Captain George Vancouver RN (June 22, 1757 – May 12, 1798) was an officer in the Royal Navy, best known for his exploration of North America, including the Pacific coast along the modern day Canadian province of British Columbia and the American states of Alaska, Washington and Oregon. He also explored the southwest coast of Australia. He was born in King's Lynn, Norfolk, in England.
In 1789, the Royal Navy was planning another voyage to the Pacific, to further survey the valuable South Pacific whaling grounds. It was to be commanded by Henry Roberts, another of Captain Cook's protégés, with Vancouver as his second in command and Whidbey as sailing master. A new vessel was purchased for this expedition and named HMS Discovery after Cook's ship.
However, the Nootka Crisis intervened, as Spain and Britain came close to war over ownership of Nootka Sound and, of greater importance, the right to settle the Northwest American Coast. Roberts and Vancouver joined Britain's more warlike vessels (Vancouver going, with Whidbey, to HMS Courageux). When the first Nootka Convention ended the crisis, Vancouver was given command of Discovery to take possession of Nootka Sound and survey the coast.
See Also: Vancouver Expedition
Departing England with two ships in April, 1791, Vancouver commanded an expedition charged with exploring the Pacific region. In its first year the expedition travelled to Cape Town, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and China, collecting botanical samples and surveying coastlines along the way. Proceeding to North America, Vancouver followed the coasts of what is now Washington and Oregon northward. In April 1792 he encountered American Captain Robert Gray off the coast of modern Oregon just prior to Gray's sailing up the Columbia River. Vancouver entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island and the Washington state mainland on April 29, 1792. His orders included a survey of every inlet and outlet on the west coast of the mainland, all the way north to Alaska. Most of this work was done from small boats powered by both oars and sail because maneuvering larger sail-powered vessels in uncharted waters was generally impractical and dangerous due to strong tidal currents.
Vancouver was the first European to enter Burrard Inlet (beyond Stanley Park), the main harbour area of the present day City of Vancouver. This was on June 13, 1792. He named it after his friend Sir Harry Burrard. He surveyed Howe Sound and Jervis Inlet over the next nine days, before returning to Point Grey (now the site of the University of British Columbia) on June 22, 1792 (Vancouver's 35th birthday). Here he unexpectedly met a Spanish expedition led by Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés y Flores and was mortified (his word) to learn they already had a crude chart of the Strait of Georgia based on the exploration voyage of José María Narváez, under command of Francisco de Eliza, the year before. For three weeks they cooperatively explored Georgia Strait and the Discovery Islands area before going their separate ways.
After the summer surveying season ended in November, Vancouver went to Nootka on Vancouver Island, then the region's most important harbour, where he was to receive any British buildings or lands returned by the Spanish. The Spanish commander, Bodega y Quadra, was very cordial and he and Vancouver exchanged the maps they had made, but no agreement was reached; they decided to await further instructions. At this time, they decided to name the large island on which Nootka was now proven to be located as Quadra and Vancouver Island. Years later, as Spanish influence declined, the name was shortened to simply Vancouver Island.
The next year, he returned to British Columbia, and proceeded further north. He got to 56°N, but because the more northern parts had already been explored by Cook, he sailed south to California, hoping to find Bodega y Quadra and fulfill his mission, but the Spaniard was not there. He again spent the winter in the Sandwich Islands.
In 1794, he first went to Cook Inlet, the northernmost point of his exploration, and from there followed the coast south to Baranov Island, which he had visited the year before. He then set sail for Great Britain by way of Cape Horn, returning in September 1795, thus completing a circumnavigation.
Vancouver faced difficulties when he returned home. The politically well-connected Naturalist Archibald Menzies complained that his servant had been pressed into service during a shipboard emergency; sailing master Joseph Whidbey had a competing claim for pay as expedition astronomer; and Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford, whom Vancouver had disciplined for numerous infractions and eventually sent home in disgrace, challenged him to a duel. Vancouver was attacked in the newspapers and assaulted on the street by Pitt; his career was effectively at an end. One of Britain's greatest navigators, Vancouver died in obscurity in 1798 at the age of 40 less than three years after completing his voyage. His modest grave lies in St. Peters churchyard, Petersham, Surrey, in southern England.
"How Vancouver could have missed these rivers while accurately charting hundreds of comparatively insignificant inlets, islands, and streams is hard to fathom. What is certain is that his failure to spot the Columbia had great implications for the future political development of the Pacific Northwest....
While it is difficult to comprehend how Vancouver missed the Fraser River, much of this river's delta was subject to flooding and summer freshet which prevented the captain from spotting any of its great channels as he sailed the entire shoreline from Point Roberts to Point Grey in 1792. The Spanish, who preceded Vancouver in 1791, had also missed the Fraser River although they knew from its muddy plume that there was a major river located nearby.
Vancouver's mayor, Sam Sullivan, officially declared June 22 2007 to be "George Day". The Musqueam native elder Larry Grant who also attended the festivities acknowledged that some of his people might disapprove of his presence here but noted:
"Many people don't feel aboriginal people should be celebrating this occasion...I believe it has helped the world and that's part of who we are. That's the legacy of our people. We're generous to a fault. The legacy is strong and a good one, in the sense that without the first nations working with the colonials, it [B.C.] wouldn't have been part of Canada to begin with and Britain would be the poorer for it.
In the 1970s, Adrien Mansvelt, a former Consul General of the Netherlands based in Vancouver, published a collation of information in both historical and genealogical journals and in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Mansvelt's "theory" was later presented by the city during the Expo '86 World's Fair, as historical fact. Mr. Mansvelt's theories however, are severely flawed in the fact that his "historical evidence" is based on many assumptions and possibilities. Geneology is the study or investigation of ancestry and family history, with undeniable proof of traceability through family lineage of birth, marriage and death records. Mr. Mansveld bases his research on no such proof and uses the words "assumed" "possible" and "may" time and again throughout his essay. Mansvelts essay This flawed information was then used as rock solid proof for Mr. W. Kaye Lamb to write his book "A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World, 1791-1795" W. Kaye Lamb, in summarizing Mansvelt's unproven 1973 research, suggests evidence of close family ties between the Vancouver family of Britain and the van Coeverden family of Holland as well as George Vancouver's own words from his diaries in referring to his Dutch ancestry:
As the name Vancouver suggests, the Vancouvers were of Dutch origin. Popular theory suggests that they were descended from the titled van Coeverden family, one of the oldest in the Netherlands. By the twelfth century, and for many years thereafter, their castle at Coevorden, in the Province of Drenthe, was an important fortress on the eastern frontier. George Vancouver was aware of this. In July 1794, he named the Lynn Canal 'after the place of my nativity' and Point Couverden (which he spelt incorrectly) 'after the seat of my ancestors.' Vancouver's great grandfather, Reint Wolter van Couverden, was probably the first of the line to establish an English connection. While serving as a squire at one of the German courts he met Johanna (Jane) Lilingston, an English girl who was one of the ladies in waiting. They were married in 1699. Their son, Lucas Hendrik van Couverden, married Vancouver's grandmother, Sarah...In his later years he probably anglicized his name and spent most of his time in England. By the eighteenth century, the estates of the van Couverdens were mostly in the Province of Overijssel, and some of the family were living in Vollenhove, on the Zuider Zee. The English and Dutch branches kept in touch, and in 1798 (the date of Vancouver's death) George Vancouver's brother Charles would marry a kinswoman, Louise Josephine van Couverden, of Vollenhove. Both were great-grandchildren of Reint Wolter van Couverden.
George Vancouver also identified a body of land off the Alaskan coast as 'Couverden Island' during his exploration of the North American Pacific coast presumably to honour his family's Dutch hometown of Coevorden. It is located at the western point of entry to Lynn Canal in southeastern Alaska.
Others present on Vancouver's voyage
See Muster Table of His Majesties Sloop The Discovery
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