Madness, Betrayal and the Lash: The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver [NOOK Book]


From 1792 to 1795, George Vancouver sailed the Pacific as the captain of his own expedition — and as an agent of imperial ambition. To map a place is to control it, and Britain had its eyes on America's Pacific coast. And map it Vancouver did. His voyage was one of history’s greatest feats of maritime daring, discovery, and diplomacy, and his marine survey of Hawaii and the Pacific coast was at its time the most comprehensive ever undertaken. But just two years after returning to Britain, the 40-year-old ...
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Madness, Betrayal and the Lash: The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver

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From 1792 to 1795, George Vancouver sailed the Pacific as the captain of his own expedition — and as an agent of imperial ambition. To map a place is to control it, and Britain had its eyes on America's Pacific coast. And map it Vancouver did. His voyage was one of history’s greatest feats of maritime daring, discovery, and diplomacy, and his marine survey of Hawaii and the Pacific coast was at its time the most comprehensive ever undertaken. But just two years after returning to Britain, the 40-year-old Vancouver, hounded by critics, shamed by public humiliation at the fists of an aristocratic sailor he had flogged, and blacklisted because of a perceived failure to follow the Admiralty’s directives, died in poverty, nearly forgotten. In this riveting and perceptive biography, historian Stephen Bown delves into the events that destroyed Vancouver’s reputation and restores his position as one of the greatest explorers of the Age of Discovery.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Though mostly forgotten, the 1791-95 voyage of Capt. George Vancouver and his crew rivaled Columbus and Cook's for long-term impact; Vancouver's painstaking navigation through the uncharted Pacific set the path for modern North Pacific history. Bown (Scurvy, A Most Damnable Invention) provides a thorough, engaging account of a journey remarkable for its time and even more so in retrospect. Essential background information is flawed by excessive foreshadowing, but Bown's vivid account of Vancouver's work-mapping the labyrinthine coast between Northern California and southern Alaska, stopping off in Hawaii and Spanish California-proves fascinating. Plans for the voyage changed repeatedly; the end of the American Revolution, Britain's long rivalry with Spain, the pressure for new trade routes, manipulation by British politicians and fur traders, and the obsession with finding a Northwest Passage made a difficult, vague assignment nearly impossible. The last chapters read like a thriller, as Vancouver's health declines, his relations with the crew sour, and Britain and France go to war. Any fan of the Great Age of Sail, the history of the Royal Navy, or European voyages of exploration will enjoy rediscovering this almost-forgotten hero.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781926685717
  • Publisher: D & M Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/1/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 512,695
  • File size: 436 KB

Meet the Author

Stephen R. Bown is the author of Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail (2003), published in six territories, and A Most Damnable Invention: Dynamite, Nitrates and the Making of the Modern World (2005). He lives in Canmore, Alberta.
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From the outline:

Diplomat and explorer of the uncharted Pacific coast of North America
In 1789, Spanish mariner Esteban Jose Martinez was dispatched to Nootka Sound on western Vancouver Island to secure Spanish sovereignty over the region. Since Cook's visit in 1778 the sea otter trade with China had flourished. Martinez's seizure of British ships and property incited a patriotic outcry in England - after Captain Cook's glorious navigation and charting in the Pacific, people asked, how could the Spanish dictate where British ships could sail and trade? War nearly was declared in a clash of imperial visions. Vancouver was commissioned to sail to Nootka and meet with a Spanish counterpart, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, to solidify the terms of a boundary agreement. He was also commissioned to do something far more daunting, and ultimately far more important - to do detailed nautical survey of the coast from California to Alaska, filling in the gaps in Cook's unfinished charts and settling any lingering doubts concerning the Strait of Anian.

For Vancouver, completing the charting he had begun with Cook ten years earlier was a prized commission, a chance to make a mark as a great explorer and navigator. But the disciple had inherited some of his revered mentor's prejudices: the legendary Great River of the West, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca - a disbelief that they existed, that they were mere chimeras for the hopeful but deluded. The young captain was also harbouring within him the kernels of an illness, not yet evident, but growing daily like a cancer - an illness that, before killing him, would drive him into uncontrollable rages, leaving him humbled, shamed, exhausted and bedridden. Vancouver's fraying temper left him ill-equipped to deal with the belligerent and obnoxious midshipman Thomas Pitt, leading to a violent conflict that had terrible repercussions.

