A “discoverer” is often thought to be the first person to see, visit, or experience something. Yet, 18th century expeditions were travelling to the Pacific Northwest, which was well populated and had previously been explored. The true measure of discovery, therefore, was not simply to be “first.” It was to visit new lands and return home to tell of the experience, either in person, or through writing, charts, or drawings.

When we learn about the past from sources like documents, technology, or the lives of individuals, we call this study “history.” We can look at evidence of the past such as archaeological remains, drawings, and paintings, or at objects, such as navigational instruments or pieces of clothing. Much of what we consider to be valuable historic information comes from written documents. This might include the journals of explorers and their crews, the logbooks of ships’ captains, and the ledgers of bureaucrats who recorded everything from royal orders to the length of sailcloth taken on an expedition.

History, however, is not always an exact science and we need to consider that people see things in di Read More
A “discoverer” is often thought to be the first person to see, visit, or experience something. Yet, 18th century expeditions were travelling to the Pacific Northwest, which was well populated and had previously been explored. The true measure of discovery, therefore, was not simply to be “first.” It was to visit new lands and return home to tell of the experience, either in person, or through writing, charts, or drawings.

When we learn about the past from sources like documents, technology, or the lives of individuals, we call this study “history.” We can look at evidence of the past such as archaeological remains, drawings, and paintings, or at objects, such as navigational instruments or pieces of clothing. Much of what we consider to be valuable historic information comes from written documents. This might include the journals of explorers and their crews, the logbooks of ships’ captains, and the ledgers of bureaucrats who recorded everything from royal orders to the length of sailcloth taken on an expedition.

History, however, is not always an exact science and we need to consider that people see things in different ways and describe them according to their own interests and training. The Lewis and Clark expedition produced volumes of notebooks by Lewis, Clark, and between six and eight of their enlisted men. Yet, some of the most basic information, such as the features of an overnight camp, can be different depending on the author. Sometimes imagination is the strongest part of historic documentation, and myths of undiscovered lands, legendary journeys, and people persist even after they are proven doubtful. In other cases, war or competition has resulted in secrecy.

Not every culture relies on the written word as its primary means of passing on history. The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest have a tradition of oral history, passing on events and stories through spoken rather than written language. Even maps and charts can send us valuable messages from the past, with places named by European captains to remind us of who took, held, and lost control of the Pacific Northwest.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

How to Conduct Research into Pacific-Northwest-European History

Dr. John Lutz, Associate Professor of History, University of Victoria, Discussing the process involved in conducting research into Pacific Northwest-European history

So, usually the start of a research project is more accidental than anything else. I usually stumble upon a reference or a source or somebody’s allusion to something that makes me curious – I want to know more. An example of that is Captain Vancouver’s voyage to the northwest coast in 1792 – by accident, I found out there was a copy of an unofficial log from Thomas Mambe and this was important because most of the logs were official and they had to be turned over to the captain but this was a private log that wasn’t turned over and contained all kinds of interesting information that didn’t get into the official records. So, having found that source, I had to find the document and that took me to two different archives and it turns out there is no original so how did I know these were Thomas Mambe’s diaries? I had two copies. So, I had to find letters from Thomas Mambe’s hand from 1792 in order to find out whether or not these were his writings or not and then compare these two documents and then in the end, neither of them was in his hand actually. They were all copies. So, I had to find his official log and compare that and in the end, I’m about 90% confident that the Mambe Diaries are Mambe’s diary.

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


Scientists accompanied many expeditions of exploration during the 18th century. In fact, although expeditions were launched for a number of reasons, many, like those of Bering and Malaspina, were officially “scientific” in nature. The interest in scientific thought and methods supported during the Enlightenment resulted in Academies of Science in Paris and St. Petersburg, and research centres like the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Kings, naval commanders, and ship owners who supported expeditions wanted data and samples to show them what the people, geography, geology, plants, insects, and animals were like on the other side of the world. Certainly there was an element of curiosity, but scientific studies could also reveal natural resources like metals and furs that could be put to financial use.

