Samuel Hearne & Fort Prince of Wales
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Since 1763 the name 'Russborough' has been synonymous with collecting and dealing in fine art. In the closing decades of the last century the historic town of Port Hope has become home to Lord Russborough's Annex, which specialises in an individual mix of antique maps, paintings and prints.

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2. Samuel Hearne & Fort Prince of Wales

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The Frort at Churchill
"When all the men are heavy laden, they can neither hunt nor travel to any considerable distance; and in case they meet with success in hunting, who is to carry the produce of their labour ? Women, added he, were made for labour; one of them can carry, or haul, as much as two men can do. They also pitch our tents, make and mend our clothing, keep us warm at night; and, in fact, there is no such thing as travelling any considerable distance, or for any length of time, in this country, without their assistance.”   Matonabbee/Hearne: Oct 1770


The history of Fort Prince of Wales, at Eskimo Point near the mouth of the Churchill River (Manitoba), dates back to 1717 when the luckless James Knight built a wooden fort (Churchill Fort or Factory) near the spot where Jens Munk had wintered in 1619-1620. Re-named in 1719 by Richard Ward, a Hudson’s Bay Company (H.B.C.) officer, in honour of George Prince of Wales (later George II), the fort was the most northerly of the H.B.C.’s posts during the eighteenth century.

Despite the uneasy peace following the Treaty of Utrecht, French and British trading rivalries prompted fears of French attack.  In 1731 the H.B.C. sent chief factor Richard Norton to erect at Churchill a stone second fortress capable of repulsing a naval attack. The ships Mary & Hannah transported the necessary masons, labourers and construction equipment from England and the daunting task of work on the foundations began in August of that year. Through the winter the men gathered stone and timber and the building slowly began to rise. Using four team of oxen and 84 men, Norton had predicted the structure would take six or seven years to complete - it took more than forty! For the effects of the deprivations, isolation and the extreme weather took its toll. By 1736 the south and east bastions were in place and by 1746 the ramparts surrounding the large house were finished.  Construction however, was not finally completed until 1771, when 421 obsolete cannon were installed.  The fort commanded the entrance to the Churchill river, the fur trade of the Churchill district hinterland and the whale fishery of Button's Bay.

Since the mid-1700’s Indian reports of copper mines had made their way to the H.B.C. offices in London (London House). In 1768 a crude map by two Indian explorers, Idotliaze and Matonabbee, appeared showing the land to the north of the Churchill River and the supposed location of copper mines in that vicinity. The ‘Company’ seized the opportunity to silence criticism by phamphleteer and politician Arthur Dobbs (1689-1765) of the H.B.C.’s lack of exploration policy, as well as to prospect for a valuable resource and to explore for the possible existence of a North West Passage, by sending Samuel Hearne on an overland exploratory expedition.

Following service in the Royal Navy during the Seven Years War, Hearne joined the H.B.C.  As mate on the sloop Churchill whaling and trading voyage of 1767 and again in 1769 on the Charlotte, during which time Hearne had learned from an elderly Eskimo the tragic fate of the Knight expedition (1719-1721) and had personally seen the relics at Marble Island. After Hearne's two abortive expedition attempts in 1769 and 1770 when, facing starvation, his Indian guides deserted him and he broke his Hadley quadrant, Hearne’s third expedition departed in December 1770.

Entirely dependant on Chipewyan Indians and particularly his guide, Chief Matonabbee (complete with an entourage of eight wives), Hearne became the first white man to traverse the inhospitable Barren Lands. By July 1771 they had descended the Coppermine River to Coronation Gulf; thus Hearne also became the first recorded white man to gaze upon the Arctic Ocean from the North American continent. Despite an error in the location of the river mouth due to inaccurate surveying (no Quadrant), the maps and account of Hearne’s journeys remain the finest description by a naturalist of the terrain and life on the Canadian north to be published in the eighteenth century. Although he did bring back some ore samples, Hearne considered the copper deposits he found to be very small, commonplace and non-viable. This was probably true at the time; however twentieth century technological advances developed them into a successful commercial venture. Hearne’s was one of the first well - documented prospecting expeditions in the Canadian Arctic.

