Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage

Author: Richard Hakluyt

The Third and Last Voyage Into Meta Incognita

Made by Master Martin Frobisher, in the year 1578, written by Thomas Ellis.

These are to let you know, that upon the 25th May, the Thomas Allen, being vice-admiral, whose captain was Master Yorke; Master Gibbes, master; Master Christopher Hall, pilot, accompanied with the rearadmiral, named the Hopewell, whose captain was Master Henry Carew, the Master Andrew Dier, and certain other ships, came to Gravesend, where we anchored, and abode the coming of certain other of our fleet, which were not yet come.

The 27th of the same month, our fleet being now come together, and all things pressed in a readiness, the wind favouring and tide serving, we being of sails in number eight, weighed anchors, and hoisted our sails towards Harwich, to meet with our admiral and the residue, which then and there abode our arrival, where we safely arrived the 28th thereof; finding there our admiral, whom we, with the discharge of certain pieces, saluted (according to order and duty), and were welcomed with the like courtesy, which being finished we landed, where our general continued mustering his soldiers and miners, and setting things in order appertaining to the voyage, until the last of the said month of May, which day we hoisted our sails, and committing ourselves to the conducting of Almighty God, we set forward toward the West Country, in such lucky wise and good success, that by the 5th June we passed the Dursies, being the utmost part of Ireland, to the westward.

And here it were not much amiss, nor far from our purpose, if I should a little discourse and speak of our adventures and chances by the way, as our landing at Plymouth, as also the meeting of certain poor men, which were robbed and spoiled of all that they had by pirates and rovers; amongst whom was a man of Bristol, on whom our general used his liberality, and sent him away with letters into England.

But because such things are impertinent to the matter, I will return (without any more mentioning of the same) to that from which I have digressed and swerved, I mean our ships, now sailing on the surging seas, sometimes passing at pleasure with a wished eastern wind, sometimes hindered of our course again by the western blasts, until the 20th day of the foresaid month of June, on which day in the morning we fell in with Friesland, which is a very high and cragged land, and was almost clean covered with snow, so that we might see nought but craggy rocks and the tops of high and huge hills, sometimes (and for the most part) all covered with foggy mists. There might we also perceive the great isles of ice lying on the seas like mountains, some small, some big, of sundry kinds of shapes, and such a number of them, that we could not come near the shore for them.

Thus sailing along the coast, at the last we saw a place somewhat void of ice, where our general (accompanied with certain other) went ashore, where they saw certain tents made of beasts’ skins, and boats much like unto theirs of Meta Incognita. The tents were furnished with flesh, fish, skins, and other trifles: amongst the which was found a box of nails, whereby we did conjecture that they had either artificers amongst them, or else a traffic with some other nation. The men ran away, so that we could have no conference or communication with them. Our general (because he would have them no more to flee, but rather encouraged to stay through his courteous dealing) gave commandment that his men should take nothing away with them, saving only a couple of white dogs, for which he left pins, points, knives, and other trifling things, and departed, without taking or hurting anything, and so came aboard, and hoisted sails and passed forwards.

But being scarce out of the sight thereof, there fell such a fog and hideous mist that we could not see one another; whereupon we struck our drums, and sounded our trumpets to the end we might keep together; and so continued all that day and night, till the next day, that the mist brake up; so that we might easily perceive all the ships thus sailing together all that day, until the next day, being the 22nd of the same, on which day we saw an infinite number of ice, from the which we cast about to shun the danger thereof.

But one of our small barques named the Michael, whose captain was Master Kinderslie, the master, Bartholomew Bull, lost our company, insomuch that we could not obtain the sight of her many days after, of whom I mean to speak further anon, when occasion shall be ministered, and opportunity served. Thus we continued on our course until the 2nd of July, on which day we fell with the Queen’s Foreland, where we saw so much ice, that we thought it impossible to get into the straits, yet at the last we gave the adventure, and entered the ice.

