Captain George Vancouver

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CAPTAIN GEORGE VANCOUVER
By Glynn Burrows

Captain George Vancouver was born in King’s Lynn on 22nd June 1757, and baptised on 16th March 1761 in Saint Margaret’s Church. The Church of Saint Margaret’s is a magnificent building, with two towers and before the reformation, it was a Priory Church. The Benedictine Priory was founded in 1101 by the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga. George was the son of John Gaspar (Jasper) Vancouver and his wife Bridget, the daughter of William Berners. They had married in the Church of All Saints, South Lynn on 22nd June 1749.

George joined the Royal Navy in 1771 and in 1772, he was appointed to the ship Resolution, on one of Captain Cook’s voyages. In 1776, Cook made George a Midshipman on the Discovery, which went with the Resolution on an expedition to map part of the southwest coast of Australia and carry on up the West coast of America to search for the “northwest passage”. The 29th March 1778, Vancouver and his fellow sailors were the first Europeans known to set foot upon what is now British Columbia.

Vancouver was nearby, when Captain Cook was killed in Hawaii. The 19th October 1780 saw George become a Lieutenant and he was to spend some of the next few years in the Caribbean, but the reason we have all heard of him is because of the next step up in his naval career.

During the late 1780’s there was a lot of unrest along the northwest coast, with the French, Spanish and Russians, together with the British, all jostling for position. Vancouver was made Captain of the Discovery and, along with other vessels, left England on All Fool’s Day 1791, on a mission to chart the northwest coast of America and arrived in the vicinity of Cape Cabrillo, north of San Francisco Bay, in April 1792.

The Discovery was larger than Captain Cook’s ship of the same name: 99’ 2’’ long and 77’ 9 5/8” at the bottom, and 28’ 3 1/4 wide and 12’ 4” deep. The height between the decks was 6’ 2”. There were ten four-pounders and ten swivels. (Four-Pounders are small cannon, firing cannon-balls which are just over three inches in diameter, and “Swivels” were small cannon, with a bore of about an inch, mounted on a swivel.)

Over the next three years, Vancouver surveyed what was to become Vancouver Island and all along the West coast of North America, including Burke Channel, Nootka Sound, Howe Sound, Jervis Inlet and the present Vancouver harbour. Looking at that area, when he got up to Seattle, he must have wanted to go home. The intricacies of the coast there, with all the little islands and inlets must have been a surveyor’s nightmare! Having been to Vancouver Island and having stayed at Ucluelet, I know just how beautiful the area is but how rugged the coast is.

George Vancouver returned to England in 1795, and arrived in Ireland on 13th September. Vancouver left the ship there and travelled to London. He rejoined his ship when she arrived in the Thames on the 20th October. For the crew who had completed the whole journey, this was the longest ever surveying expedition ever. Four and a half years, covering 65,000 miles, with over 10,000 miles of shore and surveying excursions. The fact that only one man had died of disease, one of poisoning and four through drowning, was credit to George’s care of his crew. Sadly though, little recognition of this great achievement was to be received and Captain Vancouver retired on half-pay to Petersham in November 1795, to begin to write up his journal. This mammoth task was not finished when he passed away at the very early age of forty, on the 12th of May 1798. His brother John finished the journal and it can be read today.

Captain George Vancouver was buried in Petersham churchyard and his grave is marked with a memorial. There is also a memorial on the wall, inside the Church, erected by the Hudson Bay Company in 1841. His will mentions his brother John, his brother Charles, his sisters Sarah and Mary. Both Charles, whose will was proved in 1811 and John, whose will was proved in 1828, show that both men were very successful but Charles’ will does offer a sign that the family deserves a lot more research. In his will, Charles says: “….my Brother to whom I have nothing to bequeath but my cordial forgiveness and earnest prayers that he may see his errors before that it becomes too late……….”   What did he do that was so terrible?

King’s Lynn has a statue of George, looking towards Vancouver, Canada and Vancouver has a statue of George, looking towards King’s Lynn. How lovely is that!


Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England where he provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history. If you are thinking about taking a vacation to England, visit www.Norfolk-Tours.co.uk.

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About the Author:

Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England where he provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history. If you are thinking about taking a vacation to England.

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