Henry Hudson, Explorer and Adventurer
Part 1 of 6
This is a collection of data about, and a chronology of the life and
voyages of English explorer, mariner and adventurer, Henry Hudson, as well as some
additional notes on his times, contemporaries and his crew.
Not much is known for certain about Hudson's life or any of his voyages before 1607. He
must have learned his craft and skills by travelling with contemporary seafarers, probably
British mariners (possibly even sailing with John Davis on one his voyages to the Arctic)
because by the time of his first recorded voyage, he was a captain. His contributions to
the exploration of the world as it was then known have generally been understated by
modern sources, and overshadowed by greater exploits of his contemporaries. No
contemporary painting or portrait of Henry Hudson has ever been found and even the oldest
we have were painted after his death by people who probably based their artwork solely on
Hudson was the architect of his own fateful tragedy that led to the mutiny in 1611.
Obsessed by the vision of a northwest passage, he often ignored everything around him in
his quest to find it. That included his crew. Almost every voyage indicated some form of
crew uprising or mutiny. Hudson appeared weak and vacillated between appeasement and force
when dealing with crew, seldom disciplining them when or as required, often showing
favouritism to some members at the expense of the others (and of his own authority). When
he did attempt to exercise his authority, it came out in petty, small ways and created a
greater divide between himself and his crew. His attempt to show leniency to mutinous crew
in Ungava Bay only led to further abuses and ultimately his demise. He appeared unable to
manage his men in times of stress.
Hudson today is mostly known for a few place names in the atlas which indicate where he
travelled. But his voyage of 1607 cast him in the role of the father of the whaling
industry in the 17th century. His reports led to the wholesale slaughter of these gentle
mammals over the next four centuries. The same fate was in store for the walrus he
reported on journeys north. A more enlightened present may look on whaling and hunting
walrus as ignoble and savage, but in Hudson's day they were important industries.
Note: Spelling in the 17th century was seldom consistent. Alternate spellings of names
and places are given in parentheses.
- He was born in the 1570s, possibly September 12, 1570. Some sources put his birth date
as early as 1550, but this is probably too soon. One source says he was 26 in 1588, others
guess at a birthdate of 1575. Some biographers place his family in Hoddersdon, in
Hertfordshire, about 17 miles northwest of London.
- He may have sailed with John Davis in 1587 on his voyage to discover a northwest
passage. On that voyage, Davis named the raging waters now known as Hudson Strait the
- As a young man, he probably served in the offices of the Muscovy Company in London
because his family had shares in the company.
- The family coat of arms is an argent semee of fleurs-de-lis gules, a cross engrailed
- His family owned a narrow, three-storey brick house near the Tower of London.
- Little else is known about his life before 1607. However, some authors have placed him
on an English ship fighting the Spanish Armada in 1588, and on trading missions to the
Mediterranean, North Sea and Africa, trading steel axes for gold, ivory and spices.
His wife, Katherine:
- Katherine Hudson (her unmarried name is unknown) was left very poor when Henry
and John failed to return from their last voyage. She tried to get the East India Co.,
which sponsored the trip, to send out a rescue mission. Three years after Henry Hudson's
disappearance, she applied to directors of EIC. They recognized their obligation to the
"man who lost his life in the service of the Commonwealth" and sent a ship to
look for Hudson. It never found any trace of the abandoned crew.
- Katherine also sought compensation for her husband's death, for which she was called
"that troublesome and impatient woman" in company records. But she was
persistent and eventually succeeded.
- Under the company's approval and with their funding, she went to Ahmadabad, India to
purchase indigo. She demanded special privileges there, at the company's expense.
According to company manifests, she got five churles of indigo, quilts, 37 chuckeryes, 46
pieces of simianes. She started suit to get East India Co. to pay the freight back to
England and after much effort got a settlement, which the company described as "the
end of Mrs Hudson's tiresome suit."
- Katherine returned from that trip in 1622, a wealthy woman, and retired to her home in
London. In her last two years, she was received at court at least twice.
- She was by all accounts a strong, willful woman. One source says she was married at age
30 in 1592, but that would mean her son Oliver probably probably couldn't have fathered
his child Alice by 1608 (possible: he could have been 16 at the time).
- Katherine tried unsuccesfully to have a monument erected to her husband in the last
years before she died, in 1624. She was buried Sept 11. She left all her belongings to
sons Richard and Oliver.
- Hudson had three sons: Richard, John and Oliver.
- John Hudson was onboard as ship's boy with his father since 1607.
- He served in all four of Hudson's recorded voyages.
- He was among the crew abandoned in the bay in 1611.
- At the request of his mother, the East India Company entered Richard Hudson's
name on the ship Samaritan, gave him five pounds, and sent him to Bantam, Java, Japan,
then Bengal, India, to serve as a factor for the company. One source says he was 3 at the
time of his niece's christening, in 1608.
