‘Captain Vancouver’, E.C. Coleman

I quite enjoyed this short overview on Captain George Vancouver. My main problem with this might be that it is a very short book, although then again it does seem to cover the important parts of Mr Vancouver’s career.

So, who was George Vancouver?

Apparently, he was one of the explorers of the North West Pacific, following in the trails of James Cook and the Spanish who had been there before him and with him. I found a passage detailing the differences of the Spanish and English explorers especially revealing — that say a notable Spaniard would not make it a problem to name an island after himself but a British chap might not think it the most prudent course to follow.

The back-story to places such as Vancouver Island might be the best that is to be taken out of this book. I won’t remember all of it nor even the majority, but the few pieces that I will may be both interesting and useful. I can almost see myself wandering around the NW Pacific at one point and seeing an island, and my mind can realise: “I know the story of the naming of this island…”

To share one of those stories with any of the readers I have here, think of a moment in those straits. Huge trees swinging in the wind. A few ships off the coast. A Spanish explorer and commander by the name of Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra insists that his English guest, explorer and naval officer, George Vancouver, name something after himself. Mr Vancouver does not feel entirely comfortable with this but acquiesces and names the island ‘Quadra and Vancouver Island’. And less than a century after that, “Quadra” has disappeared from the name and we’re left with Vancouver Island. But how often do we remember that Vancouver did not mean the name to glorify just himself?..

So, that’s the type of book this is — there is a fair bit of what our explorer did in the Northwest, and there is also a fair bit of what his trusted lieutenants did. The stories of fighting and evading fighting with the natives while exploring every hole that could be seen was a daunting task, and I think that Mr Coleman has tried to do his best in portraying that.

It is a sad part of this story that the dues that came to many of the people on Vancouver’s expeditions were probably less than what they deserved, but unfortunately that has often been the case with great men who accumulated political enemies during their trips — and these rivalries do come into this book with the author taking some time to explain the intricacies of late 18th century London.

However, the question that had been foremost in my mind, “Why is one of the prominent cities of B.C. named ‘Vancouver’?” was answered. I now know who Vancouver was, and I wonder what he would think of the city that goes by his name.

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