Willem Barentsz

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Willem Barentsz (anglicized as William Barents or Barentz) (c. 1550 – 20 June 1597) was a Dutch navigator, cartographer and explorer, a leader of early expeditions to the far north.

The Barents Sea, Barentsburg and Barents Region were all named after him.



Willem Barentsz was born around the year 1550 on the island Terschelling in the Seventeen Provinces.[1]

A cartographer by trade, Barentsz sailed to Spain and the Mediterranean to complete an atlas of the Mediterranean region,[2] which he co-published with Petrus Plancius.[1]

His career as an explorer was spent searching for the Northeast passage, which he reasoned must exist as clear, open water north of Siberia since the sun shone 24 hours a day, which he believed would have melted any potential ice.[3]

First voyage

On 5 June 1594 Barentsz left the island of Texel[1] aboard the small[4] ship Mercury[5], as part of a group of three ships sent out in separate directions to try and enter the Kara Sea, with the hopes of finding the Northeast passage above Siberia. Between 23 and 29 June, Barent's stayed at Kildin Island.

On 9 July[6], the crew encountered a polar bear for the first time. After shooting it with a musket when it tried to climb aboard the ship, the seamen decided to capture it with the hope of bringing it back to Holland. Once leashed and brought aboard the ship however, the bear rampaged and had to be killed. This occurred in Bear Creek, Williams Island.

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