George Vancouver

George Vancouver (1757-1798) explored the coasts of British Columbia, proving the non-existence of a Northwest Passage at this latitude, and negotiated with the Spanish about Nootka (on Vancouver Island).

Vancouver entered the history of exploration by joining both the second and the third expedition of James Cook. On his third expedition, Cook had been looking for the possible existence of the Northwest Passage (a sea route through or around North America), and in 1791 Vancouver was sent out to complete this search.

He rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and visited New Holland (Australia), New Zealand, Tahiti and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) before reaching the Pacific coast of North America, about 110 miles north of San Francisco, on 17 April 1792, just a year after his departure.

He followed the coasts of Oregon and Washington northward, then entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island and the mainland. He had intended to explore every bay and outlet of this region, and many times had to use boats rather than his ships to do so, because the inlets were often too narrow for his ships. He met a Spanish exploring party led by Galiano and Valdes, and for some time they explored Puget Sound together. Afterwards, Vancouver went to Nootka (a place on Vancouver Island, then the most important harbour of the region), where he had to get any British buildings or lands returned from the Spanish. The reception by the Spanish commander Bodega y Quadra was heartily, but they did not get agreement, and decided to await further instructions from their governments. After a visit to Spanish California, Vancouver spent the winter to further explore the Sandwich Islands.

The next year he went back to British Columbia, and explored the coast further north. He got to 56 degrees north, and because the more northern parts had already been explored by Cook, and then sailed south to California, hoping to be able to fulfill his task regarding Nootka. Bodega y Quadra however was not there. He again spent the winter on the Sandwich Islands.

In 1794 he first went to Cook Inlet, the northernmost limit of his explorations, and from there followed the coast southward to Baranov Island, which he had also reached the year before. He then set sail for England, choosing the route around Cape Horn, thus completing a circumnavigation.

See below for more extensive descriptions of Vancouver's travels.


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