ship lists

List Links:

List 1 (1508-1709)

·         Sources for Ship List 1

List 2 (1710-1790)

·         Sources for Ship List 2

List 3 (1790-1865)

·         Sources for Ship List 3

List 4 (1865 – 1909)

·         Sources for Ship List 4

List 5 (1910 – 1920)

·         Sources for Ship List 5


Indication of Seafaring Vessels in, or Voyaging to, Hudson Bay and Strait, Including Journeys into Ungava Bay, Foxe Basin, and James Bay, 1508–1920

The ship lists posted to this site are based on a list compiled for my doctoral dissertation, which investigated the frequency, volume, and variation of water-borne transportation plying the waters of Hudson Strait, Ungava Bay, Hudson Bay, Foxe Basin, and James Bay — the shores of which made up a Northern Seaboard of North America in the past. I use the term ‘indication’  in the title above, because at this remove in time it is impossible to state with certainty many particulars about the vessels listed.

For logistical reasons — primarily for ease of handling during the posting process — the original list has been  divided into 77 tables distributed over several web-log pages. The tabular format was adopted early-on in the list-compiling process as the easiest means of keeping data organized. As new vessels were added and additional information found, having vessels confined to a row of cells and details in columns helped minimize confusion and maintain readability.

The columns  demarcate vessels by the year of actual, or projected arrival, by name and, where possible, with some description. The descriptions of vessel class are rough indications only. As Oliver Warner has pointed out,

So variously were sea-terms used in earlier times, even in different parts of the same country, that it is surer to rely on such contemporary representations as may be preserved, than to base close descriptions upon definitions which may not fit the case … All that it is safe to say is that considerable variety and size of vessels appeared on the run to [Hudson Bay].[1]

A particularly problematic designation is ‘brig’ – some sources consulted for this list appear to use the term as a substitute brigantine, although the two were not always synonymous terms.[2]

The column headed ‘tons’ supplies tonnage figures to aid in distinguishing similar, but separate vessels from one another. Normally tonnage describes a ship’s burthen. As the amounts listed are from records devised under different systems, which may or may not have noted differences between gross, net, and registered tonnage amounts, it is not possible to use the figures as a means of comparing vessel size or capacity.[3]

The fourth column gives some indication as to who organized a voyage, either as a sponsor, representative, or owner of the vessel.

The fifth column indicates which of the reputed commanders on the voyage appears to have been responsible, at the practical level, for managing the vessel’s course over space and the crew’s work over time.

The sixth column includes brief remarks on the eventuality of the voyage. The symbol ‘↔’ indicates a round trip, completed that year. The comment ‘wintered’ indicates that the ship made its return voyage in the following year(s).

The numbers in the final column are indexed to the ‘Sources’ page for each list; the symbol ‘▪’ indicates ship’s log is available HBCA (Hudson’s Bay Company Archives); the symbol ‘*’ indicates vessel is listed in HBCA “Book of Ships Movements.”

A number of considerations shaped the content and connotation of the original list:

• Ships ultimately destined for Ungava Bay and Foxe Basin are included because access to those areas required traveling through Hudson Bay and Strait, however briefly.

• With two exceptions, the seafaring vessels listed below include only non-indigenous craft in that they did not conform in design or building material with construction traditional to the area. My principal reason for the exclusion of indigenous craft is the lack of a record base. To acknowledge, however, that canoes and kayaks were not the only forms of salt-water transport used by Aboriginal peoples in the area under consideration, I included references to umiaks. These were larger vessels (sixteen to forty feet long and four to eight feet in beam), used for trade purposes, and designed to carry relatively large numbers of people, including women and children. The entries should not be read as the sole instances of such craft but as a signal that unknown numbers and types of larger boats were constructed and used beyond the gaze of non-Aboriginal record keepers.

• Similarly, although the list includes several other ‘boats,’ I have not attempted to depict the actual number of such non-indigenous craft built and utilized bayside. The inclusions merely indicate that a variety of craft were present. With the possible exception of punts, I have listed only those which served as salt water transportation for a pilot and upwards of four crew members.

• In instances where vessels, known to be distinct from one another, belonged to the same fleet and share a name, differences are signaled with a numerical designation: hence Dering [I] and Dering [II]. Such designations are specific to this list, however, and do not necessarily align with other records or past practices. In the case of the Prince Rupert[II] and [III], for example, the designation does not conform to that assigned in the HBCA finding aids. Some discrepancies in numbering may arise because my focus on a particular area means that some vessels in a fleet which shared a particular name, but which never ventured into the area, have been excluded. This is the case with the Beaver. A notable HBC vessel of that name does not figure in the numbering of this list, because it was stationed on the Columbia coast. It is also possible that numerical designations here diverge from those in other sources because various records have preserved confused, uninformed, or unintentionally misleading observations. There is, after all, the likelihood that past observers were vitally interested in their own moment, concerned with effecting intelligible, immediate communication, not with ensuring clarity in perpetuity.[4]


[1] Oliver Warner, “Voyaging to York Factory,” The Beaver 37, no. 3 (winter, 1957): 19. Otmar Schäuffelen, “The Rig,” Chapman Great Sailing Ships of the World, xxiii-xxviii, Google Books online preview,, supplies illustrated  definitions of vessel types.

