Who is Martin Frobisher?

ENGLISH navigators had been again trying to solve the question which Cabot had failed to do more than half a century before, namely, the existence of a northwest passage to Asia from the British Isles. Among them was Martin Frobisher, a Yorkshireman, whose zeal and patience were remarkable. He spent fifteen years in fruitless endeavors to get up an expedition to accomplish that object, when he was fortunate enough to secure the patronage of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick. The queen and her government took a lively interest in the undertaking, and early in June, 1576, Frobisher sailed from Deptford, on the Thames, with two barks of only twenty-five tons each and a pinnace of ten tons, with the avowed purpose of making the discovery or to die in the attempt. When the little flotilla passed by the palace at Greenwich, the queen, who was watching its movements from an open window, leaned out and waved her hand toward the commander in token of her good-will and a farewell.

Frobisher touched at Greenland, coasted up the shores of Labrador and entered a strait or inlet above the entrance to Hudson's Bay, which bears his name. There he landed and formally took possession of the country in the name of Elizabeth. Impenetrable pack-ice, the loss of some of his men and the growing discontent of others, caused him to return to England in the autumn, at the twilight of the polar night, taking with him some of the products of the new region which he had added to the British Empire. Among other things was a heavy dark stone, a fragment of which the wife of a man to whom Frobisher had given it threw into the fire, in a passion. Her husband snatched it out and quenched the glowing mineral in vinegar, when it glittered like burnished gold. On fusing it, a small quantity of the precious metal was found in it. The fact was soon noised abroad and produced a gold-fever. Many persons eagerly offered money to enable Frobisher to make another voyage to those high latitudes, and in May, 1577, he sailed from Harwich in a vessel of the royal navy, which the queen placed at his disposal, accompanied by two barks of thirty tons each.

Only for gold were these adventurers ordered to search. They were not to seek the mysterious passage to India. Indeed Frobisher had demonstrated the impossibility of passing the polar ice-fields. On the shores of Frobisher's Inlet, the whole company landed, freighted the ships with the black stone, and returned to England. A commission was appointed by the queen to determine the value of the discoveries made. Very little gold, if any, was procured from the cargoes of stone, but the commission, for reasons not made clear, deemed it expedient to send out another expedition. Frobisher was now placed in command of a fleet, for he had twelve ships in addition to the three with which he made his second voyage. With these he sailed from Harwich on the last day of May, 1558, instructed to make search for genuine gold-ore, or for a northwest passage. Storms and currents scattered the fleet, and not more than half of the ships reached their destination. Some turned back, and two of them went to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. No effort was made to force the vessels that reached Frobisher's Inlet to penetrate the ice-pack northward. They were laden with the dark stones (out of which not a particle of gold was obtained), and returned to England.

The three expeditions under Frobisher were unsuccessful, excepting in the discovery of several bays, inlets and island on the northern coasts of America, before unknown. The brave leader, however, won the honors of a discoverer and the fame of having been the first European who had penetrated so far toward the Arctic Circle, for Frobisher's Inlet is under the sixty-third degree of north latitude. For these exploits and other brave deeds, especially as one of the chief captains in the British fleet that confronted the "Invincible Armada" of Spain, he received the honors of knighthood.

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