Today’s installment concludes Frobisher Searches for the Northwest Passage,
our selection from A True Discourse of the Late Voyages of Discoverie by George Best published in 1578. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Frobisher Searches for the Northwest Passage.
Place: North Coast of Canada
After he had passed sixty leagues into this aforesaid strait, he went ashore, and found signs where fire had been made. He saw mighty deer, that seemed to be mankind, which ran at him; and hardly he escaped with his life in a narrow way, where he was fain to use defense and policy to save his life. In this place he saw and perceived sundry tokens of the peoples resorting thither. And being ashore upon the top of a hill, he perceived a number of small things fleeting in the sea afar off, which he supposed to be porpoises, or seals, or some kind of strange fish; but coming nearer, he discovered them to be men in small boats made of leather. And before he could descend down from the hill, certain of those people had almost cut off his boat from him, having stolen secretly behind the rocks for that purpose; where he speedily hastened to his boat, and bent himself to his halberd, and narrowly escaped the danger, and saved his boat.
Afterward he had sundry conferences with them, and they came aboard his ship, and brought him salmon and raw flesh and fish, and greedily devoured the same before our men’s faces. And to show their agility, they tried many masteries upon the ropes of the ship after our mariners’ fashion, and appeared to be very strong of their arms and nimble of their bodies. They exchanged coats of seals’ and bears’ skins, and such like, with our men, and received bells, looking-glasses, and other toys in recompense thereof again. After great courtesy and many meetings, our mariners, contrary to their captain’s direction, began more easily to trust them; and five of our men going ashore were by them intercepted with their boat, and were never since heard of to this day again; so that the captain being destitute of boat, bark, and all company, had scarcely sufficient number to conduct back his bark again.
He could now neither convey himself ashore to rescue his men, if he had been able, for want of a boat; and again the subtle traitors were so wary, as they would after that never come within our men’s danger. The captain, notwithstanding, desirous of bringing some token from thence of his being there, was greatly discontented that he had not before apprehended some of them; and, therefore, to deceive the deceivers, he wrought a pretty policy. For knowing well how they greatly delighted in our toys, and specially in bells, he rang a pretty loud bell, making signs that he would give him the same who would come and fetch it. And because they would not come within his danger for fear, he flung one bell unto them, which of purpose he threw short, that it might fall into the sea and be lost. And to make them more greedy of the matter he rang a louder bell, so that in the end one of them came near the ship side to receive the bell. Which when he thought to take at the captain’s hand, he was thereby taken himself; for the captain, being readily provided, let the bell fall, and caught the man fast, and plucked him with main force, boat and all, into his bark out of the sea. Whereupon, when he found himself in captivity, for very choler and disdain he bit his tongue in twain within his mouth; notwithstanding, he died not thereof, but lived until he came in England, and then he died of cold which he had taken at sea.
Now with this new prey, which was a sufficient witness of the captain’s far and tedious travel toward the unknown parts of the world, as did well appear by this strange infidel, whose like was never seen, read, nor heard of before, and whose language was neither known nor understood of any, the said Captain Frobisher returned homeward, and arrived in England, in Harwich, the second of October following, and thence came to London, 1576, where he was highly commended of all men for his great and notable attempt, but specially famous for the great hope he brought of the passage to Cataya. [China -JL]
And it is especially to be remembered that at their first arrival in those parts there lay so great store of ice all the coast along, so thick together, that hardly his boat could pass unto the shore. At length, after divers attempts, he commanded his company, if by any possible means they could get ashore, to bring him whatsoever thing they could first find, whether it were living or dead, stock or stone, in token of Christian possession, which thereby he took in behalf of the Queen’s most excellent majesty, thinking that thereby he might justify the having and enjoying of the same things that grew in these unknown parts.
Some of his company brought flowers, some green grass; and one brought a piece of black stone, much like to a sea coal in color, which by the weight seemed to be some kind of metal or mineral. This was a thing of no account in the judgment of the captain at first sight; and yet for novelty it was kept, in respect of the place from whence it came. After his arrival in London, being demanded of sundry his friends what thing he had brought them home out of that country, he had nothing left to present them withal but a piece of this black stone. And it fortuned a gentlewoman, one of the adventurer’s wives, to have a piece thereof, which by chance she threw and burned in the fire, so long that at the length being taken forth, and quenched in a little vinegar, it glistened with a bright marquesite of gold. Whereupon the matter being called in some question, it was brought to certain gold-finers in London to make assay thereof, who gave out that it held gold, and that very richly for the quantity. Afterward the same gold-finers promised great matters thereof if there were any store to be found, and offered themselves to adventure for the searching of those parts from whence the same was brought. Some that had great hope of the matter sought secretly to have a lease at her majesty’s hands of those places, whereby to enjoy the mass of so great a public profit unto their own private gains.
 The English assayers all pronounced the stone worthless. An Italian, Giovanni Baptista Agnello, reported it to contain gold. On being questioned as to how it was that he alone was able to produce gold from the stone, he is said to have replied, “Bisogna safiere adular la natura” (“Nature requires coaxing “). Agnello’s assay necessarily involved the addition of other substances for the purpose of separating the gold; and it has been suggested that the gold produced by him was itself added during this process. There is no good reason for thinking so. Pyrites often contains a minute proportion of gold. Admitting the possibility of trickery in the case of the small specimen submitted to Agnello, it is incredible that the fraud should have been successfully repeated when the two hundred tons of mineral brought back by the second expedition came to be tested. The mineral undoubtedly contained gold, but not enough to pay for the carriage and working.
In conclusion, the hope of more of the same gold ore to be found kindled a greater opinion in the hearts of many to advance the voyage again. Whereupon preparation was made for a new voyage against the year following, and the captain more specially directed by commission for the searching more of this gold ore than for the searching any further discovery of the passage. And being well accompanied with divers resolute and forward gentlemen, her majesty then lying at the Right Honorable the Lord of Warwick’s house, in Essex, he came to take his leave; and kissing her highness’ hands, with gracious countenance and comfortable words departed toward his charge.
Previously in Frobisher Searches for the Northwest Passage.
This ends our series of passages on Frobisher Searches for the Northwest Passage by George Best from his book A True Discourse of the Late Voyages of Discoverie published in 1578. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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