Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Review: Fatal Journey - The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson

Back in the 17th century, the spice trade was booming.  Nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and the like were all the rage.  The moneyed gentry in London could not get enough of the stuff.  The English sent dozens of trading ships eastward, a voyage around the Cape of Good Hope that was long and fraught with danger, namely bad weather and pirates.  These concerns meant that both the ship owners and captains were always thinking of an alternate route, namely the fabled Northwest Passage.  The thought was that if you sailed west past Greenland and headed north, you could get through the ice and around Canada and then head south towards China.  This could save months of travel and pour more cash into the coffers.

Henry Hudson was a veteran of crossing the Atlantic.  In 1609, he captained Half Moon, which sailed from Amsterdam across the Atlantic and down the Canadian Coast, as far south as present day North Carolina and then back north towards New York and up a broad river, which now bears his name.  In 1610, wealthy English traders, eager for a short cut to the east, hired Hudson to captain the Discovery.
Fatal Journey - The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson (Peter C. Mancall) describes the voyage of the Discovery, and as the title suggests, it did not go well.   The Discovery was Hudson's fourth to North America, and his last.  The expedition was beset by the usual suspects: icebergs, cold, lack of fresh food, limited daylight as winter came in...and finally mutiny.  Captain Hudson and eight others (including his son) were expelled from Discovery and placed in a small boat.  They ultimately perished.  An ignominious ending for one of the great explorers. 

Eight of the thirteen mutineers made it back to England and were charged with murder... but later acquitted.

The book is good, but not great.  The subject matter is fascinating but in my opinion could be presented in a more lively fashion.  See my review of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex for an engrossing  account of the old sailing (and whaling) days... They all can't be winners.

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