Although they travelled aboard the ship, expedition scientists were usually hired on separately from the regular crew – they were not sailors. In an age before photography, they were experienced at making sketches and drawings to represent what they had seen, and a ship’s artist would contribute paintings and drawings for scientific purposes. Exped Read More
Scientists accompanied many expeditions of exploration during the 18th century. In fact, although expeditions were launched for a number of reasons, many, like those of Bering and Malaspina, were officially “scientific” in nature. The interest in scientific thought and methods supported during the Enlightenment resulted in Academies of Science in Paris and St. Petersburg, and research centres like the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Kings, naval commanders, and ship owners who supported expeditions wanted data and samples to show them what the people, geography, geology, plants, insects, and animals were like on the other side of the world. Certainly there was an element of curiosity, but scientific studies could also reveal natural resources like metals and furs that could be put to financial use.

Although they travelled aboard the ship, expedition scientists were usually hired on separately from the regular crew – they were not sailors. In an age before photography, they were experienced at making sketches and drawings to represent what they had seen, and a ship’s artist would contribute paintings and drawings for scientific purposes. Expeditionary scientists carried cases for collecting samples that were sometimes alive, sometimes preserved, and sometimes in the form of eggs or seeds that could be awoken for study at a later time. Guns and munitions were removed from the Descubierta and the Atrevida, the corvettes used on the Malaspina voyage, leaving more room for on-board scientific purposes.

Expedition scientists required good general knowledge – they never knew exactly what they might encounter in the various climates and environments their expeditions visited.
Ethnographic studies of indigenous peoples were included under the scientific mandate of expeditions, and the resulting drawings of people and their dress, customs, and dwellings; glossaries of language; and collections of hats, rattles, masks, pipes, and other works were regarded as scientific data. Naval scientists with the English and Spanish expeditions conducted experiments in agriculture to determine which crops might grow if they were to establish colonies in the Pacific Northwest, and which animals could be left behind to reproduce and build up food stock for a return visit.

Ships’ scientists spent months or even years at sea, and often very little time at locations where they could conduct their studies. German botanist Georg Stellar was part of the Bering Kamchatka expedition. After eight years of expedition preparations and travel, he was permitted a single day ashore on the island of St. Elias, their first North American landing, to make observations and collect samples.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Portrait of man of Nootka Sound

Portrait of man of Nootka Sound

Portrait by J. Weber
Maritime Museum of British Columbia

998.067.0001
© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


The cultures of the coastal indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest have placed great value on a sense of history and documenting events. However, they have emphasized the oral over the written tradition, passing on their histories through telling, singing, and speaking of the events to their families and nations rather than putting those words into letters on paper. Among the Tlingit, Haida, Coast Salish, and the Nuu-chah-nulth, history is a complex theme used by storytellers to reveal the interaction between their people and the spirits and transformers around them.

The oral historical record has slowly come to be accepted by researchers and the government of Canada as a source of information with the same degree of reliability as written history (which often reveals more about the writer than the events being discussed). It is not the events – the arrival of the European ships, the trading of the sea otter pelts, the potlatches with Spanish captains as guests – that show a contrast between written documents and oral histories. It is the meaning of those events.

Oral history was ignored as an important document of history beca Read More
The cultures of the coastal indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest have placed great value on a sense of history and documenting events. However, they have emphasized the oral over the written tradition, passing on their histories through telling, singing, and speaking of the events to their families and nations rather than putting those words into letters on paper. Among the Tlingit, Haida, Coast Salish, and the Nuu-chah-nulth, history is a complex theme used by storytellers to reveal the interaction between their people and the spirits and transformers around them.