Being in amongst it, we saw the Michael, of whom I spake before, accompanied with the, Judith, whose captain was Master Fenton, the master, Charles Jackman, bearing into the aforesaid ice, far distant from us, who in a storm that fell that present night (whereof I will at large, God willing, discourse hereafter), were severed from us, and being in, wandered up and down the straits amongst the ice, many days in great peril, till at the last (by the providence of God) they came safely to harbour in their wished port in the Countess of Warwick’s Sound the 20th July aforesaid, ten days before any of the other ships; who going on shore, found where the people of the country had been, and had hid their provision in great heaps of stone, being both of flesh and fish, which they had killed, whereof we also found great store in other places after our arrival. They found also divers engines, as bows, slings, and darts. They found likewise certain pieces of the pinnace which our general left there the year before; which pinnace he had sunk, minding to have it again the next year.

Now, seeing I have entreated so much of the Judith and the Michael, I will return to the rest of the other ships, and will speak a little of the storm which fell, with the mishaps that we had, the night that we put into the ice, whereof I made mention before.

At the first entry into the ice, in the mouth of the straits, our passage was very narrow and difficult; but being once gotten in, we had a fair, open place without any ice for the most part; being a league in compass, the ice being round about us, and enclosing us, as it were, within the pales of a park. In which place (because it was almost night) we minded to take in our sails and lie a hull all that night. But the storm so increased, and the waves began to mount aloft, which brought the ice so near us, and coming in so fast upon us, that we were fain to bear in and out, where ye might espy an open place. Thus the ice coming on us so fast we were in great danger, looking every hour for death, and thus passed we on in that great danger, seeing both ourselves and the rest of our ships so troubled and tossed amongst the ice, that it would make the strongest-heart to relent.

At the last, the barque Dionyse, being but a weak ship, and bruised afore amongst the ice, being so leak that she no longer could carry above water, sank without saving any of the goods which were in her: the sight so abashed the whole fleet, that we thought verily we should have tasted of the same sauce. But nevertheless, we seeing them in such danger, manned our boats, and saved all the men, in such wise that not one perished. (God be thanked.)

The storm still increased and the ice enclosed us, that we were fain to take down top and topmasts; for the ice had so environed us, that we could see neither land nor sea as far as we could ken; so that we were fain to cut our cables to hang overboard for fenders, somewhat to ease the ship’s sides from the great and dreary strokes of the ice; some with capstan bars, some fending off with oars, some with planks of two inches thick, which were broken immediately with the force of the ice, some going out upon the ice, to bear it off with their shoulders from the ships. But the rigorousness of the tempest was such, and the force of the ice so great, that not only they burst and spoiled the foresaid provision, but likewise so raised the sides of the ships that it was pitiful to behold, and caused the hearts of many to faint.

Thus continued we all that dismal and lamentable night, plunged in this perplexity, looking for instant death; but our God (who never leaveth them destitute which faithfully call upon Him), although He often punisheth for amendment’s sake, in the morning caused the winds to cease, and the fog, which all that night lay on the face of the water, to clear, so that we might perceive about a mile from us a certain place clear from any ice, to the which with an easy breath of wind, which our God sent us, we bent ourselves, and furthermore He provided better for us than we deserved, or hoped for; for when we were in the foresaid clear place, He sent us a fresh gale at west, or at west-south-west, which set us clear without all the ice. And further He added more, for He sent us so pleasant a day, as the like we had not of a long time before, as after punishment consolation.

Thus we joyful whites, being at liberty, took in all our sails, and lay a hull, praising God for our deliverance, and stayed to gather together our fleet; which once being done, we seeing that none of them had any great hurt, neither any of them wanted, saving only they of whom I spake before, and the ship which was lost, then at the last we hoisted our sails, and lay bulting off and on, till such time as it would please God to take away the ice, that we might get into the straits.

