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John Davis, the Hero of the Arctic and Pacific. page 2


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They were to meet the fishing-vessels off the Labrador coast; but these had gone home without waiting for Davis; and as they were being sought, the Ellen ran upon a rock and sprung a leak. This was mended with difficulty in a gale; then, with little fuel and less water, Davis headed for home. " Being forsaken and left in this distress,"he says," referring myself to the merciful providence of God, I shaped my course for England, and unhoped for of any, God alone relieving me, I arrived at Dartmouth."

The log of his third voyage is the only one that has been left, but we have no means of knowing if the fishing was successful.

When Davis came home all England was talking of a Spanish invasion, and the Queen had no time to think of him and his discoveries. On reaching home he found a third little son awaiting him, named John, after his father.

Though London and Greenwich and Exeter neglected Davis for a time, yet he had done good work in discovering, or mapping afresh many coasts and seas; he examined rocks and fiords, made notes on the vegetation and fauna and on the habits and thoughts of the Eskimo tribes; he also explored the coast of Labrador and called attention to the lucrative trade in whales, seal, and fish which might be established.

When the Armada came, John Davis was appointed to the command of a vessel of 20 tons, the Black Dog, to act as a tender to the Lord Admiral, with a crew of ten men and an armament of three guns. Here Davis was of use to the flagship as a pilot, for no one had taken more intelligent interest in surveying the coast and marking shoals than he. We need not go again through the events of the long fight, but it was in the fight off the Isle of Wight that Davis saw the fiercest action, when Admiral Oquendo in his flagship, of 900 tons, rammed the stern of the English flagship, the Ark Royal, and unshipped her rudder.

After ten days of severe work Davis returned to Plymouth, and was at home when his fourth child was born, named Philip! Another memorial of the Armada times was a work on navigation, written by Davis and dedicated to Lord Howard of Effingham.

The next employment Davis found was to join the Earl of Cumberland's squadron in the Drake off the Azores, where he probably met Edward Wright, an eminent mathematician and cosmographer, who had gone to sea to observe the practical working of problems in nautical astronomy. Davis himself had invented an instrument for observing the stars, so these two had much to discuss in common.

It was on this voyage that the English crews suffered so much from want of water, which was very scarce on the islands. The natives on Graciosa, on being asked for water, replied that they would rather give two tons of wine than one of water. They came home with thirteen prizes, and the money Davis received as his share enabled him to go on an expedition more to his taste; for he loved peaceful knowledge better than fighting. His scheme was to go through Magellan's Straits, to navigate the South Sea, and discover the North-west Passage from the western side.

Magellan, a Portuguese navigator, had only discovered the strait called by his name seventy years before; it was in 1520 that Magellan first sailed in and found very deep water. As he passed along, winding to and fro, he saw so many fires at night lighting up the woods and rocks on the southern side of the strait, that he named the land "Tierra del Fuego." A snowy peak far to the south he named " Campana de Roldan," "Roldan's bell"; they were short of provisions, and the crew murmured and wished to return, but Magellan, a stern disciplinarian and feared by his men, swore they should eat the chafing-mats on the rigging rather than return. After thirty-seven days of sailing through winding reaches that seemed to lead nowhere, and that stretched a hundred leagues and more, they came out into the South Pacific; then boldly striking across the ocean to the islands of the far East, Magellan met his fate at the hands of ruthless savages.

In 1522 Sebastian del Cano, a Basque born on the shores of the Bay of Biscay, returned to Seville after having been the first to sail round the world. In 1525 he sailed again from Corunna and passed through the Straits of Magellan, but died at sea shortly after.

The Spanish Governor of Chili, de Mendoza, fitted out two vessels in 1557 and sent Ladrilleros to explore the straits; this he did under most appalling hardships; most of his crew died of hunger and cold, and he brought his ship back to Chili with only two survivors to help him. There were Spanish heroes in those days as now. Then came Drake, sailing from Plymouth in November 1577 in the Golden Hind, and finding Magellan's account of the straits true as to the good harbours, many islands, and plenty of fresh water, but meeting many violent gales and storms. He was only sixteen days in the straits, and then sailed far up the western coast of America up to the 48th degree, where the hills were covered with snow in June - he was the second to sail round the globe. From Drake's voyage it was, perhaps, that Davis believed in the possibility of going northwards till he found an opening on the north-west coast.

