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Sir Martin Frobisher, the Explorer of the Northern Seas. page 2


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As they sailed north great fir-trees came floating by, torn by the roots out of the rocky soil by the great storms, also some icebergs came in their way. When they reached Greenland they could find no place to land; for three days Frobisher wandered up and down in a rowing-boat, but saw only a ragged coast-line of high mountains and snow-clad rocks, looking like lumps of ice in the misty sea. At Hall's Island all the ships met after being separated by a storm.

Then for five weeks Frobisher searched the land for gold ore, and found little. They met some natives near Frobisher’s Straits and very pleasantly spent a great part of one day in exchanging merchandise, the Eskimos making all possible signs of friendship. But Frobisher, in obedience to the Queen's orders, tried to coax two of the natives into his boat, and at once the new-found friends were turned into enemies; for they ran for their bows and wounded several of our men. Soon after they were menaced by a host of icebergs, a thousand or more, and the whole night long was spent in evading these dangerous visitors. "Some scraped us, and some escaped us. In the end we were saved, God being our best steersman."

In the morning Frobisher called his men to thank God heartily for His protection of them in the time of danger. The storm cleared Frobisher's Straits of pack-ice, and sailing up they found a big fish embayed with ice, about twelve feet long, having a horn of two yards long growing out of its snout. This horn, "wreathed and straight, like in fashion to a taper made of wax," they took home and presented to the Queen at Windsor.

In their explorations they thought they saw much gold ore, and entered some houses built two fathoms under ground, round like ovens, and strengthened above ground by bones of whales, for lack of timber. The men were of the colour of a ripe olive, very active and nimble, clad in sealskins arid hides of bear, deer, and fox. They loved music, could keep time to any tune that was sung to them, and could soon sing aptly any tune they heard. They were excellent marksmen, and when they shot at a fish they used to tie a bladder to the arrow, which, by buoying the dart, at length wearied out and killed the fish. All they had to burn was heath and moss, and they kindled a fire by fretting one stick against another.

"The women carry their sucking children at their backs and do feed them with raw flesh, which first they do a little chew in their own mouths." They believed in magic and said prayers to stones in order to cure a headache, and would lie on the ground face downwards, and by groans do obeisance to the foul fiend.

Once the English had a desperate fight with natives, who would never give in, but if mortally wounded, despairing of mercy, would leap headlong off the rocks into the sea, lest they should be eaten. In this fight in York Sound two women were caught; one being old was taken by the sailors for a witch, so they plucked off her buskins to see if she were cloven-footed! She was not; and the poor thing, for her ugly hue and deformity, was let go. The other was young and encumbered with a young child. As she was hiding behind some rocks, she was taken for a man and shot through the hair of her head; her child's arm too was pierced by an arrow. When brought to the surgeon she cried out, and the surgeon with kind intent applied salves to the baby's arm. But the mother plucked the salves away, and by constant licking of her tongue healed the wound.

By the middle of August Frobisher had loaded his ships with some two hundred tons of mineral, and as cold weather was coming he decided to return. So lighting a bonfire in the Countess of Warwick's Island, and all marching round it with blare of trumpets and echo of guns, they said good-bye to the "Meta Incognita" for this year, 1577.

The Aid arrived at Milford Haven on September 23rd and proceeded to Bristol, when they learnt that the Gabriel had already arrived, and that the Michael had sailed safely to Yarmouth.

Frobisher was invited to Windsor and there heartily thanked by the Queen. "Two hundred tons of gold ore you have brought, Master Frobisher? and pray, where shall this treasure be stored? That asks some considering."

Poor Frobisher! not a question asked about his geographical discoveries, or the North-West Passage; but two hundred tons of gold ore were enough to make all England merry - let us not blame the Queen. Most of it was deposited in Bristol Castle, the rest conveyed to the Tower of London; and the Queen sent a special messenger to remind the Warden that four locks were to be placed upon the door of the treasury, and that one key should be handed over to Martin Frobisher, one to Michael Lock, one to the Warden of the Tower, and one to the Master of the Mint. Ah! if only all these tons had contained gold, how happy would Master Frobisher have made his Queen and her subjects! But as yet all were agog with the wonderful news and with hopes of still more treasure to be gotten another year.

