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This webpage reproduces a section of
Mackenzie of Canada
Mark S. Wade

published by
William Blackwood & Sons Ltd.
Edinburgh and London 1927

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p303  Note D

Among the number of persons interested in geographical discovery in the latter part of the eighteenth century was Alexander Dalrymple. He was hydrographer to the East India Company, in whose service he had been engaged as a writer when a youth. He was probably at India House when Charles Lamb made his advent there in 1792. In 1795 he was appointed hydrographer to the Admiralty.

In a Memorandum which he prepared, dated February 2nd, 1790, he shows a very considerable knowledge of the explorations of the north-west coast by Cook, Portlock and Dixon, Meares, Barkley, and of the voyage of Captain Middleton to Hudson's Bay, and of Danish explorations and of Hearne's travels. He advanced arguments in favour of further exploration for the discovery of the North‑West Passage, and, having dealt with that subject, he continues thus: —

"But even supposing for a moment, what is not supported by any probable inference, that the navigation westward by the North of Hudson's Bay is impracticable, then we are to consider the matter as confined to an Examination by Land.

"The Canadian Traders (The North‑West Company — Ed.) represent the distance from Quebec to the extremity of Lake Superior to be 750 Leagues, or 2250 Geographical miles, and from thence to the Great Slave Lake 1000 Leagues, or 3000 more; in the whole, 1750 Leagues or 5250 Geographical miles." (It is apparent that these figures were obtained from Isaac Ogden's letter to his father, David Ogden — vide ut supra, — and which the latter had turned over to the Government on January 23rd, 1790, ten days before the date of Dalrymple's Memorandum.) "Altho' this distance be admitted to be greatly exaggerated, still the estimation operates equally in favour of Hudson's Bay when compared with the distance from thence.

"I will suppose the distance in a direct Line may be admitted  p304 in miles instead of Leagues, because I would give the fairest computation; this gives 1750 miles, thro' a country full of falls and rapids to impede the navigation.

"We shall take it, however, only to the Island in the Arathapescow (Athabasca — Ed.) Lake at 1350 Geographic miles.

"This distance from Hudson's Bay is only 600 miles, of which above 200 is the Chesterfield Inlet known to be navigable. The Canadian Trader represents the Arathapescow Lake to extend 100° to the Eastward of the Island, Mr Hearne 90°; and a very considerable portion of the remaining 300 miles is occupied by the Dobaunt and other Lakes.

"By Hudson's Bay the Discoverers would profit by the information of Mr Turnor,º whom the Hudson's Bay Company have sent into those parts, and from whose Astronomical abilities we may reasonably expect competent Information, whereas Peter Pond's allegation (as reported by Mr Rolland) 'that the Observations of the Latitude in his last Journey agreed to a second with the positions in his former map' laid down by the Estimation, betrays his ignorance or impudence and invalidates any Reports coming from him.

"Supposing some person of knowledge and veracity to be sent with him, it is probable that Pond would hide that Person, as is at present alledged of a person whose merits raised his Jealousy. (This possibly refers to the murder of Wadin, quod vide supra.)

It is also to be considered that Pond is a native of the United States, and cannot therefore be deemed to be attached to this country. He also pretends to the Sovereignty of the Lands adjacent to the Arathapescow Lake, so that by encouraging him we may be fostering a viper in our bosom."

Dalrymple concludes his Memorandum by suggesting two ships be sent — one round the Horn to the north-west coast, and the other to Hudson's Bay — to try to find a communication by sea, or to induce Esquimaux to

"accompany some of our People across those Lakes & by those Rivers which the Indian Maps represent as connecting Hudson's Bay & the Arathapescow Lake, which would obviate the objection  p305 made to the navigation from the Northern Parts of Hudson's Bay as being a country destitute of Birch-wood for making Bark Canoes.

"I cannot omit mentioning the propriety of having Dogs as a watch; for the Indians coming upon their enemies like a Tiger by stealth, The Alarm would be given, and their Brutal Ferocity prevented."

Writing to Sir Evan Nepean on February 11th of that same year, Mr Dalrymple, whose address at that time was No. 52 High Street, Marylebone, urges the Government to take action. His letter reads: —

"Dr Sir, — My Friend Mr Wegg, the Governor of Hudson's Bay Company, desires me to say that the Directors of that Company have unanimously determined to send their Sloop of about 90 Tons at the Company's Expence, if Government will send a proper Person in her to examine if any outlet can be found from Hudson's Bay to facilitate the communication with the West Coast. They are particularly solicitous that the Government would send a proper Person in her that the Publick may be assured of everything being done to effect the desired purpose.

"They also wish that two proper Persons may be sent by the Government to travel inland to ascertain the shortest communication by the Lakes and Rivers, and The Hudson's Bay Company will defray any reasonable Expence of that undertaking.

Dr Sir,

Very truly yrs.,

A. Dalrymple."

Afterwards follows a note by the same writer, undated: —

"Dr Sir, — I find you were mistaken concerning D. He is a Cumberland man, and not an American. I thought I recollected Stockdale had so informed me. I therefore enquired of him, and find they come from the same part of that Country.

"I should think Capt. F. D. would do well for the Land  p306 Expedition to Hudson's Bay, and H. and his Brother from Canada, if that Plan is still followed. I mentioned Johnstone to Wegg in the manner we agreed, and shall write to‑day."

