(Continued from Part 1)
As the crew became more restless with Hudson’s inaction, Henry Greene became the primary agitator for taking command of the Discovery. Greene argued that with fewer mouths to feed, the rest of them might have a chance to make it home. Furthermore, he argued, the ice was breaking up and Hudson had shown no indication of getting underway again. The leaders, Juet and Greene, were resolved to see it through, and Juet swore to kill anyone who tried to stop them, declaring that anyone not supportive would be abandoned along with Hudson. When warned that they would be hanged, the mutineers swore they would rather hang at home than starve in a frozen wilderness.
The only eyewitness account of mutiny aboard the Discovery was written by a crewman named Abacuk Pricket. He writes that he tried to get the mutineers to let him negotiate with Hudson: “Then I spoke to Henry Greene to stay three days, in which time I would so deal with the Master that all should be well. Then I dealt with him to forbear but two days, nay even twelve hours.”
When Pricket found the mutineers unwilling to wait, nor allow any negotiation. he insisted they take an oath against harming anyone, “You shall swear truth to God, your Prince and Country, you shall do nothing, but to the glory of God, and the good of the action in hand, and harm to no man.” Pricket continued that, “Henry Greene (with that) took my Bible which lay before me, and swore that he would do no man harm, and what he did was for the good of the voyage, and for nothing else, and that all the rest should do the like.” Pricket also wrote that he begged them on his knees to “do as they would be done unto.”
The mutineers could not be swayed. When they were ready to move, they locked Pricket below deck so he could not warn Hudson and others of their danger.
When Hudson came out of his cabin, three mutineers tied his arms. The first mate, John King, drew his sword and tried to kill Juet, but was stopped by other crewmen. Then Hudson and his young son, along with first mate John King and six others who were deemed to be either Hudson sympathizers or too sickly to be of use, were loaded into the shallop and cut free of the ship. The mutineers gave the castaways a musket with powder and shot, several pikes, an iron pot and some meal. If the men in the shallop imagined they would soon be allowed back on board, they were sorely mistaken. The Discovery set sail and left with a reduced crew of thirteen men. The shallop tried to keep up with its one sail, but soon was lost from view to men on the Discovery. No more is known of Hudson and his unfortunate companions. Perhaps they lasted through the summer with an adequate supply of birds and fish to eat. However, their only chance for longer survival depended on help from local Inuits, but no one knows how long they lasted.
Some authors explain how Hudson might have lasted for several years after the mutiny. One idea is based on the discovery in 1959 of a stone far south of Hudson Bay with an unauthenticated inscription “HH captive 1612.” This scenario has Hudson and his crew traveling overland from the south shore of James Bay up the Harricana River into the headwaters of the Ottawa River in central Quebec where he may have been captured by Algonquins. This is weakly supported by Samuel de Champlain’s 1613 report that the Algonquins had known an “English youth.” Intriguing, but problematic.
The mutineers had abundant misfortunes of their own. Henry Greene was named captain of the ship and Robert Bylot navigated. They sailed along the east coast of Hudson Bay (see route map below in Part 1) and became locked in ice floes for two weeks. They hunted to supplement their meager food supply, and speculated about the reception they might receive when they reached England. They ran aground twice, which could have ended their escape, but were lucky enough to be lifted off again at high tide. Their real problem came in a hostile encounter with some Inuits. Six of them went ashore unarmed to gather sorrel and trade with the natives. A sudden battle erupted with some Inuits, and two crewmen were killed immediately. The others ran for the boat and rowed toward the ship under an onslaught of arrows. Greene made it to the boat with a mortal wound and soon died. In the next few days two other men died from arrow wounds. With five men killed the Discovery was left with a crew of only eight men, down from twenty-two before the mutiny. Even with this reduced number, they lacked enough food for the long voyage back to England. They went ashore and killed four hundred birds and rationed them at one-half bird per man per day. Fortunately they had no more hostile encounters on shore. On the voyage home “Robert Juet died for mere want,” according to Pricket’s journal, and the food supply was exhausted to the point of starvation. Pricket wrote that, “Our men became so weak they could not stand at the helm, but were fain to sit.” The weakened men neglected all but essential tasks needed to get them home. Despite it all they managed to reach England in September, 1611 with every expectation of immediate arrest.
Surprisingly the mutineers went free, and no investigation took place for a month after their arrival. The investigative report, which was made by merchants who sponsored the voyage, depended on interviews with the surviving crewmen, who had had ample time to coordinate their stories. Judging from the tone of Pricket’s self-serving journal each of them managed to sound like an innocent who knew nothing until the mutiny was already underway. Such a position would be facilitated by the fact that Juet and Greene, the two agitators, had died. Everything could be blamed on the dead crewmen.
The mutineers main position on the mutiny was that Hudson was withholding food. This was actually substantiated by the discovery of 200 biscuits, a peck of meal, and a butt of beer (126 gallons) in Hudson’s cabin immediately after the mutiny. Thus the mutineers made the case that Hudson withheld food for himself and a few of his favored men, while the rest of the crew went hungry. The final report of the investigation concluded that all the survivors deserved to be hanged. The lack of concrete evidence against the mutineers was exacerbated by the fact that all pages of Hudson’s journal were missing for the period after the Discovery entered Hudson Bay, and no one had any knowledge of why they were missing. Presumably the survivors could blame Harry Greene for the absent pages because he served as captain for a short time before his fatal fight with the Inuits.
Not until 1616 did the High Admiralty Court bring charges of murder against all the survivors. By this time the case was cold and the crewmen were well
prepared and coordinated in their testimony. Their defense consisted entirely of the need for food that Hudson had withheld. Although the men may have felt that Hudson behaved incompetently, there was no mention of incompetence. The Admiralty’s belief in the omnipotence of a ship’s master would have brought certain hanging to anyone raising the issue of an incompetent captain.
Fortunately for the mutineers, no castaway was injured or killed during the mutiny. Also they had been abandoned in a place with sources of food (albeit meager) and inhabitants who could help. These aspects eventually led to an full acquittal in 1618, and Bylot even won praise for bringing the Discovery home safely. Bylot and Abacuk both sailed again to the Hudson Bay area where Bylot’s name still appears on an island and another bay in the region.
Asher, George M. Henry Hudson the Navigator: The Original Documents in Which His Career is Recorded, Collected, Partly Translated, and Annotated. New York: Burt Franklin, Publisher, 1860.
Johnson, Donald S. Charting the Sea of Darkness: the Four Voyages of Henry Hudson. Camden, Maine: International Marine, 1993.
McCoy, Roger M. On the Edge: Mapping North America’s Coast. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Pricket, Abacuk. A Journal of Mr. Hudson’s Last Voyage for the Discovery of a North-west Passage. Navigantium Ataque Itinerantium Bibliotheca. vol. 1, p 567- 571.