Discovering the Region: Texts

6. George Vancouver, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean

George Vancouver, A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, and Round the World, vol. 2 (London: G. G. and J. Robinson,
Paternoster-Row; and J. Edwards, Pall-Mall, 1798), 220-28, 288-89.


Proceed up the Straits—Anchor under New Dungeness—Remarks on the coast of New Albion—Arrive in port Discovery — Transactions there—Boat excursion—Quit port Discovery—Astronomical and nautical observations.

April 1792
Monday 30

The evening of the 29th brought us to an anchor in very thick rainy weather, about 8 miles within the entrance on the southern shore of the supposed straits of De Fuca. The following morning, a gentle breeze sprang up from the n. w. attended with clear and pleasant weather, which presented to our view this renowned inlet. Its southern shores were seen to extend, by compass, from n. 83 w. to e.; the former being the small island we had passed the preceding afternoon, which lying about half a mile from the main land, was about 4 miles distant from us: its northern shore extends from n. 68 w. to n. 73 e.; the nearest point of it, distant about 3 leagues, bore n. 15 w. We weighed anchor with a favorable wind, and steered to the east along the southern shore, at the distance of about two miles, having an uninterrupted horizon between east and n. 73 e. The shores on each side the straits are of a moderate height; and the delightful serenity of the weather permitted our seeing this inlet to great advantage. The shores on the south side are composed of low sandy cliffs, falling perpendicularly on beaches of sand or stones. From the top of these cliffy eminences, the land appeared to take a further gentle moderate ascent, and was intirely covered with trees chiefly of the pine tribe, until the forest reached a range of high craggy mountains, which seemed to rise from the wood-land country in a very abrupt [page 221] manner, with a  few scattered trees on their steril sides, and their summits covered with snow. The northern shore did not appear quite so high: it rose more gradually from the sea-side to the tops of the mountains, which had the appearance of a compact range, infinitely more uniform, and much less covered with snow, then those on the southern side.

Our latitude, at noon, was 48° 19’; longitude 236° 19’; and the variation of the compass 18° eastwardly. In this situation, the northern shore extended by compass by n. 82 w. to n. 51 e.; between the latter, and the eastern extremity of the southern shore, bearing n. 88 e., we had still an unbounded horizon; whilst the island before mentioned, continuing to form the west extremity of the southern shore, bore s. 84 w. By these observations, which I have great reason to believe were correctly taken, the north promontory of Classet is situated in latitude 48° 23’1/2; longitude 235° 38’. The smoothness of the sea, and clearness of the sky, enabled us to take several sets of lunar distances, which gave the longitude to the eastward of the chronometer, and served to confirm our former observations, that it was gaining very materially on the rate as settled at Otaheite. As the day advanced, the wind, which as well as the weather was delightfully pleasant, accelerated our progress along the shore. This seemed to indicate a speedy termination to the inlet; as high land now began to appear just rising from that horizon, which, a few hours before, we had considered to be unlimited. Every new appearance, as we proceeded, furnished new conjectures; the whole was not visibly connected; it might form a cluster of islands separated by large arms of the sea, or be united by land not sufficiently high to be yet discernible. About five in the afternoon, a long, low, sandy point of land was observed projecting from the cliffy shores into the sea, behind which was seen the appearance of a well-sheltered bay, and, a little to the s.e. of it, an opening in the land, promising a safe and extensive port. About this time a very high conspicuous craggy mountain, bearing by compass n. 50 e. presented itself, towering above the clouds: as low down as they allowed it to be visible it was covered with snow; and south of it, was a long ridge of very rugged snowy mountains, [page 222] much less elevated, which seemed to stretch to a comfortable distance.

