Samuel Hearne, explorer, fur trader, author, naturalist (born at London, Eng 1745; died there Nov 1792).
Samuel Hearne was the first European to travel by land across the Arctic from the east coast to the Arctic Ocean. He took part in three expeditions to the Canadian Arctic to discover the Northwest Passage, greatly increasing European knowledge of the Arctic climate, and resident Inuit and Dene in the process. During his journeys he became one of the first Europeans to document conflict between the Inuit and Dene peoples. Hearne was a driven explorer who travelled farther north than any other European before him.
Early LifeSamuel Hearne was born in 1745, in London, England to an established engineer. A mediocre student, by age 11 Hearne had left school and joined the British Royal Navy. He served under Captain Samuel Hood throughout the Seven Years’ War, most notably during the bombardment of Le Havre. He left the navy in 1763, joining the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1766. Hearne served for two years on several vessels based out of Prince of Wales Fort, (now present-day Manitoba), during which time he and other crew members found the remains of James Knight’s lost expedition. In 1768 Hearne surveyed large areas of the Hudson Bay coasts.
First ExpeditionThe English settlers on the Hudson Bay were interested in locating the areas from which Inuit and Dene sourced copper. In 1768, after receiving pieces of copper from Aboriginal peoples in the region, the head of the Churchill Hudson’s Bay Company fort sent Samuel Hearne north in search of a potential copper mine. Hearne and his party of traders (Cree and Chipewyan peoples) left in late 1769, travelling north and west by snowshoe. The expedition ran into trouble when they were abandoned by their main guide and ran out of supplies. Rather than risk starvation, Hearne and his party returned to Churchill, arriving mid-December.
Second ExpeditionSamuel Hearne decided to launch a second expedition lead by Cree guides in exchange for European goods. Hearne left Churchill in late February 1770, and quickly ran into trouble. The party ran into food and resource shortages routinely, resorting at times to consuming raw game. At one point the expedition was, by some accounts, robbed by an unidentified group of Aboriginal peoples. In August Hearne accidentally destroyed his quadrant (navigational device), making his observations during this expedition vague. The second expedition would return to Churchill in the fall.
Third Expedition and the Bloody Falls MassacreSamuel Hearne was the only European on his third expedition, which was guided by a Chipewyan group and their leader, Matonabbee. The expedition’s goal was to find a direct route to the Coppermine River, which was thought to copper-rich. The party left in December 1770. Matonabbee kept the group on a strict schedule, and was able to reach the caribou crossing in time for the annual spring hunt. During the hunt, a number of Dene joined the expedition. The party reached the Coppermine River in July 1771, where the Dene, who were in the midst of a violent conflict with the Inuit, killed approximately 20 sleeping members of the northern people. The event, which would come to be known as the “Massacre at Bloody Falls,” greatly traumatised Hearne. During his travels, Hearne became the first European to see Great Slave Lake. While the third expedition was successful in its goals of reaching the Coppermine River, extensive surveys revealed the impracticality of mining the site.
Later Life and LegacyIn 1774, the Hudson’s Bay Company sent Samuel Hearne to northern Saskatchewan. There, he established Fort Cumberland, the HBC’s first inland trading post. Hearne was appointed governor of Prince of Wales Fort in January 1776, which he surrendered in 1782 to a vastly superior French force. Although he and his men were allowed to flee to England, the following year Hearne returned to find both the Aboriginal populations and trade networks ravaged by disease and violence. In 1787 Hearne returned to England, where he spent the last decade of his life aiding friends and naturalists. He wrote A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay to the Northern Ocean, which was released three years after his 1792 death and provided readers with one of the most accurate early-contact descriptions of northern Aboriginal life.
Explorers and men who step out into the great unknown are not always given the recognition that they deserve, despite the fact that it is they who traverse places that humanity knows nothing about. Imagine stepping out into a pitch black night not knowing what to expect, not the terrain underfoot, not the weather overhead, nor the animals and plants that you may discover along the way. That's what it is like stepping out into the void. That's what men like Samuel Hearne did, and do, on a daily basis. That's what makes them great and names to champion. Names to esteem.
Ray Mears sums it up well in an introductory paragraph to his documentary on Samuel Hearne (~60 minutes long). "This is a record of my journey across this vast and magnificent land, and back into it’s history. A history written by explorers who should be household names in their native Britain, but are as unknown as the land they encountered."
It's a good documentary with lots of history and also some bushcraft (for those who haven't heard of him Ray Mears is a well known woodsman/outdoorsmen in the UK), but is an hour long, an hour of your time. However you could always listen to it as an audio documentary whilst doing something else because the visuals aren't 100% essential.