On April 17 , 1610 , the sturdy little three-masted bark , Discovery , weighed anchor in St. Katherine's Pool , London , and floated down the Thames toward the sea .
She carried , besides her captain , a crew of twenty-one and provisions for a voyage of exploration of the Arctic waters of North America .
Seventeen months later , on September 6 , 1611 , an Irish fishing boat sighted the Discovery limping eastward outside Galway Bay .
When she reached port , she was found to have on board only eight men , all near starvation .
The captain was gone , and the mate was gone .
The man who now commanded her had started the voyage as an ordinary seaman .
What disaster struck the Discovery during those seventeen months ? ?
What happened to the fourteen missing men ? ?
These questions have remained one of the great sea mysteries of all time .
For hundreds of years , the evidence available consisted of ( 1 ) the captain's fragmentary journal , ( 2 ) a highly prejudiced account by one of the survivors , ( 3 ) a note found in a dead man's desk on board , and ( 4 ) several second-hand reports .
All told , they offered a highly confused picture .
But since 1927 , researchers digging into ancient court records and legal files have been able to find illuminating pieces of information .
Not enough to do away with all doubts , but sufficient to give a fairly accurate picture of the events of the voyage .
Historians have had two reasons for persisting so long in their investigations .
First , they wanted to clarify a tantalizing , bizarre enigma .
Second , they believed it important to determine the fate of the captain -- a man whose name is permanently stamped on our maps , on American towns and counties , on a great American river , and on half a million square miles of Arctic seas .
The name : Henry Hudson .
This is the story of his last tragic voyage , as nearly as we are able -- or ever , probably , will be able -- to determine :
The sailing in the spring of 1610 was Hudson's fourth in four years .
Each time his objective had been the same -- a direct water passage from Western Europe to the Far East .
In 1607 and 1608 , the English Muscovy Company had sent him northward to look for a route over the North Pole or across the top of Russia .
Twice he had failed , and the Muscovy Company indicated it would not back him again .
In 1609 , the Dutch East India Company hired Hudson , gave him two learned geographers , fitted him out with a ship called the Half Moon , and supplied him with Dutch sailors .
This time he turned westward , to the middle Atlantic coast of North America .
His chief discovery was important -- the Great North ( later , the Hudson ) River -- but it produced no northwest passage .
When the Half Moon put in at Dartmouth , England , in the fall of 1609 , word of Hudson's findings leaked out , and English interest in him revived .
The government forbade Hudson to return to Amsterdam with his ship .
He thereupon went to London and spent the winter talking to men of wealth .
By springtime , he was supported by a rich merchant syndicate under the patronage of Henry , Prince of Wales .
He had obtained and provisioned a veteran ship called the Discovery and had recruited a crew of twenty-one , the largest he had ever commanded .
The purpose of this fourth voyage was clear .
A century of exploration had established that a great land mass , North and South America , lay between Europe and the Indies .
One by one , the openings in the coast that promised a passage through had been explored and discarded .
In fact , Hudson's sail up the Great North River had disposed of one of the last hopes .
But there remained one mysterious , unexplored gap , far to the north .
Nearly twenty-five years before , Captain John Davis had noted , as he sailed near the Arctic Circle , `` a very great gulf , the water whirling and roaring , as it were the meeting of tides '' .
He named this opening , between Baffin Island and Labrador , the `` Furious Overfall '' .
( Later , it was to be called Hudson Strait .
In 1602 , George Waymouth , in the same little Discovery that Hudson now commanded , had sailed 300 miles up the strait before his frightened men turned the ship back .
Hudson now proposed to sail all the way through and test the seas beyond for the long-sought waterway .
Even Hudson , experienced in Arctic sailing and determined as he was , must have had qualms as he slid down the Thames .
Ahead were perilous , ice-filled waters .
On previous voyages , it had been in precisely such dangerous situations that he had failed as a leader and captain .
On the second voyage , he had turned back at the frozen island of Novaya Zemlya and meekly given the crew a certificate stating that he did so of his own free will -- which was obviously not the case .
On the third voyage , a near-mutiny rising from a quarrel between Dutch and English crew members on the Half Moon had almost forced him to head the ship back to Amsterdam in Mid-Atlantic .
Worse , his present crew included five men who had sailed with him before .
Of only one could he be sure -- young John Hudson , his second son .
The mate , Robert Juet , who had kept the journal on the Half Moon , was experienced -- but he was a bitter old man , ready to complain or desert at any opportunity .
Philip Staffe , the ship's carpenter , was a good worker , but perversely independent .
Arnold Lodley and Michael Perse were like the rest -- lukewarm , ready to swing against Hudson in a crisis .
But men willing to sail at all into waters where wooden ships could be crushed like eggs were hard to find .
Hudson knew he had to use these men as long as he remained an explorer .
And he refused to be anything else .
It is believed that Hudson was related to other seafaring men of the Muscovy Company and was trained on company ships .
He was a Londoner , married , with three sons .
( The common misconception that he was Dutch and that his first name was Hendrik stem from Dutch documents of his third voyage .
