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Monday, June 23, 2008

Captain George Vancouver

We've looked at Captains Cook and Quadra and here is a third but possibly the most important early sailor to visit these shores, Captain George Vancouver. In addition to this island where I write, the metropolis across the Strait of Juan de Fuca has been named after him, probably because he was the first ever to sail into Burrard Inlet, on which shores the City of Vancouver has grown.

Captain Vancouver had an interesting career as a British naval officer. His first naval experiences were with Captain Cook, who explored this area on two voyages between 1772 and 1779. Next Vancouver served in a 74 gun ship of the line in a war with France. These were the glory days of the British Navy when their naval superiority spread the British Empire over the globe. After stints in the West Indies and South Pacific, Vancouver returned to this area on an expedition that lasted from 1791 to 1795, charting the BC coastline with such accuracy that his charts were still in use in the early 20th century. Wisely he spent his winters during this extended voyage in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) but presumably with better diplomacy than Captain Cook, who managed to get himself fatally speared while visiting those generally hospitable islands.

Captain Vancouver was accompanied on this last lengthy voyage by Archibald Menzies, a surgeon and naturalist. Those of you familiar with the works of Patrick O'Brian and his Aubrey/Maturin series of nautical novels will find many interesting parallels with the voyages and work of Vancouver and Menzies and those of O'Brian's main characters. These characters were brought to life on the big screen a few years ago under the title, "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," with Russell Crowe. Menzies gave his name to one of the West Coast's most beautiful trees, the Arbutus or Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii).

Unlike O'Brian's literary captain and surgeon/naturalist, however, Vancouver and Menzies did not get along and when the voyage was completed Menzies' and others' complaints effectively ended Vancouver's career. He died in obscurity at the age of 40 only a few years after completing his circumnavigation of the globe. His statue, pictured above, is in need of a little maintenance but its location makes that difficult. It is, as can be seen below, on the top of the tallest dome of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly buildings here in Victoria, a fitting, if belated, honour.The magnificent figurehead above, apparently gazing at Vancouver's stature, is that of the Pacific Swift, one of the Tall Ships that is resident here when it is not away on a voyage. Below is an additional shot of this beautiful wood sculpture. Notice the BC floral emblem of the dogwood flowers.


Knoxville Girl said...

That middle picture is fantastic - a visual link between Capt. Vancouver and the tall ships he must have sailed on.

Kim said...

This is a very nice series, and the center photo is just outstanding!
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