At once small parcels were doled out to the best gold-refiners in London, and at Bristol, where Sir William Winter controlled the ore. The refiners heated their furnaces - and themselves week after week. It was passing strange! they could not induce the gold to show itself.

On the 30th of November Michael Lock, Frobisher's great friend and financier, informed Secretary Walsingham that some unbelief in the quality of the mineral was growing up; and Winter at Bristol confessed that they had not been able to get a furnace hot enough "to bring the work to the desired perfection." The general verdict was that "the ore was poor in respect of that brought last year, and of that which we know may be brought the next year."

So the merchant adventurers, the Cathay Company, the Queen's Court, and all the little subscribers in county towns tried to comfort themselves. And to prove that the gold was there - must be there - a much larger expedition was preparing for 1578, Frobisher's third voyage!

Fifteen ships were being fitted out to bring home two thousand tons of good rock. One wonders where it all lies now! Six months were occupied in the work; for they were to leave a colony of a hundred men in "Meta Incognita"; and for these they were to take out a strong fort of timber to defend the colonists against cold and enemies. Besides these Frobisher was to select one hundred and thirty able seamen, a hundred and sixty pioneers, sixty soldiers, besides gunners, carpenters, surgeons, and two or three ministers to conduct divine service according to the rites of the Church of England. Captain E. Fenton was to be vice-admiral and captain of the colony, and he, with Captains Yorke, Philpott, Best, and Carew, were to be Frobisher's chief advisers.

The ships assembled at Harwich on the 27th of May; on the 28th Frobisher and his fourteen captains repaired to the Court at Greenwich, and there they had a splendid "send-off." Her Highness bestowed on the General a fair chain of gold, and the other captains had the honour of kissing her hand. We may gather something to elucidate Frobisher's character from the code of instructions which he drew up to be observed by his fleet: -

"Art. 1. Imprimis. To banishe swearing, dice, cards' playing and all filthie talk, and to serve God twice a day with the ordinary service, usual in the Church of England.

"Art. 8. If any man in the fleete come upon other in the nyghte and haile his fellow, knowing him not, he shall give him this watch-worde, 'Before the world was God'; the other shall make answer, 'After God came Christ, His sonne' - Martyn Furbusher."

It was no uncommon thing in those days for an educated man to be rather vague about the spelling of words, and even his own name might have variations. Frobisher, with all his passionate temper, tried to serve God according to his lights; he was resolute that his men should do so too.

They sailed from Harwich on the 31st of May, and on the 6th of June fell in with some Bristol traders who had been assailed by French pirates, and were so wounded and hungry that they were like to perish in the sea, their food for many days having been olives and stinking water.

Frobisher sent his surgeons to dress their wounds, gave them store of food, and steering north-west reached the south of Greenland.

He this time found a good harbour, native boats, and tents. The people ran away, and Frobisher only took two white dogs, leaving some knives for payment.

Soon after, the Solomon struck a great whale with her full stern so violently that the ship stood still. "The whale thereat made a great and ugly noise and cast up his body and tail, and so went under water; within two days there was found a great whale dead, swimming above water." The creature had probably been asleep on the surface.

On the 2nd of July they had reached Frobisher's Straits, which to their discontent they found choked up with ice, and the ships were in great danger for some days. The Denis, of 100 tons, was struck by an iceberg and lost. She carried the movable fort; her crew only were saved.

Then followed a great storm, and they had much ado to defend the sides of their ships from "the outrageous sway and strokes" of the fleeting ice. For planks of timber of more than three inches thick were shivered and cut asunder by the surging of the sea and ice-floes, and the noise of the tides and currents reminded them of the waterfall under London Bridge. When the storm abated, under the lee of a huge iceberg Frobisher mustered his ships and caused the crews to offer up special thanksgivings for their great deliverance. After the storm came fogs, and they lost their bearings. Frobisher said the coast was in Frobisher Straits; Hall averred it was not, and they quarrelled like schoolboys; for "Frobisher fell into a great rage and sware that it was so, or else take his life."