The expedition did much to explode the De Fonte/De l’Isle/Buache theories of a North West passage in low latitude. Hearne’s informative maps were among the first that the H.B.C. made available to cartographers such as Arrowsmith. The maps accompanying the published account of Hearne’s expedition are excellent examples of the ‘way-finder’ type of map as produced prior to the H.B.C.’s employment of properly trained surveyors.

In 1774 the H.B.C., responding to commercial rivalry posed by rival independant fur traders or ‘Pedlars’, selected Hearne to journey 700 miles inland on the Churchill and Saskatchewan River routes to Cumberland Lake and there establish the ‘Company’s’ first inland trading post, Cumberland House, which has been in operation ever since. The following year Hearne was appointed Governor of Fort Prince of Wales.

Even the remoteness of Arctic waters did not save the H.B.C. forts from the effects of the American War of Independence. In August and September 1782, the French allies of the Americans appeared in three ships commanded by the Comte de la Pérouse to force the surrender of Fort Prince of Wales. In spite of its apparent heavy defences, the pragmatic Governor, in the face of a vastly superior and well-trained French force, very sensibly surrendered the fort, along with York Fort, without resistance. During the pillage of the forts, the manuscript of Hearne’s 1770-2 expedition was found, and realizing its historical significance, the gallant La Pérouse did much to encourage its publication.

Following the French attack, during which York Fort was burnt to the ground and Fort Prince of Wales partially damaged, the latter fell into gradual decline. Trade dwindled as a result of the smallpox epidemic that decimated the indigenous Indians who had no immune resistance.

The ruins of the Fort are now a National Historic Monument. A dispirited Hearne returned to England in 1787 mourning the suicide of Mattonabee and the death of Mary Norton, granddaughter of the builder of the great stone fort who had been Hearne’s captivating inamorata. After visiting the family residence in Beaminster, Dorset, he moved to London to work on improvements to the manuscript of his now scarce and justly famous account of his epic journey. It was published three years after his death, from dropsy, in November 1792 at age 47.

What is the relevance of Hearne's expedition today:

  • Realizing the importance of dependence on native peoples, Hearne became the first white man to traverse the inhospitable Barren Lands.
  • Hearne also became the first recorded white man to see the Great Slave Lake, gaze upon the Arctic Ocean from the North American continent and explore more than 250,000 square miles of northern Canada.
  • Hearne established that there was no Northwest passage in Southern Latitudes.
  • The maps and account of Hearne’s journeys remain the finest description by a naturalist of the terrain and life on the Canadian north to be published in the eighteenth century.
  • Hearne’s was one of the first well-documented prospecting expeditions in the Canadian Arctic. Twentieth century technological advances developed them into a successful commercial venture.
  • Hearne built Cumberland House for the H.B.C., its first interior trading post and the first permanent settlement in present day Saskatchewan.
  • The ruins of Fort Prince of Wales are now a National Historic Monument, Manitoba's most popular northern tourist attraction and adjacent to Churchill, Manitoba.
  • The Coppermine area is the location of the community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut.
  • The Coppermine river is an impressive wilderness canoeing and rafting challenge.
  • The Churchill Research Range and the Northern Studies centre are part of the legacy of Hearne and W. Wales
  • W. Wales, T. Pennant, S.T. Coleridge, J. Franklin, C. Darwin & The Ontario School Board acknowledge Hearne both in their literature and learning.    

