[43] John Nixon, quoted in Sylvia Van Kirk, ‘Many Tender Ties’: Women in Fur-Trade Society in Western Canada, 1670–1870 (Watson and Dwyer Publishing, 1980), 11; see also Murdock Mackenzie and Samuel Hearne quoted in Bell, “Company Town,” 50, also 46. Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 62, notes “The first record we have of the long connection which has existed to this day between the English Hudson’s Bay Company and the men of Orkney occurred in 1707, and again in 1712, when fourteen and forty able-bodied seamen respectively were engaged … But it was not until 1740 that the Hudson‘s Bay ships began to make Stromness regularly their last port of call”; J. Storer Clouston, “Orkney and the Hudson’s Bay Company,” part II, The Beaver 16, no. 4 (March 1937): 43, argues that a ship had been sent to Scotland under “a certain Capt. Simpson” searching for servants as early as 1693, but that whether he “reached as far north as Orkney is not known for certain.” Clouston  mentions as well that in 1702 Captain Michael Grimington intentionally stopped for men in Orkneys, and that from 1722 to1891 the Company’s ships “called regularly at Stromness”; see also James A. Troup, “The Impact of the ‘Nor Wast’ on Stromness,” paper, Center for Rupert’s Land Studies (Winnipeg: n.d.), 1; Jennifer S.H. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1980), 27; Alwin “Mode. Pattern and Pulse,” 41, 55; Edith I. Burley, Servants of the Honourable Company: Work, Discipline, and Conflict in the Hudson’s Bay Company, 17701879 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997), 3, 68; and Steele, English Atlantic, 86.

[44] See for example HBCA, C.1/417, and C.1/418, Ship’s Logs, King George, 1806, which note that two seamen, John Rumbirt and Thomas Cocksey, were “prest at sea” on the outward voyage off Yarmouth. The logs also indicate that reaching the Orkneys did not necessarily mean seamen were safe – William Shekle was impressed there on the ship’s return from Hudson Bay; see also Warner, “Voyaging to York Factory,” 20; and Bell, “Company Town,” 50.

[45] Library and Archives Canada [LAC], Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk Fonds, Microfilm A.27, Selkirk Papers, vol. I, Miles Macdonnell, letter to Lord Selkirk, York Factory, 1 Oct 1811, (Canadian Library Association Ottawa, 1950), 43, who notes “The Orkney men being accustomed to it, think nothing of a voyage to Hudsons Bay.” See also Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 62; J. Storer Clouston, “Orkney and the Hudson’s Bay Company,” part I, The Beaver 16, no. 3 (December 1936): 4, 8; and part II, 3940, 41; Clouston quoted in Troup, “Impact of the ‘Nor Wast’,” 2, also 3; Bell, “Company Town,” 4748, 49, 50; and Burley, Servants of the Honourable Company, 6874. J. Birbeck Nevins, A narrative of two voyages to Hudson’s Bay: with traditions of the North American Indians (London: Printed for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1847), 2, alleges “though the wages are very low, and they have to endure great hardships and privations … there is little difficulty in obtaining a sufficient number. The custom was so general a few years since, that a person was scarcely considered a man, until he had been to the ‘nor-west,’ and he would stand but an indifferent chance of a favourable reception, should he make proposals of marriage before having given this proof of his manhood; but this feeling is now less strong than it was, and many of the labourers are married before going out.”

[46] Coats, Geography, 8, 22. See also Thomas M’Keevor, A Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, during thecSummer of 1812: Containing a particular account of the icebergs and other phenomena which present themselves in those regions: also, a description of the Esquimeaux and North American Indians, their manners, customs, dress, language, &c. &c. &c. (London: Printed for Sir Richard Phillips and Co., 1819), 3.

[47] Coats, Geography, 5. Ian Maxwell, “Around the World: The Shetland and Orkney Islands,” Your Family Tree 39 (July 2006): 55, notes “A steady increase in sea trade offered escape for many islanders as French and Spanish ships sheltered in Orkney in the 16th century.” To about 1703, the Shetlands especially “became an important staging post in the whaling and herring boom, which brought great numbers of Dutch, Spanish and French boats to the islands.”

[48] Coats, Geography, 5n. 2, 6; see also review of The State of the Tides in Orkney [1749], by Murdoch Mackenzie, Philosophical Transactions (1683–1775) 46 (17491750): 14960; HBCA, G.5/3, which holds a copy of Murdock Mackenzie, “Geographic & Hydrographic Survey of the Orkney & Lewis Islands,” map, 1750; and “Murdoch Mackenzie,” Gazetteer for Scotland (1995–2007) (accessed 27 November 2007), which describes Mackenzie (1712–1797), as a school master, native to Orkney, who became “a surveyor and marine cartographer … [d]etermined to make good charts around these northern islands, which would prevent the heavy loss of life in what were treacherous waters,” and who surveyed both land and sea from 1742, developing “new techniques which are described in his Treatise on Maritime Surveying (1774).”

