John Davis (English explorer)
Davis, shown bottom left holding his backstaff, in a detail from Englands Famous Discoverers
Sandridge, Devon, England
|Died||29 December 1605|
off Malay peninsula
|Cause of death||homicide|
|Known for||namesake of Davis Strait and Inlet|
discoverer of the Falkland Islands
inventor of the backstaff
John Davis or Davys (c. 1550 – 29 December 1605) (b. 1543?) was one of the chief English navigators of Elizabeth I. He led several voyages to discover the Northwest Passage and served as pilot and captain on both Dutch and English voyages to the East Indies. He discovered the Falkland Islands (today a British Overseas Territory) in August 1592.
It is important that Captain John Davis of Sandridge should not be confused with a contemporary, Captain John Davis of Limehouse. Both served in the fleet of Captain James Lancaster during the first voyage of the East India Company to the East Indies.
Life and career
Davis was born in the parish of Stoke Gabriel in Devon circa 1550, and spent his childhood in Sandridge Barton nearby. It has been suggested[by whom?] that he learned much of his seamanship as a child while plying boats along the river Dart, and went to sea at an early age. His childhood neighbours included Adrian Gilbert and Humphrey Gilbert and their half-brother Walter Raleigh. From early on, he also became friends with John Dee.
He began pitching a voyage in search of the Northwest Passage to the queen's secretary Francis Walsingham in 1583. Two years later, in 1585, the secretary relented and funded the expedition, which traced Frobisher's route to Greenland's east coast, around Cape Farewell, and west towards Baffin Island. In 1586 he returned to the Arctic with four ships, two of which were sent to Greenland's iceberg-calving eastern shore; the other two penetrated the strait which came to bear his name as far as 67°N before being blocked by the Arctic ice cap. Sunshine attempted (and failed) to circumnavigate the island from the east. The initially amiable approach Davis adopted to the Inuit – bringing musicians and having the crew dance and play with them – changed after they stole one of his anchors; they were likely irate at having been interrupted during one of their religious ceremonies. Inuit also attacked his ships in Hamilton Inlet (Labrador). A third expedition in 1587 reached 72°12'N and Disko Island before unfavorable winds forced it back. On his return, Davis charted the Davis Inlet in the coast of Labrador. The log of this trip remained a textbook model for later captains for centuries.
In 1588 he seems to have commanded Black Dog against the Spanish Armada. In 1589 he joined the Earl of Cumberland as part of the Azores Voyage of 1589. In 1591 he accompanied Thomas Cavendish on Cavendish's last voyage, which sought to discover the Northwest Passage "upon the back parts of America" (i.e., from the western entrance). After the rest of Cavendish's expedition returned unsuccessful, Davis continued to attempt on his own account the passage of the Strait of Magellan; though defeated by foul weather, he probably discovered the Falkland Islands in August 1592 aboard Desire. His crew was forced to kill hundreds of penguins for food on the islands, but the stored meat spoiled in the tropics and only fourteen of his 76 men made it home alive.
From 1596 to 1597 Davis seems to have sailed with Sir Walter Raleigh to Cádiz and the Azores as master of Raleigh's ship; from 1598 to 1600 he accompanied a Dutch expedition to the East Indies as pilot, sailing from Flushing and returning to Middleburg, while carefully charting and recording geographical details. He narrowly escaped destruction from treachery at Achin on Sumatra.
From 1601 to 1603 he accompanied Sir James Lancaster as Pilot-Major on the first voyage of the English East India Company. For his part Davis was to receive £500 (around £1.5 million at 2015 values) if the voyage doubled its original investment, £1,000 if three times, £1,500 if four times and £2,000 if five times.
Before departure, Davis had told London merchants that pepper could be obtained in Aceh at a price of four reals of eight per hundredweight - whereas it actually cost 20. When the voyage returned, Lancaster complained that Davis had been wrong about both the price and availability of pepper. Unhappy at being made a scapegoat for the situation, on 5 December 1604 Davis sailed again for the East Indies as pilot to Sir Edward Michelborne, an "interloper" who had been granted a charter by James I  despite the supposed East India Company monopoly on trade with the East. On this journey he was killed off Bintan Island near Singapore by one of his captive "Japanese" pirates whose disabled vessel he had just seized. The pirates had taken the English in through several days of friendly discourse prior to the surprise attack in which the subject was 'dragged back, hacked and slashed, and thrust out again'. He died almost immediately after the attack.
