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George Vancouver
Born June 22, 1757(1757-06-22)
King's Lynn, Norfolk,
Died May 10, 1798 (aged 40)
Petersham, Surrey, England
Occupation Naval Officer

Captain George Vancouver RN (June 22, 1757 – May 10, 1798) was an officer in the British Royal Navy, best known for his exploration of the North-West Coast of North America, including the shores of the modern day Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. He also explored the southwest coast of Australia.

Vancouver Island, Canada, the cities of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Vancouver, Washington, USA, and Mount Vancouver on the Yukon/Alaska border are all named after him.


Early career

Vancouver's first naval service was as a midshipman aboard HMS Resolution, on James Cook's second voyage (1772–1775). He also accompanied Cook on his third voyage (1776–1778), this time aboard Resolution's sister ship, HMS Discovery Upon his return to Britain in 1779; Vancouver was commissioned as a lieutenant and posted aboard the sloop HMS Martin surveying coastlines.

In 1790 the Spanish commissioned an expedition to the Pacific Northwest. However, the Nootka Crisis intervened, as Spain and Britain came close to war over ownership of Nootka Sound and, of greater importance, the right to settle the Northwest American Coast. Roberts and Vancouver joined Britain's more warlike vessels (Vancouver going, with Whidbey, to HMS Courageux). When the first Nootka Convention ended the crisis, Vancouver was given command of Discovery to take possession of Nootka Sound and survey the coast.[1]

Vancouver's 1791-1795 explorations

A life sized statue covered in gold of George Vancouver on top of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria

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 what is now Washington and Oregon northward. In April 1792 he encountered American Captain Robert Gray off the coast of modern 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 April 29, 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 done from small boats powered by both oars and sail because maneuvering larger sail-powered vessels in uncharted waters was generally impractical and dangerous.

Vancouver was the first European to enter Burrard Inlet (beyond Stanley Park), the main harbour area of the present day City of Vancouver. This was on June 13, 1792. He named it after his friend Sir Harry Burrard. He surveyed Howe Sound and Jervis Inlet over the next nine days[2], before returning to Point Grey (now the site of the University of British Columbia) on June 22, 1792 (Vancouver's 35th birthday). Here he unexpectedly met a Spanish expedition led by Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés y Flores and was mortified (his word) to learn they already had a crude chart of the Strait of Georgia based on the exploration voyage of José María Narváez, under command of Francisco de Eliza, the year before. For three weeks they cooperatively explored Georgia Strait and the Discovery Islands area before sailing separately to Nootka Sound.

After the summer surveying season ended in November, Vancouver went to Nootka on Vancouver Island, then the region's most important harbour, where he was to receive any British buildings or lands returned by the Spanish. The Spanish commander, 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.[3]

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.

After a visit to Spanish California, Vancouver spent the winter in further exploration of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).

The next year, he returned to British Columbia and proceeded further north, unknowingly missing the overland explorer Alexander Mackenzie by only 48 days. He got to 56°N, but because the more northern parts had already been explored by Cook, he sailed south to California, hoping to find Bodega y Quadra and fulfill his 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 to Baranov Island, which he had visited the year before. He then set sail for Great Britain by way of Cape Horn, returning in September 1795, thus completing a circumnavigation.

Return to England and death

In The Caneing in Conduit Street (1796), James Gillray caricatured Pitt's streetcorner assault on Vancouver.

Vancouver faced difficulties when he returned home. The 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, challenged him to a duel. Vancouver was attacked in the newspapers and assaulted on the street by Pitt; his career was effectively at an end.

One of Britain's greatest navigators, Vancouver died in obscurity in 1798 at the age of 40, less than three years after completing his voyage. 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 nth degree, to the point it was still being used into the modern day as a navigational aid. That's unusual for a map that early.[4]

Vancouver, however, 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.) Although Vancouver did eventually learn of the Columbia before he finished his survey—from Robert Gray, captain of the American merchant ship which was the first to sail into the river on May 11, 1792 (Gray had first spotted the river on an earlier voyage in 1788)--the Fraser never made it onto his 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...."[5][6]