The greatest marine survey of all time
For over three years between 1792-1795 Vancouver and his two ships Discovery and Chatham meticulously charted thousands of miles of coastline. A hydrographic survey of a wild and unknown coast at the end of the 18th century was not an easy task. It involved a seemingly endless series of astronomical observations, compass bearings, and depth soundings. In the three weeks before making the expedition's first landfall on the western coast of North America, north of present-day San Francisco, Vancouver and crew took 85 sets of lunar observations to establish an accurate starting point for the survey. They had also done some charting in Australia and New Zealand where they worked out the techniques they would use in North America. Over three summer surveying seasons the men covered more than 10,000 miles in small boats in "these lonely regions" and delineated more than 1,700 miles of coastline.

It was dangerous work done under trying conditions, in the pouring rain or sleet, struggling against wind-whipped waves, rowing against powerful currents, and always with the ever-present danger of capsizing in the small survey boats, getting lost in the miasma of intricate channels, encountering unfriendly Native peoples or running one of the main ships aground on the rocks during a storm, as happened to the Discovery. The result was the incredibly accurate charts of Hawaii and the entire Pacific coast of North America, which has been called the greatest marine survey of all time. He named many of today's common landmarks around Seattle and Vancouver such as Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, the Strait of Georgia and Lynn and Hood Canal, as well as Vancouver Island. For Vancouver, although he was growing increasingly ill, it was the pinnacle of his career. But almost as astonishing as what Vancouver discovered was what he missed.

The Great River of the West and the fate of North America
Inexplicably, he failed to notice the two largest, most important rivers on the Pacific Coast, the Fraser and the Columbia - the "Great River of the West." Vancouver was told about of the Columbia during the first year of his survey from a one-eyed American merchant captain named Robert Gray. Gray, the skeptical Yankee skipper who had pioneered the American Pacific trade in 1787, candidly informed Vancouver that he had found the mouth of a large river a few hundred miles south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Gray had been searching for the mythical great river on both his voyages in spite of the prevailing belief, promulgated by Cook and Meares, that it was a grand myth. Gray had named the river the Columbia after his ship, and suspected that it would be the perfect spot for a trading post. Meares and Cook were British gentlemen; Gray was an untutored Yankee profiteer, and Vancouver, despite his charitable demeanor, was a product of the British Royal Navy. Uneducated merchants, particularly ex-colonials, did not rank highly in the stultified social hierarchy of the Navy. Vancouver, always the gentleman, politely listened to Gray's report and continued on his way up the coast.

Gray, however, quickly led his ship back to the Columbia. On May 12, 1792, a momentous day in the history of North America, his ship lurched over the breakers and entered a mighty river flowing from the east, from the mountainous heart of an unknown land. In these years before Alexander Mackenzie and Lewis and Clark, no one yet knew what lay between the Mississippi and the Pacific coast, but the quest for a cross-continental link would drive the agents of Britain and the United States into the interior of the distant domain. Gray lingered around the river's mouth trading with the Chinook Indians for a few weeks before heading west across the Pacific with a shipment of furs, and information that provided a geographical focal point for the west-looking Republic. Gray had sailed first up the Columbia and that made all the difference fifty years later when Britain and the United States were embroiled in the Oregon Boundary Dispute. The United States had the stronger claim based on priority of discovery. Midway through his voyage, in 1793, Britain went to war against Napoleonic France.

Powerful enemies and a reputation destroyed
Archibald Menzies, the naturalist on board Vancouver's ship and protégé of the head of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, disliked Vancouver. During the years of the voyage he sent disparaging and negative letters to Banks that tarnished Vancouver's reputation in the powerful echelons of the governing elite. Even more damaging was a bitter smear campaign initiated by Lord Camelford, the erstwhile midshipman Thomas Pitt, who had inherited the family title when his father died. Pitt was an arrogant, violent, swaggering young aristocrat, powerful and related to the prime minister, whom Vancouver had (reputedly) flogged and sent home in disgrace during the voyage when he was caught sleeping on watch. The young lord publicly denounced Vancouver, accusing him of being bloodthirsty, sadistic, cruel and so unreasonable that mutiny would have been justified. Pitt challenged Vancouver to several duels and mocked him when he declined to fight. He attacked the weakened Captain on Conduit Street in London with a cane, beating him until restrained. The ailing Vancouver was lampooned in the press as a coward (by the famous satirist and caricaturist James Gillray who dedicated this work to "The Flag Officers of the British Navy") while powerful people in the Admiralty, including Sir Joseph Banks, slyly fed the fire of public discredit while ignoring his repeated requests for his back pay and expenses.

