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“Any Strange Beast There Makes a Man”: Interaction and Self-Reflection in the Arctic (1576-1578)

“Any strange beast there makes a man” : Interaction et Reflet de Soi dans l’Arctique (1576-1578)
Sophie Lemercier-Goddard

Résumés

Avant le voyage de Francis Drake qui l’amène jusqu’en Californie (1579) et la colonie de Roanoke (1584-1587), c’est en Arctique que les explorateurs anglais font pour la première fois l’expérience de la différence et de l’altérité dans le Nouveau Monde. Lors des trois expéditions organisées de 1576 à 1578 pour découvrir le passage du Nord-Ouest, Martin Frobisher et ses hommes rencontrent des Inuit de l’Ile de Baffin qu’ils vont progressivement dépeindre comme des sauvages, voire des cannibales. La zone de contact se révèle être un lieu complexe d’affrontements et de négociations dynamiques. Elle fonctionne comme un miroir, où l’autre permet de définir sa propre humanité. C’est aussi là, en terre de Meta Incognita, que s’élabore par défaut un modèle colonial qui pose les prémices d’une identité nationale, révélant les enjeux identitaires du récit d’exploration.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 “Report of the Select Committee on the Expedition to the Arctic Seas”, House of Commons, Apri (...)
  • 2 Andrew Lambert, The Gates of Hell : Sir John Franklin’s Tragic Quest for the Northwest (...)
  • 3 See Jen Hill, White horizon : the Arctic in the nineteenth-century British imagination, Alban (...)
  • 4 Lorenzo Pasqualigo, letter dated August 23, 1497, in H. P. Biggar (ed.), The Precursors (...)
  • 5 J. A. Williamson, The Cabot Voyages and Bristol Discovery under Henry VII, Cambridge : Hakluy (...)
  • 6 Karen Kupperman, Roanoke, The Abandoned Colony (2nd ed.), Lanham, Md : Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, (...)
  • 7 Mary C. Fuller, Remembering the Early Modern Voyage, New York : Palgrave, Macmillan, 2008, 15 (...)
  • 8 “De navigatione” (“An Embarkation Poem”), in David B. Quinn & Neil M. Cheshire (eds.), (...)
  • 9 Letter to R. Hakluyt, 6. Aug 1583 (published in Principal Navigations, 1589), D. B. Quinn and N. M. (...)

1Arctic exploration takes an unusual place in British culture. The abundant bibliography which examines the long and doomed quest for the Northwest passage focuses on nineteenth-century expeditions, climaxing with the Franklin tragedy in 1848. The death of the Trafalgar hero, turned Arctic explorer together with his crew of 129 men, marks the utter absurdity of a quest described by one of its key protagonists, John Ross, as “absolutely useless”1, though Franklin is celebrated to this day as the discoverer of the Northwest passage2. Nineteenth century Arctic exploration is often seen as a paradigm to understand the British imagination. This is when the British ethos was born, putting forward the model of a heroic, sublime and philanthropic masculinity in a world becoming more complex as the British Empire reached its zenith3. However, for all the attention lavished on Franklin’s last voyage and the search expeditions launched until the 1870s, the history of early voyages of discovery in the Arctic has been surprisingly overlooked. The discovery of Newfoundland by Venetian John Cabot in 1497 is a turning point in world maritime history and British history. Cabot’s voyage was an essential phase in the intellectual discovery of America, when what had been thought to be the country of the Grand Khan4 was, for the first time, imagined to be a new continent barring the way to Asia5. It is also a significant stage in the formation of the first British Empire. On 24 June 1497, John Cabot, who had been granted a royal patent by King Henry VII, claimed the land for England. Though overseas exploration and attempts to found a colony would stall until Elizabeth’s reign, Cabot’s voyage of 1497, sometimes mixed up with his son Sebastian’s later voyage in 1508, is shown in the promotional travel literature of the period to validate England’s natural and historical right to establish its own empire, following the example of rival Spain and Portugal. Nearly a century later, Sir Humphrey Gilbert officially marked the beginning of overseas expansion with the annexation of Newfoundland (1583). But, in spite of chronological precedence, Newfoundland was forgotten in the history of British exploration and colonization, to be supplanted by the lost colony of Roanoke (1584-87) and Virginia (1607) as the origin of the British Empire6. Newfoundland fails to figure prominently in the colonial and imperial story because, as Mary Fuller explains, the travel narratives which recount the early discovery and exploration of the Northern regions lack the epic dimension and the metaphors deemed necessary to fashion a national myth of origins. As the critic herself puts it, “how did you compose an epic narrative whose only encounters were with fish ?7. No one better illustrates the disillusion of early English explorers than the Hungarian-born poet Stephen Parmenius during his first and fatal journey to the new world in 1583 with Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Just a year earlier, Parmenius had written an exhortatory poem celebrating a long line of English explorers, new Argonauts in the service of an Amazon queen. Among them, Gilbert was presented as the saviour of persecuted Indians, an unknown race of brothers, the direct descendants of the Golden Age, while Britain was the new Troy that no foreign power, neither Rome nor the Spanish, could stop in its evangelization project that would bring peace to the world8. When Parmenius finally set foot on the coast of Newfoundland, there was a radical change of tone in his letter to his friend Richard Hakluyt : “But what shall I say, my good Hakluyt, when I see nothing but a very wilderness ?”9. Fish abounded indeed but no contact was made except for those with the intimidated Spanish and Portuguese merchants and sailormen. No trace of native life could be found to Parmenius’s utter disappointment.

  • 10 Mary-Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes : Travel Writing and Transculturation, London & New York : R (...)
  • 11 Several accounts relate Frobisher’s voyages: George Best’s A true discourse of the late (...)
  • 12 Pierre Bourdieu, Ce que parler veut dire : léconomie des échanges linguistiques, Paris (...)

2Even though contacts were scarce and there was no prolonged exchange with native communities as there was in 1580 in California with the Drake expedition or later in Virginia, encounters did occur in Newfoundland. The Arctic region actually constitutes the first “contact zone”, a space of colonial encounters, “in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict10. Powhatan and Pocahontas, romanticized as they are in Captain Smith’s narratives and in later accounts, are generally thought to provide the Ur-scene of the encounter between English travellers and American Indians, but the “country people” of Newfoundland preceded them. In June 1576, Martin Frobisher, a mariner and privateer who had previously served the queen in Ireland, set sail with three small ships heading to the west in search of a northern sea route that was hoped to provide an easier access to the riches of Cathay. This was the first English expedition that set out to find the Northwest passage following the 1508 voyage of Sebastian Cabot. After a long and strenuous crossing, the remaining admiral ship reached Baffin Island and explored “Frobisher’s Strait”, now known as Frobisher Bay, which the explorer believed to be a passage linking the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. On each of the three successive voyages (1576-1578), Frobisher and his men met, traded and more generally interacted with the natives from the bay11. During the first encounter on Baffin Island in August 1576, English seamen and adventurers came across, for the first time, with an unknown people, an experience significantly different from what had occurred in the past few decades in the early plantations of Ireland. In the international competition that developed in the new world, where a country stood a chance of growing into an empire, first encounters provide a unique way to look at what makes identity, individual or national. Following the work of J. Butler, S. Hall and P. Bourdieu12, we propose to see encounters as performances, in which identity, an ongoing and dynamic process which exists only in its enactment, is constructed through language and interrelations seen as the expression of symbolic power struggle. How are difference and otherness perceived in the first English voyages of discovery in the new world ? What does interaction with the native inhabitants reveal about the English’s own sense of self ? Our concern is not to trace what “really happened” during those first moments, a “reality” which is to be dismissed as the myth masking a myriad of contradictory impressions, conflicting aspirations and recollections, but to see how, through scarce and partial sources, the memory of those first encounters was constructed – even to be later obliterated or erased by subsequent encounters.

