Davis, John

, an eminent navigator, of the sixteenth century, was born at Sandridge, in the parish of StokeGabriel, near Dartmouth in Devonshire. His birth near that eminent sea-port, having given him a fair opportunity, | to which probably was added a strong natural disposition, he put himself early to sea; where, by the help of a good master, and his subsequent industry, knowledge, and experience, he became the most expert pilot, and one of the ablest navigators of his time. The first public employment he had was in 1585, when he undertook to discover a new passage, by the north-west parts of America, to the East-Indies. For that purpose, he sailed from Dartmouth, on the seventh of June, with two barks, one of fifty and the other of thirty-five tons, which were fitted out at the charge of some noblemen and gentlemen; and met, July 19, many islands of ice floating, in 60 degrees northern latitude. They were soon encompassed with them; and going upon some, perceived, that the roaring noise they heard, at which they were greatly astonished, was caused only by the rolling of the ice together. The next day, they discovered the southern coast of Greenland, five hundred leagues distant from the Durseys, or Missenhead, in Ireland; and observed it to be extremely rocky and mountainous, and covered with snow, without any signs of wood, grass, or earth to be seen. The shore, likewise, was so full of ice, that no ship could come near it by two leagues: and so shocking was the appearance of it, and the cracking of the ice so hideous, that they imagined it to be a quite desolate country, without a living creature, or even any vegetable substance; for which reason captain Davis named it, “The Land of Desolation.” Perceiving that they were run into a very deep bay, wherein they were almost surrounded with ice, they kept coasting along the edge of it, south-south-west, till the 25th of July; when, after having gone fifty or sixty leagues, they found that the shore lay directly north. This made them alter their course to the north-west, in hopes of finding their desired passage: but on the 29th they discovered land to the north-east, in 64 degr. 15 min. latitude. Making towards it, they perceived that they were passed the ice, and were among many green, temperate, and pleasant islands, bordering upon the shore; though the hills of the continent were still covered with great quantities of snow. Among these islands were many fine bays, and good roads for shipping: they landed in some, and the people of the country came down and conversed with them by signs, making Mr. Davis understand, that there was a great sea towards the north west. He staid in this place till the first of August, | and then proceeded in his discovery. The sixth of that month, they found land in 66 degr. 40 min. latitude, quite free from ice; and anchored in a safe road, under a great mountain, the cliffs whereof glistered like gold. This mountain he named, Mount Raleigh: the road where their ships lay at anchor, Totness Road: the bay which encompassed the mountain, Exeter Sound: the foreland towards the north, Dier’s Cape: and the foreland towards the south, Cape Walsingham. He departed from hence the eighth of August, coasting along the shore, which lay south-south-west, and east-north-east; and on the eleventh came to the most southerly cape of that land, which he named, “The Cape of God’s Mercy,” as being the place of their first entrance for the discovery. Going forward, they came into a very fine straight, or passage, in some places twenty leagues broad, in others thirty, quite free from ice, the weather in it very tolerable, and the water of the same colour and nature as the main ocean. This passage still retains the name of its first discoverer, being called to this day Fretum Davis, or Davis’s Straights. Having sailed, north-west, sixty leagues in this passage, they discovered several islands in the midst of it; on some of which they landed. The coast was very barren, without wood or grass; and the rocks were like fine marble, full of veins of divers colours. Some days after they continued searching for the north-west passage, but found only a great number of islands. And, on the 2oth, the wind coming contrary, they altered their course and design, and returning for England, arrived at Dartmouth the 29th of September. The next year Mr. Davis undertook a second voyage, for the farther discovery of the north-west passage, being supported and encouraged again by secretary Walsingham, and other adventurers. With' a view therefore of searching the bottom of the Straights he had been in the year before, he sailed from Dartmouth, May the 7th, 1586, with four ships, and the 15th of June discovered land in 60 degrees latitude, and 47 degrees longitude west from London. The ice along the coast reached in some places ten, in some twenty, and in others fifty leagues into the sea; so that, to avoid it, they were forced to bear into 57 degrees latitude. After many tempestuous storms, they made the land again, June the 29th, in 64 degrees of latitude, and 58 of longitude; and ran among the temperate islands they had been at the year before. | But the water was so deep, they could not easily come to an anchor; yet they found means to go ashore, on some of the islands, where they were much caressed and welcomed by the natives, who knew them again. Having finished a pinnace, which was to serve them for a front in their discoveries, they landed, not only in that, but also in their boats, in several places: and, upon the strictest search, found the land not to be a continent, as they imagined, but a collection of huge, waste, and desert isles, with great sounds and inlets passing between sea and sea. They pursued their voyage the 11th of July, and on the 17th, in 63 degrees 8 minutes latitude, met with a prodigious mass of ice, which they coasted till the 30th. This was a great obstacle and discouragement to them, not having the like there the year before; and, besides, the men beginning to grow sickly, the crew of one of the ships, on which he chiefly depended, forsook him, and resolved to proceed no farther. However, not to disappoint Mr. W. Sanderson, who was the chief adventurer in this voyage, and for fear of losing the favour of secretary Walsingham, who had this discovery much at heart, Mr. Davis undertook to proceed alone in his small bark of thirty tons. Having therefore fitted, and well-victualled it, in a harbour lying in 66 degrees 33 minutes latitude, and 70 degrees longitude, which he found to be a very hot place, and full of muscatoes, he set sail the 12th of August, and coming into a straight followed the course of it for eighty leagues, till he came among many islands, where the water ebbed and flowed six fathom deep. He had hopes of finding a passage there, but upon searching farther in his boat, he perceived there was none. He then returned again into the open sea, and kept coasting southward as far as 54 degrees and a half of latitude: in which time he found another great inlet near forty leagues broad, between two lands, west, where the water ran in with great violence. This, he imagined, was the passage so long sought for; but the wind being then contrary, and two furious storms happening soon after, he neither thought it safe nor wise to proceed farther, especially in one small bark, and when the season was so far advanced. He, therefore, sailed for England the 11th of September j and arrived there in the beginning of October. By the observations which he made, he concluded, that the north parts of America are all islands. He made a third voyage to these parts again | the year following, 1587. All the western merchants, and most of those of London, refused to be engaged farther in the undertaking; but it was encouraged by the lord treasurer Burleigh and secretary Walsinghain. Mr. Davis having, in his last voyage, discovered prodigious quantities of excellent cud-tish, in 56 degrees of latitude, two ships were sent along with him for fishing, and one only for the discovery of the North west passage. They sailed from Dartmouth the 19tii of May, and discovered land the 14th of June, at sixteen leagues distance, but very mountainous, and covered with snow. On the 21st of June the two barks left him, and went upon the fishing, after having promised him, not to depart till his return to them about the end of August, yet having finished their voyage in about sixteen days after, they set sail for England without any regard to their promise. Captain Davis, in the mean time, pursued his intended discovery, in the sea between America and Greenland, from 64 to 73 degrees of latitude. Having entered the Straights which bear his name, he went on northward, from the 21st to the 30th of June; naming one part Merchants Coast; another, the London Coast; another, Hope Sanderson in 73 degrees latitude, being the farthest he went that day. The wind coming northerly, he altered his course, and ran forty leagues west, without seeing any laud. On the 2d of July, he fell in with a great bank of ice, which he coasted southward till the 1 9th of July, when he came within sight of Mount Raleigh on the American coast, in about 67 degrees of latitude. Having sailed sixty leagues north-west into the gulf that lies beyond it, he anchored, July 23, at the bottom of that gulf, among many islands, which he named “The Earl of Cumberland’s Isles” He quitted that place again the same day, and sailed back south-east, in order to recover the sea; which he did the 29th in 62 degrees of latitude. The 30th he passed by a great bank, or inlet, to which he gave the name of Lumley’s Inlet; and the next day by a head land, which he called “The Earl of Warwick’s Foreland.” On the first of August he fell in with the southermost cape, named by him Chudley’s Cape: and, the 12th, passed by an island which he named Darcy’s Island. When he came in 52 degrees of latitude, not finding the two ships that had promised to stay for him, he was in great distress, having but little wood, and only half a hogshead of water left; yet, taking courage, he made | the best of his way home, and arrived at Dartmouth September the 15th, very sanguine, that the north-west passage was most probable, and the execution easy; but secretary Walsinghaw dying not long after, all farther search was laid aside. Mr. Davis, notwithstanding, did not remain idle. For, August 26, 1591, he was captain of the Desire, rear admiral to Mr. Thomas Cavendish, in his second unfortunate expedition to the South -Sea; and is highly blamed by Mr. Cavendish, for having deserted him, and thereby being the cause of his overthrow. After many disasters, Mr. Davis arrived again at Bear-haven in Ireland, June 11, 1593. He performed afterwards no less than five voyages to the East-Indies, in the station of a pilot. One was in a Dutch ship, in which he set out, March 15, 1597-8, from Flushing, and returned to Middleburgh, July 23, 1600. Of the rest we have no account, except of that which he performed with sir Edward Michelbourne, in which were spent nineteen months, from December 5, 1604, to July 9, 1606. During this voyage Mr. Davis was killed, on the 27th of December, 1605, in a desperate fight with some Japonese near the coast of Malacca. He married Faith, daughter of sir John Fulford, of Fulford in Devonshire, knight, by Dorothy his wife, daughter of John lord Bouchier, earl of Bath, by whom probably he had issue: for some of his posterity are said to have been living about the middle of the last century, at or near Deptford.

