Danish Arctic Expeditions, 1605 to 1620. In Two Books: Book I. The Danish Expeditions to Greenland…; Book II. The Expedition of Captain Jens Munk.

Book I: The Danish Expeditions to Greenland in 1605, 1606, and 1607; to which is Added Captain James Hall’s Voyage to Greenland in 1612.

Book II: The Expedition of Captain Jens Munk to Hudson’s Bay in Search of a North-West Passage in 1619-20. [The first translation of Munk’s Navigatio Septemtrionalis.[Originally published in Danish in 1624.]

p. xxxii-xxxiii: On the whole, we think that anyone reading Hall’s narratives will be inclined to believe that Hall had accompanied some earlier Arctic explorer, though it may have been in a subordinate capacity; and, as he appears to have had particular knowledge of Davis Strait, whilst no earlier voyages to that region in which he can have taken part are known to have been undertaken, except those of Davis, it seems that, if Hall had been there before, it must have been with him. Of course Hall may not really have known more than what he could gather from the published accounts of Davis’s voyages, especially concerning the ice along the coast of Green land. But, on the other hand, the conclusion that he had been with Davis is not a little strengthened by the only reference to Davis in connection with Hall’s knowledge of the geography of Greenland which can be adduced.

p. 36, in the section on wintering in Port Churchill: During all the Holy Days, the weather was rather mild; and, in order that the time might not hang on hand, the men practiced all kinds of games; and whoever could imagine the most amusement was the most popular. The crew, most of whom were, at that time, in good health, consequently had all sorts of larks and pastimes; and thus we spent the Holy Days with the merriment that was got up.

[Those merriments were the last of the winter which proceeded with almost daily deaths from scurvy until only three men of the original crew of 64 were still alive (including Munk) and able to sail the ship back through Hudson Strait and back to Norway and Denmark.]

p. 164: It is manifestly difficult to prove a negative, and several centuries elapsed before geographical knowledge had advanced sufficiently for geographers to be able definitely to establish the non-existence of these islands. As was the case with many similar errors, cartographers in early days often found themselves face to face with the alternative, either to omit altogether features which were represented on earlier charts or referred to in old books, or to insert them on very insufficient evidence. The former they generally hesitated to do, lest their charts might be thought imperfect. Once inserted, therefore, mythical islands or other misconceptions often, in early days, remained long on the maps, for voyages of discovery were very few and far between, and opportunities for really trustworthy verification were correspondingly rare. So far as the Atlantic is concerned, the islands in question remained long upon the charts because, until America had become more or less settled with Europeans, that ocean remained only very partially explored. Indeed, before the time arrived when geographers were able to declare without hesitation that these islands certainly did not exist, several other islands of more or less doubtful existence had appeared upon the charts; and these, like those which had appeared previously, maintained their positions thereon for a long period.

Book II: The Expedition of Captain Jens Munk to Hudson’s Bay in Search of a North-West Passage in 1619-20.

Book II begins with a fascinating life of Jens Munk.

p. 107: Suffice it here to say that La Peyrère’s error continued to be repeated without criticism in books and on maps, until it was discovered that Churchill Harbour is really situated in about lat. 59°. Afterwards another mistake arose. Some authors, who either did not know, or did not give due weight to the strong evidence connecting Munk’s winter quarters with Churchill Harbour, allowed themselves to be misled by La Peyrère’s indication of the latitude, separated these two localities, and placed Munk’s winter-quarters high up on the western coast of Hudson’s Bay far from Churchill River. It is thus shown on a few maps of the 18th century, but the earliest writer who has adopted this view is, as far as we are aware, Sir John Barrow, who fixes the place at Chesterfield Inlet; and his example was followed by several writers and map-makers. On the other hand, Mr. Ravn, though fully aware of La Peyrère’s mistake, yet falls into error from not giving due weight to the evidence afforded by Munk’s description of the locality and the subsequent discovery of relics of the expedition at Churchill ….

p. 122-23: The long and melancholy tale of the progress of the disease [scurvy], of the frequent deaths, and of the increasing difficulty of having the bodies properly buried, calls for few remarks. Unlike the skilful surgeon who managed to keep Capt. James’s sick sailors in such condition that they could move about and do some work during his wintering in 1631-32, the surgeon of Enhiorningen could render no assistance at all. The vessel had been supplied with a store of medicaments, such as herbs, waters, medicines, etc., but the surgeon did not in the least know what use to make of them. They had been selected by physicians; but it was no part of their duty to supply information about the use of them—indeed, it would have been against the etiquette of their profession so to do. Although, therefore, Munk’s complaint that there were no “directions for use” accompanying the many bottles and packets was well enough founded from the point of view of common sense, nothing else was, under the circumstances, really to be expected.

p. 178: If La Peyrère had not taken upon himself to “improve” Munk’s map in the manner described, instead of reproducing it as it was, geographical science would have been considerably advanced; whereas his composition caused great confusion in the cartography of Hudson’s Bay, the traces of which can be followed down to the end of the last century. His proceeding, moreover, was unjust to Munk, because he nowhere states in what respects he had deviated from Munk, who consequently got the blame for his imaginations when their true character was discovered.

On the Continent, where La Peyrère’s book obtained great notoriety, both in the original and in the numerous translations, cartographers naturally availed themselves of the information contained in it, particularly as regards Hudson’s Bay, not suspecting its untrustworthiness. On very many if not most of the maps published on the Continent, in the latter half of the seventeenth century, the representation of Hudson’s Bay is more or less founded on La Peyrère’s. The maps of this series, commencing with Sanson’s map of North America (Paris, 1650), are all characterised by the great projection of land in the south-west corner of the bay, bounded by a deep funnel-shaped inlet to the west of it. As these geographers do not seem to have known anything about Fort Nelson, or the rivers which there enter Hudson’s Bay, and of which there is an indication on Munk’s map, some of them appear to have imagined that a communication with the Polar Sea existed there. On all these maps we find the west coast of the bay drawn as on Munk’s map, or rather on La Peyrère’s edition of it, exhibiting three deep inlets, on the southernmost of which Munk’s winter-harbour is marked; and the name of New Denmark, translated into various languages, is found applied to the country around them. Several others of La Peyrère’s names are met with on these maps.

Book I

Book II