  • 13 John H. Elliott, “The Old World and the New Revisited”, in K. Kupperman (ed.), America (...)
  • 14 Richard Hore, “Voyage to Newfoundland” (1536), in R. Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, op. cit. (...)
  • 15 As reported by Michael Lok, Frobisher’s main financial backer, in a private letter (State pap (...)
  • 16 Dyonise Settle, A true Report of the last Voyage into the West and Northwest regions in (...)
  • 17 Gilbert’s Discourse was published 10 years later, in 1576.
  • 18 Ibidem in Quinn, New American World, op. cit., vol. 3, 11.

3When the first encounter with the Inuit from Baffin Island occurred, it is difficult to assess what the expectations of the English were exactly. Historians have reappraised the event of the “discovery” of America, pointing out that it was greeted in Europe with a fair degree of indifference to world travel and exploration13. What 16th century cosmographies and geographical publications failed to convey, however, was the genuine curiosity aroused by the new people discovered on the new continent. The primary motivation of the 30 gentlemen who accompanied London merchant Richard Hore to Newfoundland in 1536 was apparently their keen desire “to see the natural people of the country14. In 1576, Frobisher’s return from his first voyage to Newfoundland was not deemed worthy of publication and yet the Inuk brought back to London created quite a stir, “such a wonder onto the whole city and to the rest of the realm that heard of it as seemed never to have happened the like great matter to any man’s knowledge15. A year later, Frobisher’s second voyage to Baffin Island was published, the first book in English to present an eye-witness account of America. The title, however, did not draw attention to the geographical discovery of what Frobisher thought was the Northwest passage, nor to the 200 tons of ore which had been mined in the hope that it contained gold, but to the people encountered there, promising “a description of the people there inhabiting16. Conversely, when Humphrey Gilbert completed his Discourse of a discoverie for a new passage to Cataia in 1566 to persuade the queen to back up future expeditions17, he included a single reference to the native peoples of America, under the vague designation “they of America18. This silence did not necessarily evince a lack of curiosity. Gilbert speaks as a colonizer rather than as an explorer and his text, for the most part, purposes to demonstrate that the new continent is an island ; the approximate phrase “they of America” reflects the calculated distance of the public servant who pre-emptively dismisses the right of the natives to own and dispose of their land.

Brothers or Others : From Curiosity to Enmity

  • 19 Ibid., 9.
  • 20 Parmenius’s Embarkation Poem, op. cit., 87.
  • 21 Hall, The First Voyage of Master Martin Frobisher, op. cit., 209 ; Best, A true (...)
  • 22 Hall, The First Voyage, op. cit., 209.
  • 23 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 220.
  • 24 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 73.
  • 25 Ibidem, 72.
  • 26 David B. Quinn’s claim that the English only very rarely used the term “savage” when descri (...)
  • 27 Ibid., 227, 242, 249, 269, 271, 281.

4Prior to the first encounter on Baffin Island, uncertainty prevailed as to what the inhabitants of America really were, brothers or others. Travel literature is divided between the belief inherited from classical culture that America, possibly the incarnation of Plato’s long-lost Atlantis, was first peopled by Europeans19 or by an unknown race from the same European stock, descendant of Pan20. But challenging this emphasis on a common distant ancestry, most observers systematically compared the peoples of America with menacing “others”, whether Europe’s or England’s others. The people of Newfoundland were likened to Tartars or “tawny Moores21, their boats the size of Spanish shallops22. During Frobisher’s second voyage, one Inuit woman, thought to be a devil or a witch, even had “her buskins plucked off to see if she were cloven-footed23. The travelers’ uncertain expectations are apparent from the onset of the voyage. When Frobisher first went ashore hoping to catch sight of the natives, he saw deer which he initially mistook for men. He then observed “some kind of strange fish”, which he realized only later were Inuit in their leather boats24. Out of the three main accounts of the voyage, only George Best mentions Frobisher’s difficulty to distinguish the Inuit from animals, which underscores the ideological implications of A True Discourse. However, the explorer’s misperceptions also reflect genuine disorientation The travelers had just accomplished an extraordinary journey, sailing towards the unknown with the only conviction “that the sea at length must needs have an ending25. It should be remembered that Frobisher’s confusion took place in a geographically liminal zone : the first observation occured indeed in “Frobisher’s Strait”, the narrow passage which the navigator thought lay between two main lands, America to the south-west and Asia to the north-east. Interestingly enough, Best did not judge necessary to report where exactly the first signs of local life were spotted, whether in “Asia” or “America”. So it is hardly surprising if the names given to the inhabitants of Baffin Island convey a similar indecision. Hall, Settle and Ellis, whose shorter accounts each cover one of the three voyages, mostly use the “people of the country”, or the “people of Meta Incognita” after the name given to the new found land by Queen Elizabeth, but Best’s narrative, which encompasses the three voyages, alternates between the “country people” and the “savages”, with a clear preference for the latter term26. In the final pages of Best’s True Discourse, the “country people” have become “a savage and brutish kind of people”, “those ravenous, bloody, and man-eating people”, “cannibals27.

  • 28 Ibid., 73.
  • 29 Christopher Hall was captain of the Gabriell ; his account was written in 1576 but (...)
  • 30 During the third expedition, Best was captain of the Anne Francis, one of the 15 b (...)
  • 31 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 73.

5Yet the first encounter seems to have unfolded in a congenial atmosphere. On 19 August 1576, Frobisher and his men landed on an island and spotted kayaks from the top of a hill. They returned to their boat and both parties cautiously observed one another for a while from the safety of their crafts. Captain Hall then went ashore, gave the Inuit gifts (a needle each) and returned to the ship with one of them who was offered meat and drink. Nineteen Inuit then joined the English and engaged in gymnastics on the deck “to show their agility28. Best and Hall however provide two very different accounts of this first encounter. Christopher Hall’s account, akin to a log, is a matter-of-fact description of the events ; Hall, an eye-witness, expresses the same detachment in his relation as he uses elsewhere when reporting navigation measures : “they spoke but we understood them not29. Best’s True Discourse is a retrospective narrative written after the last expedition’s return in 1578, and is, in its first part, an indirect account as Best was a member of the second and third expeditions only30. In Best’s version, the same sequence of events sets a more disquieting tone : while observing the Inuit from the top of the hill, Frobisher describes how the natives had “stolen secretly behind the rock” to overtake them, and when they later came on board, how they “greedily devoured [salmon and raw flesh] before our men’s face31. Best, indeed, moves straight to the traumatic event which followed that first encounter, when the next day, escorting an Inuk back to his friends, five Englishmen disappeared after following their host on shore despite orders to the contrary. The five men were never seen again in spite of repeated efforts to find them. Hall and Lok, however, describe the five sailors landing on shore of their own free will, while Best’s formulation intimates that the men were abducted: they were “intercepted with their boat”. Leaving out the dates in his relation and conflating the events into one single narrative sequence, Best turns the first encounter into a surprise treacherous assault. From this moment on, Frobisher repeatedly tried to entice Inuit into a trap, hoping to exchange prisoners for his own lost men. Interaction between the English and the Inuit was henceforth mostly limited to chasing each other or fighting. Encounters either ended up in slaughter, as happened at the aptly named “Bloody Point” during the second voyage, or became “non-encounters”, as summed up in Best’s conclusion in A True Discourse :

  • 32 Ibid., 288.

