A portrait from the late 18th century by an unknown artist believed to depict George Vancouver
22 June 1757|
King's Lynn, Norfolk, England
|Died||10 May 1798
Petersham, Surrey, England
|Parents||John Jasper Vancouver and Bridget Berners |
Captain George Vancouver (22 June 1757 – 10 May 1798) was an English officer of the British Royal Navy, best known for his 1791–95 expedition, which explored and charted North America's northwestern Pacific Coast regions, including the coasts of contemporary Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. He also explored the Hawaiian Islands and the southwest coast of Australia.
Vancouver Island, Canada; the cities of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and Vancouver, Washington, US; Mount Vancouver on the Yukon/Alaska border and New Zealand's fourth highest mountain are named after him.
Vancouver's first naval service was as a midshipman aboard HMS Resolution, on James Cook's second voyage (1772–1775) searching for Terra Australis. He also accompanied Cook's third voyage (1776–1778), this time aboard Resolution's sister ship, Discovery and the first European sighting and exploration of the Hawaiian Islands. Upon his return to Britain in 1779, Vancouver was commissioned as a lieutenant and posted aboard the sloop Martin surveying coastlines.
In the late 1780s the Spanish empire commissioned an expedition to the Pacific Northwest. However, the 1789 Nootka Crisis intervened. Spain and Britain came close to war over ownership of the Nootka Sound on contemporary Vancouver Island, and of greater importance, the right to colonize and settle the Pacific Northwest coast. Henry Roberts and Vancouver joined Britain's more warlike vessels. Vancouver went with Joseph Whidbey to HMS Courageux. When the first Nootka Convention ended the crisis in 1790, Vancouver was given command of Discovery to take possession of Nootka Sound and to survey the coasts.
The Vancouver Expedition
Departing England with two ships in April 1791, Vancouver commanded an expedition charged with exploring the Pacific region. In its first year the expedition travelled to Cape Town, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and China, collecting botanical samples and surveying coastlines along the way. Proceeding to North America, Vancouver followed the coasts of present day Oregon and Washington northward. In April 1792 he encountered American Captain Robert Gray off the coast of Oregon just prior to Gray's sailing up the Columbia River.
Vancouver entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island and the Washington state mainland on 29 April 1792. His orders included a survey of every inlet and outlet on the west coast of the mainland, all the way north to Alaska. Most of this work was in small craft propelled by both sail and oar; maneuvering larger sail-powered vessels in uncharted waters was generally impractical and dangerous.
Vancouver was the first European to enter Burrard Inlet on 13 June 1792, naming it after his friend Sir Harry Burrard. It is the present day main harbour area of the City of Vancouver beyond Stanley Park. He surveyed Howe Sound and Jervis Inlet over the next nine days. Then, on his 35th birthday on 22 June 1792, he returned to Point Grey, the present day location of the University of British Columbia. Here he unexpectedly met a Spanish expedition led by Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés y Flores. Vancouver was "mortified" (his word) to learn they already had a crude chart of the Strait of Georgia based on the 1791 exploratory voyage of José María Narváez the year before, under command of Francisco de Eliza. For three weeks they cooperatively explored the Georgia Strait and the Discovery Islands area before sailing separately towards Nootka Sound.
After the summer surveying season ended, in November 1792 Vancouver went to Nootka, then the region's most important harbour, on contemporary Vancouver Island. Here he was to receive any British buildings and lands returned by the Spanish from claims by Francisco de Eliza for the Spanish crown. The Spanish commander, Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra, was very cordial and he and Vancouver exchanged the maps they had made, but no agreement was reached; they decided to await further instructions. At this time, they decided to name the large island on which Nootka was now proven to be located as Quadra and Vancouver Island. Years later, as Spanish influence declined, the name was shortened to simply Vancouver Island.
While at Nootka Sound Vancouver acquired Robert Gray's chart of the lower Columbia River. Gray had entered the river during the summer before sailing to Nootka Sound for repairs. Vancouver realized the importance of verifying Gray's information and conducting a more thorough survey. In October 1792, he sent Lieutenant William Robert Broughton with several boats up the Columbia River. Broughton got as far as the Columbia River Gorge, sighting and naming Mount Hood.
Vancouver sailed south along the coast of Spanish Alta California, visiting Chumash villages at Point Conception and near Mission San Buenaventura. Vancouver spent the winter in continuing exploration of the Sandwich Islands, the contemporary islands of Hawaii.