As we thus lay off and on, we came by a marvellous huge mountain of ice, which surpassed all the rest that ever we saw, for we judged it to be near four score fathoms above water, and we thought it to be aground for anything that we could perceive, being there nine score fathoms deep, and of compass about half a mile.

Also the fifth of July there fell a hideous fog and mist, that continued till the nineteenth of the same, so that one ship could not see another. Therefore we were fain to bear a small sail, and to observe the time, but there ran such a current of tide, that it set us to the north-west of the Queen’s Forehand, the back side of all the straits, where (through the contagious fog having no sight either of sun or star) we scarce knew where we were. In this fog the 10th July we lost the company of the Vice-Admiral, the Anne Francis, the Busse of Bridgewater, and the Francis of Foy.

The sixteenth day, one of our small barques, named the Gabriel, was sent by our general to bear in with the land, to descry it, where, being on land, they met with the people of the country, which seemed very humane and civilised, and offered to traffic with our men, proffering them fowls and skins for knives and other trifles, whose courtesy caused us to think that they had small conversation with the other of the straits. Then we bare back again, to go with the Queen’s Forehand, and the 18th day we came by two islands, whereon we went on shore, and found where the people had been, but we saw none of them. This day we were again in the ice, and like to be in as great peril as we were at the first. For through the darkness and obscurity of the foggy mist we were almost run on rocks and islands before we saw them: but God (even miraculously) provided for us, opening the fogs that we might see clearly, both where and in what danger we presently were, and also the way to escape; or else, without fail we had ruinously run upon the rocks.

When we knew perfectly our instant case, we cast about to get again on sea board, which (God be thanked) by might we obtained, and praised God. The clear continued scarce an hour, but the fog fell again as thick as ever it was.

Then the Rear-Admiral and the Bear got themselves clear without danger of ice and rocks, struck their sails and lay a hull, staying to have the rest of the fleet come forth, which as yet had not found the right way to clear themselves from the danger of rocks and ice, until the next morning, at what time the Rear-Admiral discharged certain warning pieces, to give notice that she had escaped, and that the rest (by following of her) might set themselves free, which they did that day. Then having gathered ourselves together, we proceeded on our purposed voyage, bearing off, and keeping ourselves distant from the coast, until the 19th day of July, at which time the fogs brake up and dispersed, so that we might plainly and clearly behold the pleasant air which had so long been taken from us by the obscurity of the foggy mists; and, after that time, we were not much encumbered therewith until we had left the confines of the country.

Then we, espying a fair sound, supposed it to go into the straits, between the Queen’s Foreland and Jackman’s Sound, which proved as we imagined. For our general sent forth again the Gabriel to discover it, who passed through with much difficulty, for there ran such an extreme current of a tide, with so horrible a gulf, that with a fresh gale of wind they were scarce able to stem it, yet at the length with great travel they passed it, and came to the straits, where they met with the Thomas Allen, the Thomas of Ipswich, and the Busse of Bridgewater, who all together adventured to bear into the ice again, to see if they could obtain their wished port. But they were so encumbered, that with much difficulty they were able to get out again, yet at the last they escaping the Thomas Allen and the Gabriel, bear in with the western shore, where they found harbour, and they moored their ships until the 4th of August, at which time they came to us, in the Countess of Warwick’s Sound. The Thomas of Ipswich caught a great leak, which caused her to cast again to sea board, and so was mended.

We sailed along still by the coast until we came to the Queen’s Forehand, at the point whereof we met with part of the gulf aforesaid, which place or gulf (as some of our masters do credibly report) doth flow nine hours and ebbs but three. At that point we discovered certain lands southward, which neither time nor opportunity would serve to search. Then being come to the mouth of the straits, we met with the Anne Francis, who had lain bulting up and down ever since her departure alone, never finding any of her company. We met then also the Francis of Foy, with whom again we intended to venture and get in, but the ice was yet so thick, that we were compelled again to retire and get us on sea board.

There fell also the same day, being the 26th July, such a horrible snow, that it lay a foot thick upon the hatches, which froze as fast as it fell.