The [country] people are now become so wary and so circumspect, by reason of their former losses, that by no means we can apprehend any of them, although we attempted often in this last voyage. But to say truth, we could not bestow any great time in pursuing them, because of our great business in lading and other things32.

6Curiosity gave way to distrust and indifference.

Deceiving the Deceivers : the Power of Empathy

  • 33 See Peter C. Mancall who analyses the disappearance of the five men as a cautionary tale bo (...)

7The loss of the five mariners was a traumatic event for Frobisher’s crew and more generally for the whole history of Arctic exploration, though the five men remain unnamed to this day33. The following year, when the expedition returned to Baffin Island, Frobisher left a letter to the Inuit group suspected of having abducted the Englishmen. It proclaimed emphatic anger and promised violent retribution :

  • 34 Ibid., 147.

In the name of God, in whom we all believe, who, I trust, hath preserved your bodies and souls amongst these infidels, I commend me unto you. I will be glad to seek by all means you can devise, for your deliverance, either with force or with any commodities within my ships, which I will not spare for your sakes, or anything I can do for you. I have aboard of theirs a woman, and a childe, which I am contented to deliver for you ; […] Moreover you may declare unto them, that if they deliver you not, I will not leave a man alive in their country34.

  • 35 Charles Francis Hall, Life with the Esquimaux, London : Samson Low, Son, & Marston, 1864, v (...)

8Nearly 300 years later, the American explorer Charles Francis Hall was still investigating that mysterious disappearance during his first expedition on Baffin Island (1860-62), collecting testimonies from Inuit oral tradition according to which “a great many years ago”, five men built a ship and then died of cold while trying to sail south35.

  • 36 Lok in Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 83.
  • 37 Ibidem, 74.
  • 38 Ibid., 85 ; our emphasis.

9During the summer of 1577, Frobisher’s men captured one man and a woman with her infant child in two different locations. It is however doubtful that Frobisher ever seriously considered the plan presented in the letter to exchange his three Inuit prisoners for the five Englishmen. Best incorporates the letter in his narrative and immediately explains that having found the Inuit camp where their companions were kept captives the year before, the company postponed the search for the Northwest passage and decided instead to stay in the vicinity. Best also incidentally notes that they no longer needed to search for more Inuit camps as Frobisher “thought [their own Inuit captives] sufficient for the use of language”. Frobisher’s prisoners are presented in the letter as leverage to retrieve the five lost men but they were also an extremely valuable resource for the English. The Inuit could serve as interpreters or guides. Initially the travelers harbored hopeful thoughts that the countrymen would lead them to the “West Sea” ; during the first voyage, one of them even willingly offered to be their pilot, “[making] signs that in two days rowing he should be there36. They later lowered their expectations but the insight they got from their prisoners into Inuit customs was no less valuable. Kalicho, the Inuk captured in 1577, showed the travellers around a deserted camp, explaining the purpose of tools and the materials used in their making, and acted as intermediary when Frobisher tried to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. In this instance, Kalicho is repeatedly referred to as “our savage” : the use of the possessive determiner with an animate noun which bears no relationship with the possessor (as would for example “our prisoner” or “our friend”) denotes a strong sense of ownership and objectification. Indigenous peoples also had a significant market value : as tokens of exoticism, “whose like was never seen, read, or heard of before, and whose language was never known nor understood of any37, they were sure to attract the crowds in England. More importantly, they were the ocular proof of Frobisher’s groundbreaking journey, in the absence of other tangible evidence that the Northwest passage had been found. In 1576, when Frobisher found out that the Inuit they had traded and fought with had abandoned their camp, he was “in dispayre of the recovery of his bote and men” but “most of all other was oppressed with sorrow that he should return back again to his country bringing any evidence or token of any place whereby to certify the world where he had been38. Their facial appearances, reminiscent of the Tartars of Northern Russia according to Lok and other observers, seemed to be the empirical proof that a Northwest passage did exist, whether a sea passage or a strip of land connecting Asia and America.

  • 39 J. Parker, Books to build an Empire, op. cit., 69.
  • 40 Lok’s letter to the Queen, 22 April 1577, in Best, A true discourse of the late voy (...)
  • 41 N. Cheshire, D. B. Quinn, et al., “Frobisher’s Eskimos in England”, Archivaria, n.10 (Summe (...)

10Frobisher’s first voyage attracted eighteen subscribers who invested 875 pounds. On his return to London, with one Inuk and one “piece of black stone” thought to hold gold, Frobisher raised 4, 400 pounds for a second voyage, including 1, 000 from the Queen who also loaned a ship39. The promise of gold was certainly appealing but even Michael Lok, Frobisher’s main backer, expressed tempered enthusiasm in his letter to the Queen: out of the four assayers who examined the ore, only the Italian Agnello found gold, explaining to a skeptical Lok “Bisogna sapere adulare la natura” – Nature needs to be flattered40. In this context, the presence of “the strange man and his boat, which was such a wonder onto the whole city”, described by Lok as having “a very broad face and very fat”, probably substantiated the inconclusive assaying and helped to convince future investors. The unnamed Inuit man, who died after only a few weeks “of cold which he had taken at sea”, was painted and embalmed41.

  • 42 European travellers did not realize until much later that their germs had such a d (...)
  • 43 Lok in Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 83. The (...)
  • 44 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 74.
  • 45 Ibidem, 74.

11For all the emotional loyalty that Frobisher professed in his letter, the intended recipients were less the five lost sailors than the English readership. The discovery of English-style clothes and non-matching shoes abandoned at an Inuit camp, 50 leagues from where the men had been “intercepted”, as well as the absence of any note which could have helped the company to locate their missing friends, did not bode well for the five men. For the travel enthusiasts, merchants, current or future investors who were most likely to read Best’s report, the letter however provided welcome dramatic tension in the narrative. Mining, the proclaimed objective of the second voyage, relied on repetitive rugged labour and a delayed outcome, and could hardly generate as much excitement. The letter also provided a moral justification for Frobisher’s own attempts at abducting Inuit. Though early modern travelers had relatively few qualms about removing natives from their environment to send them to an almost certain death42, the circumstances in which the Inuit woman was kidnapped just a week earlier were particularly grim : Arnaq was taken at Bloody Point together with her young child who was shot in the arm during the ambush. In Frobisher’s letter, this cruel act, even by 17th century standards, becomes a necessary step, the expression of a captain’s determination to save his fellow countrymen. The letter stands prominently about halfway through the narrative and Best’s somewhat theatrical setting with his emphasis on its “curious enditing”, shows how deep a shock the disappearance of the five men was. Losing five men out of a company of eighteen “so faint and weak […] [who had] so great labours and diseases suffered at the sea43 was a substantial setback because it directly threatened Frobisher’s capacity to make a safe journey back to London. But probably even just as distressing was Frobisher’s suspicion that the Inuit had outplayed him. In Best’s words, Frobisher was “greatly discontented that he had not before apprehended some of them”, as the Inuit suddenly grew very suspicious. They would no longer come close to the ship in spite of all the tempting gifts, shirts or bells, they were offered. Frobisher then “wrought a pretty policy”, offering bells which he would, at the last moment, drop into the sea to have the Inuit come closer ; after a few unsuccessful attempts, he finally managed “to deceive the deceivers44 and caught one Inuk. But the man “for very choler and disdain, […] bit his tongue in twain within his mouth45 and was described by Lok as “sullen or churlish” when he met him in London. Frobisher’s scheme had only partly succeeded : he had a prisoner, but no interpreter.