The next year, 1793, he returned to British Columbia and proceeded further north, unknowingly missing the overland explorer Alexander Mackenzie by only 48 days. He got to 56°30'N, having explored north from Point Menzies in Burke Channel to the northwest coast of Prince of Wales Island. He sailed around the latter island, as well as circumnavigating Revillagigedo Island and charting parts of the coasts of Mitkof, Zarembo, Etolin, Wrangell, Kuiu and Kupreanof Islands. With worsening weather, he sailed south to Alta California, hoping to find Bodega y Quadra and fulfill his territorial mission, but the Spaniard was not there. He again spent the winter in the Sandwich Islands.
In 1794, he first went to Cook Inlet, the northernmost point of his exploration, and from there followed the coast south. Boat parties charted the east coasts of Chichagof and Baranof Islands, circumnavigated Admiralty Island, explored to the head of Lynn Canal, and charted the rest of Kuiu Island and nearly all of Kupreanof Island. He then set sail for Great Britain by way of Cape Horn, returning in September 1795, thus completing a circumnavigation.
Vancouver faced difficulties when he returned home to England. The accomplished and politically well-connected naturalist Archibald Menzies complained that his servant had been pressed into service during a shipboard emergency; sailing master Joseph Whidbey had a competing claim for pay as expedition astronomer; and Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford, whom Vancouver had disciplined for numerous infractions and eventually sent home in disgrace, proceeded to harass him publicly and privately.
Pitt's allies, including his cousin, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, attacked Vancouver in the press. However, Pitt took a more direct role; on 29 August 1796 he sent Vancouver a letter heaping many insults on the head of his former captain, and challenging him to a duel. Vancouver gravely replied that he was unable "in a private capacity to answer for his public conduct in his official duty" and offered instead to submit to formal examination by flag officers. Pitt chose instead to stalk Vancouver, ultimately assaulting him on a London street corner. The terms of their subsequent legal dispute required both parties to keep the peace, but nothing stopped Vancouver's civilian brother Charles from interposing and giving Pitt blow after blow until onlookers restrained the attacker. Charges and counter-charges flew in the press, with the wealthy Camelford faction having the greater firepower until Vancouver, ailing from his long naval service, died.
Captain George Vancouver, one of Britain's greatest explorers and navigators, died in obscurity on 10 May 1798 at the age of 40, less than three years after completing his voyages and expeditions. His modest grave lies in St. Peters churchyard, Petersham, Surrey, in southern England.
Vancouver determined that the Northwest Passage did not exist at the latitudes that had long been suggested. His charts of the North American northwest coast were so extremely accurate that they served as the key reference for coastal navigation for generations. Robin Fisher, the academic Vice President of Mount Royal University in Calgary and author of two books on Vancouver, states:
"He [Vancouver] put the northwest coast on the map...He drew up a map of the north-west coast that was accurate to the 9th degree,' to the point it was still being used into the modern day as a navigational aid. That's unusual for a map from that early a time."
However, Vancouver failed to discover two of the largest and most important rivers on the Pacific coast, the Fraser River and the Columbia River. He also missed the Skeena River near Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia. Vancouver did eventually learn of the river before he finished his survey—from Robert Gray, captain of the American merchant ship that conducted the first Euroamerican sailing of the Columbia River on 11 May 1792, after first sighting it on an earlier voyage in 1788. However it and the Fraser River never made it onto Vancouver's charts. Stephen R. Bown, noted in Mercator's World magazine (November/December 1999) that:
"How Vancouver could have missed these rivers while accurately charting hundreds of comparatively insignificant inlets, islands, and streams is hard to fathom. What is certain is that his failure to spot the Columbia had great implications for the future political development of the Pacific Northwest...."
While it is difficult to comprehend how Vancouver missed the Fraser River, much of this river's delta was subject to flooding and summer freshet which prevented the captain from spotting any of its great channels as he sailed the entire shoreline from Point Roberts, Washington to Point Grey in 1792. The Spanish expeditions to the Pacific Northwest, with the 1791 Francisco de Eliza expedition preceding Vancouver by a year, had also missed the Fraser River although they knew from its muddy plume that there was a major river located nearby.
Vancouver generally established a good rapport with both Indians and European trappers. Captain Vancouver played an undeniable role in the subsequent series of upheavals and losses in the lives and homelands of the Indians on the North American Pacific Coast, since his explorations opened up the region to European colonization of the New World. Historical records show Vancouver enjoyed good relations with native leaders both in Hawaii – where King Kamehameha I ceded Hawaii to Vancouver in 1794 – as well as the Pacific Northwest and California. Vancouver's journals exhibit a high degree of sensitivity to natives. He wrote of meeting the Chumash people, and of his exploration of a small island on the Alaskan coast on which an important burial site was marked by a sepulchre of "peculiar character" lined with boards and fragments of military instruments lying near a square box covered with mats. Vancouver states:
This we naturally conjectured contained the remains of some person of consequence, and it much excited the curiosity of some of our party; but as further examination could not possibly have served any useful purpose, and might have given umbrage and pain to the friends of the deceased, should it be their custom to visit the repositories of their dead, I did not think it right that it should be disturbed.