We had also at other times divers cruel storms, both snow and hail, which manifestly declared the distemperature of the country: yet for all that we were so many times repulsed and put back from our purpose, knowing that lingering delay was not profitable for us, but hurtful to our voyage, we mutually consented to our valiant general once again to give the onset.

The 28th day, therefore, of the same July we assayed, and with little trouble (God be praised) we passed the dangers by daylight. Then night falling on the face of the earth, we hulled in the clear, till the cheerful light of the day had chased away the noisome darkness of the night, at which the we set forward toward our wished port; by the 30th day we obtained our expected desire, where we found the Judith and the Michael, which brought no small joy unto the general, and great consolation to the heavy hearts of those wearied wights.

The 30th day of July we brought our ships into the Countess of Warwick’s Sound, and moored them, namely these ships, the Admiral, the Rear-Admiral, the Francis of Foy, the Bear, Armenel, the Salomon, and the Busse of Bridgewater, which being done, our general commanded us all to come ashore upon the Countess Island, where he set his miners to work upon the mine, giving charge with expedition to despatch with their lading.

Our general himself, accompanied with his gentleman, divers times made roads into sundry parts of the country, as well to find new mines as also to find out and see the people of the country. He found out one mine, upon an island by Bear’s Sound, and named it the Countess of Sussex Island. One other was found in Winter’s Fornace, with divers others, to which the ships were sent sunderly to be laden. In the same roads he met with divers of the people of the country at sundry times, as once at a place called David’s Sound, who shot at our men, and very desperately gave them the onset, being not above three or four in number, there being of our countrymen above a dozen; but seeing themselves not able to prevail, they took themselves to flight, whom our men pursued, but being not used to such craggy cliffs, they soon lost the sight of them, and so in vain returned.

We also saw them at Bear’s Sound, both by sea and land, in great companies; but they would at all times keep the water between them and us. And if any of our ships chanced to be in the sound (as they came divers times), because the harbour was not very good, the ship laded, and departed again; then so long as any ships were in sight, the people would not be seen. But when as they perceived the ships to be gone, they would not only show themselves standing upon high cliffs, and call us to come over unto them, but also would come in their boats very near to us, as it were to brag at us; whereof our general, having advertisement, sent for the captain and gentlemen of the ships to accompany and attend upon him, with the captain also of the Anne Francis, who was but the night before come unto us. For they and the fleet-boat, having lost us the 26th day, in the great snow, put into a harbour in the Queen’s Forehand, where they found good ore, wherewith they laded themselves, and came to seek the general; so that now we had all our ships, saving one barque, which was lost, and the Thomas of Ipswich who (compelled by what fury I know not) forsook our company, and returned home without lading.

Our general, accompanied with his gentlemen (of whom I spake), came altogether to the Countess of Sussex Island, near to Bear’s Sound, where he manned out certain pinnaces and went over to the people, who, perceiving his arrival, fled away with all speed, and in haste left certain darts and other engines behind them which we found, but the people we could not find.