  • 46 Daniel Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society, Glencoe, Ill : Free Press, 1958, 51.
  • 47 Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, from More to Shakespeare, Chicago (...)
  • 48 A reproduction of the drawings of the three captives (Prints and Drawings of the British M (...)
  • 49 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 149.
  • 50 Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, op. cit., 233.
  • 51 Mary-Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes, op. cit., 7.

12Three years of playing cat-and-mouse games with the Inuit demonstrated to Frobisher and his countrymen that the inhabitants of Meta Incognita shared the psychic mobility that sociologist Daniel Lerner associates with the modernity of Western societies : “a high capacity for rearranging the self-system on short notice”, the ability to depart from one’s own ways and beliefs to set oneself in a new script46. This is what Stephen Greenblatt calls improvisation, “the ability to both capitalize on the unforeseen and transform given materials into one’s own scenario”, which according to him was essential in the conquest of the New World47. On Baffin Island, the Inuit displayed psychic mobility when, to gain time, they asked the English sailors for a letter that they would deliver to the five men they supposedly held captive ; or later, when they devised a “pretty policy” of their own to rescue their countryman Kalicho, the woman Arnaq and her child Nutaaq48. Inspired by Frobisher’s gift policy, they offered the English crew a great bladder, “to keep water and drink in49, the sailors, however, soon realized that it could be used by the prisoners to escape, helping them to swim away safely to the shore. When Frobisher’s men failed to fall into their trap, the Inuit devised another performance just a few days later : they tempted the visitors to come ashore with raw flesh, then “warm flesh” which they by then knew was the European preference. Eventually one Inuk carried one of his companions on his shoulders down to the shore and left him there : the first man retreated behind rocks, while the man on the shore was seen conspicuously limping along, by himself, a seemingly easy prey for the English. Like the Spanish conquistadors exploiting the Lucayans’ religious beliefs into enslavement in the Bahamas50, or Iago playing the “knee-crooking knave” to better ensnare his master Othello (1.1.45), the Inuit anticipated the English desire to get more prisoners and chose to play out a caricature of the inferior native to lure their visitors into a trap. The figure of the lame man is particularly ironic when one remembers that, on one of the very first encounters, the Inuit had launched into a display of acrobatics on the deck to impress their hosts. An example of autoethnography, “in which colonized subjects undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizer’s own terms51, the Inuit agreed to play in the English script of their own supposed inferiority, hoping to eventually turn it to their own advantage. Their performance stands as an allegory of how the European eye saw the inhabitants of Meta Incognita, a fragmentary version of their own humanity.

  • 52 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 223.
  • 53 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 23, 19.

13The “counterfeit pageant” of the “impotent and lame” man52 was a bait but it also, unwittingly or not, acted as a mirror held up to the Europeans : the pantomime appealed to what the travelers themselves had defined, in a previous encounter, as their own distinctive Western cultural identity, a combination of compassion and moral superiority. At Bloody Point, where a violent fight had broken out a few days before, Frobisher’s men expressed stupefaction when they realized that the wounded among the Inuit would jump to their death into the sea rather than be taken prisoners. Best refuses however to read the Inuit’s desperate jump as an act of dignity, a code of honour by which you can deprive your enemies of their last triumph, as found in Plutarch’s Lives and later to be staged in Shakespeare’s Roman plays. To the author of A True Discourse, who presents himself as “a souldier and one professing armes”, exhorting in his dedication his fellow countrymen to prefer “an honourable death before a shameful retourne53, the Inuit’s action was just a sign of their inhumanity, the antithesis of the Europeans’distinctive sense of mercy :

  • 54 Ibidem, 220.

[…] perceiving themselves hurt they desperately leapt off the rocks into the sea and drowned themselves ; which if they had not done but had submitted themselves […] we would both have saved them, and also have sought remedy to cure their wounds received at our hands. But they, altogether void of humanity, and ignorant what mercy means, in extremities look for no other than death54.

14In the “counterfeit pageant” case, the ploy to have the English sailors expose themselves failed and Frobisher’s men responded by shooting at the lame man. Related in two different versions by Best and Settle, the episode is used to reassert the core of Western identity. In Best’s account, the sailors wound the lame man and the skirmish is presented as a moral lesson :

  • 55 Ibid., 151.

To prove this cripple’s footmanship, [Frobisher] gave liberty for one to shoot: whereupon the cripple having a parting blow, lightly recovered a rock, and went away a true and no feigned cripple, and hath learned his lesson for ever halting afore such cripples again55.

15By exposing the Inuit’s stratagem, the English demonstrate both their military superiority and their moral superiority : the Inuk may be wounded but he is also learning first hand about Christian retribution when his uncharitable imitation is rewarded according to poetic justice. Settle offers a less sanctimonious version :

  • 56 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 223 (our emphasis).

Our general, having compassion of his impotency, thought good (if it were possible) to cure him thereof ; whereof he caused a soldier to shoot at him with his caliver, which grazed before his face. The counterfeit villain deliverly fled without any impediment at all […]56.

16Settle’s congenial irony turns a show of force into an exercise in (fake) compassion: the paralytic man is instantly healed, a “miracle” which playfully revives the image of the Spanish conquistadors thought to be god-sent by the Indians. The use of irony is twofold. Rewritten by Settle, the episode is an example of collective self-fashioning : however contrived, and in the same moment as it humourously derides itself, the image of a sympathetic and caring general epitomizes a definition of Western identity based on compassion. Simultaneously, the farce-like description of the scene, with the villain exposed and forced out of character, enlists the reader’s sympathy and tones down the actual violence of the clash.

17The Inuit are thus shown to display psychic mobility in their own manipulation schemes – they integrated in their performance the image that the English first fashioned for themselves : that of compassionate Christians. In turn, they also inspired the travelers’ narrative self-fashioning. On the third voyage, the fleet got lost in the Mistaken Strait – the actual Hudson Strait, which Frobisher had at first mistakenly identified with “Frobisher Strait” explored the past two years. The 15 ships encountered terrible weather, ice, shallows and dreadful currents which wreaked havoc among them. When they reunited at the end of July, having lost the precious time that was supposed to be spent on mining Baffin Island for its ore, morale was down, with signs of impending mutiny. Frobisher, as reported in Best’s account, delivered a rousing speech to cheer up his crew :

  • 57 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 249.

The General […] if such extremity so befell him, that he must needs perish among the ice, when all hope should be past, and all hope of safety set aside, having all the ordnance within board well charged, resolved with powder to burn and bury himself and all together with her Majesty’s ships. And with this peal of ordnance, to receive an honourable knell, instead of a better burial, esteeming it more happy so to end his life, rather than himself, or any of his company or any one of her Majesty’s ships should become a pray or spectacle to those base bloody and man-eating people57.

  • 58 Immolation as opposed to drowning is another cultural marker which reinforces the (...)