Vancouver also displayed contempt in his journals towards unscrupulous western traders who provided guns to natives by writing:
I am extremely concerned to be compelled to state here, that many of the traders from the civilised world have not only pursued a line of conduct, diametrically opposite to the true principles of justice in their commercial dealings, but have fomented discords, and stirred up contentions, between the different tribes, in order to increase the demand for these destructive engines... They have been likewise eager to instruct the natives in the use of European arms of all descriptions; and have shewn by their own example, that they consider gain as the only object of pursuit; and whether this be acquired by fair and honourable means, or otherwise, so long as the advantage is secured, the manner how it is obtained seems to have been, with too many of them, but a very secondary consideration.
Robin Fisher notes that Vancouver's "relationships with aboriginal groups were generally peaceful; indeed, his detailed survey would not have been possible if they had been hostile." While there were hostile incidents at the end of Vancouver's last season – the most serious of which involved a clash with Tlingits at Behm Canal in southeast Alaska in 1794 – these were the exceptions to Vancouver's exploration of the U.S. and Canadian Northwest coast.
Despite a long history of warfare between Britain and Spain, Vancouver maintained excellent relations with his Spanish counterparts and even feted a Spanish sea captain aboard his ship Discovery during his 1792 trip to the Vancouver region.
- Various locations have been named after George Vancouver, notably:
- Vancouver Island, Canada
- Hudson's Bay Company's 1825 Fort Vancouver
- Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
- Vancouver, Washington, USA
- Vancouver Peninsula, Australia
- Mount Vancouver, eighth highest mountain in Canada
- Vancouver Bay in Jervis Inlet was named after him when Capt. G.H. Richards resurveyed the area in 1860.
- Vancouver Maritime Museum
- Vancouver Arm of Breaksea Sound, Fiordland, South Island, New Zealand.
- Statues of Vancouver are located in front of Vancouver City Hall, in King's Lynn and on top of the dome of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings.
- The Vancouver Quarter Shopping Centre bears his name in his home town of King's Lynn, England.
- Canada Post issued a pair of 14-cent stamps to mark the 200th anniversary of Captain Cook's arrival at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island on 26 April 1978. George Vancouver was a crewman on this voyage.
- "Gate to the Northwest Passage"; a commemorative statue by Vancouver artist Alan Chung Hung was commissioned by Parks Canada and installed at the mouth of False Creek in Vanier Park near the Vancouver Maritime Museum in 1980.
- Canada Post issued a 37-cent stamp inscribed Vancouver Explores the Coast on 17 March 1988. It was one of a set of four stamps issued to honour Exploration of Canada – Recognizers.
- The George Vancouver Rose, named in his honour and hybridized by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
- Virgin Trains British Rail Class 221 unit 221129 is named in his honour.
Many collections were made on the voyage: one was donated by Archibald Menzies to the British Museum 1796; another made by surgeon George Goodman Hewett (1765–1834) was donated by A. W. Franks to the British Museum in 1891. An account of these has been published: see J. C. H. King 1994. 'Vancouver's Ethnography' Journal of the History of Collections. 6(1):35–58.
250th birthday commemorations
Canada Post issued a $1.55 postage stamp to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Vancouver's birth, on 22 June 2007. The stamp has an embossed image of Vancouver seen from behind as he gazes forward towards a mountainous coastline. This may be the first Canadian stamp not to show the subject's face.
The City of Vancouver in Canada organized a celebration to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Vancouver's birth, in June 2007 at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The one-hour festivities included the presentation of a massive 63 by 114 centimetre carrot cake, the firing of a gun salute by the Royal Canadian Artillery's 15th Field Regiment and a performance by the Vancouver Firefighter's Band. Vancouver's mayor, Sam Sullivan, officially declared 22 June 2007 to be "George Day".
The Musqueam native elder Larry Grant attended the festivities and acknowledged that some of his people might disapprove of his presence, but also noted:
"Many people don't feel aboriginal people should be celebrating this occasion...I believe it has helped the world and that's part of who we are. That's the legacy of our people. We're generous to a fault. The legacy is strong and a good one, in the sense that without the first nations working with the colonials, it [B.C.] wouldn't have been part of Canada to begin with and Britain would be the poorer for it."