[49] McDougall, “Young Apprentice,” part I, 8. See also See Chappell, Narrative of a voyage to Hudson Bay, 12; and Learmonth, “To Labrador by Sail,” 36, aboard the Pelican in 1904, he noted that “When we rounded Duncansby Head … we ran into a true northern gale. Progress was impossible, even when the ship’s engines were brought into full use. As long as the tide that runs through the Firth was in the ship’s favour, she would inch along, but when the tide turned, the captain sought shelter.”

[50] Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, 2.

[51] Coats, Geography, 8.

[52] Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, 2.

[53] Coats, Geography, 10. N.E.S.A. Hamilton, ed., The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland …, 4 vols. (London: James S. Virtue and Co., 1868), notes that Holm Sound, pronounced ‘Ham,’ and meaning “haven or good anchorage,” separates the South East part of  Mainland, Orkney, from the Island of Burray; but Ball, “Company Town,” 46, notes the presence of islands within Hamnavoe Inlet “known as Holms”; see also Chappell, Narrative of a voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 14 – possibly Coats referred to Cairstone Roads as Holm Sound. See “Orkney,” maps, Genmaps, Rootsweb (accessed 11 February 2009), for scanned historical maps dating from 1564 to 1896.

[54] Finlayson, “Notebook,” 29; McDougall, “Young Apprentice,” part I, 9; Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 67; see also Clouston, “Orkney and the Hudson’s Bay Company,” part I, 4; Hargrave, Letters, 45. Parry, Journal of a Second Voyage, 2, does not appear to have stopped in Stromness. See, J. Storer Clouston, “An old close, Stromness,” photograph, The Beaver 16, no. 3 (December 1936): 4.

[55] Finlayson, “Notebook,” 29.

[56] McDougall, “Young Apprentice,” part I, 9. Chappell, Narrative of a voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 14, reports “an irregular assemblage of dirty huts, with here and there a decent house. There is scarcely anything deserving the name of a street.”

[57] Clouston, “Orkney and the Hudson’s Bay Company,” part I, 6. Doug Houghton Photography, “Stromness Harbour Stock Photographs” <http://www.orkneypics.com/webpage/page/page079.html&gt; (accessed 6 January 2008), supplies photographs that suggest the town looks much the same today.

[58] “Stromness History,” The Orkney Website <http://www.orkney.org/mainland/stromnesshistory. htm> (accessed 6 January 2008); Franklin, Narrative of a journey, 5, notes the herring fishery employed about three hundred vessels in 1819, drawing a significant number of men away from HBC employment.

[59] See, Chappell, Narrative of a voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 14; also “Bay of Ireland,” Site Report No. 35, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (6 August 2007) <http://www.sepa.org.uk/pdf/data/shellfish/35.pdf&gt; (accessed 6 January 2008). Ball, “Company Town,” 45.

[60] James McDougall, “Young Apprentice,” part II, The Beaver 32, no. 3 (September 1952): 10. HBCA, C.1/414 Ship’s Logs, King George, 1803, 2028 June, the ship stayed one week at Stromness; likewise in C.1/417, Ship’s Logs, King George, 1806; C.1/419, Ship’s Logs, King George, 1807; and C.1/1021 Ship’s Logs, Seahorse, 1751. HBCA, C.1/1022, Ship’s Logs, Seahorse, 1752, indicates the ship stayed for two weeks; Chappell, Narrative of a voyage to Hudson’s Bay, 19; and Nevins, Narrative of Two Voyages, 1, report the same length of stay.

[61] McDougall, “Young Apprentice,” part II, 10.

[62] Conrad, Mirror of the Sea, 12.

[63] McDougall, “Young Apprentice,” part II, 910: the mountain is Ward Hill, elevation 481 metres, or 1,577 feet; see also Coats, Geography, 6; Clouston, “Orkney and the Hudson’s Bay Company,” part I, 6. See, “The Old Man of Hoy,” illustration, in Cowie, Company of Adventurers, 63, after an engraving by William Daniell ca. 1813. Cowie dates the view to 1813; see also photograph, ca. 1936, in Clouston, “Orkney and the Hudson’s Bay Company,” part I, 7, which suggests either a fair degree of erosion had taken place by the twentieth century, or the artist Daniell had significantly embellished the rock’s profile.

[64] Clouston, “Orkney and the Hudson’s Bay Company,” part I, 7.


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