George Vancouver

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George Vancouver

George Vancouver (born June 22, 1757 in King's Lynn , Norfolk , † May 10, 1798 in Petersham near Richmond upon Thames , Surrey ) was an officer in the British Royal Navy and explorer . He became known for exploring the Pacific coast of North America from California to Oregon , Washington and British Columbia to Alaska . He also explored the southwest coast of Australia and negotiated with Kamehameha I , who later became King of Hawaii . The cities of Vancouver in the Canadian province of British Columbia and Vancouver in the US state of Washington and the island of Vancouver Island are named after him.


It is certain that Vancouver's ancestors came from the Netherlands . The family name is derived from the Dutch van Coevorden . His great-grandfather came from a noble family from Coevorden in the province of Drenthe and settled in the eastern English county of Norfolk at the end of the 17th century.

Career in the Navy

Statue of George Vancouver in King's Lynn

In 1771, at the age of 13, George Vancouver joined the Royal Navy . He became aware of Captain James Cook , who was preparing his second circumnavigation. From 1772 to 1775 Vancouver was a member of the Resolution's crew and trained as a midshipman during the trip . In February 1776, shortly before the start of the third circumnavigation, Cook appointed him as a midshipman on the HMS Discovery . Shortly after his return to Britain , Vancouver was promoted to lieutenant in 1780 .

He went on patrols in the English Channel and then served on the ship of the line HMS Fame , which was involved in the Battle of Les Saintes in April 1782 . Vancouver was later transferred to Jamaica , where he was stationed for the next few years. There he carried out, among other things, the surveying of the ports of Port Royal and Kingston .

In 1789 the Royal Navy planned an expedition to further explore the lucrative whaling areas in the South Pacific . For this purpose she had a second HMS Discovery built, named after Cook's ship. But then war threatened to break out between Spain and Great Britain. Both countries fought over ownership of Nootka Sound and the right to colonize the Pacific Northwest . After the crisis had been resolved in October 1790 with the signing of the first Nootka Convention, Vancouver was given command of the HMS Discovery . He was to take possession of the Nootka Sound for Great Britain and map the coast between the 30th and 60th parallel. He should also look out for a possible Northwest Passage in this area .

Beginning of the expedition

On April 1, 1791, the HMS Discovery and the escort ship HMS Chatham set sail from Falmouth . They reached the southwest coast of Australia on September 28th via Tenerife and Cape Town . Vancouver mapped the King George Sound and then sailed on to New Zealand's South Island . Both ship crews discovered the Snare Islands independently of each other , those of the HMS Chatham also discovered the Chatham Islands named after them . Both ships reached Tahiti in late November and Hawaii in January , where they were taking a winter break. There they waited for the supply ship HMS Daedalus, which did not arrive.

The Discovery and the Chatham finally reached the specified destination on April 17, 1792, the west coast of North America, around 180 km north of the small Spanish settlement of San Francisco . They followed the coast of Oregon and Washington northwards and met the ship of the American navigator Robert Gray on April 29 in the Juan de Fuca Strait , who was to discover the Columbia River two weeks later .

Exploring the Pacific coast and negotiating in Hawaii

Vancouver was tasked with mapping every bay along the coast. When exploring the Puget Sound , named after Lieutenant Peter Puget , boats had to be used because of the shallow water, even the small HMS Chatham had too much draft. On June 13, 1792, Vancouver's ship was the first to enter the Burrard Inlet . He named today's main port of the Canadian city of Vancouver after his friend Harry Burrard-Neale . Not far from what is now the University of British Columbia , he met the ships of the Spanish explorers Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés y Flores nine days later . Together they explored the Strait of Georgia before they parted ways again.

Vancouver Island and the surrounding area, the main exploration area of ​​the expedition

In August, Vancouver sailed down the coast of Vancouver Island and realized that it was an island. On the way he came across the supply ship HMS Daedalus , whose captain had been murdered in Hawaii. Finally, on August 28, 1792, he called at Nootka Island to negotiate with the Spaniards to take over their claims to Nootka Sound . Although Vancouver had a friendly relationship with the Spanish commander Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra , no agreement could be reached. Vancouver hired his Lieutenant William Robert Broughton to explore the Columbia River (of the existence of which he had learned at a second meeting with Robert Gray). Broughton reached the Columbia River Gorge by boat , where he discovered Mount Hood .

