In the News

Newly Discovered Draft of Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" at Bonhams

The definitive draft of Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening... read more

The Huntington to Open Exhibition of Henry Moore Prints on June 16

San Marino, CA— An exhibition focused on the surprising diversity of styles and subject... read more

Irving Penn's "Cuzco Children" Could Bring $150K at Heritage Auctions' June 5 Auction

Dallas, Texas - A powerful image by American photographer Irving Penn could bring as... read more

Results from Potter & Potter Auctions' May 19 Gambling Memorabilia Event

Chicago — Collectors hit the jackpot at Potter & Potter's recent gambling memorabilia sale.... read more

Potter & Potter Auctions' June 16 Sale to Feature the David Baldwin Magic Collection

Chicago — Potter & Potter Auctions is pleased to announce the 435 lot David... read more

Heritage Auctions Announces Sponsorship of Norman Rockwell Museum's "Four Freedoms" Tour

Dallas, Texas - Heritage Auctions (HA.com), the largest auction house founded in the United... read more

Bonhams to Auction Movie Posters and Memorabilia From Robert Osborne’s Personal Collection

New York—Bonhams and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) today announced Bonhams and TCM Present ...... read more

Einstein Manuscript & Presidential Autographs Featured at RR Auction

Boston—An important Albert Einstein handwritten manuscript will be auctioned by Boston-based RR Auction. The... read more

Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook
Auction Guide
Advertise with Us
2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Fine Maps

Wishful Thinking

Hudson’s Bay Company mounted a modest search for the eastern approach when it sent out Samuel Hearne on a cross-country, 5,000-mile (8,000-km) trek to the Arctic coast from Fort Prince of Wales (now Churchill, Manitoba). Setting out on foot in 1770, he carried a “large skin of Parchment” on which he had marked the west coast of Hudson Bay. The interior parts of his map were left blank “to be filled up during my journey.” Although Hearne explored more than 250,000 square miles (650,000 square km) he found no hint of the Ocean Glacial promised by Champlain more than 150 years earlier.

The second British effort, led by Captain James Cook (1776-77), concentrated on the region around the Strait of Juan de Fuca and northward. The French followed this expedition with great interest. “This great man of the sea will perhaps be the discoverer of the Northwest Passage linking the Pacific and Hudson Bay,” wrote one leading French mapmaker, “All large continental coasts are broken somewhere between their mid-regions and the North…But above California our maps show a continuous land…such a continuity, without bays or rivers, is contrary to nature.”

Even though Cook and Hearne were no more successful than previous explorers, some French mapmakers still insisted that a western sea was possible. “With regard to the Northwest Passage,” inscribed Buache de la Neuville on a map published in 1781, “although it has not been discovered, even after so much research, it is likely that it exists.”

Cook’s attempt to find the Northwest Passage was followed up about two decades later by George Vancouver (1791-95) and Alexander Mackenzie (1792-93). While Vancouver concentrated on mapping waters along the Pacific coast, Mackenzie set out overland from Fort Fork on Peace River, marched through the heart of Mer de l’Ouest to the Pacific coast, and completed the first recorded transcontinental crossing of North America, north of Mexico. Needless to say, neither Vancouver nor Mackenzie was successful in finding the western outlet.

Vancouver and Mackenzie unknowingly introduced a new reality to the continental northwest. As long as there was the possibility of finding a route to the Orient—a route that would somehow lead around, across, or though this harsh and unforgiving landscape—Europe would never accept the western interior as anything more than an obstacle. The Northwest Passage symbolized Europe’s hope for a highway to the east for its own narrow economic self-interest. Only after it was totally demystified did these intruders turn their attention to the western landscape and begin examining it for its own secret wealth.

Page 1 | 2 | 3 | Next: Sold@Auction
comments powered by Disqus

Jeffrey S. Murray is a senior archivist at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, where he has helped to acquire nationally significant records on Canada’s cartographic heritage for more than twenty-five years. He recently published Terra Nostra, 1550-1950: The Stories behind Canada’s Maps (2006).