18Seemingly reporting verbatim Frobisher’s eloquent appeal to his men’s honour, Best departs from his generally flat prose with a dramatic binary rhythm and a string of catchy alliterations. The speech however evinces the same reasoning earlier demonstrated by the Inuit at Bloody point : death is to be preferred to disgrace. The decision to jump to one’s death, which Best had earlier identified as a clear sign of the Inuit’s inhumanity, is now presented as the epitome of honour and courage. Though Best seems to be unaware of this remarkable reversal in his moral compass, the rhetorical display alludes otherwise. The alliteration serves as a reminder that self-inflicted death is “base [and] bloudye” when committed by the Inuit, but a “better burial” when enacted by the English. In this passage where the General does seem to protest too much, the resounding description of the funeral pyre is a further attempt to set apart the two groups : the image of her Majesty’s ships set on fire with their crew on board is the exact opposite of the Inuit’s quiet and invisible death by drowning58.

  • 59 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 224 ; Best, A true discourse, op. ci (...)
  • 60 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 224.
  • 61 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 286; see also S (...)
  • 62 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 269.
  • 63 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London ; New York : Routledge, 2004, 85.
  • 64 The inunnguaq, a human-shaped type of inukshut, was chosen as the Vancouver Winter (...)

19The Inuit’s ability to project an image of themselves and their visitors which coincides with the English expectations, shows that empathy and the improvisation of power are not limited to Western travelers. This is actually but one aspect of a general sameness that seems to win over otherness. For all the animal comparisons that abound (the Inuit eat grass “like brute beasts”, they cry “like so many bulls” ; they live “in caves of the earth […] as the bear or other wild beasts do”)59, their otherness repeatedly, and sometimes unexpectedly, fades away. Settle notes their “good proportion” and their colour “not much unlike the sunburnt countryman who laboureth daily in sun for his living60. The Inuit custom of face painting is described in a matter-of-fact way : “The women have their faces marked or painted over with small blewe spots61. The notation indicates difference but the lack of further comments also recalls that English women share a similar habit after all. In a revealing episode, a group of sailors, looking for their stranded companions after the fleet was split up by a storm, spotted people waving at them but could not decide whether they were dealing with Inuit “cannibals” trying to entice them into a trap or with their lost fellow countrymen. Sharing the same terrain, English and Inuit engaged in resembling practices : “Where they landed [the English sailors] did find certain great stones set up by the country people, as it seemed for marks, where they also made many crosses of stone in token that Christians had been there62. Anxious to mark the landscape with a sign of their presence, the English travelers adopted the Inuit custom. Their crosses of stone show the ambivalence of colonial mimicry63 : competing in the Arctic landscape with the Inuit inukshut built as landmark or food cache, they are an assertion of colonial authority and knowledge, but they also acknowledge the need to borrow the techniques of indigenous peoples when leaving one’s original environment. In an interesting development, the inukshut has now become a potent symbol of Inuit, and even Canadian, culture64.

Any strange beast there makes a man” : Cannibalism & Imperial Identity

  • 65 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 281-287.

20In his concluding chapter about the “description of the country and condition of the people”, Best drew a contradictory portrait : the “savage people” are defined as cannibals, “eaters of themselves”, whose “sullen and desperate nature” is the result of their environment, “their miserable country and ignorance of art” ; they “use many charms of witchcraft” and worship an underground devil65. And yet Best also described them as “exceedingly friendly and kind-hearted one to the other”, sharp-witted and musical :

  • 66 Ibidem, 283.

They delight in music above measure, and will keep time and stroke to any tune which you shall sing, both with their voice, head, hand and feet, and will sing the same tune aptly after you. They will row with our oars in our boats, and keep a true stroke with our mariners and seem to take great delight therein66.

  • 67 George Steiner, Language and Silence, New York : Atheneum, 1967, 15.
  • 68 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 73.

21The Inuit’s musicality is not surprising. Best’s description only confirms the universality of music as a basic cognitive ability, shared by men and women of all times and places, English courtiers and mariners, uneducated natives, “cannibals” – or Nazi apparatchiks as George Steiner sadly reminded us67. What alerts the reader, however, is the degree of intimacy that Best incidentally implies between Christians and men they would later consider to be cannibals. During what seems to have been their first encounter(s), visitors and natives bonded as they sang and possibly danced together. Best however chose to leave the episode out of his chronological relation: he mentions only “sundry conferences”68 and relegates his remarks about the Inuit’s musical skills to the final pages of the report. Successful interaction, of the kind that verges on communion when music and dance are involved, is dismissed to reinforce the otherness of the country people. Distortion is actually at work from the very beginning when the Inuit are spotted, even before contact has been established, stealing “secretly behind the rocks” and later “greedily” devouring food. Best’s adverbs are obvious clues hinting at potential malignancy and monstrosity.

  • 69 See note 29 above.

22Unlike Best’s larger Discourse, Hall’s account, a mariner’s log, aimed at a very limited audience69. It is less ideologically marked though it is similarly vague about the first encounter : when nineteen Inuit men came aboard, Hall’s only comment concerns the difficulty to understand one another, “they spoke but we understood them not”. Hall then concludes his log with a vocabulary list of seventeen Inuktitut words with their translation in English :

  • 70 Hall, op. cit., 211.

23The Language of the People of Meta Incognita70

Argotteyt, a hand.
Cangnawe, a nose.
Arered, an eye.
Keiotot, a tooth.
Mutchatet, the head.
Chewat, an ear.
Comagaye, a leg.
Atoniagay, a foot.
Callagay, a pair of breeches.

Attegay, a coat.
Polleuetagay, a knife.
Accaskay, a ship.
Coblone, a thumb.
Teckkere, the foremost finger.
Ketteckle, the middle finger.
Mekellacane, the fourth finger.
Yachethronc, the little finger.

24However modest, the first Inuktitut-English dictionary of its kind shows a quasi-anthropological interest in Hall’s otherwise factual and laconic account. Out of the seventeen words, only four name tools or commodities likely to be used as trading goods : a knife, ship, coat and breeches. The rest are body parts, down to each of the five fingers. The detailed list, with its lack of immediate practical utility in trading, seems to reveal a genuine curiosity in the other’s exotic and foreign-sounding language, as well as paradoxical wonder at the sameness of the human body even across the wide ocean.

  • 71 All references to Shakespeare are taken from the Norton Shakespeare, St. Greenblat (...)
  • 72 For the use of “felicitous” ambiguity in Othello, see Greenblatt, Norton Shakespeare, op. (...)
  • 73 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 224.

25Sameness – or elusive, tenuous otherness – is what prompts distortion and the prevalent image of cannibalism. Best’s True Discourse validates Trinculo’s witty quip in The Tempest, when the mariner comes across Caliban for the first time and imagines what use he could make of him back in England : “There would this monster make a man. Any strange beast there makes a man” (2.2.28-29)71. Trinculo, just like Frobisher, primarily sees the market value of natives (a beast “makes a man’s fortune” in England), in which the value is derived from and proportionate to the difference between beast and man. Trinculo’s neat dichotomy between beast and man is however seriously undermined: the pun on “make” suggests porous categories, when a beast can easily pass for a man, while the deictic “there”, which refers to distant England, is an exemple of felicitous ambiguity because at the Globe theatre, it points to the spectators’s “here and now”72. Long before Prospero’s final acknowledgement of Caliban, “This thing of darkness I Acknowledge mine” (5.1.278-79), the mariner-clown unwittingly underscores that otherness is what enables us to define our own humanity. On Baffin Island too, any strange beast makes a man. Because otherness was elusive, cannibalism became the ideal tag that maintained difference between the English and the Inuit. Though no proof was ever found or given that the five lost men might have been eaten (Kalicho, the Inuk abducted during the second voyage, vigorously denied the allegation), the accusation stuck because it drew an easy line between the two groups: it enabled the English to assert their humanity while confining the Inuit to barbarism. The English stole from the Inuit camps, they shot at an unarmed woman, wounding her baby in the process, they forcibly abducted as many Inuit as they could, taking them hostages to distant England where they quickly died a lonely death, but they do dress their salad with seasoning instead of eating grass73 and they do not eat human flesh.