After visiting California, Vancouver wintered in Hawaii. The following year he returned to British Columbia and continued exploring the west coast to the 56th parallel from May to September 1793. The expedition reached the Nootka Sound, but again could not reach an agreement because Commander Bodega had left the island six months earlier. Vancouver spent the next winter in Hawaii again. The HMS Daedalus returned to England. Ship's doctor Archibald Menzies and three other crew members made the first ascent of Mauna Loa in February 1794 and determined the height of the volcano with an accuracy of 15 meters with the help of a barometer.

George Vancouver conducted negotiations in Hawaii with the aim of politically unifying the archipelago under Kamehameha I. and thereby ending the ongoing civil war. He persuaded Kamehameha to cede the Big Island to Great Britain in the expectation that a military unit would be stationed there. On February 25, 1794, Kamehameha made a formal declaration and placed himself under British protection. However, this practice was later not recognized by the UK Foreign Office. Vancouver lent the future king tools and trained workers to build his own ship, the Britannia .

Return to England

The expedition left Hawaii for the last time on March 15, 1794. She sailed to the 60th parallel, to Cook Inlet on the Gulf of Alaska , and from there south along the coast to Baranof Island , the end point of the exploration trip the year before. In early September, the expedition made a final visit to Nootka Island. But no new orders had arrived to finally complete the handover. The ships reached Monterey on November 6 and began their voyage home four weeks later.

This led via the Galapagos Islands and the Juan Fernández Islands first to Valparaíso , where the ships were subjected to urgent repairs in April 1795. The ships circled Cape Horn and reached the island of St. Helena on July 2nd . Since Great Britain was at war, they drove from Cape Verde in a convoy to the mouth of the Shannon in Ireland . Vancouver disembarked there on September 13 and immediately went to London . The ships reached the capital on October 20, 1795 and completed the circumnavigation of the world .

After returning

When Vancouver returned home, the general public was more interested in the war than in the results of expeditions in the Pacific. Vancouver faced a lot of hostility. As early as January 1793, Thomas Manby, the mate of HMS Chatham, wrote in a letter that Vancouver had shown increasingly arrogant behavior in the course of the trip and regularly had violent arguments with his subordinates.

Vancouver's grave in Petersham

Archibald Menzies (who was a close friend of Joseph Banks , chairman of the Royal Society ) complained that his assistant had been called to serve on deck during an Atlantic storm and that the plant samples collected had been damaged as a result. Joseph Whidbey , the expedition's astronomer, asked for better pay for his services. Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford , a cousin of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger , had been sent back to England with the HMS Daedalus in late 1793 for numerous disciplinary misconduct and challenged Vancouver to a duel. Vancouver was criticized in various newspapers and physically attacked by Pitt on a street corner in London.

In addition to all political and social entanglements, Vancouver became increasingly ill, probably from hyperthyroidism . He had already retired from the Royal Navy in November 1795 and settled in Petersham, a small village near Richmond upon Thames , to write his expedition report. He died on May 10, 1798 at the age of 40. His brother John completed the report and Peter Puget completed the cartographic record. Vancouver is buried at Petersham Church.



Statue in front of the City Hall of the City of Vancouver (Canada)

George Vancouver found that the Northwest Passage is not in the latitudes that had long been suspected. His maps of the west coast of North America were so accurate that they served as a reference for navigating coastal areas for decades. Robin Fisher, vice president of Mount Royal College in Calgary and author of two books on Vancouver, writes:

He put the northwest coast on the map ... He drew up a map of the north-west coast that was accurate to the nth degree, to the point it was still being used into the 20th century as a navigational aid. That's unusual for a map that early.
(He put the northwest on the map ... He drew a map of the northwest coast so detailed that it was used as a navigational aid as late as the 20th century. This is unusual for a map made so early.)