The "D" here referred to is Captain Douglas. "H" is Captain Holland, son of Major Samuel Holland, for many years Surveyor-General in Canada. He had travelled at least as far as Lake Superior, and appears to have been willing to undertake the part it was suggested he should fill, for he prepared the following plan for carrying on the proposed explorations: —

"The following Plan strikes Mr Holland as most eligible for carrying into Effect the proposed Expedition for Discovering and Exploring the Interior parts of the Northern and Western Quarter of America: Lying between Lake Aurabusquie, or Arthepeskow, and the Line of Coast discovered by Capt. Cook: —

"First, that the Party to be employed should consist of not less than sixteen Persons, including a Surveyor and Assistant; Four Men having some knowledge of Boat Building; Eight Canadians and Two Indians for navigating Two or sometimes Three Canoes, in order at Times, or as occasion may require, to be enabled to Detach one on any separate work which may present itself, such as exploring Rivers, sketching in the side of a Lake opposite to that taken by the Main Party and Chief Surveyor, with whom Two Canoes must constantly be stationed for fear of accidents to either, and by keeping the Duplicates, Plans, Observations, Journals, &c., separated lessº injury would be sustained by the loss.

"One of the great Obstacles to impede such an Expedition would be the want of Provisions. It will therefore be necessary that a sufficient Quantity (for at least Three years' consumption) should be deposited at Aurabusquie, to be conveyed thither from the King's Stores at Michilimakinak, and as our Canoes, from the smallness of their size, would not be able to contain the Quantity requisite, a Party and Canoes might be spared from the Fort to aid in transporting of it to Aurabusquie, from whence our chief operations ought to commence.

 p307  "The Track from Lake Superior thither being known (and an accurate survey not the object in view), all that appears necessary between those places is the ascertaining Latitude and Longitude of some Principal Posts in our Route, and making such Sketches as may be useful to Persons who may follow. This, I presume, will be all that can be done in the course of the Ensuing Summer, supposing the Party to depart from Quebec about the end of May, at which Place, and at Montreal; a Month at least will be consumed in making the necessary Preparations Prior to our Departure. Little further during the winter season can be done at Aurabusquie than exploring the Surrounding Country, making Observations, gaining Intelligence, and preparing for pursuing our Route in Spring, which, I think, should be by mounting the Slave River, thence North‑West coasting the Slave Lake (which by Information gained at Quebec from Persons who have been in that Country) is not less than Ten Degrees of Latitude; That it discharges itself into a River which takes its course N.‑West, and that its Distance from thence, to Prince William's sound or Cook's River, does not exceed Fifteen Degrees of Longitude.

"After reaching the mouth of Cook's River, or whatever other River we may fall in with on the outset, It will be advisable to stretch along the Coast to the South-East, to observe the course of all such rivers as may appear of importance, until we shall be joined by the Party intended to depart from Hudson's House, who I apprehend will follow the Coast to the North‑West, and explore the rivers in like manner until our Junction."

On July 7th, same year, Dalrymple wrote to Sir Evan Nepean as follows: —

"Dr Sir, — I have not been able to get down to Whitehall since I had your note. My map is not finished because I have not received the Latitudes, &c., of Lake Superior you promised to ask of Mr Holland. I think everything else is prepared. If you wish to have a Proof of what is done — viz., the West Coast of Hudson's Bay without any of Peter Pond's or the Canadian Parts, I will bring it to‑morrow as I shall  p308 be your way. I suppose you have heard that Capt. Douglas is gone again from China to the N.‑W. Coast of America under American colours."

Despite all these plans, letters, and memoranda, nothing was done. The season was too advanced by the time those interested had made up their minds what should be done, and Captain Holland, who was to have made the Land Exploration, wrote to Nepean as under: —

"London, July 25th, 1790.

"Sir, — Presuming from the advanced state of the season, that little can be done this year towards prosecuting the intended exploration of the Interior parts of the North‑West of America, than in making such arrangements at Quebec during the winter as will enable us to leave that place the Instant the Ice breaks up in Spring, to effect which I conceive it of material consequence to have the necessary Instruments and other articles to be procured in this Country shipped this season for Canada for the following reasons: That after Sunday next, the 1st of August, the direct communication by shipping to Quebec closes till next Spring, when, from numberless impediments, their arrival is frequently retarded till near the commencement of June, at which time we should be near Michilimacinak.º Submitting the above with all deference to your superior judgment.

"I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most devoted, most obedient, and most humble servant,

Jn. F. de B. Holland."

Whether Sir Evan Nepean's​1 "superior judgment" led  p309 to the dispatch of the instruments or not does not appear. At any rate the proposed expeditions did not set out. The year 1791 was equally barren of results. In that year Alexander Mackenzie journeyed from Fort Chipewyan to Grand Portage, Montreal, and London. It was while on his way across the continent that he met Philip Turner who, according to Dalrymple (vide his Memorandum), had in Feb. 1790 already set out on his journey to Athabasca. It should be noted that Mackenzie did with his nine men and one canoe what Captain Holland thought sixteen men, three canoes, and provisions for three years were necessary to accomplish.

The Author's Note:

1 Sir Evan Nepean (1751‑1822) was the second son of Nicholas Nepean of Saltash, Cornwall. He entered the navy as a clerk; in 1776 was purser of the sloop Falcon and afterwards of the Harpy. In 1782 he was secretary to the port admiral at Plymouth; appointed Under-Secretary of State under the Shelborne ministry; commissioner of Privy Council, 1784; Under-Secretary for War, 1794; Secretary of Admiralty from 1795 to 1804. Created baronet in 1802. In 1804 for a few months was Chief Secretary for Ireland, and was then made one of the Lords Commissioners at Admiralty. From 1812 to 1819 he was governor of Bombay. He married Margaret, daughter of William Skinner, an army captain. Issue, four sons and one daughter.

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