||Vancouver, George, 1757-1798
||A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, and Round the World [excerpt]
||Vancouver, George. A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, and Round the World; in Which the Coast of North-West America Has Been Carefully Examined and Accurately Surveyed. Undertaken by His Majesty's Command, Principally with a View to Ascertain the Existence of Any Navigable Communication between the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans; and Performed in the Years 1790, 1791, 1792, 1793, 1794 and 1795, in the Discovery Sloop of War, and Armed Tender Chatham, under the Command of George Vancouver.... (London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1801). Volume 4, pages 293-370.
||81 / 4 (3 of tables)
George Vancouver (1757-1798), the youngest child of a
middle-class English family, was sent into the Royal Navy at the
age of fourteen.
The following year he shipped with Captain James Cook on the
latter’s second voyage; on its return he signed up for
fatal third voyage (see AJ-130), spending several months on the
northwest coast of North America in 1778. When they reached
Hawaii, Vancouver was beaten and held captive by the islanders
just twenty-four hours before Cook himself died at their hands.
When he returned to England in 1780 Vancouver was promoted to
lieutenant and spent most of the next decade fighting French
ships in the Caribbean. Meanwhile, England and Spain arranged a
fragile detente in the Pacific under which the British, recently
stripped of their East Coast colonies by revolutionaries, gained
access to the Pacific Northwest. Needing a military presence to
guard their interests and lacking accurate maps of the region,
the English Admiralty ordered Vancouver to return with two
warships to the shores of Alaska and Hawaii that he had explored
with Cook fifteen years earlier.
Expedition of 1791-1795
Vancouver left England on April 1, 1791, taking his two ships
along the Atlantic coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good
Hope, across the Indian Ocean, south of Australia, and then
north up the Pacific to Hawaii, where they arrived on March 7,
1792. After a brief stay Vancouver headed for the American
coast, reaching California on April 16, 1792 and the Columbia River
a week later. Throughout the summer he painstakingly mapped the
coasts of present-day Washington and southern British Columbia
before heading for Spanish headquarters on Nootka Island at the
end of August. To read a journal kept by one Vancouver’'s crew
during that first summer of surveying, see AJ-110. After six
weeks of talks with Spanish officials, he headed south, paused
to chart the Columbia River as far upstream as modern Portland,
Oregon, and visited Monterey and San Francisco before sailing
back to Hawaii to wait out the winter.
On April 1, 1793, the expedition returned to the mainland and
spent that summer charting the coast further north than the
previous year. After a season of meticulous surveying, Vancouver
left Nootka on October 8, 1793, to cruise south along California.
Because that portion of the Pacific coast had been under Spanish
domination for two hundred years, the British had no maps of California;
the Spanish naturally resented their intrusion and were
reluctant to share their knowledge. Between October and November 1793, Vancouver charted the coast as thoroughly as
circumstances allowed, touching at San Francisco, Monterey,
Santa Barbara, Buena Ventura, and San Diego before sailing
southwest to winter again in Hawaii. His account of the
three-month voyage down the California coast is presented here.
In the summer of 1794 the expedition returned to America to
chart the remaining length of coastline, north to Alaska, before
heading for home. After wintering in Chile, Vancouver’s ships
rounded Cape Horn into the Atlantic on May 29, 1795, and reached
England that October.
Although he returned to London in poor health, Vancouver
gathered up the logs, charts, diaries, notes, and other documents
created during the voyage and early in 1796 began drafting his
account of the expedition. He relied mostly on his own journal,
supplemented as needed by the diaries of his officers. Late in
1796 political intrigues, illness, and financial difficulties
began to slow his progress, and in the spring of 1797 Vancouver’s brother moved in with him to help. The explorer died
a year later, in May 1798, and his brother completed the work.
Vancouver’s Voyage of Discovery... was published in the
autumn of 1798 in three volumes with an atlas. A six-volume
edition appeared in 1801 (a portion of which appears here) and
translations into French, German, Danish, Swedish, and Russian
soon followed. The standard scholarly edition, edited by W. Kaye
Lamb, appeared in four volumes in London in 1984.
Other Internet and Reference Sources
All six volumes of Vancouver’s book are online at Early
A detailed biography of Vancouver by John Robson is available
The Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest provides
information on European rivalry for the Pacific Northwest coast,
including timelines, biographies and maps at
Graphic materials, including paintings of Captain Vancouver's
ship and charts showing his journeys, can be seen at