Untitled 2

Vancouver sighted the North American coast around 180 kilometres north of San Francisco Bay on 16 April 1792 at the start of three survey seasons on the vast and complex coast between northern California and the Alaskan Peninsula. Most of the work was carried out in open boats working in between a series of observation points at convenient anchorages where he could land his portable observatory to make precise readings. 

From the first of these observation spots on the south side of Juan de Fuca Strait, Vancouver surveyed the body of water now known as Puget Sound (site of modern-day Seattle). He was on his way back to the second from a boat expedition to examine Howe Sound and Jervis inlet north of modern Vancouver on 22 June 1792 when he encountered two Spanish vessels, engaged in surveying operations. The two expeditions worked together until Vancouver received word that his missing store ship and the Spanish negotiator Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra had arrived at Nootka Sound. As he made his way to the Rendezvous, Vancouver established the insularity of Vancouver Island and determined that Juan de Fuca Strait was not the entrance to a vast inland sea.

At Nootka Sound, Vancouver learned of the losses aboard the Daedalus and commenced negotiations with Bodega y Quadra. While relations were cordial, the talks ran into difficulties over differing expectations. Vancouver thought he would be taking over the whole of Nootka Sound, while Bodega y Quadra's orders were to cede only the small area where the English fur trader John Meares had built the hut that prompted the crisis back in 1788. When the talks reached an impasse, the two negotiators amicably agreed to refer the matter back to their respective governments.

As proof of the friendly nature of the negotiations, when Vancouver provided the Daedalus with a new commander and sent her back to Sydney carrying livestock, Quadra contributed some of the cattle and sheep. The Daedalus took back dispatches from Vancouver, a report for Governor Phillip of the survey work around King George Sound, and collected other animals on the way, but most of the livestock failed to survive the voyage. 

While Phillip had returned to England, his temporary replacement, Lieutenant-Governor Francis Grose sent the Daedalus back to Vancouver with supplies. 

In the meantime, Vancouver had worked south from Nootka Sound, Vancouver towards modern-day San Francisco and Monterey, detached the Chatham to examine the Columbia River (site of modern Portland Oregon) which American merchant captain Robert Gray had entered in May 1792. At Monterey, Vancouver consulted Bodega y Quadra again, but since there were no new directions from either government, the Chatham's William Broughton was despatched, via Mexico City and Spain,  to London for further instructions. Vancouver had already sent the Discovery's first lieutenant, Zachary Mudge, from Nootka Sound on a similar mission.

After wintering in Hawaii, Vancouver was back on the north-west coast in May 1793 to continue his survey work, and by September had worked his way up to 56° N. On his way back to winter quarters, he again called at Monterey and San Diego.

His third and last visit to Hawaii saw Vancouver complete a detailed survey and involve himself in local affairs, encouraging unification under the big island's principal chief, Kamehameha, and persuading Kamehameha to cede the islands to Britain. While London failed to ratify the cession, the Union Jack remains in the canton (top left-hand corner) of the Hawaiian flag.

The northern summer of 1794 saw Vancouver work south from Cook Inlet to join up with his previous work, finishing his work six days before the distant Admiralty promoted him to post-captain on 28 August 1794. From his last anchorage, the appropriately named Port Conclusion, Vancouver turned for home via Cape Horn, calling at Monterey, Valparaíso, and St Helena en route. He travelled directly to London to report to the Admiralty when the Discovery, sailing in convoy from Saint Helena, anchored off the mouth of the River Shannon in September 1795. He rejoined her briefly when she arrived in the Thames on 20 October. 

© Ian Hughes 2017