Another Abysmal Holiday Suggestion

John Davis had a corking good idea, back in, what one would have referred to as, “the day.”

I came across an anecdote about  John Davys, who explored through the Arctic. He did get a straight named after him, which is something I suppose. John Davys was an accomplished navigator and explorer, who concerned himself with less with politics and more with navigation, cartography, exploration.

Overexposure in 16th Century wood prints.

Excerpt from Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

“Voyages of a very different sort were undertaken eight years later by John Davis, perhaps the most highly skilled of all the Elizabethan navigators, a man of a more seren disposition than the volatile Frobisher, much less the disciplinarian among his men, less acquisitive and less self-promoting of his achievements – part of the reason that he, of all the West Country mariners, was the one never knighted.

“With the backing of Adrian Gilbert, a prominent Devonshire physician, and William Sanderson, a London merchant-adventurer, and under the patronage of the Duke of Walsingham, Davis outfitted two small ships, the Sunneshine and the Mooneshine, the former with a four-piece orchestra, and sailed from Dartmouth on the Devon coast on June 7, 1585.

“Their first landfall was near present day [mid-1980s) Cape Walløe on the southeast coast of Greenland, but fog and the ice stream in the East Greenland Current held them off. “[T]he irksome noyse of the yse was such, that it bred strange conceites among us, so that we supposed the place to be vast and voyd of any sensible or vegitable creatures, whereupon I called the same Desolation.” The two ships stood out from Cape Farewell (Davis would so name it on his second voyage) and came to shore, finally, near th eold Norse settlement at Godthåb on July 29. And here took place one of the most memorable of meetings between cultures in all of arctic literature.

“Davis and several others were reconnoitering from the top of an island in what Davis had named Gilbert Sound when they were spotted by a group of [Inuit] on the shore, some of whom launched kayaks. They made “a lamentable noyse,” wrote John Jane, “… with great outcryes and skreechings: wee hearing them thought it had bene the howling of wolves.” Davis called on the orchestra to play and directed his officers and men to dance. The Eskimos cautiously approached in kayaks, two of them pulling very close to the beach. “Their pronunciation,” wrote Jane,” was very hollow through the throate, and their speach such as we could not understand: onely we allured them by friendly imbracings and signes of curtesie. At length one of them poynting up to the sunne with his hande, would presently strike his brest so hard, that we might hear the blowe.” John Ellis, master of the Mooneshine, began to imitate, pointing to the sun and striking his breast. One [Inuk} came ashore. They handed him pieces of their clothing, having nothing else to offer, and kept up their dancing, the orchestra playing the while.

“The following morning the ships’ commpanies were awakened by the very same people, standing on the same hill the officers hand stood on the day before. The [Inuit] were playing on a drum, dancing and beckoning to them.

“(Davis’s courteous regard for the [Inuit] is unique in early arctic narratives He found them “a very tractable people, voyde of craft or double dealing….” He returned to the same spot on his second voyage; the moment of mutual recognition, and his reception, were tumultuous.)”


“Davis’s accomplishments on these trips are stunning. He laid down most of the Labrador coast on sailing charts, some 700 miles of the west coast of Greenland, and most of southwest Baffin Island. Hi notes on ice conditions, plants, animals, currents, and the interior of Greenland, as well as his ethnographic descriptions of [Inuit], were the first of their kind. He brought these lands not only onto the maps but into the realms of science. The “Traverse-Booke” he developed on the voyrages became the model for a standard ship’s log. The backstaff he developed anticipated the reflecting quadrant and the modern sextant. And The Seaman’s Secret (1594), much of it based on these thre voyages, became a seventeenth-century bible for English mariners.

I propose that July 29th be the holiday to meet one another with music and dance, smiles and acts of “curtesie.” I maintain that dancing and feasting together is one of the best ways of getting to know one another.

I’ll put this in the works – we can always use another excuse to dance (nobody needs a reason).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: