The Search for the North West Passage. Savours, Ann. 1999

The Search for the North West Passage. Savours, Ann. 1999

Savours, Ann. 
The Search for the North West Passage. 
Chatham Publishing.
ISBN 0 86176 059 0.

Cook, on his Third Voyage Round the World, was searching for the North West Passage. What was it, and why was it so import-ant? These questions are answered in this book. Ann explains that the name is "the sea route linking the North Atlantic Ocean with the North Pacific Ocean... In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was sought as a way to get round America to reach the riches of China and the Far East. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the search had become in part a geographical challenge". Cook was defeated by ice, and Ann explains why ice and the "intricate geography of the archipelago" defeated so many people.

The book begins with the Elizabethan voyages of Frobisher, Davis and others, continues with those of Hudson, Baffin and the Hudson's Bay Company in the seventeenth century, and describes the attempts of Knight, Middleton and Hearne in the eighteenth century. Then comes Cook. He was the first person sent to find "the North West Passage via the Pacific Ocean or 'Great South Sea', as it was sometimes called." He found the seas to the north of Bering Strait, separating Asia from America, "ice covered, not free of ice, as they had been led to believe."

The bulk of the book is taken up with the nineteenth century explorers, too numerous to mention here. Their exploits were incredible, and are brought alive by this well written and extremely well illustrated account. I got caught up in their adventures and hardships, which left me amazed that so many people suffered so much in the name of science, commercialism and geography. Ann cleverly mixes quotes from the journals, diaries and letters of the people involved to her own fine narrative to tell a fine and compelling story.

Ian Boreham

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1753, volume 23, number 3 (2000).

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