McDermott, James, ed. The Third Voyage of Martin Frobisher to Baffin Island 1578. Works issued by the Hakluyt Society, 3d ser., no. 6. London: The Hakluyt Society, 2001. xi + 268 pp., illus., bibliography, index. Ł45 (hbk). ISBN 0 904180 69 7. 

In 1976 this reviewer, as chairman of America’s Four Hundredth Anniversary Committee seeking to place the Roanoke voyages in historical perspective, attended on Baffin Island a modest quadricentennial commemoration of Martin’s Frobisher’s first voyage to North America. Although more than a century had passed since the Inuit led Charles Francis Hall to the site of Frobisher’s fool’s-gold activities, and although significant documents had been published by Richard Hakluyt in 1589, the Hakluyt Society in 1867, and Stefansson and McCaskill in 1938, still only a few scholars were familiar with the subject. Interest in the anniversary, however, spurred archaeologists and historians in the following quarter-century to probe more deeply the natural and archival resources, and the publication of The Archaeology of the Frobisher Voyages, edited by William Fitzhugh and Jacqueline Olins, and Meta Incognita: A Discourse of Discovery, edited by Thomas H. B. Symons, were among the illuminating results.
A recent study is James McDermott’s biographical study, Elizabethan Privateer: Martin Frobisher (Yale University Press, 2001). Of even more value to scholars, however, is the documentary work, The Third Voyage of Martin Frobisher to Baffin Island 1578, edited by McDermott. Nowhere has one of the expeditions been as thoroughly studied and lucidly revealed as in this Hakluyt Society edition.

A brief introduction provides the background of the expedition, the largest of its kind until modern times. Frobisher’s promoters, energized by claims of traces of gold in a black stone taken back on the 1576 voyage, tempered their interests in a Northwest Passage and sent the 1578 flotilla for the express purpose of transporting Baffin ore to England. So confident of success were its sponsors that the expedition carried building materials, supplies, and men for England’s first attempted settlement in North America—a colony of men to remain in Meta Incognita to dig and load ore the following year. However, the small ship carrying building materials became victim to the heaving, icy waters, so no colony was left. The surviving ships carried tons of Baffin rock to England, where it became an embarrassment to the financial backers, including the Queen.

Of the thirteen documents included in this volume, most—such as George Best’s True Discourse and Thomas Ellis’s True Report—have been published previously, some several times, but McDermott’s annotation makes the new edition especially useful. For example, by comparing the various accounts, the editor concludes that Ellis’s description of an encounter between the English and the Inuit (p. 201) in 1578 is pure fiction. The editor’s care in attribution is indicated in only “tentatively” identifying the expedition’s minister, the Reverend Robert Wolfall, as the author of a “Prayer for voyagers,” and a fragmentary journal of the Judith is noted as being “usually attributed” to Charles Jackman. Chief pilot Christopher Hall’s log for the westbound Thomas Allen and the eastbound Ayde is published for the first time. Michael Lok’s “Doynges of Captayne Furbusher” describes a man far different from Best’s adoring characterization, and Bernadino de Mendoza’s letter to Phillip II—presumably based on a spy’s report—exudes international intrigue.

Readability of the documents is enhanced in the expansion of elisions with letters in italics, and the conventions of the Hakluyt Society are scrupulously followed. The Third Voyage of Martin Frobisher to Baffin Island 1578 adds a distinguished volume to the society’s series and makes readily available the latest scholarship on Elizabethan activities in the Arctic.

H. G. Jones
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Society for the History of Discoveries home page

All Original Material, Translations and HTML Coding Copyright © The Society for the History of Discoveries 1999 - 2008. All rights reserved.