Posted by: wadahp | February 3, 2011


Voyages of Discovery…

The Second Great Age

Detail of a circa 1965 mural, painted by Werner Lenggenhager, of George Vancouver’s command ship, the HMS Discovery. Source: Washington State Library, Digital Collections.

Movements of exploration, whether westward by Britain and the United States, northwards from Mexico and California by Spain, or eastward across Russia, converged in the Pacific Northwest at almost the same time, in the 18th century.[1] These movements started with questions about the uncharted geography of the region, the rumors of a water route between the Northern Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans (the fabled but non-existent Northwest Passage), and the search for pelts to feed the fur trade. As commercial competition between European nations heated up at the start of the 17th century, the Second Great Age of Discovery began, lasting through the 19th century.[2] The Pacific Northwest, and the Pacific Ocean in general, represented the next frontier in the global rush to map new territory and thereby lay claim to the best locations for trade ports, fishing, whaling, and other commercial endeavors. Scientific inquiry became a new motivation in the Second Age.

The Long Journey

Maritime exploration was an inherently dangerous pursuit and a serious undertaking. Besides the risks of sailing into unknown waters and becoming lost to foul weather or running aground, these voyages lasted several years. Planning and rationing freshwater and food supplies, caring for those among the crew who fell ill with any number of unforeseen illnesses and injuries, and repairing the ship as needed – these were a few of the expected challenges for those aboard. The stories of these voyages are chronicles not only of exciting discoveries but true grit and hardship, with tragedies on all sides. The names of the voyagers themselves are imprinted on our landscape as a subtle reminder of the past.

Portrait of Charles Wilkes, commander of the U. S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842. Painted by Thomas Scully. Source: Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition.

[1] Derek Pethick, First Approaches to the Northwest Coast (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979), 14.

[2] William H. Goetzmann, New Lands, New Men: America and the Second Great Age of Discovery (New York: Viking, 1986).



  1. Are any pictures (paintings) available of the H.M.S. CHATHAM -which was under the command of Lt. Broughton – part of Vancouver’s fleet? The CHATHAM was moored at Knappton Cove (site of the future U.S. Quarantine Station) while Lt. Broughton and some of his crew rowed upriver to chart the Columbia River. We would like to have a picture of the CHATHAM for our museum at Knappton Cove.

  2. We haven’t come across any pictures/paintings of the CHATHAM. If we do, we’ll let you know. Thank you for your interest in this project!

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