by E C Coleman Print book : Biography
Capt Vancouver's remarkable east rim travels   (2008-12-28)
It was a delight to hear that the first full scale biography of Captain George Vancouver had been commissioned in 2000 just after the two hundredth anniversary of his death in the village of Petersham, Richmond, Surrey.
This work has now been reprinted and makes remarkable reading. It is about a man who is not widely known, but whose exploits exhibited the strengths of patience, determination and perseverance which are such ‘foreign’ considerations to so many today.
George Vancouver is buried in historic St Peter’s Church yard in Petersham, just up-river from Richmond. He came to this area as a fatally ill man bent on completing his coastal survey work for publication. Mr Coleman’s research is extensive and covers, in some detail, the preciseness with which Vancouver tended his mission.
In this gallant story of enterprise and initiative there were difficult moments as events swung from triumph to treachery. Although there is no book index to aid reference, the activities of the nasty stalker, William Camelford, are fairly recounted here from what we know of contemporary accounts. Whatever the actual truth of Vancouver’s hot temper and hard discipline, the reader is always reminded (often vividly) of the realities of His Majesty’s Navy in the late eighteenth century. My relatives were seafarers and I’m sure that their lot was ‘petty, nasty and cruel’ … but that was the case for so many at that time.
A particular mention should be made of Coleman’s sensitive treatment of the killing of Captain Cook. He describes it with care, and the effect on Midshipman Vancouver can be calculated from the narrative in the early chapters. Vancouver cared deeply for the men under his command as any captain would because survival means team-work. This sense of care comes through well and you can measure the feeling that physically back-breaking and monotonous work must have created.
From the scene set by Coleman, I can picture well the views these sailors surveyed as they passed the coastline in small boats. Remember, they covered a total of ten thousand miles, much of them by rowing. It puts some of our human activities today to shame because Vancouver brought the best out of those who served under him as his crew. Only one person died (from disease) in the entire four year mission, when ‘The Discovery’ visited the range of settlements listed here- some record! Just take a look at the map in the book and you get to the reality very quickly.
This is a great read, and I picked it up whilst reading Darwin’s adventures on ‘The Beagle’: an interesting comparison of the two voyages comes across well. Whilst Darwin has immortalized the origin of species for some, Vancouver’s name has been immortalized in both north and south shores of the American Pacific rim. This is not just a book for the naval historian; it is an adventure book of readable workmanship.
Get it while stocks last.
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