  • 74 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 288; see also 265, “Th (...)
  • 75 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 219.

26Cannibalism in A True Discourse works as a trompe l’oeil – another “counterfeit pageant”. Best concludes his report on a dispassionate note, lamenting the fact that the people of Meta Incognita have grown too wary to let themselves be caught as tokens of possession or exoticism. To him, the real interest of the country lies in the “show of mine […] which may give encouragement for men to seek thither74. Best’s cautious choice of words, the recurrent use of modals or conditional clauses, allow room for doubt and suggest that, a few months after Frobisher’s return, the truth about the value of the black ore was beginning to be suspected. As early as the second expedition, Dionise Settle was expressing similar ambivalence in surprisingly straightforward terms : “The stones of this supposed continent with America, be altogether sparkled, and glister in the Sunne like Gold: so likewise doth the sand in the bright water, yet they verifie the old Proverb : All is not gold that glistereth75.

  • 76 McGhee, The Arctic voyages of Martin Frobisher an Elizabethan Adventure, op. cit., 173.
  • 77 Ill-equipped teams dug the hard Baffin Island rock for a month in severe weather c (...)

27By early 1579, the true value of the ore was beginning to be known: it turned out to be, not pyrites or fool’s gold as generally believed, but black igneous and metamorphic rocks which contain up to the average amount of gold found in the earth’s crust76. Two hundred tons of ore in 1577, about 1,350 tons in 1578, extracted in terrible conditions77 and loaded on 13 vessels, were taken across the ocean to end up being used in fortification walls on the west coast of Ireland and in Dartford, Kent, where it can still be seen today (Fig. 1). Alongside the cargo of valueless ore, the third expedition also failed to establish the first English settlement in the new world as had been specified in the mission statement. A colony of 100 men was supposed to verify the severity of the Arctic winter but the loss of two ships that carried the building materials and provisions put an end to the project – while probably saving the men’s lives.

  • 78 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 280.

28The fiasco of the gold scheme is to be seen in the light of the other shortcomings of the expedition. The geographical breakthrough was at best modest, with the aptly named “Mistaken Strait”, the Northwest passage which Frobisher thought he had found, explored for the first 60 leagues (180 miles) only, the plan to establish the first English settlement in America had failed, and the relationship with the indigenous people had veered towards hostility. To this must be added the general suffering and human cost, in spite of Best’s optimistic assessment, since “not above 40” died during the last voyage78, which of course leaves out the unknown number of casualties among the Inuit. To counter the disappointing outcome of Frobisher’s three voyages, Best provided exoticism, mystery and adventure, as well as a mirror to the English public. The disappearance of the five men and the fantasized confrontation with ravenous cannibals turned Best’s True Discourse into a “strange, passing strange” story that gave his readers a world of sighs, just like Desdemona when she hears Othello’s story about the anthropophagi (1.3.143). The construction of the Inuit as cannibals was an expedient excuse to alleviate the mishaps of the English enterprise ; they also, by contrast, provided a backdrop for the English to project an ideal image of themselves : that of a cohesive society. The lame man’s “counterfeit pageant”, when a man pretended to be abandoned by his companions, defenceless against the English, was a scene of dysfunction and isolation. Best responded with a pendant of his own, a tableau vivant of the English setting up to work on the Countess of Warwick Island :

  • 79 Ibidem, 258. For similar accounts of social harmony, see also 137.

In the mean time, while the mariners plied their work, the captains sought out new mines, the goldfinders made trial of the ore, the mariners discharged their ships, the gentlemen for example sake laboured heartily, and honestly encouraged the inferior sort to work. So that small time of that little leisure, that was left to tarry, was spent in vain79.

  • 80 P. Bourdieu, Propos sur le champ politique, Lyon : Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 2000, 5 (...)

29The English company appear here as a model of efficacy and unity, with the different social categories showing the same commitment to reaching a common goal. The absurd sight of 400 men bent on mining useless hard rock becomes a public display of power : the men present a social field, as defined by Bourdieu, where the different social positions interact both hierarchically and autonomously within the larger social space80. The scene is all the more powerful as it immediately follows a set of regulations proclaimed by Frobisher to ensure discipline during their stay on Meta Incognita, reproduced as such within Best’s text; the swift transition from the set of orders to the description of the men at work (“In the mean time…”) confers performative authority to the captain’s voice. In this new pageant, Newfoundland is a stage where the English can be seen developing a wasteland. The Inuit have disappeared as recalcitrant actors, and with them whatever right to their land they could ever claim. Their presence is limited to that of an imaginary audience, probably observing the scene from a distance. Best here changes the perspective of exploration writing: instead of describing his surroundings from the point of origin of the ship, revealing an outward gaze, the writer-explorer proposes a reflexive gaze, using the scene as a mirror. Exploration is now an exercise in self-definition. As an antithesis to Inuit barbarism, epitomized by the lame man offered by his own kin to their enemies, Best offers a vision of social harmony, where mariners, gold finders and captains are united by the same work ethics, foreshadowing Captain Smith’s egalitarian views when he would take over the government of the colony of Virginia in 1608.

  • 81 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 265.

30The absence of gold, the failure of the colony, the dubious geographical discovery and the hostile relationship developed with the Inuit, between distant observation and deadly confrontation: all seem to make a clear case of Newfoundland’s poor fortune in the imperial narrative. Frobisher’s voyages to Baffin Island may have been erased in the collective imagination and replaced by the colony of Virginia, but as the set of the first encounters with others in the New World, they highlight the impact of exploration on the formation of identity. Though ideological distortion is at work in the image of the cannibal Inuit, colonial discourse fails to erase the native’s voice completely : native resistance and adaptation make a dent in the homogenous and confident self-portrait of the English as compassionate and benevolent colonizers. Even tainted by imperialism, a more complex image of the Inuit emerges, which is not the result of orientalist discourse only : fierce opponents, caring and loyal friends, sharp and witty performers – alter egos who unsettle the boundaries between self and other. In view of dimming hope for gold, Frobisher’s voyages also impelled Elizabethan adventurers to take their distance from Spanish imperialism and envisage an alternative way. Though A True Discourse allows no room for criticism of the expedition and its captain, Best’s doubts regarding the ore can be seen subtly creeping in. When he notes at the end of the last voyage that enough gold was mined to “reasonably suffice all the gold gluttons of the world81, Best both promises and disparages gold : he reassures investors but also envisages a way out. No gold means that England is given the opportunity to stand as a paragon of virtue against gluttonous Spain. The “show of mine” on Baffin Island may not offer the promised gold but it provides a social utopia. Emerging in the theatrics of power enacted on the Countess of Warwick Island is a model that seems to foresee the future development of the British empire as an empire of commerce rather than an empire of conquest.

