Voyage of Captain James, for the Discovery of a North-West Passage

In the year 1630, several wealthy merchants of Bristol united in fitting out a vessel for the purpose of accurately examining the whole northern coast of America. The command of this vessel, which was small, only of seventy tons burden, but one of the strongest ships of her size that had ever been built, was given to Captain James. She was provisioned for eighteen months, and manned with only twenty-two seamen, but these were all excellent sailors.

His stores having been all shipped, and the men on board, Captain James left Bristol in the month of April 1631. After passing the southern coast of Ireland, he sailed in a west-north-westerly direction, and on the fourth of June discovered the coast of Greenland. Two days subsequently to this, his vessel was encompassed with ice, many immense pieces of which beat so violently against her that the captain was fearful she would have been staved and sunk. The boat that accompanied her was crushed to atoms. In one instance he was obliged to order the ship to be made fast to a great piece of the ice, and during a day and night to employ men incessantly in pushing off such masses of ice as floated against her but in this labor all their poles were broken. The wind at length blew a perfect hurricane, and, though the broken ice on almost all sides rose higher than the decks, and the vessel was beaten about in a most alarming manner, she suffered no injury.

On the morning of the tenth of June, these hardy adventurers passed some masses of the ice that were as high as the topmost of their vessel, and left Cape Desolation, in Greenland, to the eastward. The weather was now so cold that at one time the sails and rigging were all frozen. On the twentieth, the ship reached the southern point of the island of Resolution, at the entrance of Hudson's Strait, but she was several times carried round by the current, and floating ice, and was in imminent danger of being crushed to pieces before she could be brought to anchor. It now began to snow heavily , and the wind blew a storm from the westward. This drove the ice from the sea into the harbor where the vessel was stationed, until it. was choked up. For some time the ice seemed to be perfectly firm and immovable, but it floated out again at the ebb of the tide. The various dangers to which the vessel was exposed in this harbor, of being thrown against the rocks, crushed to pieces in the ice, and sunk, were so great that the captain almost gave up all hope of being able to save her. He describes the thundering noise of the masses of ice beating against each other, the rushing of the water, and the fury of the current, to have been tremendous. After much difficulty and the most persevering exertions, however, she was navigated into a little cove or harbor, where, being made fast to the rocks, she was at length rendered tolerably secure.

Captain James landed on the island, but found that although the summer was far advanced, the ponds were yet frozen. The ground was rocky and barren, and no traces of animals were visible in the snow, though it was evident from some hearths and remains of fire-wood which were seen, that human beings had not long before visited the place. Captain James continued here two days, and then sailed westward; but the masses of ice were still almost impenetrable. They grated the sides of the vessel with such violence that it was feared they would burst through the planks. On looking out from the mast-head scarcely an acre of open sea was visible: nothing was to be seen but a continued and irregular range of ice, towering in different places to an immense height. The ship was thus surrounded till the twenty-seventh of June, when, by a gale from the south-east, the ice opened, and she was enabled to make some way.

Though exposed to incessant danger by the immense masses of ice, which floated on the surface of the ocean, Captain James and his associates proceeded still westward, and entered Hudson's Strait about the beginning of July. On the fifteenth of that month, they arrived betwixt Digg's Island and Nottingham Island, but the summer was so cold and unfavorable that it was now evident there would be no possibility of proceeding much further northward this year. About a fortnight afterwards, they were so fast enclosed in the ice, that notwithstanding the ship had all her sails set, and it blew a strong breeze, she was immovable and as firmly fixed as if she had been in a dry dock. On this, the captain and many of the men walked out of her to amuse themselves upon the ice. Several of the crew now began to murmur, and to express great alarm, lest they should not be able either to proceed or return; and lest their provisions, which were beginning to fall short, would soon wholly fail. The captain encouraged them as well as he was able, and though he was aware their murmuring was not without a reason, he affected to ridicule their fears. Among other contrivances to amuse them, he took a quantity of spirits upon the ice, and there drank the king's health, although there was not a single man in the ship, and though she was at that time under all her sails. This was the twenty-eighth of July. On the thirtieth, they made some little way through the ice, part of the crew heaving the vessel along with their shoulders, whilst others at the same time, broke off the corners of the ice with mallets and iron crows, to clear the way. This labor was continued on the following day, and after much fatigue, they got the ship into thirty-five fathom water. All this time they were in latitude 58 deg. 45 minutes north, and a few days afterwards they were in an open sea free from ice. The Captain and his crew now joined in devout thanksgiving for their deliverance from the dangers to which they had been exposed.