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BEARE, JAMES, English mariner with the Frobisher expeditions, 1577–78; fl. 1577–85.

James Beare, to whom are attributed “the first maps to show with reasonable accuracy the eastern approaches to the Canadian Arctic,” was master of the 30-ton Michaell (Gilbert Yorke, captain) on the second (1577) Frobisher voyage and master of the Anne Francis (George Best, captain) on Frobisher’s third voyage in 1578.

During July 1577, the Michaell broke her “Stéerage” and the topmasts were blown overboard in a great storm. On 28 July, nevertheless, the Michaell entered an inlet which was named “Beares Sound,” near the most westerly point reached that year in Frobisher Bay (mistaken for the northwest passage).

Beare also took part in the 1578 expedition as master of the Anne Francis. Frobisher’s fleet left Harwich 31 May 1578, landed and took possession of Greenland for England, and sailed on to “Meta Incognita.” Thick fog shrouded the coast and fierce tides swept them south across the entrance of the “mistaken straites” (Hudson Strait). Frobisher consulted with his men, sending “his Pinnesse aboorde to heare each mans opinion, and specially of James Beare, mayster of the Anne Francis, who was knowen to be a sufficient and skilful Mariner, and having bin there the yeare before, had well observed the place, and drawne out Cardes of the coast.”

The Anne Francis ran on a sunken rock 10 August and lay there until the flood-tide lifted her. Two thousand strokes of the pump were needed to clear the water; and the crew built a pinnace as a precaution against shipwreck. There was a smith on board but no tools to make nails and knees. A gun-chamber was pressed into service as an anvil and a pickaxe as a sledge-hammer. The ship was laid aground on 30 August while eight gaping leaks, caused by rocks and ice, were stopped. The same day the crew attended a communion service conducted on shore by Robert Wolfall, chaplain of the fleet.

Beare was with Best 11 August, when a stone cross was erected on Hatton’s Headland “in token of Christian possession” of this place. Here they found “plentie of blacke Ore and divers preatie stones.” Best had already found, on the island named Bestes Blessing, 9 August, masses of black ore of which he wrote, “if the goodnesse myghte aunswere the greate plentye thereof, it was to be thoughte that it might reasonably suffice all the golde gluttons of the worlde.” The fleet brought back more than 1,000 tons of this ore; but it proved to be “fool’s gold.”

Later, James Beare (probably the same man) was master of the Judith of London, which was taken by Barbary pirates. In a letter to John Tipton, English consul at Algiers, dated 30 March 1585, William Harborne, ambassador at Constantinople, refers to Beare as a captive in Algiers (Hakluyt, Principal navigations (1903–5), V, 281).

Two maps in George Best’s A true discourse are attributed to Beare: an engraved oval world map and a map of Meta Incognita. That Beare drew the latter map is reasonably certain from the reference in A true discourse to his “Cardes of the coast” and the fact that Best and Beare sailed together in 1578. Beare may well have drawn the world map also. Although neither map indicates that he was a talented cartographer, since both are roughly drawn, still the maps combine the discoveries of Frobisher with the previous theories of a passage; they are properly proportioned and correctly orientated; and they do constitute the first maps in a new phase of English cartography of America.

It is not certain that Beare was principal surveyor on the Frobisher expeditions, as stated in Sixteenth-century maps relating to Canada, since he did not sail with the 1576 expedition and he was not on board Frobisher’s flag ship on the later voyages. However, he seems to have been treated as the chief cartographer of the voyages after returning in 1578.

Thomas Dunbabin

Best, A true discourse (repr. in Three Voyages of Frobisher (Stefansson), I, 4ff., and in Hakluyt, Principal navigations (1903–5), VII). Sixteenth-century maps relating to Canada: a check-list and bibliography, ed. T. E. Layng (PAC pub., 1956), 167–68.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Thomas Dunbabin, “BEARE, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/beare_james_1E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/beare_james_1E.html
Author of Article:   Thomas Dunbabin
Title of Article:   BEARE, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1966
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   June 2, 2023