- Richard was very successful in India and amassed a large fortune.
- As a trader for the company, Richard one of the first Europeans to be given a permit to
live in Imperial Japan.
- On a trip back to England in the late 1630s, he became involved in a dispute with the
company, the reasons for which were never made public but probably had to do with his
finances. They threatened to send him to prison, but he defied the directors and returned
to his home in Balasor, India.
- Several of his children migrated to the New World and his descendants are still in
- He died at his home in India, in 1644.
- Oliver Hudson had a daughter, Alice in 1608. Henry attended her christening.
- Oliver may have written the journal of his father's 1587 voyage, which was published in
Father, grandfather and other family:
- Henry Hudson's grandfather was also called Henry Hudson, (according to Hakluyt, although
some sources identify him as Hudson's father). His grandfather was named in Queen Mary's
Charter, 6 Feb. 1555, as one of the founders of the Muscovy Company, which sponsored John
Sebastian Cabot in his expedition to the New World. He was an alderman in the City of
- His father was a wealthy Londoner, a member of the Skinners and Tanners (one of 12
privileged companies from which Lord Mayor can be chosen), possibly also an alderman, and
owned property in Stourton, Lincolnshire.
- Henry's father had eight sons - including Thomas, John, Edward, Christopher, (William?
see below) and Henry .
- His father died in December (20?) 1555 (or 1585), of malignant fever. His widow Barbara
married an alderman named Richard Champion, who was elected sheriff 1558-9, Lord Mayor
1566. She died in 1568 without issue.
- William Hudson, born 1528(?) has been reported as Henry's uncle. William had a son, also
named WIlliam, who married Alice Turner. They had a son, Richard, born 1605 in Tamworth,
Staffordshire. Richard sailed to Virginia in 1635 on the 'Safety.'
- Christopher was named as factor of the Muscovy Company in Russia.
- Thomas was a sea captain in employ of Muscovy Company 1580-1 and made at least
one trip to Persia for the company. He sold his inherited lands to his brother John.
- John consulted with John Davis about finding the Northwest Passage and assisted
in deliberations which resulted in Davis' famous voyages.
Hudson's friends and sources:
- Jodocus Hondius (Josse de Hondt), Holland's leading cartographer and map
publisher. He fled his home city of Ghent during the religious upheaval of the period, and
lived in London where he was an portrait engraver and cartographer. He may have engraved
Hudson's portrait at this time, but it is not currently known or found. Hudson visited
Hondius again in Amsterdam and gave him details of his voyages of 1607 and 1608. Hondius
also acted as advisor and interpreter during the negotiations with the Dutch. He was also
a friend with Capt. John Smith and received correspondence from him.
- Captain John Smith, founder of the English colony in Virginia. He
informed Hudson that there was a passage to the Pacific Ocean (the 'Western Sea') north of
Virginia (below 40 °), possibly through a river or inlet. Smith sent him charts. Hudson
probably intended to visit Smith in Virginia, and came close in 1609, but turned north
instead. He may have been afraid the English would fire on his Dutch ship before they
found out who was its captain.
- Peter Plancius: This Dutch clergyman and scholar met Hudson while the latter was
negotiating with the Dutch East India Company, 1608-1609. Plancius was a founder of that
company. Plancius had started a school of navigation, which gave the Dutch the skills to
rival their former overlords, the Spanish. Among his pupils was Willem Barents, Arctic
explorer. Hudson told Plancius he did not believe a route to the east lay through the
northeast passage, but rather through the northwest.
- Rev. Richard Hakluyt (born cica 1552) knew Hudson and recommended him to the Muscovy
Company as the commander of his first voyage, in 1607. Hakluyt's two books, Divers
Voyages (1582) and Principal Navigations (1589, revised and expanded in
1599-1600) were important records of mostly English voyages and explorations to 1600, and
were an influence on both Hudson and his employers. In 1584, Hakluyt also published a
manuscript on behalf of Sir Walter Raleigh that helped secure support from the Queen for
his colonial venture.
- The Rev. Samuel Purchas also noted he had met with Hudson after he returned in 1608 and
found Hudson very melancholy at his failure. In 1625, Purchas also published an important
book recording the voyages and adventures of English mariners, called Purchas his
Contemporary history before 1607:
- 1553: Hugh Willoughby sets out in May to the Kara Sea, to find a route to Cathay
(China). He sighted a land he called 'Gooseland' (Novaya Zemlya).
- 1554: Willoughby and his crew of 70 perished after discovering the islands called
Novaya Zemlya (Nova Zembla).
- 1556-1557: Stephen Burrough tries the same northeastern passage as Willoughby but
returns convinced there is no way to break through the ice barrier and reach China that
way. He landed on 'Gooseland.'
