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ARCTIC ARCHIPELAGO - Early Explorers

Thomas James (c.1593-c.1635)

James was brought up in a Welsh border parish near Abergavenny. In his early years he practised law.

During these times there were two groups of merchants who were in competition with one another: one from London, the other from Bristol. Each appreciated the value of a northwest passage, if one could be discovered. Each had their own flag bearer which they outfitted and supported. Thomas James for the Bristol merchants; Luke Foxe for the other. The Bristol Society of Merchant Venturers had official representation at court: Thomas James. "James represented the Bristol merchants at court and obtained for them from Charles I a promise of equal rights and privileges in whatever discoveries either expedition might make, in proportion to each cityís investment in the dual venture."1 Though a courtier and lawyer, James' desire for exploration led him to lead the overseas expedition on behalf of the Bristol merchants.

So it was, with the blessing of the English king, James sailed from Bristol in 1631, with a crew of 22 men. Within weeks James was in the polar seas. Battling ice conditions, James penetrated the Hudson Strait and turned southwest into Hudson Bay and after a difficult crossing reached the site of present-day Churchill. As the summer of 1631 wore on, James explored the Hudson Bay coast south of Cape Churchill. (See Map) That winter James and his crew stationed themselves on Charlton Island, pretty much at the very south end of James Bay.

"On 24 June 1632, James took possession of Charlton Island in the kingís name. On 1 July, when the expedition took formal leave of its dead ... The next day, on Danby Island, James found two stakes that 'had beene cut sharpe at the ends with a hatchet, or some other good Iron toole, and driven in, as it were with the head of it.' These stakes were possibly relics of Henry Hudson and his men, who had been abandoned thereabouts some 20 years earlier."2
That October, 1632, James and his crew arrived back at Bristol with the ship and crew in a shattered condition.

James did not return to the arctic, but rather took up other sea duties in the Royal Navy (as opposed to the rigors of practising law). Apparently, he had a short naval career, as he was dead within a couple of years. His place and time of death has not come to my attention.

We will use Alan Cooke's conclusion: "Jamesís knowledge of mathematical navigation was unusual for the time. His account of his voyage, one of the classic narratives of exploration, demonstrates the authorís fluent grace of expression, learning, and scientific curiosity."

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NOTES

1 Alan Cooke, DCB

2 DCB.

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Peter Landry
2015