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 to Point Grey in 1792.[7] The Spanish, who preceded Vancouver in 1791, had also missed the Fraser River although they knew from its muddy plume that there was a major river located nearby.[7]

Aboriginal relations

Vancouver generally established a good rapport with both natives and European foreigners. 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 the tall ship HMS Discovery during his 1792 trip to the Vancouver region.[4]

While Captain Vancouver played an undeniable role in the eventual series of upheavals in native life on the North American Pacific Coast since his explorations opened up the Northwest coast to European exploration and the long term negative impact on first nations peoples and their cultures, historical records show Vancouver himself enjoyed good relations with native leaders both in Hawaii - where native leaders ceded Hawaii to Vancouver in 1794 - as well as the Pacific Northwest.[8] Vancouver's journals exhibit a high degree of sensitivity to natives: he once wrote 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.[8] 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.[8]

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.[8]

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."[8] 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 US and Canadian Northwest coast.[8]


Statue of George Vancouver in King's Lynn.
  • 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.
  • In his home town of King's Lynn the Vancouver Quarter Shopping Centre bears his name.
  • April 26, 1978 - 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. George Vancouver was a crewman on this voyage.
  • March 1980- A commemorative statue "Gate to the Northwest Passage" by Vancouver artist Alan Chung Hung was commissioned by Parks Canada and erected near the Vancouver Maritime Museum in Vanier Park at the opening to False Creek.
  • March 17, 1988 - Canada Post issued a 37-cent stamp inscribed Vancouver Explores the Coast. It was one of a set of four stamps issued to honour Exploration of Canada - Recognizers.
  • June 22, 2007 - Canada Post issued a $1.55 stamp to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Vancouver's birth. 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.[9]
  • The George Vancouver rose, developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, was named in his honour. [10]
1980 Commemorative Statue to Capt. George Vancouver by Vancouver artist Alan Chung Hung

Many collections were made on the voyage: one was donated by Archibald Menzies to the British Museum 1796; another made by G G Hewett 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 anniversary commemoration

On Friday June 22, 2007, the City of Vancouver in Canada organized a celebration at the Vancouver Maritime Museum to remember the 250th anniversary of Vancouver's birth.[11] 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.[11]

Vancouver's mayor, Sam Sullivan, officially declared June 22, 2007 to be "George Day".[11] The Musqueam native elder Larry Grant who also attended the festivities acknowledged that some of his people might disapprove of his presence here but 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."[11]

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 claims that Vancouver is a misspelling or anglicized version of Van Couwen, a Dutch family name.[12]

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 crossing, 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.[13][14][15] 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."[16]

George Vancouver also identified a body of land off the Alaskan coast as 'Couverden Island' during his exploration of the North American Pacific coast presumably to honour his family's Dutch hometown of Coevorden.[17] It is located at the western point of entry to Lynn Canal in southeastern Alaska.[18]

Others present on Vancouver's voyage

See Muster Table of His Majesties Sloop The Discovery[19]

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. Edited in 1984 by W. Kaye Lamb and re-named The Voyage of George Vancouver 1791 - 1795. W. Kaye Lamb's later analysis of Vancouver's exploration was published by the Hakluyt Society of London, England.


