The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay
Company CHAPTER XII. - DISCOVERY OF THE COPPERMINE
Samuel Hearne"The Mungo Park of
Canada"Perouse complains The North-West PassageIndian
guidesTwo failuresThird journey successfulSmokes the
calumetDiscovers Arctic OceanCruelty to the EskimosError in
latitudeRemarkable Indian womanCapture of Prince of Wales
FortCriticism by Umfreville.
Such an agitation as that so skilfully
planned and shrewdly carried on by Arthur Dobbs, Esq., could not
but affect the action of the Hudson's Bay Company. The most
serious charge brought against the Company was that, while having
a monopoly of the trade on Hudson Bay, it had taken no steps to
penetrate the country and develop its resources. It is of course
evident that the Company itself could have no reason for refusing
to open up trade with the interior, for by this means it would be
expanding its operations and increasing its profits. The real
reason for its not doing so seems to have been the inertia, not to
say fear, of Hudson's Bay Company agents on the Bay who failed to
mingle with the bands of Indians in the interior.
Now the man was found who was to be equal to
the occasion. This was Samuel Hearne. Except occasional reference
to him in the minutes of the Company and works of the period, we
know little of Samuel Hearne. He was one of the class of men to
which belonged Norton, Kelsey, and othersmen who had grown up in
the service of the Company on the Bay, and had become, in the
course of years, accustomed to the climate, condition of life, and
haunts of the Indians, thus being fitted for active work for the
Hearne became so celebrated in his inland expeditions, that the
credit of the Hudson's Bay Company leaving the coast and venturing
into the interior has always been attached to his name. So
greatly, especially in the English mind, have his explorations
bulked, that the author of a book of travels in Canada about the
beginning of this century called him the "Mungo Park of Canada."
In his "Journey," we have an account of his earlier voyages to the
interior in search of the Coppermine River. This book has a
somewhat notable history. In the four-volume work of La Perouse,
the French navigator, it is stated that when he took Prince of
Wales Fort on the Churchill River in 1782, Hearne, as governor of
the fort, surrendered it to him, and that the manuscript of his
"Journey" was seized by the French commander. It was returned to
Hearne on condition that it should be published, but the
publication did not take place until thirteen years afterwards. It
is somewhat amusing to read in Perouse's preface (1791) the
complaint that Hearne had not kept faith with him in regard to
publishing the journal, and the hope is expressed that this public
statement in reminding him of his promise would have the desired
effect of the journal being published.
Four years afterwards Hearne's "Journey"
appeared. A reference to this fine quarto work, which is well
illustrated, brings us back in the introduction to all the
controversies embodied in the work of Dobbs, Ellis, Robson, and
the "American Traveller."
Hearne's orders were received from the
Hudson's Bay Company, in 1769, to go on a land expedition to the
interior of the continent, from the mouth of the Churchill as far
as 70 deg. N. lat., to smoke the calumet of peace with the
Indians, to take accurate astronomical observations, to go with
guides to the Athabasca country, and thence northward to a river
abounding with copper ore and "animals of the fur kind," &c.
It is very noticeable, also, that his
instructions distinctly tell him" to clear up the point, if
possible, in order to prevent further doubt from arising hereafter
respecting a passage out of Hudson Bay into the Western Ocean, as
hath lately been represented by the 'American Traveller.'" The
instructions made it plain that it was the agitation still
continuing from the days of Dobbs which led to the sending of
Hearne to the north country.
Hearne's first expedition was made during the
last months of the year 1769. It is peculiarly instructive in the
fact that it failed to accomplish anything, as it gives us a
glimpse of the difficulties which no doubt so long prevented the
movement to the interior. In the first place, the bitterly severe
months of November and December were badly chosen for the time of
the expedition. On the sixth day of the former of these months
Hearne left Prince of Wales Fort, taking leave of the Governor,
and being sent off with a salute of seven guns. His guide was an
Indian chief, Chawchinahaw. Hearne ascertained very soon, what
others have found among the Indians, that his guide was not to be
trusted; he "often painted the difficulties in the worst colours"
and took every method to dishearten the explorer. Three weeks
after starting, a number of the Indians deserted Hearne.
Shortly after this mishap, Chawchinahaw and
his company ruthlessly deserted the expedition, and two hundred
miles from the fort set out on another route, "making the woods
ring with their laughter." Meeting other Indians, Hearne purchased
venison, but was cheated, while his Indian guide was feasted. The
explorer remarks:"A sufficient proof of the singular advantage
which a native of this country has over an Englishman, when at
such a distance from the Company's factories as to depend entirely
on them for subsistence."
Hearne arrived at the fort after an absence
of thirty-seven days, as he says, "to my own mortification and the
no small surprise of the Governor." Hearne was simply illustrating
what has been shown a hundred times since, in all foreign regions,
viz., native peoples are quick to see the inexperience of men raw
to the country, and will heartlessly maltreat and deceive them.
However, British officers and men in all parts of the world become
at length accustomed to dealing with savage peoples, and after
some experience, none have ever equalled British agents and
explorers in the management and direction of such peoples.
