By Peter C. Mancall
On April 17, 1610, the English sea captain Henry Hudson maneuvered his small ship called Discovery out of St. Katherine’s dock in London toward the Northwest Passage, the water route Europeans believed connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. On board were twenty-two men and two boys, one of whom was Hudson’s seventeen-year old son.
In the late summer of 1610 the captain guided the Discovery into modern Hudson Bay. He decided to spend the winter in Canadian waters even though he knew the ship would become trapped in ice. At some point during the bitterly cold months, some crew members decided they had suffered enough. When June came and the bay thawed, rebels put Hudson, his son, and seven loyal or ill men on a small boat (known as a shallop) and set them adrift. According to the survivors, the mutineers soon met a just fate when a group of Inuit killed four of them. A fifth rebel died, apparently of malnutrition, as the boat sailed homeward.
Sixteen months after its initial departure the Discovery, its decks stained with blood, returned to London with seven men and one boy. The survivors blamed the mutiny on the five men who had since died, but lingering suspicions about the captain’s fate prompted the High Court of Admiralty to investigate further. The suspects could not be charged with mutiny, because there was no such crime in England yet. The sailors had not committed treason because private financiers, rather than the King, owned the ship. The court charged four of the survivors with murder for purportedly exposing those on the shallop. But the accused were exonerated, probably because the court lacked evidence to prove that they had caused Hudson’s demise.
The bodies of Hudson and his last companions have never been found. No one was ever punished for the crime.
Peter C. Mancall is the author of Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson.
By Peter C. Mancall