However, Vancouver escaped discovery of the two largest and most important rivers on the Pacific Coast, the Fraser River and the Columbia River . Before the expedition was over, he learned of the existence of the Columbia River from Robert Gray , the captain of the American merchant ship that first sailed the river on May 11, 1792. The Fraser River was never recorded on his maps. Stephen R. Bown wrote in Mercator's World magazine (Nov./Dec. 1999 issue):

How Vancouver could have missed these rivers while accurately charting hundreds of comparatively insignificant inlets, islands, and streams is hard to fathom. What is certain is that his failure to spot the Columbia had great implications for the future political development of the Pacific Northwest ...
(How Vancouver managed to fail to discover these rivers while carefully mapping hundreds of comparatively insignificant bays, islands and streams, Difficult to understand. What is certain is that his failure to discover the Columbia had far-reaching implications for future political developments in the Pacific Northwest.)

In the case of the Fraser River, at least, there is an explanation why Vancouver did not discover this river. When he was exploring the area between Burrard Inlet and Point Roberts in 1792 , much of the river delta was flooded due to the snowmelt in the mountains. Because of this, no one could see any of the mouths of the Fraser River. The Spaniards, who had explored the area a year earlier, also did not encounter the river, but suspected the existence of a significant body of water in the vicinity due to the mud deposits.

Relationship with the indigenous people

In general, Vancouver had a good relationship with both the indigenous people and European foreigners. Despite the numerous armed conflicts between Great Britain and Spain in the past, he worked with his Spanish counterparts without any problems and even gave a festive reception for a Spanish captain on board the HMS Discovery while sailing in the area around what is now Vancouver in 1792. With its discoveries, which opened the Pacific Northwest to further European expansion, Vancouver undeniably sparked a chain of events that had lasting effects on the lives of the indigenous people and their culture. However, contemporary records show that Vancouver itself was always careful to maintain good relationships with local leaders. Vancouver's diaries show a high degree of consideration for indigenous people. An example is the exploration of a small island off the coast of Alaska, where the expedition came upon a seemingly significant grave, which consisted of a box covered with matting and scattered fragments of weapons. Vancouver wrote:

This we naturally conjectured contained the remains of some person of consequence, and it much excited the curiosity of some of our party; but as further examination could not possibly have served any useful purpose, and might have given umbrage and pain to the friends of the deceased, should it be their custom to visit the repositories of their dead, I did not think it right that it should be disturbed.
(This, we spontaneously assumed, contained the remains of an important person and piqued the curiosity of some members of our group, but since further investigation would probably not have benefited anyone and the friends of the deceased could find it offensive and painful if it did their custom was to visit the burial sites of their dead, I did not think it appropriate to disturb the tomb.)

In its diaries, Vancouver also displayed contempt for unscrupulous Western traders who supplied weapons to the indigenous people:

I am extremely concerned to be compelled to state here, that many of the traders from the civilized world have not only pursued a line of conduct, diametrically opposite to the true principles of justice in their commercial dealings, but have fomented discords, and stirred up contentions, between the different tribes, in order to increase the demand for these destructive engines ... They have been likewise eager to instruct the natives in the use of European arms of all descriptions; and have shewn by their own example, that they consider gain as the only object of pursuit; and whether this be acquired by fair and honorable means, or otherwise, so long as the advantage is secured, the manner how it is obtained seems to have been, with too many of them, but a very secondary consideration.
(I am extremely concerned that I am compelled to find that many of the traders from the civilized world did not have good business policy, diametrically opposed to the true principles of justice. Instead, they sowed discord and incited disputes between the various tribes in order to do so to increase the demand for these destructive devices ... They were also ready to teach the natives the use of European weapons of all kinds, and have shown with their own example that they regard profit as the only worthwhile goal, whether fair and honorable obtained or not as long as the advantage is secured. The way in which the profit is obtained seems to have been only a minor consideration with too many.)