Figure 1 : stone wall incorporating the Baffin Island rock surrounding the Queen’s Manor House in Dartford, England.

Figure 1 : stone wall           incorporating the Baffin Island rock surrounding the Queen’s Manor           House in Dartford, England.

Photo Robert McGhee (The Arctic Voyages of Martin Frobisher, op. cit., 147).

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Bibliographie

BEST George, A True Discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, for the finding of a passage to Cathaya, by the northweast, under the conduct of Martin Frobisher generall, London, 1578, repr. in Richard COLLINSON (ed.), London : Hakluyt Society, 1867, repr. 1963.

BHABHA Homi, The location of culture, London ; New York : Routledge, 2004.

BIGGAR Henry P. (ed.), The Precursors of Jacques Cartier 1497-1534 : A Collection of Documents Relating to the Early History of the Dominion of Canada, Ottawa : Government Printing Bureau, 1911.

ELLIOTT John H, “The Old World and the New Revisited”, in Karen KUPPERMAN (ed.), America in European consciousness, 1493-1750, Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1995, 391-408.

FULLER Mary C., Remembering the Early Modern Voyage, New York : Palgrave, Macmillan, 2008.

GREENBLATT Stephen, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, from More to Shakespeare, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1980.

HAKLUYT Richard, Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, Glasgow : J. MacLehose & Sons, 1903, 12 vols.

HALL Charles Francis, Life with the Esquimaux, London : Samson Low, Son, & Marston, 1864.

HILL Jen, White horizon : the Arctic in the nineteenth-century British imagination, Albany : State University of New York Press, 2008.

KUPPERMAN Karen, Roanoke, The Abandoned Colony (2nd ed.), Lanham, Md : Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.

LAMBERT Andrew, The Gates of Hell : Sir John Franklin’s Tragic Quest for the Northwest Passage, New Haven & London : Yale University Press, 2009.

LERNER Daniel, The Passing of Traditional Society, Glencoe, Ill. : The Free Press, 1958.

MANCALL Peter C., American Origins (vol. one of the Oxford History of the United States), New York : Oxford University Press (forthcoming).

MCGHEE Robert, The Arctic voyages of Martin Frobisher an Elizabethan Adventure, Montreal : McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001.

PARKER John, Books to build an Empire : A Bibliographical History of English Overseas Interests to 1620, Amsterdam: N. Israel, 1965.

PRATT Mary Louise, Imperial Eyes : Travel Writing and Transculturation, London and New York : Routledge, 1992.

QUINN David B. & Neil M. CHESHIRE (eds.), The New Found Land of Stephen Parmenius, Toronto : Toronto University Press, 1972.

QUINN David B. & Alison M. QUINN, Susan HILLIER (eds.), New American World : a documentary history of North America to 1612, New York : Arno Press, 1979.

QUINN David B. & W.C. STURTEVANT, “This New Prey : Eskimos in Europe in 1567, 1576 and 1577”, Indians and Europe : an interdisciplinary collection of essays, Christian F. Feest (ed.), Aachen : Edition Herodot, 1987, 61-140.

QUINN David B., Neil M. CHESHIRE, et al., “Frobisher’s Eskimos in England”, Archivaria, n.10 (Summer 1980), 23-50.

ROSS James Clark, Narrative of the second voyage of Captain Ross to the Arctic regions […] 1829-33 (London, 1834), BiblioBazaar, 2008.

SPENGEMANN William C., A New World of Words, Redefining Early American Literature, New Haven : Yale University Press, 1994.

STEINER George, Language and Silence, New York : Atheneum, 1967.

WILLIAMSON James A., The Cabot Voyages and Bristol Discovery under Henry VII, Cambridge : Hakluyt Society, 1962.

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Notes

1 “Report of the Select Committee on the Expedition to the Arctic Seas”, House of Commons, April 28, 1834, in James Clark Ross, Narrative of the second voyage of Captain Ross to the Arctic regions […] 1829-33, London, 1834, BiblioBazaar, 2008, 138.

2 Andrew Lambert, The Gates of Hell : Sir John Franklin’s Tragic Quest for the Northwest Passage, New Haven & London : Yale University Press, 2009.

3 See Jen Hill, White horizon : the Arctic in the nineteenth-century British imagination, Albany : State University of New York Press, 2008. See also Francis Spufford, I may be some time : Ice and the English Imagination, London : Faber and Faber, 1996 ; Robert G. David, The Arctic in the British Imagination, 1818-1914, Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2000 ; Eric G. Wilson, The Spiritual History of Ice : romanticism, science, and the imagination, New York ; Houndmills, England : Palgrave Macmillan, 2003 ; Russell A. Potter, Arctic Spectacles : The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818-1875, Seattle & London : University of Washington Press, 2007.

4 Lorenzo Pasqualigo, letter dated August 23, 1497, in H. P. Biggar (ed.), The Precursors of Jacques Cartier 1497-1534 : A Collection of Documents Relating to the Early History of the Dominion of Canada, Ottawa : Government Printing Bureau, 1911, 14.

5 J. A. Williamson, The Cabot Voyages and Bristol Discovery under Henry VII, Cambridge : Hakluyt Society, 1962, 143.

6 Karen Kupperman, Roanoke, The Abandoned Colony (2nd ed.), Lanham, Md : Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, 172.

7 Mary C. Fuller, Remembering the Early Modern Voyage, New York : Palgrave, Macmillan, 2008, 15.

8 “De navigatione” (“An Embarkation Poem”), in David B. Quinn & Neil M. Cheshire (eds.), The New Found Land of Stephen Parmenius, Toronto : Toronto University Press, 1972, 75-105.

9 Letter to R. Hakluyt, 6. Aug 1583 (published in Principal Navigations, 1589), D. B. Quinn and N. M. Cheshire (eds.), The New Found Land of Stephen Parmenius, op. cit., 175.

10 Mary-Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes : Travel Writing and Transculturation, London & New York : Routledge, 1992, 6.

11 Several accounts relate Frobisher’s voyages: George Best’s A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie […] under the conduct of Martin Frobisher, London : 1578 (edition used : Richard Collinson ed., London : Hakluyt Society, 1867, reprntd 1963), was published shortly after the return of the last expedition. Separate accounts were also published for each of the three voyages : Dionise Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage into the west and northwest regions, &c. 1577. […] by Capteine Frobisher, London : 1577 ; Thomas Ellis, A true report of the third and last voyage into Meta incognita : […] Anno. 1578, London : 1578 ; Christopher Hall, The First Voyage of Master Martin Frobisher to the North-West, in R. Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, London : 1589. For Hall, Settle and Ellis, the edition used is Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Glasgow : J. MacLehose &Sons, 1903, vol. VII, 204-242.

12 Pierre Bourdieu, Ce que parler veut dire : léconomie des échanges linguistiques, Paris : Fayard, 1982 ; Stuart Hall (ed.), Representation : cultural representations and signifying practices, London : the Open University, 1997; Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power : Theories in Subjection, Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1997.

13 John H. Elliott, “The Old World and the New Revisited”, in K. Kupperman (ed.), America in European consciousness, 1493-1750, Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1995, 394-395 ; see also John Parker, Books to Build an Empire : A Bibliographical History of English Overseas Interests to 1620, Amsterdam : N. Israel, 1965, 93 ; William C. Spengemann, A New World of Words, Redefining Early American Literature, New Haven : Yale University Press, 1994, 134.