The following items are from his account. Samuel Hearne, A Journey from Prince of Wales’ Fort in Hudson’s Bay, to the Northern Ocean . . . in the years 1769, 1770, 1771 and 1772 London: Strahan and Cadell, 1795.
Seven Items
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A PLAN of the COPPERMINE RIVER surveyed by Samuel Hearne July 1771

Original Copper engraved map on wove paper.      8 x 17 ½” (20.3 x 44.5 cm.)  Ref.LRA810/dnn/ a.dosa> [RNN]

This first printed map of the area, shows topographical detail observed en route to Coronation Gulf, which the keen eyed Hearne explored on behalf of the HBC. in their quest for exploitable minerals.  At Bloody Falls, Hearne was horrified to witness an Eskimo massacre: one skirmish in the intertribal conflict and power struggle among the native peoples that had been going on for centuries prior to and during the arrival of the Europeans in North America.
Vide: Sabin 31181

hearnemapof albanyriver


Original Copper engraved map on wove paper.        10 ¾ x 14 " (27.4 x 35.5 cm.) 
Ref. LRA811/dnn/ a.dosa> [ANN]

Here represented are the navigational approaches and vicinity of the once significant H.B.C. post at the mouth of the Albany River. Topographical details are shown together with the old factory established in 1670 and the later Fort Albany. The post in the vicinity of today's Fort Albany, Ontario was the only one retained by the H.B.C. during the struggle for James Bay in the period between the treaties of Ryswick (1697) and Utrecht (1713) (which at least on paper, formally ended the hostilities between the French and English together with their Indian allies). When established, Fort Albany district exported 30,000 pelts dropping to 5,000 by 1780. Each of the areas in James Bay depicted on the above elegant maps by Samuel Hearne was visited constantly throughout the eighteenth century.
Vide : Sabin 31181
          Cumming et al. pp.145-6;  214-7
          Cook, Holland 1731

Hearne map of the moose river

A PLAN of the MOOS RIVER in Hudson's Bay, North America.....  S. H. 1776

Original Copper engraved map on wove paper. 10 ¼ x 17 ¾ " (26 x 45 cm.)  Ref. LRA813/dnn/ a.dosa> [ANN]

In the days of the fur trade this river formed part of the water route to Lake Superior. Moose Factory/Fort, located on Moose Factory Island near the river's mouth, was a fur trading post of the H.B.C. and Ontario's first English settlement and only salt-water port. This elegant map depicting the seaward approaches in the present day Moosonee, Ontario vicinity are delineated. Ship's track, soundings, sandbanks, beacons, buoys and anchorages are shown along with trapping tents, wood supplies and the fort established in this much-frequented H.B.C. trapping area which accounted for up to 5,000 furs annually. Today, its wetlands are a very important migratory bird sanctuary.

Vide: Sabin 31181

hearne planof the slude river

A PLAN of the SLUDE RIVER Lat. 52°,15' N. Lon. 85°, 20'W by S. H.

Original Copper engraved map on wove paper, cut close at right as issued.   14 x 11" (35.5 x 28 cm.) Ref. LRA812/dnn/ a.dosa> [ANN]

This highly detailed plan, published in 1794 of the approaches to the H.B.C. post at East Main, both older and later H.B.C. houses are seen. Established navigation track treading around islets and sand bars with depth soundings to guide ships into the safe anchorage opposite the trading post are shown, together with markers and topographical features at the mouth of the Eastmain/Slude River, Quebec.
The frequently ice bound east side of James Bay made navigation somewhat difficult, nevertheless, the post established by Joseph Myatt in 1723-4 accounted for approximately 2,500 to 4,000 of Marten, Beaver and mixed fur pelts annually until 1780.