In 1586 Cavendish started with three vessels and passed through the Straits of Magellan and completed the third navigation of the globe.

Chudleigh, another Devon man, was fired by these exploits to do likewise, and sailed in 1589 with three ships through the Magellan Straits, where he died. Prince says: "He did not live long enough to accomplish his generous designs, dying young; although he lived long enough to exhaust a vast estate."

All these voyages Davis must have carefully studied with his friends, Sir Walter Raleigh and Adrian Gilbert; the latter of whom joined with him in the ownership of a ship, the Dainty, and the former helped by ideas, plans, and subscriptions.

John Davis did not go on this quest to get riches, but solely to get knowledge; many men thought him a fool, and jeered when he came back disappointed, but the best men knew his high ambition to be the worthiest. Perhaps his wife grudged the large stake which he was risking in this adventure; she and her boys seemed to come only second in his thoughts.

Cavendish went as general on board the Leicester, and owned the Desire, the ship in which he had sailed round the world; but Cavendish cared mostly for rich prizes.

John Jones, an old and beloved shipmate, accompanied Davis in the Desire, 120 tons, and proved a friend in need. The Dainty was commanded by Captain Cotton, a friend of the Devon group.

The few weeks that Davis spent at home in the summer of 1591 were his last happy days at Sandridge; but he cheered up his wife with thoughts of great discoveries and fame and royal favour.

In February a severe storm separated the fleet off the river Plate and Buenos Ayres, and as Cavendish had not appointed any spot for meeting, they were some time before they discovered one another in Port Desire. When they did meet, Davis found the Roebuck seriously damaged, and heard that the Dainty, his own ship, had deserted and gone home. This was the first bitter disappointment, for it was in the Dainty that Davis had intended to go on with his explorations northward.

There were some who suggested that Cavendish wished to knock on the head Davis's nonsense about Arctic exploring, and they asserted that Cavendish had told the crew of the Dainty that he wanted them to go into the river Plate, but that afterwards they might return home with all his heart.

Cavendish abandoned his ship, the Leicester, because he complained that "he was matched with the most abject-minded and mutinous company that ever was carried out of England by man living, for they never ceased to mutiny against him." So he remained on board the Desire as the guest of Captain Davis.

Port Desire, a good many miles north of the Straits of Magellan, was a very dreary spot to rest in; steep white cliffs stained by running water stretched for two miles across the bay; the soil inland was poor, and water was scarce. The only thing the sailors could find was a sweet-smelling herb which protected them from scurvy. Nine miles to the south was Penguin Island, the home of many seals.

On the 20th of March they started again, and reached the straits on the 8th of April. At first the view is desolate and bare, but as you pass the two narrows and enter the long reach, which runs north and south for a hundred miles, the hills become thickly wooded with winter's bark and an evergreen beech, most of them draped in moss and set deep in arbutus and berberis. High mountains capped with snow stand up to the south, while humming-birds skimmed the trailing fuchsias.

As they reached the dark frowning rock called Cape Froward, a wintry gale met them, snowstorms burst upon them, and their only food was mussels and limpets; they had to anchor for shelter in a little bay for more than a month.

Anthony Knivet, one of the crew of the Leicester, thus described the intense cold: " When I came on board with wet feet and began pulling off my stockings, the toes came off with them: 'tis true! and a shipmate of mine, Harris by name, lost his nose entirely; for, as he was going to blow it with his fingers, he cast it incontinently into the fire."

Cavendish now wanted to go back, but Davis assured him the snowstorms would end, and all would be well, if only they would persevere. "Then we will go back to the Brazilian coast," said Cavendish, "and obtain supplies."

So they sailed back through the straits, Cavendish having returned to his own ship. At Cape Famine Cavendish landed all the sick from the Leicester, and left them to starve from damp, cold, and hunger.

For the second time Cavendish disappeared in the night without making any signal; this time he landed his sick on a hot beach under a tropical sun, and there abandoned them.

