William Baffin

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William Baffin (died 23 January 1622) was an English navigator and explorer. Nothing is known of his early life, but it is conjectured that he was born in London of humble origin, and gradually raised himself by his diligence and perseverance. (Britannica 11th Edition gives a year of birth as 1584, but this is simply a guess, without any documentary basis.)

There is no known portrait of Baffin: shown is a generic "Navigator with Globe", dated 1624 and attributed to Dutch artist Hendrik van der Borcht.[1]



William Baffin explored the Arctic circle, the earliest mention of his name occurs in 1612, in connection with Denmark's King Christian IV's Expeditions to Greenland under the command of Captain James Hall, whom he accompanied as chief pilot.[2] Captain Hall was killed in a fight with the local inhabitants on the west coast of Greenland, and during the following two years Baffin served in the Spitsbergen whale-fishery, at that time controlled by England's Muscovy Company. In the first year he served as pilot aboard the flagship of the whaling fleet, the Tiger, while in the second year he served as pilot aboard one of the fleet's two discovery ships, the Thomasine.

In 1615, he entered the service of the Company for the discovery of the Northwest Passage, and accompanied Captain Robert Bylot as pilot of the little ship Discovery, and now carefully explored the Hudson Strait. The accuracy of Baffin's tidal and astronomical observations on this voyage was confirmed in a remarkable manner by Sir Edward Parry, when passing over the same ground, two centuries later (1821).

The following year, Baffin again sailed as pilot of the Discovery, sailing to the west of Greenland and north up through the Davis Strait, where he discovered the large bay to the north which now bears his name, together with the series of straits which radiate from its head and were named by him Lancaster, Smith and Jones Sounds, in honour of the patrons of his voyages. On this voyage he sailed over 300 statute miles (480 km) farther north than his predecessor John Davis, and for 236 years his farthest north (at about lat. 77° 45') remained unsurpassed in that sea.

All hopes of discovering a passage to India by this route seemed to be at an end, and eventually Baffin's discoveries came to be doubted until they were re-discovered by Captain Ross in 1818. "Baffin had long been one of Ross's heroes, and later he would write of the satisfaction he derived of proving wrong those who, for so long, had doubted Baffin's accomplishment."[3]

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