Henry Hudson

The Fourth and Final Voyage

Henry Hudson’s fourth voyage to the New World was sponsored once more by the Muscovy Company. They changed their minds after losing interest in working with him after his second voyage had failed to find a route to Asia by sailing across the Pole. Even though his most recent voyage on behalf of the Dutch had failed to find a river passage, there was still a route explorer John Davis called the “Furious Overfall” that had not yet been tried. This route would take a sailor daring enough to try through the Hudson Strait where the tides rush through at great speed and the water rises thirty to sixty feet. In an attempt “to try if, through any of these inlets which Davis saw, but durst not enter, any passage might be found to the other ocean called the South Sea.” The Muscovy Company, eager to find a sea route to Asia, decided to once again entrust the mission to Hudson. Sailing on the bark Discovery, Hudson and his crew left from London on April 17th, 1610. The crew on this final voyage consisted of Henry Hudson, captain; Robert Juet, mate; John King, quartermaster; Robert Bylot; Edward Wilson, surgeon; Francis Clemens, boatswain; Silvanus Bond, cooper; Philip Staffe, carpenter; Arnold Lodlo, Michael Butt, Adame Moore, Syrake Fanner; John Williams, gunner; William Wilson, John Thomas, Michael Perse, Adrian Motter, able-bodied seamen; Abacuk Prickett and Bennett Mathues, landsmen; Thomas Wydowse (Woodhouse), a mathematician; and two boys, John Hudson, and Nicolas Syms. Juet, Staffe, Lodlo and Perse had served under Hudson on previous voyages. Another man named Henry Greene joined the ship farther down the river. Greene proved to be a difficult man and Hudson again experienced problems with his crew.

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“A Chart of Hudson’s Straights and Bay of Davis Streights, and Baffin’s Bay as Published in the Year 1662,” An Account of a Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage by Hudson’s Streights, to the Western and Southern Ocean of America, 1748-49, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, G650.1746.D75 rare.

On May 11,1610, Discovery was off the coast of Iceland. Greene picked a fight with Edward Wilson, ship’s surgeon, who was barely persuaded to return to the ship. Robert Juet made some disloyal comments directed at Hudson and was suspicious of Greene. Against his better instincts, Hudson decided to continue the voyage rather than return to England, and Discovery sailed on towards Greenland. Off the coast of Greenland, Hudson found so much ice he was unable to bring the ship in close to shore. By the end of June they entered the strait that had up until then been called the “Furious Overfall” and would in the future be named Hudson Strait.

The strait was four hundred and fifty miles long and one hundred miles wide. Its position was so near the Magnetic Pole it made compass use impossible, and the dangerous tides moved ice floes back and forth across its waters. Had Hudson attempted it several weeks later, the worst of the danger from ice would have passed, but because of the ice he found it impossible to keep to a westward course, so took the ship south. They came upon the coast of Labrador and turned north again. A second unsuccessful attempt to travel through the strait sent the ship south again and they entered Ungava Bay. Sailing north once more, they reached an island near the northwest cape of the Bay. From there, the Discovery sailed westward along the southern shore of the Bay until she came into a “great and whirling sea.” Polar bears amazed the sailors as they swam and played among the ice floes, but the crew grew uneasy sailing with the floating masses of ice and gradually began to feel that Hudson had no idea of their location. Mate Robert Juet openly made fun of Hudson and his plan for reaching the Indies. Instead of dealing with the disrespect in a firm manner, Hudson tried to talk with his crew and showed them his charts in order to convince them of the wisdom of his plan.

It was August when the ship sailed between Cape Digges and Cape Wolstenholme and Hudson and his crew felt the most dangerous part of their voyage was behind them. As the ship passed through the narrows that separated the two towering capes, Hudson made what would be the last entry in his journal. He sent several men in a small boat to explore the surrounding land. While ashore the men found a storehouse full of food and wanted to remain in the area for some days, but Hudson was determined to venture further into the bay and began to sail southward, sure that when he entered James Bay, he would finally have found the passage that would lead to the Great Sea. As he sailed back and forth within James Bay without finding the passage, the crew again became disgruntled. Hudson’s navigation was ridiculed and this time Hudson accused Mate Robert Juet of disloyalty. Juet demanded a trial before the entire crew. Several crewmen testified to Juet’s conniving and traitorous remarks and sided with Hudson. Juet was demoted and his pay was cut. Others of the crew who had sided with Juet in criticism of Hudson were also dismissed from their positions and replaced. Hudson promised the demoted and disgraced men that future good behavior would go far toward forgiveness, but the damage was done. Robert Juet nursed his grudge, powerless for the moment.

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“A Chart of Hudson’s Straits & Bay,” An Account of a Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage by Hudson’s Streights, to the Western and Southern Ocean of America, 1748-49, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, G650.1746.D75 rare.

For unknown reasons, Hudson sailed north, then south, then north again, never leaving James Bay. As winter approached, Hudson realized the need for a safe place to wait out the cold. On November 1, 1610, they hauled the Discovery close to shore and by the tenth of November they were frozen in. With enough supplies to last the winter, but not enough to get them home again, Hudson began food rationing. A disagreement over the inheritance of a dead shipmate’s clothing caused a rift between Henry Greene, formerly Hudson’s protégé, and the captain. Combined with the ongoing animosity of Juet and fellow demoted gunner William Wilson, Hudson had a difficult time maintaining order. Only the assistance of Bylot, his new mate, helped. When the ship’s carpenter, Philip Staffe, refused to try and build a house in the extreme cold, Hudson cursed him and hit him, going so far as threatening to hang him. They eventually reconciled their differences and the carpenter built a shelter, but by vacillating between leniency and harshness, Hudson demonstrated his inability to lead his men and inspire their confidence.

As the crew tried to survive the harsh winter, scurvy broke out. Hunger and disease began to take a toll on the men, reducing them to eating moss. The discovery of a tonic that could be brewed from a tree bud (probably tarmac), helped with their ailments. When the melting ice signaled the onset of spring, a native appeared. The visit was friendly and the native left with some trade items given by Hudson, returning later with skins and meat. The native concluded after further dealings with the English that they were by nature greedy and untrustworthy. The native never returned, and Hudson and his crew had to once again provide for themselves. As spring advanced, James Bay filled with fish. On the first day of fishing the records show the crew caught over five hundred fish. They never did as well again and food once more became scarce.

“Trail of Mutineers.” Based on the mutineers’ testimony, they were let go even with the death of Hudson, his son, and the other crewmen cast adrift.

While some of the crew fished, Henry Greene and William Wilson plotted to steal the shallop and escape to some place where they could obtain food. Their plan was spoiled when Hudson decided to take the small boat and venture out on an excursion of his own. Taking food for eight or nine days, he left the crew behind to gather wood, and take on water and ballast. Given the sad condition of his troubled crew, Hudson leaving the ship provided the starving men the perfect opportunity to plan the mutiny that would claim his life. Hudson’s little trip was a failure. He had hoped to find Native Americans with whom he could trade for food, but they avoided him at every turn, going so far as to torch the woods when he came in sight. He returned to the ship and without provocation demoted his one ally, Bylot, from his position as Mate and promoted John King. The balance of power now shifted to those of the crew who favored mutiny.