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John Davis (English explorer): Wikis


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John Davis

17th century painting of Davis
Born 1543?
Sandridge, Devon, Kingdom of England
Died 29 December 1605
off Malay peninsula
Cause of death Murder
Nationality English
Ethnicity White
Occupation Explorer, navigator
Known for Davis Strait, discovered the Falkland Islands, invented the backstaff
Spouse(s) Faith Fulford

John Davis (1543? - 29 December 1605), was one of the chief English navigators and explorers under Elizabeth I, especially in Polar regions and in the Far East.


Early life

Davis (Davys) was born at Sandridge near Dartmouth around 1543, and baptised at Stoke Gabriel in October 1543. From a boy he was a sailor, and early went on voyages with close neighbour Adrian Gilbert; both the Gilbert and Raleigh families were Devonians of his own neighbourhood, and through life he seems to have profited by their friendship.

Baffin Island

In January 1583[1] he appears to have broached his design of a Northwest Passage to Francis Walsingham and John Dee; various consultations followed; and in 1585 he started on his first north-western expedition. On this he began by encountering the ice-bound east shore of Greenland, which he followed south to Cape Farewell; then he turned north once more and coasted the west Greenland littoral some way, until, finding the sea free from ice, he shaped a course for China going north-west. In 66° N, however, he encountered Baffin Island, and though he pushed some way up Cumberland Sound, and professed to recognize in this the hoped for strait, he now turned back (end of August).

He tried again in 1586 and 1587; in the last voyage he pushed through the straits still named after him into Baffin Bay, coasting west Greenland to 73° N, almost to Upernavik, and thence making a last effort to find a passage westward along the north of America. Many points in Arctic latitudes (Cumberland Sound, Cape Walsingham, Exeter Sound, etc) retain names given them by Davis, who ranks with William Baffin and Henry Hudson as the greatest of early Arctic explorers and, like Martin Frobisher, narrowly missed the discovery of Hudson Bay via what he called the "Furious Overfall".[2]

Command of the Black Dog

In 1588 he seems to have commanded Black Dog against the Spanish Armada;[1] in 1589 he joined the Earl of Cumberland off the Azores; and in 1591 he accompanied Thomas Cavendish on his last voyage, with the special purpose, as he tells us, of searching for that north-west passage "upon the back parts of America" (ie from the western coast). After the rest of Cavendish's expedition returned unsuccessful, he continued to attempt on his own account the passage of the Strait of Magellan; though defeated here by foul weather, he discovered the Falkland Islands in August 1592 aboard the vessel Desire. His crew was forced to kill around 125,000 penguins for food while on the Falkland Islands. They stored the penguin meat as well as they could and sailed for home, but the meat spoiled once they reached the tropics. This made the passage home disastrous, and he brought back only fourteen of his seventy-six men.

Later expeditions

In 1596-1597 Davis seems to have sailed with Raleigh (as master of Sir Walter's own ship) to Cádiz and the Azores; and in 1598-1600 he accompanied a Dutch expedition to the East Indies as pilot, sailing from Flushing, returning to Middleburg, and carefully charting and recording geographical details. He narrowly escaped destruction from treachery at Achin in Sumatra.


After his return in 1593 he published a valuable treatise on practical navigation in The Seaman's Secrets (1594), and a more theoretical work in The World's Hydrographical Description (1595).


His invention of the backstaff and double quadrant (called the Davis Quadrant after him) remained popular among English seamen until long after Hadley's reflecting quadrant had been introduced.


In 1601-1603 he accompanied Sir James Lancaster as Chief pilot on the first voyage of the British East India Company; and in December 1604 he sailed again for the same destination as pilot to Sir Edward Michelborne (or Michelbourn). On this journey he was killed by Japanese pirates off the Malay peninsula. The account of Davis' last voyage was written by Michelborne on his return to the Kingdom of England in 1606.


The John Davis rose, (explorer series) developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, was named in his honour. [3]

See also


  1. ^ a b "John Davis at the Encyclopaedia Britannica". Retrieved 09-06-2009. 
  2. ^ Gleason, Carrie (2005). Henry Hudson: seeking the Northwest Passage. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company. pp. 3. ISBN 0-7787-2408-5. 
  3. ^ John Davis rose

External links



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