Origins of the family name
There has been some debate about the origins of the Vancouver name. It is now commonly accepted that the name Vancouver derives from the expression van Coevorden, meaning "(originating) from Coevorden", a city in the northeast of the Netherlands. This city is apparently named after the "Coeverden" family of the 13 – 15th century. An alternative theory is that Vancouver is a misspelling or anglicized version of Van Couwen, a Dutch name.
In the 16th century, a number of businessmen from the Coevorden area (and the Netherlands in general) did move to England. Some of them were known as Van Coeverden. Others adopted the surname Oxford, as in oxen fording (a river), which is approximately the English translation of Coevorden. However this is not the exact name of the noble family mentioned in the history books that claim Vancouver's noble lineage: that name was Coeverden not Coevorden.
In the 1970s, Adrien Mansvelt, a former Consul General of the Netherlands based in Vancouver, published a collation of information in both historical and genealogical journals and in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Mansvelt's theory was later presented by the city during the Expo 86 World's Fair, as historical fact.
Mr. Mansvelt's theories, however, are based on many assumptions and possibilities that may be flawed. Genealogy is the study or investigation of ancestry and family history, with undeniable proof of traceability through family lineage of birth, marriage and death records. Mansveld bases his research on no such proof and uses the words "assumed", "possible" and "may" time and again throughout his essay. (see Mansvelts essay) This problematic information was then used as rock solid proof for Mr. W. Kaye Lamb to write his book A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World, 1791–1795.
W. Kaye Lamb, in summarizing Mansvelt's unsubstantiated 1973 research, suggests evidence of close family ties between the Vancouver family of Britain and the Van Coeverden family of Holland as well as George Vancouver's own words from his diaries in referring to his Dutch ancestry:
As the name Vancouver suggests, the Vancouvers were of Dutch origin. Popular theory suggests that they were descended from the titled van Coeverden family, one of the oldest in the Netherlands. By the twelfth century, and for many years thereafter, their castle at Coevorden, in the Province of Drenthe, was an important fortress on the eastern frontier. George Vancouver was aware of this. In July 1794, he named the Lynn Canal "after the place of my nativity" and Point Couverden (which he spelt incorrectly) "after the seat of my ancestors". Vancouver's great grandfather, Reint Wolter van Couverden, was probably the first of the line to establish an English connection. While serving as a squire at one of the German courts he met Johanna (Jane) Lilingston, an English girl who was one of the ladies in waiting. They were married in 1699. Their son, Lucas Hendrik van Couverden, married Vancouver's grandmother, Sarah. In his later years he probably anglicized his name and spent most of his time in England. By the eighteenth century, the estates of the van Couverdens were mostly in the Province of Overijssel, and some of the family were living in Vollenhove, on the Zuider Zee. The English and Dutch branches kept in touch, and in 1798 (the date of Vancouver's death) George Vancouver's brother Charles would marry a kinswoman, Louise Josephine van Couverden, of Vollenhove. Both were great-grandchildren of Reint Wolter van Couverden."
George Vancouver named the south point of what is now Couverden Island, Alaska as Point Couverden during his exploration of the North American Pacific coast, supposedly in honour of what is presumed to be his family's hometown of Coevorden. It is located at the western point of entry to Lynn Canal in southeastern Alaska.
Works by George Vancouver
- Voyage Of Discovery To The North Pacific Ocean, And Round The World In The Years 1791–95, by George Vancouver ISBN 0-7812-5100-1. Original written by Vancouver and completed by his brother John and published in 1798.Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, alternative link Vol 1
- Edited in 1984 by W. Kaye Lamb and renamed The Voyage of George Vancouver 1791–1795; published by the Hakluyt Society of London, England.
- HMCS Vancouver Halifax-class frigate of the Royal Canadian Navy
- TS Vancouver, Australian Navy Cadets
- 47 RCSCC CAPTAIN VANCOUVER, Royal Canadian Sea Cadets 
- Reed, A. W. (2010). Peter Dowling, ed. Place Names of New Zealand. Rosedale, North Shore: Raupo. p. 430. ISBN 9780143204107.
- Robert J. King, “George Vancouver and the contemplated settlement at Nootka Sound”, The Great Circle, vol.32, no.1, 2010, pp.6–34; name="Allen">Allen, Richard Edward (1982). A Pictorial History of Vancouver, Book 1. Josten's Publications.
