Vancouver, George

VANCOUVER, George, British naval officer, explorer (b 22 June 1757, King's Lynn, England; d 12 May 1798, Petersham, England). As a young naval recruit he was appointed midshipman on James COOK's voyages to the S Pacific and the Antarctic (1772–75) and to the coast of BC and Alaska (1776–80). In 1791 Vancouver took command of his own expedition to the northwest coast of America with orders to survey the shoreline from California to Alaska and to resolve a disagreement with Spain over the ownership of the area. He arrived on the coast of California in Apr 1792 in his 297-tonne ship DISCOVERY, and spent the first season exploring north as far as the northern tip of VANCOUVER ISLAND. In June he met 2 Spanish vessels off Point Grey, the present site of VANCOUVER. Relations were cordial and the 2 parties continued together for several days.

After completing his first season of exploration, Vancouver sailed to NOOTKA SOUND to open negotiations with the Spanish commander Juan BODEGA Y QUADRA. The 2 men got on well but did not resolve the diplomatic squabble, which was referred back to Europe (see NOOTKA SOUND CONTROVERSY). After wintering in Hawaii, Vancouver returned to the coast in May 1793 and continued his survey northward for another 500 km. In DEAN CHANNEL he barely missed meeting Alexander MACKENZIE, who completed his pioneering overland trek to the Pacific 6 weeks after Vancouver passed by. Following another winter in Hawaii, Vancouver returned to the coast in 1794 to complete the survey of the southern shore of Alaska. During his 3 summers on the coast, his crews mapped the entire shoreline of BC and many of its offshore islands. All of this work was done laboriously and meticulously, the men exploring every cove and inlet in small rowboats.

Vancouver's expedition effectively shattered the dream of a Northwest Passage through N America to the Atlantic and gave Europeans the missing pieces they needed to complete a realistic map of the Pacific basin. Discovery arrived back in England in Oct 1795. Vancouver had been in declining health for some time and he spent his last years preparing an account of his voyage with his brother John. It was published shortly after George's death as A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World.