George Vancouver

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George Vancouver

George Vancouver (1758-1798) was an English explorer and navigator. His most famous undertaking was his exploration of the North Pacific coast of North America.

George Vancouver was born in England and at the age of 13 began his naval career as an able seaman under Capt. James Cook on the Resolution. He was a midshipman on Cook's famous third voyage in the Discovery. In 1780 Vancouver was promoted to lieutenant and served several years in the West Indies.

In 1790 Vancouver attained the rank of commander and the following year was given command of a new Discovery. His first assignment was to take over the Nootka Sound territory from the Spanish after an incident there had threatened war between England and Spain. After making new exploration around Australia and New Zealand and passing by Tahiti and Hawaii, Vancouver remained in the North Pacific, carrying out extensive exploratory trips from San Francisco northward, largely devoted to ascertaining the possibility of the elusive Northwest Passage. He was the first to chart accurately the large island which bears his name.

Vancouver was a rigid disciplinarian and a demanding officer. He neither sought nor received the affection of his men, but he was respected. He was equally intolerant of the often bizarre theories of European geographers. His meticulous observations and stern logic largely substantiated the claims of Cook and blasted the hopes for a passage through North America anywhere to the south of Arctic waters.

Vancouver returned to England in 1795 by way of Cape Horn and began the preparation of his journals. He had corrected all but a few pages when he died at Petersham on May 10, 1798. The work was completed by his brother and published a few months after George Vancouver's death.

Further Reading

On Vancouver's career at sea, the obvious source is his own account, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Coast, which was published in three volumes in 1798. The best account of his life is by George Godwin, Vancouver: A Life, 1757-1798 (1931). Two recent studies are also good: Bern Anderson, Surveyor of the Sea: The Life and Voyages of Captain George Vancouver (1960), and James Stirrat and Carrie Marshall, Vancouver's Voyage (1967), first published under the title Adventurers in Two Hemispheres, Including Captain Vancouver's Voyage (1955). □

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George Vancouver, 1757–98, English navigator and explorer. He sailed on Capt. James Cook's second and third voyages. After 1780 he served under Admiral George Rodney in the West Indies, taking part in the great victory (1782) over Admiral de Grasse. In 1791, a commander, he set out for the northwest coast of America with a double mission—to take over the territory at Nootka Sound that had been assigned to England by the Nootka Convention and to explore and survey the N Pacific coast. Vancouver rounded the Cape of Good Hope, made new explorations on the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, and visited Tahiti and the Hawaiian Islands. He arrived at the northwest coast of America in 1792 and for three years (1792–94) explored and surveyed it. In the course of his journeys he circumnavigated the island now called Vancouver Island in his honor. After arriving (1795) in England again he began to prepare an account of his voyage for publication, a task not quite completed at his death. His brother, with the aid of Peter Puget, Vancouver's lieutenant, finished the book, which was published as A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and round the World (3 vol. and an atlas, 1798, repr. 1968). Another first-hand account was that of Archibald Menzies; part of his journal was edited in 1923 by C. F. Newcombe.

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Vancouver, George (c.1758–98). Born in King's Lynn, Vancouver was originally only a seaman on Cook's second voyage, but rose to command in the Royal Navy. After further service with Cook, he was sent in 1791 in Discovery to re-establish British claims to Nootka Sound, disputed with Spain, to explore the north-east coast of the Pacific, and to seek the North-West passage. His voyage revealed the chain of islands along the coast, including the large island which bears his name. He died just before the account of his expedition was published in 1798.

Roy C. Bridges