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WAYMOUTH or Weymouth (Purchas uses both spellings), GEORGE, explorer and navigator; fl. 1601–12.

Waymouth, an English mariner, was involved in three projected expeditions (only two of which actually took place) to the New World. He is described by James Rosier – who sailed with him on his 1605 expedition to explore Virginia for the Earl of Southampton and Lord Thomas Arundell of Wardour – as a man who knew “most of the Coast of England and most of other Countries (having beene experienced by implyments in discoveries and travails from his childehood).”

Waymouth appears to have been a man of some education. Between his voyage to Hudson Strait and his expedition to Virginia, he addressed to King James I a manuscript entitled “The jewell of artes,” which dealt with navigation, shipbuilding, and instruments of war. During 1605, he prepared a manuscript “Errors and defects in the usual building of ships,” written, he asserted, from 20 years’ study of mathematics and shipbuilding. (Neither manuscript was ever printed and both are now in the British Museum.)

In September 1601, after previous negotiations with the Muscovy and Turkey companies, Waymouth agreed to seek a northwest passage to India for the newly formed (1601) East India Company. With him on this expedition were the Rev. John Cartwright, who later published an account of his travels in the East entitled The preachers’ travels (1611) and who acted as chaplain, and John Drew, master of the Godspeed, Waymouth’s consort. Waymouth was granted £100 by the company to cover the purchase of instruments and other necessary supplies and was promised £500, to be paid only if he found the passage. Queen Elizabeth equipped Waymouth with an illuminated letter to the “Emperor of China,” with translations in Latin, Spanish, and Italian, and a tin box to hold them. (These he brought home; they are preserved in the Lancashire County Record Office, Preston, England.)

On 2 May 1602, Waymouth sailed from Ratcliffe on the Thames aboard the 70-ton Discovery (William Cobreth, master), accompanied by Drew’s 60-ton Godspeed. The two vessels carried 35 men. On 28 June he sighted America at an estimated latitude of 62°30´N, but was driven off the coast in foggy weather. Land was sighted again at 63°53´ on 8 July, but there was much dangerous ice and it was not possible to examine the shore. Waymouth, in his own account of the voyage, reports that on 19 July “all our men conspired secretly together to beare up the helme for England, while I was asleepe in my Cabin.” The following day, the mutineers presented their written reasons for the mutiny; they said they would not winter in the north but they would explore between 57° and 60°N. On 21 July, the crew “bore up the helm” and steered S by W. Challenged by Waymouth, the men stated that this decision had been made by “one and all.” A simple misreading of the narrative erroneously makes Cartwright the leader of the mutiny (see: DNB, DAB). On 22 July, Waymouth, in the presence of Cartwright and Cobreth, sent for the ring-leaders and “punished them severely”; but at the entreaties of the two men he remitted a portion of the sentence. The same day, boats from the Discovery and the Godspeed narrowly escaped being capsized by an iceberg, which cracked and began to overturn as the men were breaking off ice to replenish their supply of fresh water.

The ships continued to sail to the south. On 26 July, Waymouth reckoned he was at the entry to an inlet (Hudson Strait) in the latitude 61°40´N, into which he sailed westward for 100 leagues (300 miles). Although Waymouth had “great hope of this Inlet,” he turned back on 26 July, as the year was far spent and many men were ill. Nevertheless, in the words of Luke Fox, Waymouth did indeed “light Hudson into his Streights.”

The ships cleared Hudson Strait on 5 August and on 9 August the mainland of Labrador was sighted in the latitude 55°30´N That night the Godspeed struck an iceberg which the crew feared “had foundred the Shippe,” but no damage ensued. On 14 August, the ships stood to the westward to look for an inlet in the latitude 56°N, as Waymouth “had good hope of a passage that way, by many great and probable reasons”; but nothing came of the search. The ships rode out a great storm on 18 August and with a fair wind, they then cleared the land and ice, making sail for England. Waymouth reached Dartmouth 5 Sept. 1602.

The court of the East India Company examined Waymouth on 24 Nov. 1602; a decision was made to send a second expedition, which was not, however, implemented.

In 1605 Waymouth explored the shores of Massachusetts and Maine. On 27 Oct. 1607, James I granted him a pension of 3s. 4d. a day until “he shall receive from His Majesty some other advancement.” The last mention of him is the payment of his pension, Easter 1612.

Thomas Dunbabin

PRO, CSP, Col., East Indies, 1601–2. For a contemporary record of the 1605 voyage see James Rosier, A true relation . . . (London, 1605), in Purchas, Pilgrimes (1905–7), XVIII, 335–60 (with additions), in Rosier’s relation of Waymouth’s voyage to the coast of Maine 1605, ed. H. S. Burrage (Gorges Soc., III, 1887), and in H. S. Burrage, Gorges and the grant of the Province of Maine, 1622: a tercentenary memorial (Portland, Me., 1923). Waymouth’s own account of the 1602 voyage is given in Purchas, Pilgrimes (1905–7), XIV, 306–18, and in Luke Fox, North-West Fox . . . (London, 1635) in Voyages of Foxe and James (Christy). DABDNB. G. B. Manhart, “The English search for a north-west passage in the time of Queen Elizabeth,” in Studies in English commerce and exploration in the reign of Elizabeth (Philadelphia, 1924). Narratives of voyages towards the north west in search of a passage to Cathay and India 1496 to 1631, . . . , ed. Thomas Rundall (Hakluyt Soc., 1st ser., V, 1849), 51–71. Oleson, Early voyages, 161–62. Henry Stevens, The dawn of British trade to the East Indies as recorded in the court minutes of the East India Company 1599-1603 containing an account of . . . Waymouth’s voyage in search of the North-West Passage (London, 1886).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Thomas Dunbabin, “WAYMOUTH, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/waymouth_george_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/waymouth_george_1E.html
Author of Article: Thomas Dunbabin
Title of Article: WAYMOUTH, GEORGE
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1966
Year of revision: 1966
Access Date: September 23, 2014