Early in the following year Hearne plucked up
courage for another expedition. On this occasion ho determined to
take no Europeans, but to trust to Indians alone. On February
23rd, accompanied by five Indians, Hearne started on his second
journey. Following the advice of the Governor, the party took no
Indian women with them, though Hearne states that this was a
mistake, as they were "needed for hauling the baggage as well as
for dressing skins for clothing, pitching our tent, getting
firing, &c." During the first part of the journey deer were
plentiful, and the fish obtained by cutting holes in the ice of
the lakes were excellent.
Hearne spent the time of the necessary delays
caused by the obtaining of fish and game in taking observations,
keeping his journal and chart, and doing his share of trapping.
Meeting, as soon as the spring opened, bands of Indians going on
various errands, the explorer started overland. He carried sixty
pounds of burden, consisting of quadrant, books and papers,
compass, wearing apparel, weapons and presents for the natives.
The traveller often made twenty miles a day over the rugged
Meeting a chief of the Northern Indians going
in July to Prince of Wales Fort, Hearne sent by him for ammunition
and supplies. A canoe being now necessary, Hearne purchased this
of the Indians. It was obtained by the exchange of a single knife,
the full value of which did not exceed a penny. In the middle of
this month the party saw bands of musk oxen. A number of these
were killed and their flesh made into pemmican for future use.
Finding it impossible to reach the Coppermine during the season,
Hearne determined to live with the Indians for the winter.
The explorer was a good deal disturbed by
having to give presents to Indians who met him. Some of them
wanted guns, all wanted ammunition, iron-work, and tobacco; many
were solicitous for medicine; and others pressed for different
articles of clothing. He thought the Indians very inconsiderate in
On August 11th the explorer had the
misfortune to lose his quadrant by its being blown open and broken
by the wind. Shortly after this disaster, Hearne was plundered by
a number of Indians who joined him.
He determined to return to the fort.
Suffering from the want of food and clothing, Hearne was overtaken
by a famous chief, Matonabbee, who was going eastward to Prince of
Wales Fort. The chief had lived several years at the fort, and was
one who knew the Coppermine. Matonabbee discussed the reasons of
Hearne's failure in his two expeditions. The forest philosopher
gave as the reason of these failures the misconduct of the guides
and the failure to take any women on the journey. After
maintaining that women were made for labour, and speaking of their
assistance, said Matonabbee, "women, though they do everything,
are maintained at a trifling expense, for as they always stand
cook, the very licking of their fingers in scarce times is
sufficient for their subsistence." Plainly, the northern chief had
need of the ameliorating influence of modern reformers. In company
with the chief, Hearne returned to the fort, reaching it after an
absence of eight months and twenty-two days, having, as he says,
had "a fruitless or at least an unsuccessful Journey."
Hearne, though beaten twice, was determined
to try a third time and win. He recommended the employment of
Matonabbee as a guide of intelligence and experience. Governor
Norton wished to send some of the coast Indians with Hearne, but
the latter refused them, and incurred the ill-will of the
Governor. Hearne's instructions on this third Journey were "in
quest of a North-West Passage, copper-mines, or any other thing
that may be serviceable to the British nation in general, or the
Hudson's Bay Company in particular." The explorer was now
furnished with an Elton's quadrant.
This third Journey was begun on December 7th,
1770. Travelling sometimes for three or four days without food,
they were annoyed, when supplies were secured, by the chief
Matonabbee taking so ill from over-eating that he had to be drawn
upon a sledge. Without more than the usual incidents of Indian
travelling, the party pushed on till a point some 19 deg. west of
Churchill was reached, according to the calculations of the
explorer. It is to be noted, however, that Hearne's observations,
measurements, and maps, do not seem to be at all accurate.
Turning northward, as far as can be now made
out, about the spot whore the North-West traders first appeared on
their way to the Churchill River, Hearne went north to his
destination.1 His Indian guides now formed a large war party from
the resident Indians, to meet the Eskimos of the river to which
they were going and to conquer them.
The explorer announces that having left
behind "all the women, children, dogs, heavy baggage, and other
encumbrances," on June 1st, 1771, they pursued their journey
northward with great speed. On June 21st the sun did not set at
all, which Hearne took to be proof that they had reached the
Arctic Circle. Next day they met the Copper Indians, who welcomed
them on hearing the object of their visit.
Hearne, according to orders, smoked the
calumet of peace with the Copper Indians. These Indians had never
before seen a white man. Hearne was considered a great curiosity.
Pushing on upon their long journey, the explorers reached the
Coppermine River on July 13th. Hearne was the witness of a cruel
massacre of the Eskimos by his Indian allies, and the seizure of
their copper utensils and other provisions, and expresses disgust
at the enormity of the affair. The mouth of the river, which flows
into the Arctic Ocean, was soon reached on July 18th, and the tide
found to rise about fourteen feet.
