Frobisher’s Arctic Voyage – the first English eyewitness account of America. With other Accounts of early Polar Expeditions

FROBISHER, MARTIN, SIR (ca. 1535-1594); Settle, Dionyse (fl. 1580)

I. N. J. Historia navigationis Martini Forbisseri Angli Praetoris sive Capitanei, A.C. 1577. Majo, Junio, Julio, Augusto & Septembri mensibus, Jussu Reginæ Elisabethæ, Ex Angliâ, in Septemtrionis & Occidentis tractum susceptae, ephemeridis sive diarii more conscripta & stilo, triennioq ; post, ex gallico in latinum sermonem, à Job Thoma Freigio translata, & Noribergae, antè A. edita, denuò prodit, é muséo D. Capelli P.P.

Hamburg: Sumptibus Joh. Naumanni & Georgi Wolffii, 1675


Quarto: 20.5 x 17 cm. Two works bound together. I. (Capel) [5] lvs., [40], 236, [16], [8] p. Collation: π1(engraving), ):(4 (4th leaf is engraved arms), A-E4, A2(A1 signed A3), B-Z4, Aa-Dd4; ):(4, a-c4, “)1(“ 4, “)2(“4, “)3(“4. II. (Frobisher) [1] leaf, [17], 37 p. Collation: A-G4 (leaf A4, with the engraving, bound before A1).

SECOND LATIN EDITION, expanded, of Settle’s account of Frobisher voyage (1st ed. 1580).

[Bound after:]

Capel [or Capell], Rudolf (1635-1684)

Norden, oder zu Wasser und Lande im Eise und Snee (!), mit Verlust Blutes und Gutes zu Weg gebrachte, und fleissig beschriebene Erfahrung des Norden. [With, as issued: Kurtze Erzehlung von dem Anfange und Fortgange der Schiffahrt, biß auf diese unsere Zeit. Aus der Holländischen in die hochdeutsche Sprache gebracht. (1676); [and] Wünschet von der Ewigen Göttlichen Majestät, allerley liebes und gutes, zeitlich und ewig. [and] Moxon, Joseph ( ) Ein kurzter Discours von der Schiff-Fahrt bey dem Nord-Pol nach Japan/China und so weiter .. Aus dem Englischen übersetzt. Ebd. 1676

Hamburg: J. Naumann (misspelled “Nanmann”) 1678

SECOND EDITION, expanded (1st ed. 1675).

Bound in contemporary stiff vellum, lightly soiled. Very fine copies with only one light stain to the lower margin of leaf R1 in first work. Complete with the engraved polar map and coats-of-arms in the first volume and the engraved scene in the second work. The frontispiece shows a map of the “Frobisher Strait”, Novaya Zemlya, several Inuit, and two unicorns (see below for a further description of the plate.)

A fine sammelband of accounts of voyages in search of Northeast and Northwest passages through the Arctic seas, featuring the  second edition of the 1580 Latin version of Dionysius Settle's account of Martin Frobisher’s second Arctic expedition of 1577, the first English eyewitness account of America. The Latin version was based on the French translation by Nicolas Pithou, published in 1578. "The notes of this (Hamburg) edition contain much matter not in the English, French, German, or (first) Latin edition" (Church).

The second book in the volume is Rudolf Capel’s “Vorstellungen des Norden”(Ideas about the North), an extensive collection primarily about the polar regions. It is a re-issue of the sheets of the 1675 edition. Here it has been expanded to include a German translation ("Ein kurtzer Discours von der Schiff-Fahrt bey dem Nord-Pol nach Japan, China, und so weiter") of Joseph Moxon’s “Brief Discourse of a Passage by the North-Pole to Japan, China, etc.”(1674). Moxon’s theories are based on the results of three fishing expeditions: one from Amsterdam headed north to the pole, one from Japan towards the North Pole, and one sailing north from Russia.

