This Week in History
William Baffin’s Explorations
For the week of Monday January 21, 2013
On January 23, 1622, the explorer William Baffin was killed during a confrontation between British and Portuguese forces in the Strait of Hormuz at the eastern edge of the Persian Gulf. However, it was his exploration of the Arctic that makes him notable. The surveys and maps that Baffin made of the Arctic allowed other explorers to discover the Northwest Passage.
Baffin returned to London in October 1614 after completing whaling expeditions for the Muscovy Company. After entering the service of the Company of Merchants of London Discoverers of the Northwest Passage in spring 1615, he set sail for America. There, he discovered and charted the Hudson Strait, which was then unknown by Europeans. Aboard the Discovery under the command of Robert Bylot, Baffin continued the explorations undertaken by Henry Hudson in 1610-11. For the first time in the history of navigation, Baffin successfully calculated longitude at sea, which allowed him to make detailed maps of the area. At the end of this voyage, he correctly concluded that there was no navigable passage to the west out of Hudson Bay.
Later, in 1617 and 1620, Baffin took service with the British East India Company and charted the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. During his last voyage in 1621, he piloted the London to the East Indies. In December, a battle broke out in the Gulf of Oman between British forces and the Portuguese and Dutch fleet. On January 20, 1622, the British fleet arrived off Hormuz. Three days later, Baffin came ashore to calculate the firing range from the ship for the British fleet and was shot by the Portuguese.
It was only 200 years later that Baffin’s calculations were confirmed by the explorer William Edward Parry, who was designated a person of national historic significance in 1971. It was Parry who named Baffin Island in 1820 to honour the memory of his predecessor. William Baffin was designated a person of national significance in 1972 in recognition of his exploration voyages in Canada’s Arctic and the maps and surveys he made of this region.
To find out more about the Northwest Passage, consult the This Week in History archives: In Search of the Northwest Passage, John Ross Explores the Arctic, Lost in the Arctic, Dreams of Arctic Riches, Generosity in Early Canada: a Key to Franklin's Success, Happy Birthday Henry!! and Death of Constable A.J. Chartrand. To learn more about Parks Canada’s 2012 search for the wrecks of Franklin’s HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, visit The Underwater Archaeology Search for Franklin's Lost Vessel: HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site.
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