George Vancouver : biography
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 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:
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:
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.Stephen Hume, "The Birth of Modern British Columbia Part 7", The Vancouver Sun, 17 November 2007, p.D9 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.Larry Pynn, "Peaceful Encounters" , The Vancouver Sun, 29 May 2007, p.B3 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:
Vancouver also displayed contempt in his journals towards unscrupulous western traders who provided guns to natives by writing:
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 during his 1792 trip to the Vancouver region.