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Sir Martin Frobisher

Sir Martin Frobisher

Sir Martin Frobisher (ca. 1538-1594), English explorer, naval commander, and soldier, initiated Europe's search for a Northwest Passage to the Orient and discovered the Hudson Strait.

Martin Frobisher, born in Yorkshire, went to London as a boy to be educated by a relative. He showed no aptitude for book learning, so his kinsman sent him to sea. Before reaching manhood Frobisher had been on two voyages to the Guinea Coast. On the second he was captured and handed over to the Portuguese garrisoning São Jorge da Mina, who allowed him to return to England. For a time he engaged in piracy, though he never attacked English ships.

By the 1570s England had largely abandoned hope of finding a Northeast Passage to Asia, and thoughts turned to the Northwest. Frobisher formed a partnership with Michael Lok, a man of some means and learning. Frobisher's first voyage, in 1576, took him to Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island, which he at first claimed as the strait; he also captured an Eskimo whom Lok supposed was a Tatar from north of China.

English investors, including Queen Elizabeth, overlooked Frobisher's former piracy to pour money into Lok's Company of Cathay. Frobisher sailed again in 1577, this time to ship home what he mistakenly thought was gold-bearing ore. Lok still felt hopeful and sent Frobisher back in 1578. This time the mariner discovered the Hudson Strait, which he followed for nearly 200 miles and acknowledged to be a more promising Northwest Passage than Frobisher Bay. He brought home more dirt and rocks, but English confidence had evaporated; Lok went to a debtors' prison and Frobisher sought other employment.

Frobisher accompanied Sir Francis Drake to the West Indies in 1585-1586. When Philip II's Spanish Armada entered the English Channel in 1588, Frobisher's part in the fighting was distinguished, and he received knighthood. He died of a bullet wound, received near Brest, where he had been sent to relieve the Spanish siege. He lived just long enough to be taken back to Plymouth.

Further Reading

William McFee, Life of Sir Martin Frobisher (1928), is an adequate biography. Highly recommended is George Best's 16th-century work, The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher in Search of a Passage to Cathay and India, edited by Vilhjalmur Stefansson (2 vols., 1938). James A. Williamson, Age of Drake (1938; 5th ed. 1965), covers Frobisher's entire career, although this information is scattered throughout the work. Frobisher is also discussed in Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages (1971). □

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Frobisher, Sir Martin

Sir Martin Frobisher (frō´bĬshər), 1535?–1594, English mariner. He went to sea as a boy, and spent much of his youth in the African trade. He later gained the friendship of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, through whom he became interested in the Northwest Passage. Licensed by Queen Elizabeth I and backed by a group of merchant adventurers, Frobisher made three voyages (1576, 1577, and 1578) to the Arctic in search of the passage. On his first voyage he sailed into Frobisher Bay to S Baffin Island, and from its shores brought back some black ore thought to contain gold and an Eskimo to prove his belief that he had actually reached fabled Cathay. Returning to Baffin Island on his next two journeys, he explored Frobisher Bay to its head and penetrated a short distance up Hudson Strait. Since his geographical discovery was slight and no gold was revealed in his cargoes of ore, Frobisher's name was discredited for a time. In 1585, however, he won glory as commander of a ship in Sir Francis Drake's expedition to the West Indies and was knighted for his services with Drake and Sir John Hawkins in the defeat of the Spanish Armada (see Armada, Spanish) in 1588. He died as the result of wounds received at Brest during an English campaign against the Spanish. The narratives of his voyages, first published in 1578, have passed through several editions. The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher by George Best was edited from the original 1578 text by Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1937).

See biography by J. McDermott (2001); study by R. Ruby (2001).

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"Frobisher, Sir Martin." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Frobisher, Sir Martin." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/frobisher-sir-martin

Frobisher, Sir Martin

Frobisher, Sir Martin (c.1535–94). Although notable as an early English sea trader in west Africa and the eastern Mediterranean in the 1550s and later associated with Drake in the West Indies expedition of 1585–6 and the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Frobisher is best remembered as an explorer who made three attempts in the period 1576–8 to find the North-West Passage. The first to penetrate so far, Frobisher discovered Baffin Island and sailed some way into the Hudson Strait, opening the way for later explorers. Frobisher was distracted by thinking he had found gold in the bay which bears his name in Baffin Land, but it was iron pyrites. After more encounters with the Spanish in the 1590s, Frobisher was killed at Brest.

Roy C. Bridges

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"Frobisher, Sir Martin." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Frobisher, Sir Martin." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/frobisher-sir-martin