- 1558: Queen Elizabeth I comes to the throne.
- 1569: Gerhardus Mercator, influential map maker, published his map. Based on
mathematical principles, it is a flat map using the projection that still carries his name
- 1576: Sir Humphrey Gilbert, a favourite of the Queen, publishes Discourse
to prove a passage by the northwest to Cathay and the East Indies. His ideas get the
Queen's support. She gets the court to back Martin Frobisher's first voyage. Frobisher
reaches Baffin Island, and returns with ore he thinks has gold in it.
- 1577, 1578: Frobisher makes two trips to gather his "gold" but it turns
out to be worthless pitchblende.
- 1580: William Bourne publishes his book, A Regiment for the Sea, urging
exploration of polar routes to the east. Sir Francis Drake circumnavigates the Globe.
- 1582: Richard Hakluyt, 30, publishes his first book, Diverse Voyages Touching
the Discovery of America.
- 1585-88: John Davis (Davys) makes three voyages to the northwest. He charted the
strait between Greenland and Canada and explored the eastern shore of Baffin Island. In
1587 he explored Davis Strait to Sanderson's Hope and reached the most northerly point
reported by any European to that date: 72°45'N. He passes the entrance to a great,
swirling, roaring strait, which he dubbed the "Furious Overfall," now called
Hudson Strait. Davis reported a "great sea, free, large, very salty, blue and of
unsearchable depth" when his ship was anchored off Greenland. He estimated it to be
40 leagues (120 miles) wide and believes the "passage is most probable, the execution
easy." Henry Hudson may have served as mate with Davis on at least one (1587) of his
- 1588: Spanish king Philip II sends the Armada against England, but it is
defeated. As an experienced mariner, Hudson would have probably served aboard an English
ship in this battle, unless he was elsewhere.
- 1592: Sir John Burrough captures an East Indian carrack laden with 900 tons of
spices, cloth and treasures from the orient. This excites more English adventurers to seek
ways to get to these riches. This year, too, the plague struck London, killing an
estimated 10 per cent of the population.
- 1595: Four Dutch ships under the command of Cornelius de Houtman reach Java by
way of the Cape of Good Hope. The Dutch begin exploration of the East Indies.
- 1596: Dutch explorers Willem Barents (Barentsz, one of Peter Plancius'
proteges) and Jacob Heemskerck discover the Spitzbergen Islands, they touched northwest
tip of Spitzbergen, 79°49' N . Barents sailed east to Novaya Zemlya where his ship got
locked in the ice. The crew was forced to winter over for eight months in a cabin they
built ashore (The Saved House). They become the first European expedition to
survive an Arctic winter. In 1871, Norwegian harpooner Elling Carlsen, in pursuit of a
pack of walrus, discovered the ruin of The Saved House where Barents' crew stayed.
Archeological excavation works began in 1993 and proceeded in 1995.
- 1597: In June, Barents dies on Novaya Zemlya after surviving the winter there.
Heemskerck manages to sail the ship back to port.
- 1598: Don Juan de Onate claims all of New Mexico for Spain.
- 1598-1600: Richard Hakluyt published his 12-volume series on the explorations of
English seafarers, The Principal Navigations. It includes accounts of the voyages
of Frobisher, Davis and Willoughby. Hudson most likely read it and was influenced by the
- 1600: English East India Company formed.
- 1602: Captain George Weymouth (Waymouth) leaves England in Discovery for the New
World, to look for a northwestern route to the Orient. He sailed 100 leagues into the
Furious Overfall before ice pushed him back. His journal of the voyage was not published
- 1602: Another explorer, Bartholomew Gosnold, left England, on March 26, with a
crew of 32, to explore the New World. He names Cape Cod. His journals and logs were also
available to Hudson.
- 1603: James VI of Scotland succeeds Elizabeth, becoming James I of England.
- 1604: John Davis is killed by pirates off the coast of Sumatra.
- 1605: John Cunningham, James Hall and John Knight, in three ships, explore the
west coast of Greenland for Christian IV, of Denmark. A French trading post was
established at Port Royal (Annapolis), Nova Scotia by Samuel de Champlain and the sieur de
Poutrincourt. Weymouth explores the New England coast to find a place where English
Catholics (unwanted in Protestant England) could found a settlement. Hudson may have used
Weymouth's logs of this voyage and charts for his own 1609 voyage..
- 1606: John Knight, in the Hopewell, searches for the Northwest Passage along the
coast of Labrador. James Hall, with five ships, is sent by Christian IV of Denmark to
Greenland to Conduct mineralogical explorations. The first charter is granted to the
Virginia Company, named after the 'Virgin Queen' Elizabeth I. Pero Fernandes de Queiros
discovers the New Hebrides Islands. Willem Janzoon discovers Australia. Luis Van Torres
explores the coastline of New Guinea.
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