H.M.S. Discovery was classified as a sloop carrying fourteen guns and was rated in navy records as 6th rate. This type of vessel was originally a coal carrier refitted for exploration work. Her length was just under one hundred feet and she had a crew of one hundred. The DISCOVERY was refitted in 1797 as a bomb ship. Later, in 1827 she became a prison hulk. It is believed she was broken up in 1834.




HMS Discovery provisioning


In 1789, the Spanish and English were at loggerheads over control of lands in the Pacific Northwest. In anticipation of a favorable resolution of the Nootka Sound controversy, the English prepared an expedition to sail under Captain George Vancouver. The primary aims were to survey "the direction and extent of all such considerable inlets ... as may be likely to lead to" a Northwest passage between Cape Mendocino (30°N) and Cook Inlet (60°N), and especially "the supposed straits of Juan de Fuca." The Admiralty furnished two vessels for the purpose, Discovery (named for the vessel in which Vancouver sailed as midshipman on Captain James Cook's last voyage to the Pacific), and Chatham.


The ships departed Falmouth on April 1, 1791, and sailing east called at Tenerife and Cape Town, making a landfall at Cape Chatham, Australia, on September 28. They then rounded Tasmania and landed at Dusky Bay, New Zealand, on November 2, 1791. From there they proceeded to Tahiti and, in early March 1792, Kealakekua Bay, where Cook had been killed in 1779. After two weeks in the Sandwich Islands, the ships sailed for North America, arriving off Cape Cabrillo, 130 miles north of San Francisco Bay, on April 17, 1792.


Sailing north, twelve days later Chatham and Discovery met with Robert Gray's Columbia, the first ship they had seen in eight months, and then sailed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and proceeded to Discovery Bay about 70 miles east of Cape Flattery for repairs. From that base they explored Puget Sound (named for Second Lieutenant Peter Puget, who commanded Chatham from November 25, 1792) and the San Juan Islands. Here they encountered the schooners Sutil and Mexicana, which were conducting surveys of the coast in conjunction with Spanish claims to the area; relations between the English and Spanish were friendly.


In October, Vancouver turned south and, leaving Chatham to cross the bar at the mouth of the Columbia River, proceeded to Yerba Buena (now San Francisco) where on November 14 Discovery became the first non-Spanish ship to sail into San Francisco Bay. The ships remained on the Spanish coast until January 15, 1793, when they sailed from Mendocino for Hawaii, arriving on February 12. While in Hawaii, Vancouver wanted to punish the murder of two men from the storeship Daedalus who had been killed en route to Nootka Sound the previous year. He also wanted to mediate a truce between King Kamehameha and King Kahekili, and to persuade them to accept the protection of the King of England. After Chatham sailed for the Northwest, Discovery remained in Hawaii making surveys of the islands, including the first of Pearl Harbor.


Discovery returned to Nootka, arriving on May 20, two days after Puget had sailed on an independent survey. The ships continued to survey Queen Charlotte Sound, including Elcho Harbour on Dean Channel just two months before Alexander Mackenzie completed the first crossing of North America north of Mexico on July 21. By the end of the second season, Vancouver's expedition had charted 1,700 miles of coast from 29°56N to about 56°N. During the expedition's third visit to Hawaii, Vancouver completed his survey of all of the major Hawaiian islands and Kamehameha formally put his islands under the protection of Great Britain.




HMS Discovery under sail


In mid-March 1794, the ships sailed for Cook's Inlet, Alaska, which Vancouver had visited in 1778. Discovery and Chatham separated shortly after departing Hawaii and did not find each other until May 6. Discovery made a landfall on Chirikof Island and proceeded to Cook's Inlet on April 12. After determining it was not a river—it had been thought a likely candidate for the Northwest Passage—Vancouver sailed around the Kenai Peninsula for a survey of Prince William Sound. Farther east, in Yakutat Inlet, they encountered a party of 900 Russian-led Kodiak Islanders employed in the seal trade. The Yakutat resented the Russians whom they viewed, in the words of the expedition's surgeon-botanist Archibald Menzies, "as intruders in their territories, draining their shores & coasts of Seals Otter & Fish on which their subsistence chiefly Depends & that too without making the least return for their depredations."


In the late summer, they completed charting of the northern end of the Alexander Archipelago, having stopped at Cape Decision at the southern end of Chichagof Island in 1793. The ships sailed for California and finally left Monterey on December 2, 1794. After stops at Maria Magdalena, Cocos Island, the Galapagos, and Valparaiso, they sailed into the Atlantic to arrive at St. Helena on July 3. There they learned that England was at war with Holland, and Vancouver seized the Dutch East Indiaman Macassar, which had sailed from Cape Town in ignorance of the fact. Chatham was dispatched to Brazil as an escort. Discovery sailed on July 15 and Vancouver landed in the Shannon on September 13, 1795. Discovery and Chatham both arrived at Deptford in late October.


Though Vancouver hoped that his survey would "remove every doubt, and set aside every opinion of a north-west passage, or any water communication navigable for shipping, existing between the North Pacific, and the interior of the American continent within the limits of our researches," the search continued. The expedition gave names to scores of places, many of which are in use today. (The city of Vancouver, British Columbia, was not so named until 1886.) Moreover, in the course of the five-year voyage, only five of the Discovery's crew died—only one from disease—and none of Chatham's. Converted to a bomb in 1799, Discovery was made a convict ship in 1818 and broken up in 1834 at Deptford.



Ship (3m). L/B/D: 99.2 keel × 28.3 × 15.5 (30.2m × 8.6m × 4.7m). 

Tons: 330 tons. Hull: wood. 

Comp.: 100. Arm.: 10 × 4pdr, 10 swivels. 

Built: Randall & Brents, London; 1789.






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