In the centuries after his death, the importance of Dutch whalers actually led the settlements along Greenland's western coast to be called "Straat Davis" after their name for the Strait, while the name "Greenland" was used to refer to the eastern shore, erroneously presumed to be the site of the Norse Eastern Settlement.
Davis's explorations in the Arctic were published by Richard Hakluyt and appeared on his world map. Davis himself published a valuable treatise on practical navigation called The Seaman's Secrets in 1594 and a more theoretical work called The World's Hydrographical Description in 1595. The account of Davis's last voyage was written by Michelborne on his return to England in 1606.
On 28 September 1582, Davis married Mistress Faith Fulford, daughter of Sir John Fulford (the High Sheriff of Devon) and Dorithy Bourchier, the daughter of the Earl of Bath. He had five children: his first son, Gilbert was baptised on 27 March 1583; a daughter Elizabeth who died in infancy; Arthur, born 1586; John, born and died 1587; and Philip.
- Markham, Albert Hastings (1880). Voyages and Works of John Davis. The Hakluyt Society.
- "John Davis: Master Navigator". Collections Canada. 19 March 2004. Retrieved 9 June 2009.
- "John Davis at the Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 9 June 2009.
- Gosch, C.C.A. Danish Arctic Expeditions, 1605 to 1620. Book I.—The Danish Expeditions to Greenland in 1605, 1606, and 1607; to which is added Captain James Hall's Voyage to Greenland in 1612. Hakluyt Society (London), 1897.
- "Relative Value of a U.K. Pound". MeasuringWorth.com. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
- Markham, Sir Clements Robert (1877). The Voyages of Sir James Lancaster, Kt., to the East Indies: With Abstracts of Journals of Voyages to the East Indies During the Seventeenth Century, Preserved in the India Office : and the Voyage of Captain John Knight (1606), to Seek the North-west Passage. Hakluyt Society. p. v.
- Smart, Christopher; Goldsmith, Oliver; Johnson, Samuel (1815). The World Displayed, Or, A Collection of Voyages and Travels. Dublin: J Christie. p. 93.
- "East Indies: June 1604." Calendar of State Papers Colonial, East Indies, China and Japan, Volume 2, 1513-1616. Ed. W Noel Sainsbury. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1864. 141. British History Online Retrieved 16 July 2019.
- Milton, Giles (1999). Nathaniel's Nutmeg, Or, The True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader who Changed the Course of History. Hodder & Stoughton. pp. 114–5. ISBN 978-0-374-21936-9.
- Laughton, J.K., "John Davys". Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 1959-1960 reprint of 1885-1901 edition. London: Oxford University Press. v. 5, p.659.
- Ibid, 1888 edition. Internet Archive website, v. 14, p. 209. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
- Inter alia, cf. Permanent Court of International Justice. "Legal Status of Eastern Greenland: Judgment Archived 11 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine". 5 April 1933. Accessed 10 May 2012.
- "England Marriages, 1538–1973 ," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/N2H7-HMQ : accessed 27 Jul 2014), John Davys and Fayth Fulford, 28 Sep 1582; citing Stoke Gabriel,Devon,England, reference ; FHL microfilm 917534.
- "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/JWFF-G8D : accessed 27 Jul 2014), John Davis in entry for Gylbert Davis, 27 Mar 1583; citing STOKE GABRIEL,DEVON,ENGLAND, reference ; FHL microfilm 917534.
- John Davis; John Carter Brown Library (1633). The Seamans Secrets (1633). Published for the John Carter Brown Library by Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
- Sir Clements Robert Markham (1889). A life of John Davis, the navigator, 1550-1605: discoverer of Davis Straits. George Phillip. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
- Ray Freeman and Eric Preston. John Davis 1543-1605, The Master Navigator from the Dart, Dartmouth History Research Group Paper 33, ISBN 1-899011-24-2.
- Markham, A.H. (1880) The Voyages and Works of John Davis the Navigator. Hakluyt Society. Descriptions of the three voyages Davis undertook to discover the Northwest Passage. (Reissued by Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-108-01150-1)