Captain George Vancouver (22 June 1757 – 10 May 1798) was an English officer of the Royal Navy, best known for his 1791–95 expedition, which explored and charted North America’s northwestern Pacific Coast regions, including the coasts of contemporary Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. He also explored the Hawaiian Islands and the southwest coast of Australia.
In Canada, Vancouver Island and the city Vancouver are named after him, as are Vancouver, Washington in the United States, Mount Vancouver on the Yukon/Alaska border and New Zealand’s fourth highest mountain.
Departing England with two ships in April 1791, Vancouver commanded an expedition charged with exploring the Pacific region. In its first year the expedition travelled to Cape Town, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and China, collecting botanical samples and surveying coastlines along the way. He formally claimed at Possession Point, King George Sound, Albany for the British. Proceeding to North America, Vancouver followed the coasts of present-day Oregon and Washington northward. In April 1792 he encountered American Captain Robert Gray off the coast of Oregon just prior to Gray’s sailing up the Columbia River.
Vancouver entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island and the Washington state mainland on 29 April 1792. His orders included a survey of every inlet and outlet on the west coast of the mainland, all the way north to Alaska. Most of this work was in small craft propelled by both sail and oar; maneuvering larger sail-powered vessels in uncharted waters was generally impractical and dangerous.
Vancouver was the second European to enter Burrard Inlet on 13 June 1792, naming it after his friend Sir Harry Burrard. It is the present day main harbour area of the City of Vancouver beyond Stanley Park. George Vancouver surveyed Howe Sound and Jervis Inlet over the next nine days. Then, on his 35th birthday on 22 June 1792, he returned to Point Grey, the present day location of the University of British Columbia. Here he unexpectedly met a Spanish expedition led by Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés y Flores. Vancouver was “mortified” (his word) to learn they already had a crude chart of the Strait of Georgia based on the 1791 exploratory voyage of José María Narváez the year before, under command of Francisco de Eliza. For three weeks they cooperatively explored the Georgia Strait and the Discovery Islands area before sailing separately towards Nootka Sound.
After the summer surveying season ended, in November 1792 Vancouver went to Nootka, then the region’s most important harbour, on contemporary Vancouver Island. Here he was to receive any British buildings and lands returned by the Spanish from claims by Francisco de Eliza for the Spanish crown. The Spanish commander, Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra, was very cordial and he and Vancouver exchanged the maps they had made, but no agreement was reached; they decided to await further instructions. At this time, they decided to name the large island on which Nootka was now proven to be located as Quadra and Vancouver Island. Years later, as Spanish influence declined, the name was shortened to simply Vancouver Island.
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