Captain George Vancouver in the North Pacific


George Vancouver joined the British Royal Navy at the age of 15 and immediately found himself in the thick of things. His participation in Captain Cook's second and third voyages, travelling the seas from the Southern Lands to the Hawaiian Islands between 1772 and 1778, could not have been a better introduction to the world of seafaring.

As the British Empire and Spain were fighting over the countries in the North Pacific at the time, he was entrusted with the command of the Discovery in order to explore these lands in 1791, charged with drawing up a precise map of the area and taking possession of newly discovered territories. He prepared for this challenge with care:

"No opportunity was neglected to remove, as far as I was capable, all such errors as had crept into the science of navigation, and to establish, in their place, such facts as would tend to facilitate the grand object of finding the longitude at sea; which now seems to be brought nearly to a certainty, by pursuing the lunar method, assisted by a good chronometer."

"the Board of Longitude, in compliance with the wishes of the Admiralty, provided in addition two chronometers; one made by the late eminent Mr. Kendall, the other lately made by Mr Arnold."

The voyage lasted over four years. It took Vancouver a year to reach the North-American coast, via the Cape of Good Hope, Australia and China. His chronometers were in use daily:

"The observed latitude on Sunday the 11th was 7°47', longitude, by Arnold's No. 14, 266°27'; [...] so that admitting No.14, as I conceived it to be, nearest the truth, the error in reckoning, since the 5th, had only increased 19'."

Sailing up the North Pacific, he explored the Strait of Georgia, becoming the first European to enter the Burrard Inlet, which would later become the city port of Vancouver, Canada. He rounded the immense island that bore his name from then on, and encountered the Spanish at Nootka.

The interests at stake were important, and the situation could easily have escalated, seeing as these emissaries of two powerful countries were vying for the conquest of new territories and commercial opportunities. However, no disputes materialized because, like George Vancouver, Captain Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra was a gentleman. The two men even exchanged maps of the region. Vancouver's were so accurate that they served as references until the 19th century. The two men struck up a friendship, and even decided to rename the island on which they found themselves the Island of Quadra and Vancouver.

The loss of Spanish influence in the region caused Vancouver Island to revert to its initial name. Vancouver subsequently returned to his native land, but now remains best known in Canada. His statue still tops the dome of the British Columbia Parliament.



Vancouver, George, Captain,A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, and round the World(London, 1798).


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