The account of his second voyage for the Discovery of the North-west Passage, in 1586,” seems to be of his composition; for he speaks always in the first person. There are likewise in print two letter.-? of his to Mr. Sanderson, one dated from Exeter, October 14, 1586; and the other from Sandridge, September 16, 1587. Hakluyt has also preserved “A Traverse Booke made by M. John Davis, in his third voyage for the discoverie of the Northwest Passage, anno 1587,” and it appears that he composed a treatise entitled “The World’s Hydrographicall Description,” for Hakluyt has extracted from it, and published, “A report of Master John Davis, of his three voyages made for the Discovery of the North-west Passage.” His voyage to the East Indies in a Dutch ship, in 1598, was written also by himself. It is said that “There is a flutter, [Routier] or Brief Directions for sailing into the East Indies, digested into a plain method by this same person, | John Davis, of Limehouse, (as he is there called) written upon experiment of his five voyages thither, and home again.” But either it was not written by the same John Davis, who is the subject of this article, or else our John Davis was not killed in the East Indies, as we have said above upon the authority of Purchas, and of those that have copied from him.

In tae Index to the first edition of the Biographia, it is observed, that there is a defect in the article of John Davis, as it has not mentioned his quadrant for finding out the latitude at sea. Concerning his main object, however, the attempt for the discovery of a northern passage to India, much may be found in captain Cook’s Voyages, particularly the introduction to his last voyage. 1


Biog. Brit. Prince’s Worthies of Devon.