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As King Philip and Spain grew rich from their conquests and empire building in Central and South America, England looked westward for an opportunity to share in the spoils of the new world, or gain access to the Far East and the valuable silk and spice trade which it offered. Many stories and rumours concerning a great north west passage through the America's were constantly talked about  in the seaports and naval circles of England's sailing community.

Portrait: Martin Frobisher

Martin Frobisher was a sailor with a dream to try and discover this mysterious passage to the orient. He and his fellow sea captains of the time have plundered and pillaged the Spanish ships and colonies of the America's but dream of a safer manner in which to make their fortune. He had served a term in the tower for his pirate activities and felt that a great voyage of discovery might redeem his reputation and position among the English peoples.

He set sail in the spring of 1576 across the Atlantic and fought the storms and Icebergs of the North Atlantic. He managed to penetrate the Artic frontier of North East Canada and believed that he had found the route to the Orient. His first contact with the Inuit peoples was a strange and bizarre interlude. They paddle out to meet him in their kayaks and Frobisher send 5 of his men ashore with them to find out what they can. They disappear and are not seen again. Frobisher decided to capture an Inuit in order to provide evidence of his contact with these new people and as revenge for the abduction and potential murder of his seamen.

Image: Title page of Hakluyt's account of Frobisher's voyages


Image: Page from Hakluyt's account of Frobisher's voyages


As he finishes off his inspection of this bleak and desolate landscape some of his men stumble upon a black rock which seems to give an indication of precious metal content. Deep down, most explorers of his day believed that gold such as the Spanish had found in the rich Aztec and Inca empires must exist in other areas of the new world and they were on the lookout for any indication of such a discovery.  

Upon his return to England in the fall of 1576 he announces the discover of the North West passage and the potential discovery of gold. It was not difficult to gain support for another expedition and in the spring of 1577 he returns to Baffin Island to claim the land for England and mine for the gold. Upon his arrival in the Arctic he finds an abandoned Inuit camp with the clothes of his missing seamen. He searches for the Inuit and upon discovering another encampment he attacks and kills several of the Inuit people. He names this location bloody point.

He mines some more of the strange black rock and sets sail for home. When he arrives in England he is please to find London in the grip of gold fever and backers for his next trip abundant. Queen Elizabeth herself invests £4,000 in the venture and he sets off once again in 1578 with 15 ships and over 400 men of which over 100 were miners. The work throughout the summer season mining Baffin Island for the black rock and fill the holds of the ships with the ore. With over 1200 tones of the material he returns to England. 

Once back, the metallurgist and the goldsmiths go to work extracting the gold from the ore. As the months and years roll by and no gold is refined or extracted the gold fever bubble bursts and the angry investors turn to Frobisher for an explanation. He has none, and is ruined. He returns to his privateer activities. The Northwest passage turns out to be a dead end and his other great claim as an explorer is discredited. 

He did however open up Canada's arctic and offer a path for future explorers to continue to look for the route to India.