As my intention was to anchor for the night under the low point, the necessary signals were made to the Chatham; and at seven we hauled round it, at the distance of about a mile. This was, however, too near, as we soon found ourselves in 3 fathoms water; but, on steering about half a mile to the north, the depth increased to 10 fathoms, and we rounded the shallow spit, which, though not very conspicuous, is shewn by the tide causing a considerable rippling over it. Having turned up a little way into the bay, we anchored on a bottom of soft sand and mud in 14 fathoms water. The low sandy point of land, which from its great resemblance to Dungeness in the British channel I called New Dungeness, bore by compass n. 41 w. about 3 miles distant, from whence the low projecting land extends until it reaches a bluff cliff of a moderate height, bearing from us s. 60 w. about a league distant. From this station the shores bore the same appearance as those we have passed in the morning, composing one intire forest. The snowy mountains of the inland country were, however, neither so high nor so rugged, and were further removed from the sea shore. The nearest parts bore by compass from us, south about half a league off; the apparent port s. 50 e. about 2 leagues; and the south point of an inlet, seemingly very capacious, s. 85 e.; with land appearing like an island, moderately elevated, lying before its entrance, from s. 85 e. to n. 87 e.; and the S. e. extremity of that which now appeared to be the southern shore, n. 71 e. From this direction round by the north and n. w. the high distant land formed, as already observed, like detached islands, amongst which the lofty mountain, discovered in the afternoon by the third lieutenant, and in compliment to him called by me Mount Baker, rose a very conspicuous object, bearing by compass n. 43 e., apparently at a very remote distance. A small Indian village was near us on the south side of the bay, but we had not yet been visited by any of the inhabitants. We had now advanced further up this inlet than Mr. Gray, or (to our knowledge) any other person from the civilized world; although it should hereafter be proved to be the same which is said to have been entered by [page 223] De Fuca, in support of which, oral testimony is the only authority produced; a tradition rendered still more doubtful by its entrance differing at least 40’ in latitude.

Considering ourselves now on the point of commencing an examination of an intirely new region, I cannot take leave of the coast already known, without obtruding a short remark on that part of the continent, comprehending a space of nearly 215 leagues, on which our inquires had been lately employed under the most fortunate and favorable circumstances of wind and weather. So minutely had this extensive coast been inspected, that the surf had been constantly seen to break on its shores from the mast-head; and it was but in a few small intervals only, where our distance precluded its being visible from the deck. Whenever the weather prevented our making free with the shore, or on our hauling off for the night, the return of fine weather and of day-light uniformly brought us, if not to the identical spot we had departed from, at least within a few miles of it, and never beyond the northern limits of the coast which we had previously seen. An examination so directed, and circumstances happily concurring to permit its being so executed, afforded the most complete opportunity of determining its various turnings and windings; as also the position of all its conspicuous points, ascertained by meridional altitudes for the latitude, and observations for the chronometer, which we had the good fortune to make constantly once, and in general twice every day, the preceding one only excepted.

It must be considered as a very singular circumstance that, in so great an extent of sea coast, we should not until now have seen the appearance of any opening in its shores, which presented any certain prospect of affording shelter; the whole coast forming one compact, solid, and nearly strait barrier against the sea.

The river Mr. Gray mentioned, should, from the latitude he assigned to it, have existence in the bay, south of cape Disappointment. This we passed on the forenoon of the 27th; and, as I then observed, if any inlet or river should be found, it must be a very intricate one, and inaccessible to vessels of our burthen, owing to the reefs and broken water which then appeared in its neighbourhood. Mr. Gray stated, that he had been several days attempting to enter it, [page 224] which at length he was unable to effect in consequence of a very strong outset. This is a phenomenon difficult to account for, as, in most cases where there are outsets of such strength on a sea coast, there are corresponding tides setting in. Be that however as it may, I was thoroughly convinced, as were also most persons of observation on board, that we could not possibly have passed any safe navigable opening, harbour, or place of security for shipping on this coast, from cape Mendocino to the promontory of Classet; nor had we any reason to alter our opinions, notwithstanding that theoretical geographers have thought proper to assert, in that space, the existence of arms of the ocean, communicating with a mediterranean sea, and extensive rivers, with safe and convenient ports. These ideas, not derived from any source of substantial information, have, it is much to be feared, been adopted for the sole purpose of giving unlimited credit to the traditionary exploits of ancient foreigners, and to undervalue the laborious and enterprising exertions of our own countrymen, in the noble science of discovery.

Since the vision of the southern continent, (from which the Incas of Peru are said to have originated,) has vanished; the pretended discoveries of De Fuca and De Fonte have been revived, in order to prove the existence of a north-west passage. These have been supported by the recent concurring opinions of modern traders, one of whom is said to conceive, that an opening still further to the north is that which De Fuca entered. Under this assertion, should any opening further to the northward be discovered leading to a n. w. passage, the merit of such discovery will necessarily be ascribed to De Fuca, De Fonte, or some other favorite voyager of these closet philosophers.