Vide: Sabin 31181

Hearne NWview of Fort Prince of Wales


Original Copper engraving on wove paper.        9 x 13 ½”  (23 x 34.5 cm)   Ref. LRA116p/ann/ d.dosv> [RNN]

The fort was envisioned by the H.B.C. as a strategic centre for the defence of its fur trade monopoly and a supply base for the exploitation of the resources, natural and mineral, of both the Bay itself and the entire northern region. Located at the mouth of the Churchill River, its strong defences overlooking a natural harbour, the fort’s fortunes seemed assured.
A classic star fort design, with walls 310 feet (95m.) long except on those sides adjacent to the river, Prince of Wales fort was the only one of the Company posts to resemble a European fortress rather than the more usual wilderness stockade. The outside of the 16 foot high walls was of dressed stone, topped by a five foot high parapet. Up to 42 feet thick at the base, the walls tapered to six feet at the parapet top. With their four angular bastions and forty embrasures for cannon, the walls would have presented a formidable siege obstacle, had the fort been kept on a war footing and adequately manned. The whole fort was surrounded, in the plan, by a 24-foot-wide moat and palisades. In reality however, the moat was a shallow ditch with crumbling banks that undermined the palisades, frequently causing them to fall.
An elegantly dressed gentleman, presumably Hearne himself, is depicted pointing out some of the fort’s features to a woman, possibly his inamorata Mary Norton, she is dressed in a combination of European and Native costume. The gate ravelin, native encampment, outposts and Company vessels in the harbour may also be seen.

It was to here that William Wales, Astronomer & (later) Mathematical Master at Christ College was sent by the Royal Society to observe the Transit of Venus in 1769, whilst Captn. Cook was sent to the South Seas. Wales’s observations inspired Hearne to keep a journal of all he saw on his explorations. Wales was the recorder of the first official weather observations in Canada.

Hearne snowshoe etc


Original Copper engraving on wove paper.        11 3/8 x 9 ¼” (29 x 23.5 cm.) page size. Ref. LRA687p/an/ a.dosa> [LN]

In 1715/16 James Stuart reconnoitered the area toward the Slave River. More importantly, he brokered the peace between the Slave Indian women and the Northern Indians, which created the intertribal accord for Hearne’s successful explorations fifty years later. Hearne was the first white man to cross the unforgiving  Barren Lands. He was also the first to record in his journal the customs and artifacts of the indigenous natives, making the above 1794 image the first published depiction of Chipewyan Indian implements

Additional related engraving

"Talk of your cold! Through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail." Robt. Service: Cremation of  Sam McGee

Hearne SWview of Fort PoWales

Original handcoloured copper engraving on wove paper.      4 ¾ x 6 ¼  " (12 x 16 cm.)  Ref. LRA636/ g.dosg> [OL]  

Drawn by Samuel Hearne, this view was engraved by Wise for publication in Sewell, J. Cornhill Magazine Vol. 31, March and European Magazine June, London,1797. This scarce, hand coloured print purports to be a "South-west view of Fort Prince of Wales" according to the caption. If so, it depicts the fort as it may have been prior to 1736, for by that year the south and east bastions had been erected, obscuring much of the internal buildings. Here the large storerooms are shown surrounded by only a wooden palisade.
The Indian encampment, wooden landing dock and navigational markers also may be seen; over the fort flies the flag of St. George. Surprisingly, trees are still seen in the background, for it took up to nine months to fell trees and gather enough wood for the two '43 yards round'* piles required to heat the fort each year. The local supply of trees was quickly exhausted necessitating arduous inland treks to transport the indispensable wood. Indeed, trying to keep themselves warm became the obsession of the shram** who moiled and traded pelts in the half built stone fort on the shores of Hudson Bay.

There is now considerable doubt over the accuracy of the caption. It now appears likely that Sewell either deliberately or accidentally authorized the captioning as Fort Prince of Wales when, in actuality, this is a view of York Factory, In The Beaver, March 1951, Dr. Glover suggests that the view agrees almost perfectly with Turnor's plan of York Fort in 1778. It is also cited as Fort York 1772 in Schooling's History of the Hudson's Bay Company, p.98

* Joseph Ibister Journal 1752
**Shram (archaic) those who shrivelled and became numb from the cold.

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