) In 1610 , Hudson was probably in his early forties , a good navigator , a stubborn voyager , but otherwise fatally unsuited to his chosen profession .
Hudson's first error of the fourth voyage occurred only a few miles down the Thames .
There at the river's edge waited one Henry Greene , whom Hudson listed as a `` clerk '' .
Greene was in actuality a young ruffian from Kent , who had broken with his parents in order to keep the company he preferred -- pimps , panders and whores .
He was not the sort of sailor Hudson wanted his backers to see on board and he had Greene wait at Gravesend , where the Discovery picked him up .
For the first three weeks , the ship skirted up the east coast of Great Britain , then turned westward .
On May 11 , she reached Iceland .
Poor winds and fog locked her up in a harbor the crew called `` Lousie Bay '' .
The subsequent two-weeks wait made the crew quarrelsome .
With Hudson looking on , his protege Greene picked a fight with the ship's surgeon , Edward Wilson .
The issue was settled on shore , Greene winning and Wilson remaining ashore , determined to catch the next fishing boat back to England .
With difficulty , Hudson persuaded him to rejoin the ship , and they sailed from Iceland .
Early in June , the Discovery passed `` Desolation '' ( southern Greenland ) and in mid-June entered the `` Furious Overfall '' .
Floating ice bore down from the north and west .
Fog hung over the route constantly .
Turbulent tides rose as much as fifty feet .
The ship's compass was useless because of the nearness of the magnetic North Pole .
As the bergs grew larger , Hudson was forced to turn south into what is now Ungava Bay , an inlet of the Great Strait .
After finding that its coasts led nowhere , however , he turned north again , toward the main , ice-filled passageway -- and the crew , at first uneasy , then frightened , rebelled .
The trouble was at least partly Juet's doing .
For weeks he had been saying that Hudson's idea of sailing through to Java was absurd .
The great , crushing ice masses coming into view made him sound like the voice of pure reason .
A group of sailors announced to Hudson that they would sail no farther .
Instead of quelling the dissension , as many captains of the era would have done ( Sir Francis Drake lopped a man's head off under similar circumstances ) , Hudson decided to be reasonable .
He went to his cabin and emerged carrying a large chart , which he set up in view of the crew .
Patiently , he explained what he knew about their course and their objectives .
When Hudson had finished , the `` town meeting '' broke down into a general , wordy argument .
One man remarked that if he had a hundred pounds , he would give ninety of them to be back in England .
Up spoke carpenter Staffe , who said he wouldn't give ten pounds to be home .
The statement was effective .
The meeting broke up .
Hudson was free to sail on .
All through July the Discovery picked her way along the 450-mile-long strait , avoiding ice and rocky islands .
On August 3 , two massive headlands reared out of the mists -- great gateways never before , so far as Hudson knew , seen by Europeans .
To starboard was a cape a thousand feet high , patched with ice and snow , populated by thousands of screaming sea birds .
To port was a point 200 feet high rising behind to a precipice of 2,000 feet .
Hudson named the capes Digges and Wolstenholme , for two of his backers .
Hudson pointed the Discovery down the east coast of the newly discovered sea ( now called Hudson Bay ) , confident he was on his way to the warm waters of the Pacific .
After three weeks' swift sailing , however , the ship entered an area of shallow marshes and river deltas .
The ship halted .
The great `` sea to the westwards '' was a dead end .
This must have been Hudson's blackest discovery .
For he seemed to sense at once that before him was no South Sea , but the solid bulk of the North American continent .
This was the bitter end , and Hudson seemed to know he was destined to failure .
Feverishly , he tried to brush away this intuition .
North and south , east and west , back and forth he sailed in the land-locked bay , plowing furiously forward until land appeared , then turning to repeat the process , day after day , week after week .
Hundreds of miles to the north , the route back to England through the `` Furious Overfall '' was again filling with ice .
The men were at first puzzled , then angered by the aimless tacking .
Once more , Juet's complaints were the loudest .
Hudson's reply was to accuse the mate of disloyalty .
Juet demanded that Hudson prove his charges in an open trial .
The trial was held September 10 .
Hudson , presiding , heard Juet's defense , then called for testimony from crew members .
Juet had made plentiful enemies , several men stepped forward .
Hands on Bible , seaman Lodley and carpenter Staffe swore that Juet had tried to persuade them to keep muskets and swords in their cabins .
Cook Bennett Mathues said Juet had predicted bloodshed on the ship .
Others added that Juet had wanted to turn the ship homeward .
Hudson deposed Juet and cut his pay .
The new mate was Robert Bylot , talented but inexperienced .
There were other shifts and pay cuts according to the way individuals had conducted themselves .
The important result , however , was that Juet and Francis Clemens , the deposed boatswain , became Hudson's sworn enemies .
As Hudson resumed his desperate criss-crossing of the little bay , every incident lessened the crew's respect for him .
Once , after the Discovery lay for a week in rough weather , Hudson ordered the anchor raised before the sea had calmed .
Just as it was being hauled inboard , a sea hit the ship .
Michael Butt and Adame Moore were thrown off the capstan and badly injured .
The anchor cable would have been lost overboard , but Philip Staffe was on hand to sever it with his axe .