However, Frobisher was afterwards proved to be in the wrong; he had discovered the great inlet, called subsequently "Hudson's Strait." This he followed up for three hundred miles, trying to persuade his comrades that they were in the right course. He himself began to see he had been misled, but a strong desire and hope came upon him - he would now find the passage to Cathay! But his crew cared little for such poor ambition; they talked against their leader behind his back, and soon openly demanded to be taken home. So they turned once more to the region of fog, and after imminent risks, the mariners being scared in the darkness and crying continually, "Lord, now help or never!" they cleared the corner of "Meta Incognita" on the 23rd of July. Then the mutineers murmured again because Frobisher wished to wait for the rest of the fleet; but Frobisher mastered them and brought his ships to the Countess of Warwick's Sound. There he was welcomed by the crews of the Judith and the Michael, and two days afterwards Hall appeared with the remaining vessels.

Special services of thanksgiving were offered and the mutinous men were forgiven, though they continued to be sulky and obeyed under protest. No colony could be left, because the timber for the fort was lost. When they reached Bear's Sound the flame of discontent blazed up so fiercely that it was even proposed to put their admiral ashore and leave him to perish in the snow. However, this was voted against by the majority, who perhaps were wondering what the Queen might say. For it was well known that she had a high opinion of her "trusty and well-beloved" Master Frobisher.

They embarked for home after they had filled their bunkers, and had hardly entered the open sea with their cargoes of mineral than a violent storm dispersed them; the Aid was nearly wrecked, and lost her pinnace. So with contrary winds and heavy storms they battled their way south, and reached port somewhere in England by October.

As before, their coming was welcomed with hearty delight, and once more the hopes of speculators stirred the enthusiasm of the nation.

One old chronicler writes: "Such great quantity of gold appeared that some letted not to give out for certaintie that Solomon had his gold from thence, wherewith he builded his temple."

The Queen had advanced £4000 herself, to show her belief in Frobisher and in the gold ore, and all were now waiting for the refiners' verdict. It came very rapidly - no gold to be got out of all these tons of rock! Enthusiasm and shouting gave way to abuse and slander, not only in the Court and City, but the mutinous part openly accused Frobisher of having misled them: "his vainglorious mind would not suffer any discovery to be made without his own presence."

Even Lock, Frobisher's good friend in time of prosperity, now led the opposition to him, and refused to pay the salary that was due to him.

There was an added bitterness in this which the world did riot know of; for Frobisher had been obliged to leave his wife and children poorly provided for. A letter from Dame Isabel Frobisher, "the most miserable poor woman in the world," to Sir Francis Walsingham, describes to us a pitiful state of affairs. She complains that whereas her former husband had left her with ample means for herself and children, her present husband - whom God forgive! - had spent all she had, and "put them to the wide world to shift." In fact, they were starving in a poor room at Hampstead, and when Frobisher came home he doubtless comforted her, saying his salary was overdue, and all would soon be well. Then Frobisher goes into the City and is told he cannot have his salary! He is furious, for his temper was ever stormy, and calls Lock "a bankrupt knave." Lock writes to Walsingham and complains that Frobisher has raged against him like a mad beast. Others, who have met Frobisher and railed against him for bringing home worthless mineral, meet with similar ill-treatment. No wonder! for the man is well-nigh beside himself to find his pains and sufferings for England's sake miscalled neglect, to know that a pamphlet has been written against him as an arrogant, obstinate, and prodigal knave, "full of lying talk, impudent of tongue, and perchance the most unprofitable of all who have served the Company."

We need not wonder if Frobisher, having been spoilt by praise and flattery after his two former voyages, now lost his temper and swore that he would hip his masters "the Adventurers" for their ungenerous treatment. It was the search for this non-existent gold which cramped him and deprived his voyages of half their usefulness: the blame rested elsewhere.

Lock was thrown into the Fleet Prison for buying a ship for £200 and not being able to pay for it. No doubt other speculators were equally near ruin.

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