The oral historical record has slowly come to be accepted by researchers and the government of Canada as a source of information with the same degree of reliability as written history (which often reveals more about the writer than the events being discussed). It is not the events – the arrival of the European ships, the trading of the sea otter pelts, the potlatches with Spanish captains as guests – that show a contrast between written documents and oral histories. It is the meaning of those events.

Oral history was ignored as an important document of history because it was not a written account and because it was from a First Nation’s perspective. Yet, some of the most interesting findings of Pacific Northwest exploration history have emerged from the understanding and incorporation of oral history songs and stories. This helps us to understand not just what the expedition captains wrote in their logs, but what kind of exploration took place on the coast in pre-European times, and what really happened when all those sailors came ashore.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

The Displacement of First Nations People as a Result of European Contact

Sarah Hunt, Kwagiulth Band, Discussing the displacement of First Nations people as a result of European contact

My name is Sara and my dad is Kwagulth from Fort Rupert, so I live here in Victoria now obviously. It is interesting being here as a contemporary aboriginal person, because you can see a lot of the long term impacts of colonization or contact between First Nations and non First Nations people here, particularly in some of the landmarks in Victoria. My dad and my grandpa, and my great grandpa were all carvers, and my dad is still an artist here, and some of the things you see around Victoria like the big house in front of the museum, the totem pole in Beacon Hill park, a lot of those things are not actually Coast Salish, from this territory; there are things from Kwagulth traditions, or other traditions, from First Nations people who have been displaced, or who left their traditional territories, because of needing to provide for their families, or some of the social conditions on reserves, poverty, lack of employment, those kinds of things, as well as the long term impact of banning the potlatch, which was only lifted about 50 years ago. Those sort of things have led to some of the current cultural practices that you see today

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


The captain of every vessel must keep a log, a record-book of the ship. Where the vessel travels, the course it takes, notable weather patterns, and other navigational details are carefully recorded today as they were in the 1700s. Encounters with other ships, onboard guests, trips ashore, illness or conflict aboard ship, damages and repairs, deaths, and promotions are also logged. These basic details of sea-going life were one of the ways 18th century visitors to the Pacific Northwest passed on to their fellow mariners the navigational information they observed during their expeditions.

On June 2, 1789, English Captain James Colnett was sailing south from Prince William’s Sound. On that day, he wrote in his journal that “at Noon Lat. Observ’d 59°32’ Mount S Elias N44°W dist from the Shore under it & nearest Shore 8 or 10 Miles N point of the Low land & entrance to a Creek on the W side the Bay … got the main Top Gallant mast fiddled and set the sail Royal and steering sail a breeze sprang up from the westward.” The following day, he noted that “a Canoe with two men came off from the SE end of the Bay some p Read More
The captain of every vessel must keep a log, a record-book of the ship. Where the vessel travels, the course it takes, notable weather patterns, and other navigational details are carefully recorded today as they were in the 1700s. Encounters with other ships, onboard guests, trips ashore, illness or conflict aboard ship, damages and repairs, deaths, and promotions are also logged. These basic details of sea-going life were one of the ways 18th century visitors to the Pacific Northwest passed on to their fellow mariners the navigational information they observed during their expeditions.

On June 2, 1789, English Captain James Colnett was sailing south from Prince William’s Sound. On that day, he wrote in his journal that “at Noon Lat. Observ’d 59°32’ Mount S Elias N44°W dist from the Shore under it & nearest Shore 8 or 10 Miles N point of the Low land & entrance to a Creek on the W side the Bay … got the main Top Gallant mast fiddled and set the sail Royal and steering sail a breeze sprang up from the westward.” The following day, he noted that “a Canoe with two men came off from the SE end of the Bay some presents were made them, they inform’d us they had got skins”.

