Martin Frobisher and the Northwest Passage

Martin Frobisher
(ca 1539 – 1594)

On November 22, 1594, English seaman and explorer Sir Martin Frobisher passed away. He is best known for his three voyages to the New World to look for the Northwest Passage.

In 1544, Martin Frobisher went to sea the first time and was captured about ten years later by a Portugese crew. In the 1560s, he decided to undertake a journey searching for the Northwest Passage in order to establish a trade route to India and China. Unfortunately, it took more than 5 years to gather the needed funding. In 1576, Frobisher met an English merchant consortium called the Muscovy Company that already sent teams to find the Northeast Passage. The company’s director Michael Lok then helped the adventurer to raise the badly needed money. They managed to gather a total of three ships, the Gabriel and Michael, each weighing about 25 tons and another lighter ship. The crew consisted of about 35 men and set sail on 7 June, 1576 . Unfortunately, all ships but the Gabriel got lost due to heavy storms. However, the Gabriel sighted the coast of Labrador very soon. The mouth of Frobisher Bay was reach just shortly after followed by heavy ice storms. Frobisher decided to sail towards the west and made a stop at Baffin Island in 1576. Having met a couple of local Inuits, they made an agreement that the natives would guide the crew through the region. Frobisher gathered a team of five men who were supposed to discover the near region. Unfortunately, the men never returned. The remaining crew sailed back home and even though the journey was in general regarded as fruitless, Frobisher began immediately to raise funds for another travel.

Already one year later, specific plans for the next journey were made. Martin Frobisher was appointed high admiral “of all lands and waters that might be discovered by him”. This crew was much bigger. Around 150 men, being miners, soldiers and refiners, sailed towards Frobisher Bay and reached it in July of the same year. The crew collected big loads of ore first and attempts were made to rescue the lost five men from the last mission, but it was hopeless. The crew returned to England in 1577 and was thanked by the queen herself.

As the government was quite happy with the outcome of the second voyage, another, much bigger one was being planned. The goal was to establish a colony of over 100 men and all necessary equipment was supposed to be taken with. This time, 15 vessels were needed and the expedition set sail in 1578. When they arrived, several attempts were made to establish a settlement, but too much dissatisfaction and several disagreements prevented the crew to do so. They reached England in the beginning of October.

In later years, Martin Frobisher took charge of another fleet but was shot in 1594, he passed away on 22 November.

As Martin Frobisher was not the only one trying to find the Northwest Passage, you may be interested in who else traveled his way and what they accomplished. At yovisto, you may enjoy a short video, demonstrating the discovery of the passage.

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