The collection also includes “Kurtze Erzehlung von dem Anfange und Fortgange der Shiffahrt, biss auff diese unsere Zeit” (p. 213-236, 2nd count), a translation of an unidentified Dutch work that discusses Columbus, Pedro Alvarez, Magellan, Cavendish, Cabot and others. Capel’s main text contains Saeghman’s abstract of Gerrit de Veer’s account of Willem Barentz’s voyages in search of a Northeast Passage. Veer served under Barentz on the third voyage, during which the expedition was stuck in ice and endured a harrowing ordeal. The westward voyages of Winwood and Hudson are also discussed.

The engraved map pertaining to the Northwestern Passage, a polar projection, features 0° latitude centered on the Madeira or Canary Islands, fancifully depicts the northern Russian coast around to China and Japan. Nova Zembla is placed at about 71° East, rather than 51⁰ East.

Frobisher’s Voyage of 1577:

“Dionyse Settle’s account of Martin Frobisher’s second voyage (1577) to discover a Northwest Passage appeared first in English, and was subsequently translated into French and Latin. The present is the second edition of the Latin translation originally published in 1580, but with additional notes and biographical details that did not appear in the original.

“This account of Frobisher's voyage to Baffinland and the northern straits by Dionyse Settle (Frobisher is generally considered not literate enough to furnish a printed record) is an exceptional early ethnography on the Inuit, including details of what must have been an extraordinary diet by European tastes (raw meat for instance) but perhaps its primary importance is as ‘the first book to contain English eyewitness accounts of America."

“The fine engraved frontispiece consists of a three-quarter plate showing an Inuk in a kayak with three-pronged harpoon and atlatl (nuqak); other Inuit on a rocky shore in the background and in a leather tent, dogs, birds, and other natural features. The lower section is a small sectional map of Frobisher’s Strait on one side; This is a later state of the plate, with two unicorns (the first state had one.)

“The belief that Frobisher's first voyage might have discovered a Northwest Passage ("Frobisher's Strait") and the endless quest for gold resulted in the formation of the Company of Cathay, a joint stock corporation, to fund another expedition. Queen Elizabeth contributed considerable funds to the Company and provided an additional ship, whose crew included miners and refiners, under the assumption that "gold ore" would be collected at Hall's Island.

“Embarking with 15 vessels in May of 1577, the fleet arrived at Hall's Island in July and thus began a most disappointing enterprise. Frobisher unsuccessfully tried to take Inuit hunters hostage (to negotiate for the release of the five sailors captured by the Inuit on the previous year’s voyage). He received an arrow in the buttocks for his trouble (later scholarship uncovered the English captives’ fate. They were released upon Frobisher's departure, constructed a boat from the materials left behind by their comrades, and sailed into oblivion). 

“Frobisher did eventually succeed in obtaining three captives, who were taken back to England when the ships departed, laden with supposed ‘gold ore.’ The minerals proved worthless, but the Inuit made a sensation on their return to Bristol. In fact, the subject of the extremely rare plate found in the present copy, is an illustration of a display of hunting prowess put on by one of the Inuit. The Dutch artist De Heere depicted the kayak and throwing stick used with the spear, but changed the background of the scene from Bristol, to what Settle must have reported as an indicative native view. Sealskin tents and clothing dogs harnessed to a sled and the swift kayak were all accurate to a degree, but typically the artist gave his subjects European features. It is the first illustration of an Inuk in a printed book. The three natives succumbed to the unfamiliar environment, dying within a month of their arrival.”(Parker, Books to Build an Empire, p. 70)

Frobisher: Chavanne 1392. - Church 638. - Alden/Landis 675/157. - Sabin 79346. - Cox II, 1f. - Henze II, 298ff. - Howgego F 80. Capel: Chavanne 128. - Bruun III, 607. - Sabin 10736. - Böhme 759. - Schröder 561. 30. For Moxon, see Cordier, Jap. Sp. 397. - Hadamitzky/Kock 411. - Böhme 758.