Cavendish sailed for England, but died on the way.

In his will he accused Davis of deserting him; but the facts seem to put the blame for desertion on his own shoulders; or it is possible that each of these men was waiting for the other, each believing that the other had deserted him. And our verdict on Cavendish should be modified by the state of his health, which was evidently broken by anxiety and fear of mutiny, as well as by the terrible sufferings caused by rough seasons.

In a letter to his executor, which Cavendish wrote before his death, he says: "Consider whether a heart made of flesh be able to endure so many misfortunes, all falling upon me without intermission. I thank my God that, in ending of me, He hath pleased to rid me of all further trouble and mishaps."

Davis waited for nine weeks in Port Desire for Cavendish; his own plight was sorry, for his sails were worn-out, his cables chafed and untrustworthy, and he had lost a boat and oars. However, he resolved to send the pinnace in search of Cavendish, but two men on board the Desire, named Charles Parker and Edward Smith, persuaded the crew that Davis intended to maroon them; they even formed a plot to murder their captain. This plot was revealed by the boatswain, and Davis, instead of hanging the two men, as most captains would have done, called his crew together, took them into his confidence, and explained his purpose; he forgave the mutineers, and gave up the idea of sending the pinnace away.

Then he employed his men on shore very busily in making nails and bolts, rigging and sails; some he sent to collect limpets from the rocks, while others salted down hogsheadf of seal-flesh at Penguin Island, with salt collected from sea-water left in shallow pans and evaporated in the sun.

On the 6th of August they sailed for the straits again, but a storm drove him away among certain islands never before discovered. These must have been the Falkland Islands, barren hills and rocky shores covered with seaweed and wild birds.

On the 18th they again passed the Cape of Virgins at the entrance to the straits, and sailed easily through till they came to the "sea reach." Here they stayed fourteen days, suffering from the cold and want of food; for the seal-flesh had become uneatable. Then they sailed into the Pacific on the 13th of September, but were driven back by a furious storm and lost one of their cables, so that Davis now had only one anchor left. It was so deep close to shore that sometimes he could moor his ship to the trees. When for the third time he was about to enter the Pacific, some of his men showed signs of mutiny, so Davis wrote out a speech and requested the master to repeat it to the crew. In this speech these words occur: "Because I see in reason that the limits of our time are now drawing to an end, I do in Christian charity exhort you, first, to forgive me in whatsoever I have been grievous to you; secondly, that you will rather pray for our General (Cavendish) than use hard speeches of him... lastly, let us forgive one another, and be reconciled as children in love and charity. So shall we, in leaving this life, live with our glorious Redeemer, or, abiding in this life, find favour with God." The men were pacified for a time, and agreed to continue the voyage; but, as before, a gale sprang up and seas broke over the Desire and the black pinnace, till the latter got under the lee of the larger ship.

"Captain Davis, sir, we have taken many grievous seas aboard; I can't hardly tell what shift to make next," shouted the captain of the pinnace.

Davis shouted back, "Trust in God - keep under our lee, friend."

Next day the black pinnace suddenly broached to and went down with all hands.

"The 10th of October," writes Janes in his diary, "being very near the shore, the weather dark, the storm furious, and most of our men having given over to travail, we yielded ourselves to death without further hope of succour. Our captain sitting in the gallery, very pensive, I came and brought him some rosa solis (hot grog) to comfort him; for he was so cold, he was scarce able to move a joint. After he had drunk and was comforted in heart, he began, for the ease of his conscience, to make a large repetition of his fore-passed time, and with many grievous sighs he ended in these words: 'Oh most gracious God, with whose power the mightiest things among men are matters of no moment, I most humbly beseech Thee that the intolerable burden of my sins may, through the blood of Jesus Christ, be taken from me: end our days with speed, or show us some merciful sign of Thy love and our preservation.'" Hardly had the captain's prayer been uttered, than the sun shone out from a rift in the clouds, as if a very token of help. Davis jumped up, took a meridian altitude, and shaped a course for the straits. Every man felt relieved and even cheery at the sudden change in the weather. Next day they sighted the tall headland at the west end of the straits.

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