May 1792
Tuesday 1

The preceding evening brought us to an anchor under New Dungeness. Our May-day was ushered in by a morning of the most delightfully pleasant weather, affording us, from the broken appearance of the coast before us, the prospect of soon reaching a safe and commodious harbour. Indeed, our present situation was far from ineligible, as it promised to admit us as near the shore as we might think proper to take our station. Mr. Whidbey was therefore dispatched in the cutter, to sound, and search for fresh water.

[page 225] The appearance of the huts we now saw, indicated the residence of the natives in them to be of a temporary nature only; as we could perceive with our glasses, that they differed very materially from the habitations of any of the American Indians we had before seen, being composed of nothing more than a few mats thrown over cross sticks; whereas those we had passed the preceding day, in two or three small villages to the eastward of Classet, were built exactly after the fashion of the houses erected at Nootka.* The inhabitants seemed to view us with the utmost indifference and unconcern; they continued to fish before their huts as regardless of our being present, as if such vessels had been familiar to them, and unworthy of their attention. On the low land of New Dungeness were erected perpendicularly, and seemingly with much regularity, a number of very tall strait poles, like flag-staves or beacons, supported from the ground by spurs. Their first appearance induced an opinion of their being intended as the uprights for stages on which they might dry their fish; but this, on a nearer view, seemed improbable, as their height and distance from each other would have required spars of a greater size to reach from one to the other, than the substance of the poles was capable of sustaining. They were, undoubtedly, intended to answer some particular purpose; but whether of a religious, civil, or military nature, must be left to some future investigation.

Mr. Whidbey found from 10 to 3 fathoms water close to the shore. He landed at the upper part of the bay, but could not find any water; nor did he see the appearance of any along the shore near the habitations of the Indians, who remained, as before described, or fishing on the water, without paying any more attention to the cutter, than if she had been one of their own canoes.

On receiving this report, the Chatham’s cutter, with the Discovery’s yawl and cutter, were ordered to be armed and supplied with a day’s provision; with which we sat off to examine the two apparent openings nearest to us. We found the surface of the sea almost covered with aquatic birds of various kinds, but all so extremely shy that our sportsmen were unable to reach them with their guns, although they made many attempts. The first opening to the s.e. appeared to be formed [page 226] by two high bluffs; the elevated land within them seemingly at a considerable distance. It proved, however, to be a close and compact shore, the apparent vacant being occupied by a very low sandy beach, off which extended a flat of very shallow soundings. From hence we made the best of our way for land, appearing like an island, off the other supposed opening; from whose summit, which seemed easy of access, there was little doubt of our ascertaining whether the coast afforded any port within reach of the day’s excursion. On landing on the west end of the supposed island, and ascending its eminence which was nearly a perpendicular cliff, our attention was immediately called to a landscape, almost as enchantingly beautiful as the most elegantly finished pleasure grounds in Europe. From the height we were now upon, our conjectures of this land being an island situated before the entrance of an opening in the main land were confirmed. The summit of this island presented nearly a horizontal surface, interspersed with some inequalities of ground, which produced a beautiful variety on an extensive lawn covered with luxuriant grass, and diversified with an abundance of flowers. To the north-westward was a coppice of pine trees and shrubs of various sorts, that seemed as if it had been planted for the sole purpose of protecting from the n. w. winds this delightful meadow, over which were promiscuously scattered a few clumps of trees, that would have puzzled the most ingenious designer of pleasure grounds to have arranged more agreeably. Whilst we stopped to contemplate these several beauties of nature, in a prospect no less pleasing than unexpected, we gathered some gooseberries and roses in a state of considerable forwardness. Casting our eyes along the shore we had the satisfaction of seeing it much broken, and forming to all appearance many navigable inlets. The inlet now before us did not seem so extensive, as we had reason to believe it to be from the ships; yet there was little doubt of its proving sufficiently secure and convenient for all our purposes. We therefore proceeded to its examination, and found its entrance to be about a league wide, having regular good soundings from 10 fathoms close to the shores, to 30, 35, and 38 fathoms in the middle, without any apparent danger from rocks or shoals. Fresh water, however, seemed hitherto a scarce commodity, and yet, the general face of the country, a [page 227] deficiency in this respect was not to be apprehended. The shores of the harbour were of a moderate height; its western side, bounded at no very great distance by a ridge of high craggy mountains covered with snow, were, as I conceived, connected with the mountain we took for mount Olympus. In quest of the only great object necessary for constituting this one of the finest harbours in the world, we prosecuted our researches; until almost despairing of success, I suddenly fell in with an excellent stream of very fine water. The design of our excursion was thus happily accomplished; and, after taking some little refreshment, we returned towards the ships, and arrived on board about midnight, perfectly satisfied with the success of our expedition, and amply rewarded for our labour.

