1577: Ice, Hostages and Gold

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A party of Inuit soon contacted the English, and although the Inuk captive could not have learned much English since his capture, he interpreted their conversation. Frobisher thought that he was told that his five lost men were still alive, and that the visiting Inuit had offered to take them a letter.

"The forme of Martin Frobishers letter to the Englishe Captiues"

In the name of God, in whom we al beleue, who I trust hath preserued your bodyes and soules amongst these Infidels, I commend me vnto you. I will be glad to seeke by all meanes you can deuise, for your deliuerance, eyther with force, or with any commodities within my Shippes, whiche I will not spare for your sakes, or any thing else I can doe for you. I haue aboord, of theyrs, a Man, a Woman, and a Childe, which I am contented to deliuer for you, but the man which I carried away from hence the last yeare, is dead in England. Moreouer, you may declare vnto them, that if they deliuer you not, I wyll not leaue a manne aliue in their Countrey. And thus, if one of you can come to speake with me, they shall haue eyther the Man, Woman, or Childe in pawne for you. And thus vnto God, whome I trust you do serue, in hast I leaue you, and to him we will dayly pray for you. This Tuesdaye morning the seauenth of August. Anno. 1577.
Yours to the vttermost of my power
Martin Frobisher

I haue sente you by these bearers, Penne, Incke, and Paper, to write backe vntome agayne, if personally you can not come to certifye me of your estate.

(George Best's account of the 1577 voyage)


The letter had no result. In several encounters over the next days, the Inuit apparently attempted to capture an English hostage in order to ransom their friends. Although there were no further deaths or kidnappings, mutual hostility between the two peoples prevented any further trading or exchange of information.

By late August, the English had loaded 200 tons of ore and set sail for England, taking with them their three Inuit hostages. They arrived home to great acclaim. Queen Elizabeth gave the name "Meta Incognita" ("the unknown goal") to the land that Frobisher had claimed on her behalf.

"And bicause that place & country, hathe neuer heretofore bin discouered, and therefore had no speciall name, by which it might be called & known, hir Maiestie named it very properly Meta Incognita, as a mark and bounds vtterly hitherto vnknown."

(George Best's account of the 1578 voyage)


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