George Vancouver


Norfolk-born English naval officer, navigator, hydrographer and explorer George Vancouver (1757-98) sailed with James Cook on his second and third voyages and subsequently carried out survey work in Australia, New Zealand and detailed charts of North America's west coast, circumnavigating Vancouver Island in 1795. 

The sixth and youngest child of John Jasper Vancouver, deputy collector of customs at King's Lynn, and his wife Bridget, a descendant of Sir Richard Grenville, Vancouver probably attended Lynn grammar school before he joined Cook's Resolution at Deptford on 22 January 1772. Although he joined as an able seaman, Vancouver served on the quarterdeck, receiving training in astronomical observations, surveying, and drawing from astronomer William Wales. He was a midshipman aboard the Discovery on Cook's third voyage n search of a Pacific outlet to the north-west passage.

Twelve days after the Discovery paid off in October 1780 he passed the lieutenant's examination and worked on escort and patrol duties in the English Channel and the North Sea before a spell in the West Indies, where he carried out his first independent surveys. 

On his return to England in 1789 he was appointed first lieutenant of a new Discovery, a 340-ton sloop under construction in a private yard and bound for the South Atlantic under Henry Roberts, another veteran of Cook's second and third voyages, in response to Spain's expulsion of two British whalers from the coast of Patagonia.

Those plans went on hold at the end of January 1790 when news of Spain's seizure of British trading vessels at Nootka Sound reached London. The Discovery's departure was cancelled, and Vancouver switched to the 74-gun ship of the line HMS Courageux, which was to be part of the Spanish armament, a formidable fleet being mobilised in response to the crisis. That, in turn, changed when the Nootka Sound convention was signed in Madrid on 28 October 1790. The convention gave Britain almost everything under dispute, including the restoration of buildings and tracts of land seized by the Spaniards in Nootka Sound.

© Ian Hughes 2017