During my absence, some of the natives had been trading with the vessels in a very civil and friendly manner. They did not appear to understand the Nootka language; as those of our people who had some knowledge of it were by no means able to make themselves understood.

May 1792
Wednes. 2

A light pleasant breeze springing up, we weighed on wednesday morning, and steered for the port we had discovered the preceding day, whose entrance about 4 leagues distant bore s. e. by e. The delightful serenity of the weather greatly aided the beautiful scenery that was now presented; the surface of the sea was perfectly smooth, and the country before us exhibited every thing that bounteous nature could be expected to draw into one point of view. As we had no reason to imagine that this country had ever been indebted for any of its decorations to the hand of man, I could not possibly believe that any uncultivated country had ever been discovered exhibiting so rich a picture. The land which interrupted the horizon between the n. w. and the northern quarters, seemed, as already mentioned, to be much broken; from whence the eastern extent round to the s. e. was bounded by a ridge of snowy mountains, appearing to lie nearly in a north and south direction, on which mount Baker rose conspicuously; remarkable for its height, and the snowy mountains that stretch from its base to the north and south. Between us and this snowy range, the land, which on the sea shore terminated like that we had lately passed, in low perpendicular cliffs, or on [page 228] beaches of sand and stone, rose here in a very gentle ascent, and was well covered with a variety of stately forest trees. These, however, did not conceal the whole face of the country in one uninterrupted wilderness, but pleasingly clothed its eminences, and chequered the vallies; presenting, in many directions, extensive spaces that wore the appearance of having been cleared by art, like the beautiful island we had visited the day before. As we passed along the shore near one of these charming spots, the tracks of deer, or of some such animal, were very numerous, and flattered us with the hope of not wanting refreshments of that nature, whilst we remained in this quarter.

A picture so pleasing could not fail to call to our remembrance certain delightful and beloved situations in old England. Thus we proceeded, without meeting any obstruction to our progress; which, though not rapid, brought us before noon abreast of the stream, that discharges its water from the western shore near 5 miles within the entrance of the harbour; which I distinguished by the name of Port Discovery, after the ship. There we moored, in 34 fathoms, muddy bottom, about a quarter of a mile from the shore. . . .

June 1792
Monday 4

[page 288] A fortnight had now been dedicated to the examination of this inlet; which I have distinguished by the name of Admiralty Inlet: we had still to return about forty miles through this tedious inland navigation, before we could arrive on a new field of inquiry. The broken appearance of the region before us, and the difficulties we had already encountered in tracing its various shores, incontestibly proved, that the object of our voyage could alone be accomplished by very slow degrees. Perfectly satisfied with the arduousness of the task in which we were engaged, and the progress we were likely to make, I became anxiously solicitous to move the instant an opportunity should serve. The two following days were however unfavorable to that purpose, and after the great fatigue our people had lately undergone, were well appropriated to holidays. On Sunday all hands were employed in fishing with tolerably good success, or in taking a little recreation on shore; and on Monday they were served as good a dinner as we were able to provide them, with double allowance of grog to drink the King’s health, it being the [page 289] anniversary of His Majesty’s birth; on which auspicious day, I had long since designed to take formal possession of all the countries we had lately been employed in exploring, in the name of, and for His Britannic Majesty, his heirs and successors.

To execute this purpose, accompanied by Mr. Broughton, and some of the officers, I went on shore about one o’clock, pursuing the usual formalities which are generally observed on such occasions, and under the discharge of a royal salute from the vessels, took possession accordingly of the coast, from that part of New Albion, in the latitude of 39° 26’ east, to the entrance of this inlet of the sea, said to be the supposed straits of Inan de Fuca; as likewise all the coast islands, &c. within the said straits, as well on the northern as on the southern shores; together with those situated in the interior sea we had discovered, extending from the said straits, in various directions, between the north-west, north, east, and southern quarters; which interior sea I have honored with the name of The Gulph of Georgia, and the continent binding the said gulph, and extending southward to the 45th degree of north latitude, with that of New Georgia, in honor of His present Majesty. This branch of Admiralty inlet obtained the name of Possession Sound; its western arm, after Vice Admiral Sir Alan Gardner, I distinguish by the name of Port Gardner, and its smaller or eastern one by that of Port Susan.

*Vide Cook’s last Voyage.

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