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During the final season in the Pacific Vancouver had been unable to take part in any of the boat expeditions due to illness, and further active service was out of the question. He retired on half pay to Petersham in Surrey in November 1795 to prepare his charts and journals for publication as requested by the Admiralty, but as his health continued to deteriorate, he was forced to seek help from his brother John, who by March 1797 was doing all the writing. 

Following his return, Vancouver had to deal with other that meant his achievements did not receive the recognition they deserved. Reports that he had acted harshly towards subordinates, including one of the Discovery's midshipmen, Thomas Pitt, Lord Camelford's heir, a disruptive influence whom Vancouver sent him home from Hawaii in the Daedalus in 1794. By the time Vancouver returned home, Pitt was Lord Camelford and out to cause trouble for his old commander. He challenged Vancouver to a duel, assaulted him on a chance encounter in London, appeared in court as a result and was bound over to keep the peace.

Through the four and a half year voyage his relationship with naturalist and botanist Archibald Menzies, the expedition's, had been turbulent. Vancouver's threat to court-martial the scientist was only averted by the personal intervention of Sir Joseph Banks. 

Still, Vancouver battled on preparing his narrative and had completed five volumes with a sixth in preparation when he died on 12 May 1798. His brother John completed the work with assistance from Lieutenant Puget. A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean … was published three quarto volumes with a folio atlas in 1798, followed by the second edition of six octavo volumes in 1801 and a French translation in 1802. The original manuscript is, however, now lost.

Despite the subsequent controversies, Vancouver had proved himself a capable leader. He matched Cook in caring for his crew's health. He only lost one man to disease, another was poisoned, while four drowned. Of all the graduates of what has been termed the James Cook School of Navigation, Vancouver was the only one whose remarkably accurate hydrographic work was in the same class as his mentor., though his longitudes are not as precise as they might have been, particularly in the final season when weather conditions restricted the opportunities for lunar observations.

While he is generally relegated to the ranks of the exploratory also-rans, Vancouver had proved to be a dedicated naval officer, working hard despite poor health and a successful diplomat in his dealings with the Spanish and indigenous people he encountered of the Pacific. It seems fitting that, when the Canadian Pacific Railway was looking for a name for its western terminus in 1884, his was the name chosen.

Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography; Chambers Biographical Dictionary; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

© Ian Hughes 2017