Hearne seems in the narrative rather
uncertain about the latitude of the mouth of the Coppermine River,
but states that after some consultation with the Indians, he
erected a mark, and took possession of the coast on behalf of the
Hudson's Bay Company.
In Hearne's map, dated July, 1771, and
purporting to be a plan of the Coppermine, the mouth of the river
is about 71 deg. 54' N. This was a great mistake, as the mouth of
the river is somewhere near 68 deg. N. So great a mistake was
certainly unpardonable. Hearne's apology was that after the
breaking of his quadrant on the second expedition, the instrument
which he used was an old Elton's quadrant, which had been knocking
about the Prince of Wales Fort for nearly thirty years.
Having examined the resources of the river
and heard of the mines from which the Copper Indians obtained all
the metal for the manufacture of hatchets, chisels, knives, &c,
Hearne started southward on his return journey on July 18th.
Instead of coming by the direct route, he went with the Indians of
his party to the north side of Lake Athabasca on December 24th.
Having crossed the lake, as illustrating the loneliness of the
region, the party found a woman who had escaped from an Indian
band which had taken her prisoner, and who had not seen a human
face for seven months, and had lived by snaring partridges,
rabbits, and squirrels. Her skill in maintaining herself in lonely
wilds was truly wonderful. She became the wife of one of the
Indians of Hearne's party. In the middle of March, 1772, Hearne
was delivered a letter, brought to him from Prince of Wales Fort
and dated in the preceding June. Pushing eastward, after a number
of adventures, Hearne reached Prince of Wales Fort on June 30th,
1772, having been absent on his third voyage eighteen months and
twenty-three days. Hearne rejoices that he had at length put an
end to the disputes concerning a North-West Passage through Hudson
Bay. The fact, however, that during the nineteenth century this
became again a living question shows that in this he was mistaken.
The perseverance and pluck of Hearne have
impressed all those who have read his narrative. He was plainly
one of the men possessing the subtle power of impressing the
Indian mind. His disasters would have deterred many men from
following up so difficult and extensive a route. To him the
Hudson's Bay Company owes a debt of gratitude. That debt consists
not in the discovery of the Coppermine, but in the attitude
presented to the Northern Indians from the Bay all the way to Lake
Athabasca, Hearne does not mention the Montreal fur traders, who,
in the very year of his return, reached the Saskatchewan and were
stationed at the Churchill River down which ho passed.
First of white men to reach Athapuscow, now
thought to have been Great Slave Lake, Samuel Hearne claimed for
his Company priority of trade, and answered the calumnies that his
Company was lacking in energy and enterprise. Ho took what may be
called "seizen" of the soil for the English traders. We shall
speak again of his part in leading the movement inland to oppose
the Nor'-Westers in the interior. His services to the Hudson's Bay
Company received recognition in his promotion, three years after
his return home from his third voyage, to the governorship of the
Prince of Wales Fort. To Hearne has been largely given the credit
of the new and adventurous policy of the Hudson's Bay Company, -
Hearne does not, however, disappear from public notice on his
promotion to the command of Prince of Wales Fort. When war broke
out a few years later between England and France, the latter
country, remembering her old successes under D'lber-ville on
Hudson Bay, sent a naval expedition to attack the forts on the
Bay. Umfreville gives an account of the attack on Prince of Wales
Fort on August 8th and 9th, 1772. Admiral de la Perouse was in
command of these war vessels, his flagship being Le Sceptre, of
seventy-four guns. The garrison was thought to be well provided
for a siege, and La Perouse evidently expected to have a severe
contest. However, as he approached the fort, there seemed to be no
preparations made for defence, and, on the summons to surrender,
the gates were immediately thrown open.
Umfreville, who was in the garrison and was
taken prisoner on this occasion, speaks of the conduct of the
Governor as being very reprehensible, but severely criticizes the
Company for its neglect. He says:"The strength of the fort itself
was such as would have resisted the attack of a more considerable
force; it was built of the strongest materials, the walls were of
great thickness and very durable (it was planned by the ingenious
Mr. Robson, who went out in 1742 for that purpose), it having been
forty years in building and attended with great expense to the
Company. In short, it was the opinion of every intelligent person
that it might have made an obstinate resistance when attacked, had
it been as well provided in other respects; but through the
impolitic conduct of the Company, every courageous exertion of
their servants must have been considered as imprudent temerity;
for this place, which would have required four hundred men for its
defence, the Company, in its consummate wisdom, had garrisoned
with only thirty-nine."
In this matter, Umfreville very plainly shows
his animus to the Company, but incidentally he exonerates Hearne
from the charge of cowardice, inasmuch as it would have been
madness to make defence against so large a body of men. As has
been before pointed out, we can hardly charge with cowardice the
man who had shown his courage and determination in the three
toilsome and dangerous journeys spoken of; rather would we see in
this a proof of his wisdom under unfortunate circumstances. The
surrender of York Factory to La Perouse twelve days afterwards,
without resistance, was an event of an equally discouraging kind.
The Company suffered great loss by the surrender of these forts,
which had been unmolested since the Treaty of Utrecht.
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