This list of numbers and letters might seem difficult to interpret, but it is rich with exact information about the course of the expedition, what the wind conditions required in the way of sails, where they observed fresh water (“a Creek on the W side the Bay”), and an encounter with local people who came out to meet them in a canoe for the purpose of trade. After an expedition, a Captain would have amassed a valuable resource in the form of a log that would be reviewed by his superiors and might be published or interpreted to create charts.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Captain's Uniform

Captain's Sleeve with Brass Buttons

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


The 18th century citizens of Europe, Canada, and the United States began to crave news and tales of their exploring heroes. In 1784, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, Undertaken by the Command of His Majesty, For Making Discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere was published under the English Admiralty and the Royal Society. It included three volumes and an atlas of engravings of Captain Cook’s expeditions. The first two volumes focused on the writings of Cook himself, and the third, by Captain James King, detailed the parts of the journey following Cook’s death in Hawaii. The first printing sold out in three days, and the records of the public library in Bristol show that 18th century readers were eager to borrow such accounts of exploration. Officers and crewmembers of Cook’s expeditions also began to publish accounts, disregarding Naval orders not to make their journals public. That the crew would risk going against orders to print their versions of the expeditions demonstrates the demand for such books and the money to be made from them.

Accounts of overland expeditions held equal fascination. Alexander Mac Read More
The 18th century citizens of Europe, Canada, and the United States began to crave news and tales of their exploring heroes. In 1784, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, Undertaken by the Command of His Majesty, For Making Discoveries in the Northern Hemisphere was published under the English Admiralty and the Royal Society. It included three volumes and an atlas of engravings of Captain Cook’s expeditions. The first two volumes focused on the writings of Cook himself, and the third, by Captain James King, detailed the parts of the journey following Cook’s death in Hawaii. The first printing sold out in three days, and the records of the public library in Bristol show that 18th century readers were eager to borrow such accounts of exploration. Officers and crewmembers of Cook’s expeditions also began to publish accounts, disregarding Naval orders not to make their journals public. That the crew would risk going against orders to print their versions of the expeditions demonstrates the demand for such books and the money to be made from them.

Accounts of overland expeditions held equal fascination. Alexander Mackenzie’s journals were published in England in 1801 as Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence, through the continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans in the years 1789 and 1793: with a Preliminary Account of the Rise, Progress, and Present State of the Fur Trade of That Country. Demand soon resulted in North American and German editions that held both valuable information about North America and a literary appeal for readers.
Expedition journals were printed as books and in periodicals for the “armchair explorers” at home. By publishing their experiences, expedition participants were also able to share and improve upon information that would increase the knowledge and safety of their colleagues. Captain Vancouver’s brother John prepared Voyage of Discovery in 1798 based on his deceased brother’s journals. It was intended as a navigational aid that Vancouver himself suggested was “calculated to instruct, even though it should fail to entertain.” All these publications were translated and printed in several editions, making their way to Spanish seafarers who had little access to the records of the expeditions of their own countrymen. The Lewis and Clark expedition reputedly carried Mackenzie’s Voyages publication as a helpful source on their cross-country journey.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

How Artifacts Enter the Collection of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia

Mary Swift, Collections Assistant, Maritime Museum of British Columbia, Discussing how artifacts enter the collection of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia

The Maritime Museum catalogues when we’re offered it, we do not buy artifacts. We’re offered them as donations and we need to know from the person how they acquired it, how it was in their family, and how it was used and why they want to donate it and if there are any other family members that would like this and if so, to offer it to them first before they offer it to us, so that there are no legal issues with the heirs and then we look at it in committee, and see if this fills the hole or is a better example of what we already have in our collection. From there, we sign the donation and then all rights and everything become the Maritime Museum’s. The person who donated it to us and their heirs give up all rights to the objects and it is now ours to care for and to use, to tell the stories. So, we get it, we research it from the family point of view, from the historical point of view and we write all of this information down on paper first and then in the computer so that when researchers come to ask us about certain artifacts, we can give them the history.