14 Richard Hore, “Voyage to Newfoundland” (1536), in R. Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, op. cit., 517-519, reproduced in D. B. Quinn et al.(eds), New American World : A Documentary History of North America to 1612, New York : Arno Press, 1979, vol. 1, 207.

15 As reported by Michael Lok, Frobisher’s main financial backer, in a private letter (State paper, BM, Cotton collection, reproduced in G. Best, op. cit., 87).

16 Dyonise Settle, A true Report of the last Voyage into the West and Northwest regions in 1577 worthily achieved by Captain Frobisher […] With a description of the people there inhabiting, and other circumstances notable, London, 1577.

17 Gilbert’s Discourse was published 10 years later, in 1576.

18 Ibidem in Quinn, New American World, op. cit., vol. 3, 11.

19 Ibid., 9.

20 Parmenius’s Embarkation Poem, op. cit., 87.

21 Hall, The First Voyage of Master Martin Frobisher, op. cit., 209 ; Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 281 ; Lok in 1576, in Collinson, op. cit., 87.

22 Hall, The First Voyage, op. cit., 209.

23 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 220.

24 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 73.

25 Ibidem, 72.

26 David B. Quinn’s claim that the English only very rarely used the term “savage” when describing the Inuit, and only in context of violent conflict (“This New Prey : Eskimos in Europe in 1567, 1576, and 1577”, in Indians and Europe, Christian F. Feest, ed. Aachen : Herodot, 1987, 68), needs to be re-examined : not only does Best use the term a third as much as the phrase “country people” (9 occurrences of “savage”, 6 for “country people”), but even in the course of relatively peaceful interaction : when for instance, the English travelers search an Inuit camp with the help of a hostage taken a few days before, they refer to him as their “savage” (Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 136).

27 Ibid., 227, 242, 249, 269, 271, 281.

28 Ibid., 73.

29 Christopher Hall was captain of the Gabriell ; his account was written in 1576 but published for the first time in 1589 only, in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1903, vol. VII, 204-211).

30 During the third expedition, Best was captain of the Anne Francis, one of the 15 boats that the fleet comprised.

31 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 73.

32 Ibid., 288.

33 See Peter C. Mancall who analyses the disappearance of the five men as a cautionary tale both for the Inuit and the Europeans (“The Raw and the Cold : Five abandoned Sailors in the Sixteenth Century Northwest Atlantic”, to be published in the forthcoming American Origins, vol. I of The Oxford History of the United States, New York : Oxford University Press).

34 Ibid., 147.

35 Charles Francis Hall, Life with the Esquimaux, London : Samson Low, Son, & Marston, 1864, vol. 2, 78, 151.

36 Lok in Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 83.

37 Ibidem, 74.

38 Ibid., 85 ; our emphasis.

39 J. Parker, Books to build an Empire, op. cit., 69.

40 Lok’s letter to the Queen, 22 April 1577, in Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 93.

41 N. Cheshire, D. B. Quinn, et al., “Frobisher’s Eskimos in England”, Archivaria, n.10 (Summer 1980), 24.

42 European travellers did not realize until much later that their germs had such a devastating effect on indigenous peoples. As Best notes with characteristic self-assurance, the first Inuit man captured by Frobisher did not die of his injuries, but “lived until he came in Englande, and then he died of colde which he had taken at sea” (Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 74).

43 Lok in Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 83. The second ship of the expedition, the Michaell, returned to England after encountering ice off Greenland.

44 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 74.

45 Ibidem, 74.

46 Daniel Lerner, The Passing of Traditional Society, Glencoe, Ill : Free Press, 1958, 51.

47 Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, from More to Shakespeare, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1980, 227.

48 A reproduction of the drawings of the three captives (Prints and Drawings of the British Museum), attributed to John White, can be seen on the website of the Canadian Museum of Civilization at : <http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/frobisher/freng01e.shtml> (last accessed October 19 2014).

49 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 149.

50 Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, op. cit., 233.

51 Mary-Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes, op. cit., 7.

52 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 223.

53 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 23, 19.

54 Ibidem, 220.

55 Ibid., 151.

56 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 223 (our emphasis).

57 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 249.

58 Immolation as opposed to drowning is another cultural marker which reinforces the divide between the two groups: fire implicitly connects the English to the Prometheus myth, which would seem to exclude the Inuit and their raw-food diet from mankind.

59 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 224 ; Best, A true discourse, op. cit., 140, 283.

60 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 224.

61 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 286; see also Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 224.

62 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 269.

63 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London ; New York : Routledge, 2004, 85.

64 The inunnguaq, a human-shaped type of inukshut, was chosen as the Vancouver Winter Olympics logo in 2010. The inunnguaq may actually be a very concrete example of colonial hybridity : archaeologist Robert McGhee convincingly argues that the human-like – or cross-like – inukshuk, of a recent origin and found in Southern Baffin Island and Northern Hudson Bay, may have been directly inspired by the stone crosses first erected by Frobisher’s men (The Arctic voyages of Martin Frobisher an Elizabethan Adventure, Montreal : McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001, 127).

65 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 281-287.

66 Ibidem, 283.

67 George Steiner, Language and Silence, New York : Atheneum, 1967, 15.

68 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 73.

69 See note 29 above.

70 Hall, op. cit., 211.

71 All references to Shakespeare are taken from the Norton Shakespeare, St. Greenblatt et al. (ed.), New York, London : Norton, 1997.

72 For the use of “felicitous” ambiguity in Othello, see Greenblatt, Norton Shakespeare, op. cit., 332.

73 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 224.

74 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 288; see also 265, “They found such plenty of black ore of the same sort which was brought into England this last year, that if the goodness might answer […]” (our emphasis).

75 Settle, A true reporte of the laste voyage, op. cit., 219.

76 McGhee, The Arctic voyages of Martin Frobisher an Elizabethan Adventure, op. cit., 173.

77 Ill-equipped teams dug the hard Baffin Island rock for a month in severe weather conditions – with temperatures in August just barely above freezing and almost daily rain and sleet (McGhee, The Arctic voyages of Martin Frobisher, op. cit.,123-124).

78 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 280.

79 Ibidem, 258. For similar accounts of social harmony, see also 137.

80 P. Bourdieu, Propos sur le champ politique, Lyon : Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 2000, 51-61.

81 Best, A true discourse of the late voyages of discoverie, op. cit., 265.

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Titre Figure 1 : stone wall incorporating the Baffin Island rock surrounding the Queen’s Manor House in Dartford, England.
Crédits Photo Robert McGhee (The Arctic Voyages of Martin Frobisher, op. cit., 147).
URL http://lisa.revues.org/docannexe/image/8756/img-1.jpg
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Sophie Lemercier-Goddard, « “Any Strange Beast There Makes a Man”: Interaction and Self-Reflection in the Arctic (1576-1578) », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XIII-n°3 | 2015, mis en ligne le 17 juillet 2015, consulté le 24 septembre 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/8756 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.8756

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Sophie Lemercier-Goddard

Sophie Lemercier-Goddard, a former student of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Saint-Cloud, is Associate Professor in British Literature at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon. She completed her Ph.D. on Gothic Shakespeare at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3 in 2003 and is the author of several articles on the doppelganger figure and repetition in Shakespeare’s plays. Her current research focuses on early modern English exploration narratives and colonial encounters in America. She is currently editing a book on the quest for the Northwest passage (1576-1859) in which she examines the rhetoric of exploration writing and the formation of multiple imperial narratives.

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