Birth and childhood of a discoverer
Henry Hudson was born around 1565-1575 in London. With reasonable certainty we can state his parents were William and Barbara Hudson, which meant his family was a rich one. Henry was the grandson of Henry Hudson, founder and executive of the Muscovy Company, an important British trading corporation. The boy grew up near the sea, but little further is known about his childhood. We do know that once an adult, he married the energetic and somewhat obstinate Katherine, who gave birth to three sons: Richard, John and Oliver.
Before the great voyages
Hudson was probably involved in the fighting against the Spanish Armada and occupied with various trading voyages throughout the Mediterranean and North Africa. Undoubtedly he was an experienced and respected mariner before his first documented voyage in 1607. His son John would accompany him on this and all future travels.
In search of the Northwest Passage
The Muscovy Company hired Henry Hudson in 1607 to find new trade routes. Already infatuated with the urge to discover new territories, Hudson decided to try and find the Northwest Passage by sailing the North Pole region (as he stated himself: “to discover a Passage by the North Pole to Japan and China”). The Hopewell and its crew left England on May 1, 1607. On this travel, Hudson came nearer to the North Pole than anyone before him, but he did not find the Passage. But he did make other discoveries on his way north. The English whaling industry had just begun and upon his return Hudson told them about Spitsbergen, a huge commercial opportunity for the British. Some even call Henry the grandfather of the whaling industry.
The next year the Muscovy Company asked Hudson to lead an expedition to Spitsbergen. The Hopewell left the London harbour on April 22, 1608, sailing along Norway’s north coast and through the Barents Sea. As they reached Novaya Zemlya, the ice prevented them from continuing, so they had to turn around. Yet Hudson did not head for England, but secretly decided to lead the ship westwards in the hope to discover the Northwest Passage this time. When the crew discovered they were not going home, they threatened to mutiny, which Hudson could only prevent by sailing back.
Hired by the Dutch
The Muscovy Company decided to stop hiring Hudson after this failure. Therefore he had to search for work in other countries. The Dutch East India Company was also looking for an alternate passage to Asia, hiring Hudson in 1609. His ship the Halve Maen (Half Moon) was modest and light, carrying a crew that was Dutch for more than fifty percent (as his contract with the East India Company demanded). Because Hudson did not speak the language, his third important travel started with problems already from the departure. His former right hand Robert Juet also accompanied him, but they were arguing constantly this time.
Apart from the crew, the weather was far from co-operative as well. The boat was too weak to overcome the icy storm winds. After a month, Hudson proposed to leave the northward route that led to the arctic waters. The crew agreed and the Halve Maen changed course to sail westwards. Around July they had crossed the Atlantic Ocean, reaching what we now call the Canadian coast. From here, they sailed to the south, fishing and hunting during their discovery voyage. Their own mutual hostilities were only interrupted by violent encounters with Indians. Hudson did not punish his crew for their extreme bloodshed.
Also sailing north, Hudson and his crewmen searched for the waterway that would connect the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. They sailed the waters now known as Chesapeake and Delaware Bay, but did not find route nor provisions. In September 1609 they discovered large water, which Hudson believed to be the passage: the Hudson River. When the ship entered the current New York harbour, they found out it was a dead end as well.
Prison and the Discovery
In October the Halve Maen went back, arriving in England on November 7, 1609. The British authorities arrested Hudson for sailing under a foreign flag. While in prison, a number of rich merchants founded a trade company and managed to get him released. For his new ship, the Discovery, Hudson strangely enough again hired a lot of crewmen from his former voyages – the same people he had clashed with all the time!
Strait and Bay
Hudson’s fourth voyage set foot on April 17, 1610. Within a month, heavy fights broke loose on board that almost resulted in mutiny. Clearly Hudson had little authority over his crew. They sailed north towards Quebec. In June they entered treacherous waters, now known as Hudson Strait. It connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Bay that was later named after the captain. The frightened crew completed the whole 640km long waterway, discovering the entire coastline.
But when they finally reached Hudson Bay, the ice prevented them from returning home. The crew had to stay in the bay for the entire winter season, collectively becoming sick of the cold and lack of healthy food. June of the next year set Spring in motion, but instead of returning, Hudson ordered the crew to sail further westwards to complete the Northwest Passage discovery. This drove a decisive wedge between the crewmen. A group lead by Robert Juet mutinied on June 24, 1611. Henry Hudson, his son John and their faithful were placed in a small boat and set adrift.
They were never seen again.
The rest of the Discovery crew set course for England. All leaders of the mutiny died before they reached home after 1 year, 4 months and 3 weeks. The seven survivors were punished heavily for their rebellion.
Although Henry Hudson never managed to find the Northwest Passage, he meant a lot for the discovery of the North-American coastline. He will always be remembered through the waters that carry his name: Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait and Hudson River.