Martin Frobisher

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Sir Martin Frobisher (c. 1535 or 1539 – 15 November 1594) was an English seaman who made three voyages to the New World to look for the Northwest Passage. All landed in northeastern Canada, around today's Resolution Island and Frobisher Bay. On his second voyage, Frobisher found what he thought was gold ore and carried 200 tons of it home on three ships, where initial assaying determined it to be worth a profit of £5.1 per ton. Encouraged, Frobisher returned to Canada with an even larger fleet and dug several mines around Frobisher Bay. He carted 1,350 tons of the ore back where, after years of smelting, it was realized that both that batch of ore and the earlier one he had taken were worthless iron pyrite. As an English privateer/pirate, he collected riches from French ships. He was later knighted for his service in repelling the Spanish Armada in 1588.


First voyage

As early as 1560 or 1561, Frobisher had formed a resolution to undertake a voyage in search of a Northwest Passage as a trade route to India and China (referred to at that time as Cathay).

It took him 5 years to gain necessary funding for his project. In 1576, Frobisher managed to convince the Muscovy Company, an English merchant consortium which had previously sent out several parties searching for the Northeast Passage, to license his expedition. With the help of Michael Lok, the Muscovy Company's director, Frobisher was able to raise enough capital for three barks: the Gabriel and Michael, of about 20-25 tons each and a pinnace of ten tons, with a total crew of 35.[1]

He weighed anchor at Blackwall, and, after having received a good word from Queen Elizabeth I of England at Greenwich, set sail on 7 June 1576, by way of the Shetland Islands.

In a storm, the pinnace was lost, and the Michael was abandoned, but on 28 July, the Gabriel sighted the coast of Labrador.

A few days later, the mouth of Frobisher Bay was reached, and because ice and wind prevented further travel north, Frobisher determined to sail westward up this passage (which he conceived to be a strait) to see "whether he might carry himself through the same into some open sea on the back side."

Baffin Island was reached on the 18 August 1576, where the expedition met some of the local natives. Having made arrangements with one of the natives to guide them through the region, Frobisher sent five of his men in a ship's boat to return the native to shore, but instructing them to avoid getting too close to any of the other natives. The boat's crew disobeyed, however, and were apparently taken captive by the Inuit. After days of searching Frobisher could not recover them, and eventually took hostage the man who had agreed to guide them to see if an exchange for the missing boat's crew could be arranged. The effort was fruitless, and the men were never seen again, but Inuit legend tells that the men lived among them for a few years until they died attempting to leave Baffin Island in a self-made boat. Frobisher turned homewards, and reached London on 9 October. Among the things which had been hastily brought away by the men was a "piece of a black stone,". There assayers were unimpressed with the ore. Only one out of four experts consulted believed the ore to be gold-bearing, and he admitted he "knew how to flatter nature". Nevertheless, Frobisher's backers, led by Michael Lok and the Muscovy Company used this assessment to lobby for investment for another voyage.[2]

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