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


The Spanish officially suppressed the results of many of their expeditions to the Pacific Northwest. Secrecy, intrigue, and even a little espionage are part of what makes history fascinating, but the concealment of important notes, findings, and nautical charts shows us how the study of history can intentionally be missing pieces. During the 18th century, Spain was occupied with turmoil in “New Spain” and filled with rising concerns about competition with the English, Russians, and Americans in trade and the search for a Northwest Passage in the Pacific Northwest. They were also engaged in wars on the European front, including a two-year war with France between 1793 and 1795 (during which England was an ally) and war with England that lasted into the early 19th century.

While the English were eagerly publishing works on their 18th century visits to the northern Pacific (thereby making their charts available to the Spanish) the only Spanish account that reached the world with government permission was a narrative of the Galiano and Valdés expedition of 1792 aboard the Sutil and the Read More
The Spanish officially suppressed the results of many of their expeditions to the Pacific Northwest. Secrecy, intrigue, and even a little espionage are part of what makes history fascinating, but the concealment of important notes, findings, and nautical charts shows us how the study of history can intentionally be missing pieces. During the 18th century, Spain was occupied with turmoil in “New Spain” and filled with rising concerns about competition with the English, Russians, and Americans in trade and the search for a Northwest Passage in the Pacific Northwest. They were also engaged in wars on the European front, including a two-year war with France between 1793 and 1795 (during which England was an ally) and war with England that lasted into the early 19th century.

While the English were eagerly publishing works on their 18th century visits to the northern Pacific (thereby making their charts available to the Spanish) the only Spanish account that reached the world with government permission was a narrative of the Galiano and Valdés expedition of 1792 aboard the Sutil and the Mexicana. It was released under the title Relación del Viage hecho por las Goletas Sutil y Mexicana en el Año de 1792 para reconcer el Estrecho de Fuca.

The Spanish government collected all the expedition documents and stored them away in archives. Their decision not to publish maps, charts, or expedition accounts ensured Spanish knowledge of the Pacific Northwest would not fall into enemy hands. But this secrecy also kept important navigational information away from their own exploring missions. Many enlightening records of Pacific navigation continued to lay on the dusty shelves of the Depósito Hidrográfico in the Spanish capital of Madrid through the 19th and much of the 20th centuries. Many remain unpublished to this day.

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia

The Role Played by Spanish Expeditions in the Exploration of the Pacific Northwest

Robin Inglis, Vancouver Spanish Pacific Historical Society, Discussing the role played by Spanish expeditions in the exploration of the Pacific Northwest

The focus on Captain Cook and George Vancouver’s natural outcome of the fact that the West Coast of Canada became British. In fact the earliest voyages were Spanish voyages. The earliest voyage was in 1774, which came to Vancouver island, to the top end of the Queen Charolettes. In 1775 Bodega y Quadra went all the way up into to Alaska. That was before Cook arrived in 1778. Then after the American war, Cook’s journal was published, and as result of that there was much more focus upon the North Pacific and the Atlantic fur trade had started. The Russians were active in the North in a big way, and the Spanish were concerned about their sovereignty and their maybe ill-conceived, and now dated idea of that essentially the Pacific was theirs and everyone else was an interloper. But that resulted in a voyage of Martinez to Alaska in 1778. Fidalgo went to Prince William Sound in 1790, Malaspina went to Yacutat bay and Nookta in 1791. And all these voyages left massive amounts of information, because they were formal naval voyages from New Spain, from San Blas in New Spain. Because they were formal naval voyages that means, that of course there were endless reports, and so all these voyages are very well reported, and the interaction, encounters with native people is prevalent through out them all. And of course they make charts, they make little sketch maps of where they went, particularly the great voyages, the Malaspina voyage, those drawings are turned into formal charts.

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2007 Maritime Museum of British Columbia


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • construct, interpret, and use graphs, tables, grids, scales, legends, and various types of maps
  • locate and describe major world landforms, bodies of water, and political boundaries on maps
  • locate and describe current and historical events on maps

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