  1. ^ Allen, Richard Edward (1982). A Pictorial History of Vancouver, Book 1. Josten's Publications. 
  2. ^ Little, Gary. George Vancouver 1757-2007: 250th Birth Anniversary, Survey of the Southwest Coast of BC, June 1792
  3. ^ The Voyage of George Vancouver 1791-1795, Volume 1, ed: W. Kaye Lamb, Hakluyt Society, 1984, p.247
  4. ^ a b Larry Pynn, "Charting the Coast", The Vancouver Sun, May 30, 2007, p.B3
  5. ^ Brown, Stephen R. (1999). "In the Most Faithful Manner". Mercator's World 4 (6). 
  6. ^ "Vancouver". BC Geographical Names Information System. 
  7. ^ a b Stephen Hume, "The Birth of Modern British Columbia Part 7", The Vancouver Sun, November 17, 2007, p.D9
  8. ^ a b c d e f Larry Pynn, "Peaceful Encounters" , The Vancouver Sun, May 29, 2007, p.B3
  9. ^ Mystery man:The Canada Post stamp honouring Captain George Vancouver has created a buzz with collectors, By Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun, Published: Thursday, May 24, 2007
  10. ^ George Vancouver rose
  11. ^ a b c d Larry Pynn, "Native elder embraces captain's legacy," The Vancouver Sun, June 23, 2007, p.B9
  12. ^ "The story of a Norfolk Sailor" (pamphlet) by G.H. Anderson, Published in King's Lynn in 1923 (copy available at Vancouver Public Library)
  13. ^ "The Vancouver - Van Coeverden Controversy" by Adrien Mansvelt, The British Columbia Genealogist (published February 1975 Vol 4 No.1,2,3)
  14. ^ "Vancouver: A lost branch of the van Coeverden Family" by Adrien Mansvelt, BC Historical News, VI (1973) 20-23
  15. ^ 'Solving the Captain Vancouver mystery', and "The Original Vancouver in Old Holland" by Adrien Mansvelt, Vancouver Sun, Published September 1, 1973
  16. ^ The Voyage of George Vancouver 1791-1795, Volume 1, editor: W. Kaye Lamb, Hakluyt Society, 1984. p.3
  17. ^ History of Metropolitan Vancouver
  18. ^ Couverden Island
  19. ^ "Muster Table of His Majesties Sloop The Discovery". Admiralty Records in the Public Record Office, U.K.. 1791. Retrieved December 15, 2006. 

Further reading

  • 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.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GEORGE VANCOUVER (c. 1758-1798), English navigator, was born in 1758. He entered the navy at the age of thirteen, and accompanied James Cook in his second (1772-74) and third (1776-80) voyages of discovery. After serving for several years in the West Indies, both under Rodney (his commander in the action of the 12th of April 1782) and under Alan Gardner (1786-89), Vancouver, on Gardner's recommendation, was appointed to command an expedition to the north-west coast of America, to take over from the Spaniards the territory they had seized (and subsequently relinquished) in that region, to explore the coast from 30° N. round to Cook's River (or Inlet), to search for an eastward passage to the great lakes, and to ascertain the true character of Juan de Fuca Strait. Vancouver, accompanied by Lieutenant Broughton, left Falmouth on the 1st of April 1791 and proceeded by way of the Cape of Good Hope to Australia, where he carefully surveyed part of the south-west coast, especially King George's Sound, whose value as a harbour he pointed out. He next made for Dusky Bay, New Zealand (which he was the first properly to explore), and thence sailing north-east, discovered Oparo Islet (27° 36' S.; 144° 12' W.), and on the 30th of December reached Tahiti, where he was again joined by Broughton, who meanwhile had discovered Chatham Island. After staying about three weeks at Tahiti and several weeks at the Hawaiian Islands, Vancouver on the 18th of April 1792 sighted the west coast of North America (California, then known as New Albion) in 39° 27' N. He examined the coast up to 52° 18' N. with minute care, surveying all inlets, discovering the Gulf of Georgia, and circumnavigating Vancouver Island (named after him). After another visit (February-March 1793) to the Hawaiian Islands, in whose races and affairs he took great interest, Vancouver resumed his exploration of the American coast in April, surveying north to 56° N., and south (past the Spanish Californian settlements) to 35° N. During a fresh stay at the Hawaiian Islands (January-March 1794) Vancouver accepted their submission to Great Britain, but his annexation seems never to have been officially ratified. Quitting the group again in March 1794, Vancouver sailed, by Chernigov Island and Kodiak Island, to Cook's Inlet, which was now proved to be no river. After a fresh survey of much of the coast north of San Francisco, Vancouver set out homewards via Cape Horn and St Helena in October 1794. On the way he made. a careful examination of Cape St Lucas, the southern point of Lower California, the Galapagos Islands and some other points. He reached the mouth of the Shannon on the 13th of September 1 795 (the Thames on the 10th of October), and immediately set about the preparation of his narrative; but he died at Petersham in Surrey on the 10th of May 1798, before he had completed his task. His brother John, assisted by Captain Puget, published the complete record in 1798.

See A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and round the World.. in 1 79 0 -5. under Captain George Vancouver, 3 vols. (1798), with an atlas of maps and plates.

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