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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > July 2016 > Great Adventures: Hudson and the Northern Passage

Great Adventures: Hudson and the Northern Passage

The man after whom rivers and bays are named made several attempts to connect Europe and the Pacific. Pat Kinsella tells his fascinating story
OBSTACLE COURSE Impenetrable pack ice thwarted Hudson’s efforts on more than one occasion
ALAMY X1, GETTY X2

HENRY HUDSON AND THE SEARCH FOR THE NORTHERN PASSAGE

“Henry Hudson’s final quest ended in betrayal, abandonment and mystery”

With the Portuguese, Spanish and Holy Roman empires consecutively controlling southern trade routes to India and the Orient, and the Silk Road effectively closed off by the Muslim Ottoman Empire, the search for a Northern Passage – a navigable trade route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, providing access to the markets of Cathay (China) – was an obsession for North European nations from the 16th century onwards.

During multiple attempts to chart such a course, mostly going northwest, Henry Hudson explored, and left his name all over, North America; his moniker still graces both the river that slides along the western flank of Manhattan Island and Canada’s immense Hudson Bay. But his final quest ended in betrayal, abandonment and mystery.

The first recorded attempt to forge a passage through the floes and across the frozen top of the globe was led by the Italian John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) in 1497, who was commissioned by English king Henry VII. While he failed to find Asia, Cabot was the first European to make landfall in North America since the Vikings.

Portuguese explorer Estêvão Gomes was sent on a similar mission by the Spanish emperor in 1524; he reached Nova Scotia before being forced back by freezing conditions. In the 1530s, Frenchman Jacques Cartier twice tried to force his way along the St Lawrence River (which connects the Atlantic with the Great Lakes), but was halted by rapids. He named them ‘Lachine’, convinced they were all that stood between him and China.

CHANGE OF DIRECTION The Halve Maen leaves Amsterdam in April 1609
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The July 2016 issue of History Revealed
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