Robin Fisher notes that, “Vancouver's indigenous relationships were generally peaceful; in fact, its exact measurements would not have been possible in a hostile attitude. ”Although there were isolated acts of violence towards the end of the last exploration season in 1794, especially with the Tlingit in southern Alaska, these were rare exceptions.


Numerous places have been named after George Vancouver or have names that were determined by him. Most important are the cities of Vancouver in the Canadian province of British Columbia and Vancouver in the US state of Washington as well as the island of Vancouver Island and Fort Vancouver , the former western headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company .

The Canadian Postal Administration has so far issued three stamps related to George Vancouver. On April 26, 1978, two 14-cent stamps appeared in memory of James Cook's landing in Nootka Sound two hundred years earlier (George Vancouver was part of Cook's crew at the time). On March 17, 1988, as part of a series of four explorers, a stamp worth 37 cents was released showing Vancouver's ship and itinerary. To commemorate Vancouver's 250th birthday, a $ 1.55 stamp appeared on June 22, 2007. It shows him from behind, as he looks from the ship on a mountainous coastline. It is the first Canadian postage stamp that does not depict the face of the person depicted.

Statues of George Vancouver stand in front of City Hall in the Canadian city of Vancouver, in the harbor of King's Lynn and on the dome of the British Columbia Parliament building in Victoria .

The plant genus Vancouveria C. Morr is named after him . & Decne. from the family of Berberitznegewächse (Berberidaceae).


George Vancouver's expedition report
  • Voyage Of Discovery To The North Pacific Ocean, And Round The World In The Years 1791–95 . Originally written by Vancouver, completed by his brother John and published in 1798. Revised in 1984 by W. Kaye Lamb and renamed The Voyage of George Vancouver 1791–1795 . ISBN 0-7812-5100-1 .


  • John E. Roberts: A Discovery Journal of George Vancouver's first Survey Season on the Coasts of Washington and British Columbia, 1792. Including the Work with the Spanish Explorers Galiano and Valdés. Trafford, Victoria 2005, ISBN 1-4120-7097-X .
  • Sam McKinney: Sailing With Vancouver. A Modern Sea Dog, Antique Charts and a Voyage Through Time. TouchWood Editions, Victoria 2004, ISBN 1-894898-12-5 .
  • EC Coleman: Captain Vancouver. North West Navigator. Tempus Publishing, Stroud 2006, ISBN 0-7524-3892-1 .
  • Robin Fisher and Hugh JM Johnston (Eds.): From Maps to Metaphors: The Pacific World of George Vancouver . UBC Press, University of British Columbia, Vancouver 1993, ISBN 0-7748-0470-X .
  • Robin Fisher: Vancouver's Voyage. Charting the Northwest Coast, 1791-1795. With Photographs by Gary Fiegehen. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA 1992, ISBN 0-295-97191-6 .

Web links

Commons : George Vancouver  - Collection of Images, Videos, and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ WK Lamb (Ed.): The Voyage of George Vancouver, 1791-1795. = George Vancouver. A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World (= Works issued by the Hakluyt Society . Ser. 2, Volume 163). Volume 1. Hakluyt Society, London 1984, ISBN 0-904180-17-4 , p. 3.
  2. ^ A b Chart of the NW Coast of America and Part of the NE of Asia with the Track of his Majesty's Sloops 'Resolution' and 'Discovery' from May to October 1778. In: World Digital Library . 1778, Retrieved June 27, 2013 .
  3. a b Larry Pynn: Charting the Coast. In: The Vancouver Sun . May 30, 2007, p. B3.
  4. Vancouver in the BC Geographical Names Information System ( memento of the original from June 26, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. Stephen Hume: The Birth of Modern British Columbia. Part 7, In: The Vancouver Sun. November 17, 2007, p. D9.
  6. a b c d e f Larry Pynn: Peaceful Encounters. In: The Vancouver Sun. May 29, 2007, p. B3.
  7. Mistery Man. ( Memento of the original from December 10, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Times-Colonist. May 24, 2007. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  8. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names - Extended Edition. Part I and II. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin , Freie Universität Berlin , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-946292-26-5 doi: 10.3372 / epolist2018 .