- Little, Gary. George Vancouver 1757–2007: 250th Birth Anniversary, Survey of the Southwest Coast of BC, June 1792
- The Voyage of George Vancouver 1791–1795, Volume 1, ed: W. Kaye Lamb, Hakluyt Society, 1984, p.247
- Etulain, Richard W. (2004). Western Lives: A Biographical History Of The American West. UNM Press. pp. 97–101. ISBN 978-0-8263-3472-5. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
- http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/chis/chumash.pdf pp. 139–40 (98–99) Accessed 18 June 2010
- Vancouver, George, and John Vancouver (1801). A voyage of discovery to the North Pacific ocean, and round the world. London: J. Stockdale.
- Larry Pynn, "Charting the Coast", The Vancouver Sun, 30 May 2007, p.B3
- Brown, Stephen R. (1999). "In the Most Faithful Manner". Mercator's World 4 (6).
- "Vancouver". BC Geographical Names. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/24320.html.
- Stephen Hume, "The Birth of Modern British Columbia Part 7", The Vancouver Sun, 17 November 2007, p.D9
- Larry Pynn, "Peaceful Encounters" , The Vancouver Sun, 29 May 2007, p.B3
- http://www.canadianrosesociety.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=80&Itemid=55 canadianrosesociety.org "George Vancouver Rose"
- Mystery man:The Canada Post stamp honouring Captain George Vancouver has created a buzz with collectors, By Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun, Published: Thursday, 24 May 2007
- Larry Pynn, "Native elder embraces captain's legacy," The Vancouver Sun, 23 June 2007, p.B9
- "The story of a Norfolk Sailor" (pamphlet) by G.H. Anderson, Published in King's Lynn in 1923 (copy available at Vancouver Public Library)
- "The Vancouver – Van Coeverden Controversy" by Adrien Mansvelt, The British Columbia Genealogist (published February 1975 Vol 4 No.1,2,3)
- "Vancouver: A lost branch of the van Coeverden Family" by Adrien Mansvelt, BC Historical News, VI (1973) 20–23
- 'Solving the Captain Vancouver mystery', and "The Original Vancouver in Old Holland" by Adrien Mansvelt, Vancouver Sun, Published 1 September 1973
- The Voyage of George Vancouver 1791–1795, Volume 1, editor: W. Kaye Lamb, Hakluyt Society, 1984. p.3
- History of Metropolitan Vancouver
- Couverden Island
- Madness, Betrayal and the Lash: The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver by Stephen R. Bown. Published by Douglas & McIntyre 2008.
- Vancouver A Life: 1757–1798
by George Godwin. Published by D. Appleton and Company, 1931.
- Adventures in Two Hemispheres Including Captain Vancouver's Voyage by James Stirrat Marshall and Carrie Marshall. Published by Telex Printing Service, 1955.
- The Life and Voyages of Captain George Vancouver by Bern Anderson. Published by University of Washington Press, 1966.
- Captain Vancouver: A Portrait of His Life by Alison Gifford. Published by St. James Press, 1986.
- Journal of the Voyages of the H.M.S. Discovery and Chatham by Thomas Manby. Published by Ye Galleon Press, 1988.
- Vancouver's Voyage: Charting the Northwest Coast, 1791–1795 by Robin Fisher and Gary Fiegehen. Published by Douglas & McIntyre, 1992.
- On Stormy Seas, The Triumphs and Torments of Captain George Vancouver by B. Guild Gillespie. Published by Horsdal & Schubart, 1992.
- Captain Vancouver: North-West Navigator by E.C. Coleman. Published by Tempus, 2007.
- Sailing with Vancouver: A Modern Sea Dog, Antique Charts and a Voyage Through Time by Sam McKinney. Published by Touchwood Editions, 2004.
- The Early Exploration of Inland Washington Waters: Journals and Logs from Six Expeditions, 1786–1792 edited by Richard W. Blumenthal. Published by McFarland & Company, 2004.
- A Discovery Journal: George Vancouver's First Survey Season – 1792 by John E. Roberts. Published by Trafford Publishing, 2005.
- With Vancouver in Inland Washington Waters: Journals of 12 Crewmen April–June 1792 edited by Richard W. Blumenthal. Published by McFarland & Company, 2007.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: George Vancouver|
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- George Vancouver (1757–1798), Explorer, illustrations in the National Portrait Gallery.
- Discoverers Web
- The True Meaning of Vancouver – Etymology of his name.
- Gary Little's interactive Google map showing the path Vancouver followed during his 11-day survey of the southwest coast of British Columbia
- Coevorden: What connection does Vancouver have with Coevorden, an industrial town of about 20,000 in the northeast Netherlands?- The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website. (Retrieved on 11 June 2007)
- George Vancouver at Find a Grave.