[2] See for example, references to the Charlotte ca. 1668, in Samuel Hearne, A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort, in Hudson’s Bay To The Northern Ocean 1769, 1770, 1771,1772 (1795; reprint, ed. Richard Glover, Macmillan, 1972), xi; E.E. Rich, Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670–1870 vol. 2(New York, Macmillan, ca. 1958–1960), 46, 48, 52, 58; C.S. Mackinnon, “Hearne, Samuel,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online <http://www.>.

[3] Frederic C. Lane, “Tonnages, Medieval and Modern,” The Economic History Review, n.s., 17, no. 2 (1964): 213–33, distinguishes six kinds of tonnage and discusses the problems they present in historiography; see also Christopher J. French, “Eighteenth-Century Shipping Tonnage Measurements,” The Journal of Economic History 33, no. 2 (June 1973): 434–43; John J. McCusker, “The Tonnage of Ships Engaged in British Colonial Trade during the Eighteenth Century,” Research in Economic History 6 (1981): 73-105; and Lance Edwin Davis, Robert E. Gallman, and Karin Gleiter, In Pursuit of Leviathan: Technology, Institutions, Productivity, and Profits in American Whaling, 1816–1906 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 215 nn. 3, 4, 5, for a discussion of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ formula of calculating tonnage in the United States, before and after 1865. They point out the problems faced by anyone who would compare vessel carrying capacity across that temporal divide, as well as differences from the British system.

[4] Davis, Gallman, and Gleiter, Pursuit of Leviathan, 59 n. 2: supply an anonymous plea, published in the Whalemen’s Shipping List, 24 August 1852, asking that owners address the problem of multiple vessels sharing the same name: “It is always a matter of regret when two or more vessels bearing the same name are employed in the whaling business, as it frequently leads to mistakes in the reports, and especially … when they belong to the same port and cruise in the same ocean. … Exercise your ingenuity when you name a new ship.”


My Apologies: my formatting of the tables, unfortunately, appears to be unstable in WordPress — I am attempting to fix the problem



5 Responses to ship lists

  1. I have been using your ship lists to good effect with a book I am completing on Arctic cargo. As I have gone through the lists, I have been back checking where possible on other sources for details about the ship, or what happened to it. A prime source has been EE Rich HBRS The Hudson Bay Company 1670-1870, but also the Hudson bay archive on line.The following comments may be of interest:
    Prince of Wales. According to Rich she wintered 1812 and took two years of fur back in 1813.
    Levant:According to Rich the ship wasn’t in the Arctic in 1818. She sailed from Boston via Valparaiso to the west coast and then took a cargo of furs to Canton.
    Graham. You may need to add this ship, although all i have is a singel reference that she had not arrived in York by 6th Sept 1843, and the prince Albert had not arrived at Moose by 19th Oct. Dr John Rae brought news to Montreal that both ships had safely unloaded.
    Hudson Bay (IV) was lost inbound to Churchill with a cargo of grain for the oxen that were being used to build Fort Churchill,
    According to HBC Biographies, David herd was Supt of Shipping in 1866, having been appointed in 1864 from command of the Ocean Nymph.
    SS Labrador. I am not sure of the Arctic activities of this ship. It was working the Greenland Sealing grounds feb -may each year for the HBC 1867-1870 inc. There is probably enough time to run to Hudson Strait and the Ungava after this. Alexander Grey is noted as master of the ship from 1871 until 1882, but his biography only gives Greenland/Labrador service. None of the other masters you note have HBC biographies, but ship logs are available that suggest the service between 1871-1895 was Quebec- Esquimeaux Bay- Davis Inlet-Bersimis, which suggests St Lawrence/labrador service, not arctic.
    SS Diana I believe this is a Job Bros sealing vessel and used by William Wakeham for his expedition to Hudson’s Bay in 1897. In 1885 the ship did call Ungava and labrador.
    Princess Royal: wrecked Moose river bar 1885. per Beaver Sep 1932.
    Titania, according to the Beaver Sep 1932, she sailed to Victoria. Her master Dandy Dunn was accidentally killed, but she never seems to have been in the arctic

    • hallnjean says:

      Many thanks Christopher — looks like I have reviewing to do when I rebuild these pages 🙂 Some of the instances you refer to above are identified in the text of my dissertation as problematic and are discussed there — for example, one source might indicate they voyaged in a particular year, but a log or the ‘Book of Ships’ Movements,’ or some other source, might indicate another. (The Titania being a blatant example.) A few of the ‘problem’ ships were nevertheless listed in the Ships List Appendix, but strictly for reference — any calculations made of frequency of voyaging etc. in the dissertation acknowledged the discrepancies. A few problem ships were left out of the list — if, for example, I was unable to find any supporting sources for a statement alleging a voyage and had misgivings about the source’s reliability on the point.

      Looking forward to reading your book!


  2. Richard says:

    I am interested in the ships that sailed in the James Bay area. I have a old picture of one and trying to find out more. I can barely see the 4 letters of the vessel name. Seeing that you have researched the topic I thought you would be a good lead.
    My email is

    • Richard, if you can give me the letters you can make out, maybe I can help. Alternatively if you can send the ship picture, that would help. However, there may be a delay in responding as I am due for hip surgery on the 9th, and it could be a bit before I am back at the computer

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