In the social and political climate of 18th century Britain, Vancouver could never triumph over such powerful enemies. Impoverished, terminally ill, and publicly shamed, Vancouver died after barely completing his manuscript for publication. Politically motivated stalling held up years of back pay until just before his death. He should have returned a hero, for he was certainly one of the great mariners of his age, or of any age, but the arbitrary priorities of Britain's polarizing class hierarchy denied him a fair public trial during his lifetime. He also had the bad fortune to complete his great voyage during the height of Britain's war with Napoleonic France, when Britain was more interested in military heroes like Nelson than Cook-style scientific and exploratory voyages.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: Science, Exploration, Diplomacy and the Fate of a Continent

PART ONE: Science and Discovery

Chapter One - A Hero Returns
Chapter Two - With the Master Mariner
Chapter Three -The China Trade

PART TWO: The Gathering Storm

Chapter Four - HMS Europa
Chapter Five - The Nootka Sound Incident
Chapter Six - Discovery and Chatham

PART THREE: Agent of Empire

Chapter Seven - Far Side of the World
Chapter Eight - The Greatest Marine Survey of All Time
Chapter Nine - A Meeting of Minds
Chapter Ten - Winters in Hawaii
Chapter Eleven - Alaska and Illness

PART FOUR: In the Most Faithful Manner

Chapter Twelve - Powerful Enemies
Chapter Thirteen - Sovereignty and Fate

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 23, 2011

    Little Known History

    After visiting Vancouver Island and the Coty of Vancouver, I wanted to know more about this beautiful area.
    This book is captivating and the conclusion fascinating. I learned so much about this hero and surveyor of the Pacific Northwest coastline. It is a sad story about an inept government system bent on self-destruction and about a man who followed the letter of the law to a "T" and received only rebuke upon his return several years later.
    After reading this book I just had to download more about the exploration of this area. A must read for history buffs!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    Little had been written about George Vancouver until Ernie Coleman's excellent and uncomplicated biography in 2000, and Bown's new, detailed and scholarly work in 2008.

    Bown's work is a re-evaluation of Vancouver's life and work - it's excellent in every respect. And it fills an important gap in 18th century naval history and surveying in North West America.

    I live where Vancouver spent his last days in Petersham, Richmond, Surrey. We celebrate his life annually at a service in the churchyard where he is buried at St Peter's Church, Petersham. I have also visited beautiful Vancouver and the island, and travelled part of the North West coast of Northern America being married to a Vancouverite. Therefore, I have a special interest and regard for this man and the area he explored!

    Let's get a few things straight about Vancouver!

    He was an experienced sailor, having served on the last voyage of Captain Cook as a midshipman. However, Vancouver was not an experienced diplomat, but his record as Master and Captain of HMS Discovery from 1792-5 was very good for the times. Only one person died during the voyages and I can see from Bown's work that Vancouver cared for his men although he had an inexperienced crew and some malevolent officers including Sir Joseph Banks, the aristocrat Thomas Pitt, and the ship's surgeon.

    You can't do much against this sort of list!

    Vancouver's reputation was shattered and he died alone with little money on the completion of his surveys and diaries at the age of 40. Our services in Petersham over the 25 years I have attended are often sad occasions for me as I reflect on his life during the commemorations.

    Bown's book is one of the best I have read for ages about this unpleasant period of British naval history when Captain Vancouver's name and contribution were smeared ... and he vindicates him.

    It is a well researched and referenced book with many recorded stories which give light onto the problems of the times. And one gets the feeling of the period with this book brilliantly. It has 13 chapters in 4 parts plus great photographs which delve into substantial detail with a splendid list of sources and a bibliography at the back.

    Bown paints Pitt, in particular, as the baddie (rightly) with few redeeming features, and he exposes the aristocratic establishment of the time hard for their unjust behaviour towards Vancouver.

    I would probably not liked to have served under Vancouver as I can see some of the leadership problems he had to deal with - challenging behaviour from senior officers is difficult at the best of times, and I've had my fair share of them in the past.

    However, I have a tremendous regard for George Vancouver which remains strengthened by Bown's biography, ending with this tribute:

    "He accomplished great things and, as our historical and cultural ancestor, he deserves a greater place in our collective memory."

    He just got it here from Stephen Bown!

    So thank you very much Mr Bown from an admirer where Vancouver now rests.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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