The next morning our general, perceiving certain of them in boat upon the sea, gave chase to them in a pinnace under sail, with a fresh gale of wind, but could by no means come near unto them, for the longer he sailed the farther off he was from them, which well showed their cunning and activity. Thus time wearing away, and the day of our departure approaching, our general commanded to lade with all expedition, that we might be again on sea board with our ship; for whilst we were in the country we were in continual danger of freezing in, for often snow and hail, often the water was so much frozen and congealed in the night, that in the morning we could scarce row our boats or pinnaces, especially in Dier’s Sound, which is a calm and still water, which caused our general to make the more haste, so that by the 30th day of August we were all laden, and made all things ready to depart. But before I proceed any further herein, to show what fortune befell at our departure, I will turn my pen a little to Master Captain Fenton, and those gentlemen which should have inhabited all the year in those countries, whose valiant minds were much to be commended, that neither fear of force, nor the cruel nipping storms of the raging winter, neither the intemperature of so unhealthful a country, neither the savageness of the people, neither the sight and show of such and so many strange meteors, neither the desire to return to their native soil, neither regard of friends, neither care of possessions and inheritances, finally, not the love of life (a thing of all other most sweet), neither the terror of dreadful death itself, might seem to be of sufficient force to withdraw their prowess, or to restrain from that purpose, thereby to have profited their country; but that with most willing hearts, venturous minds, stout stomachs, and singular manhood, they were content there to have tarried for the time, among a barbarous and uncivilised people, infidels and miscreants, to have made their dwelling, not terrified with the manifold and imminent dangers which they were like to run into; and seeing before their eyes so many casualties, whereto their life was subject, the least whereof would have made a milksop Thersites astonished and utterly discomfited; being, I say, thus minded and purposed, they deserved special commendation, for, doubtless, they had done as they intended, if luck had not withstood their willingness, and if that fortune had not so frowned upon their intents.

For the bark Dionyse, which was lost, had in her much of their house, which was prepared and should have been builded for them, with many other implements. Also the Thomas of Ipswich, which had most of their provision in her, came not into the straits at all, neither did we see her since the day we were separated in the great snow (of which I spake before). For these causes, having not their house nor yet provision, they were disappointed of their pretence to tarry, and therefore laded their ships and so came away with us.

But before we took shipping, we builded a little house in the Countess of Warwick’s Island, and garnished it with many kinds of trifles, as pins, points, laces, glasses, combs, babes on horseback and on foot, with innumerable other such fancies and toys, thereby to allure and entice the people to some familiarity against other years.

Thus having finished all things we departed the country (as I said before); but because the Busse had not lading enough in her, she put into Bear’s Sound to take a little more. In the meanwhile, the Admiral, and the rest without the sea, stayed for her. And that night fell such an outrageous tempest, beating on our ships with such vehement rigour that anchor and cable availed nought, for we were driven on rocks and islands of ice, insomuch that had not the great goodness of God been miraculously showed to us, we had been cast away every man. This danger was more doubtful and terrible than any that preceded or went before, for there was not any one ship (I think) that escaped without damage. Some lost anchor, and also gables, some boats, some pinnaces, some anchor, gables, boats, and pinnaces.

This boisterous storm so severed us one from another, that one ship knew not what was become of another. The Admiral knew not where to find the Vice-Admiral or Rear-Admiral, or any other ship of our company. Our general, being on land in Bear’s Sound, could not come to his ship, but was compelled to go aboard the Gabriel, where he continued all the way homewards, for the boisterous blasts continued so extremely, and so long a time, that it sent us homeward (which was God’s favour towards us), will we, nill we, in such haste, as not any one of us were able to keep in company of other, but were separated. And if by chance any one ship did overtake other by swiftness of sail, or met (as they often did), yet was the rigour of the wind so hideous, that they could not continue company together the space of one whole night.

Thus our journey outward was not so pleasant, but our coming thither, entering the coasts and country by narrow straits, perilous ice, and swift tides, our times of abode there in snow and storms, and our departure from thence, the 3rd of August, with dangerous blustering winds and tempest’s, which that night arose, was as uncomfortable, separating us so, as we sailed, that not any of us met together until the 28th of September, which day we fell on the English coasts, between Scilly and the Land’s End, and passed the Channel, until our arrival in the river Thames.


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Chicago: Richard Hakluyt, "The Third and Last Voyage Into Meta Incognita," Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage, trans. Chater, Arthur G. in Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage Original Sources, accessed June 8, 2023,

MLA: Hakluyt, Richard. "The Third and Last Voyage Into Meta Incognita." Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage, translted by Chater, Arthur G., in Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage, Original Sources. 8 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Hakluyt, R, 'The Third and Last Voyage Into Meta Incognita' in Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage, trans. . cited in , Voyages in Search of the North-West Passage. Original Sources, retrieved 8 June 2023, from