Mad North North West

Banner - Cary Grant runs from ship - Hamlet Frobisher Canada expedition

· 26 April 2017 ·
[My failed investment in Canadian mining, referenced in ‘Hamlet’]

A few posts ago I was searching for the origin of an old story. Part of that search took place in the Annales, or a Generale Chronicle of England. The Annales is a list of events that John Stow (~1525–1605) compiled from his own notes and earlier sources. It begins with mythic/prehistoric Britain, and ends (in the 1603 edition) with the death of Elizabeth.

That post described what I found in the book, but I didn’t tell the whole story. I left something out because it wasn’t relevant to the subject I was discussing. Even more than that, it was too damned annoying. It still is, but now I’m in the mood to tell you anyway.

When I opened the PDF of the 1603 Annales, I was looking for 1576, at the time I returned to England after my almost-a-year in Italy. I dragged the scrollbar near to the file’s end, and started reading where I landed. It was close to random.

This was, literally, the first item on the first page I perused. It’s from 1578.

Stow 1578 3rd voyage - Hamlet Frobisher Canada expeditionEasier to read text:

Frobisher’s third voyage

The 31 of May, Martin Frobisher with 15 sail of good ships, manned, victualled, & other ways well appointed departed from Harwich in Essex, on his 3rd voyage towards Cataya [Cathay – he was searching for a Northwest Passage to China]. And on the 31 of July, after many attempts, & sundry times being put back by Islands of ice in his straits, he recovered his long wished port, & came to anchor in the Islands, newly by her majesty named Meta Incognita, where (as in the year before), they fraught [freighted] their ships with the like pretended Gold ore out of the mines, & then on the last of August returning thence, arrived safely in England about the first of October, but their Gold ore after great charges proved worse than good stone, whereby many men were deceived, to their utter undoings.

I was one of those many men, deceived and utterly undone. I lost £3000. Three. Thousand. Pounds. If you don’t realise how much wealth that was back then, click one of these links at Measuring Worth for comparison figures. [2017 values] [2019 values] [16 JULY 2020: The Measuring Worth site has been up and down of late. If those links don’t work, the Bank of England has an inflation calculator – not as thorough a comparison but better than nothing.]

In 1577 I had put £25 into the second expedition. It returned with 200 tons of what the expert assayers swore was gold ore, so I was all in for the next trip in 1578. It was a sure thing! I sold three manors to raise the cash.

While that third expedition was far, far away in the North, North-West, those experts changed their forsworn minds. The ships returned with an additional 1350 tons of ore. The new rocks were no more valuable than the old rocks, they were only more numerous.

I went nearly mad with worry over my loss, this financial catastrophe. It was not a good time.

Frobisher memoirs clip 1 - Hamlet Frobisher Canada expedition
Frobisher memoirs clip 2 - Hamlet Frobisher Canada expeditionExcerpts from the New England Historical and Genealogical
Memoirs of Sir Martin Frobisher, Knight.

Most of the rubble ended up as road paving in Dartford. It’s probably still there, buried under the macadam. Dig some up and test it. If it turns out to be geologically Canadian, I paid for it.

Two years later (1580) I watched as Christopher Bloody Hatton – whose heraldic crest and a sizeable investment prompted Francis Drake to re-christen his flagship the Golden Hind – cleared £2300 profit when Drake returned after circling the globe. Stolen silver and gold from the Americas: every ounce of it pirated, taken by force from Spanish ships, already smelted by native slave labour. No rocks.

Frobisher failed in 1578. I died in 1604. Four centuries passed. In 2015 I came online, and on 13 March 2017 I opened the PDF of the 1603 Annales. My fiscal fiasco, 439 years old, was right there to aggravate me all over again. I can’t make this stuff up.

FF Hamlet mad north north west clip - Hamlet Frobisher Canada expedition

I didn’t fabricate what I wrote from whole cloth. Everything had points of origin in reality that sparked imagination, creativity – the voices, as it were. The work’s no good otherwise. This applies to anyone’s work, not only mine, but especially mine.

North, North-West in Hamlet? Frobisher, and my maddening misfortune.

And in The Merchant of Venice:

FF Merch of Ven all that glisters clip - Hamlet Frobisher Canada expedition

Sources/Additional Reading:

  • Annales (Annals of England to 1603) []
  • · by John Stow
  • · publisher unknown (title page is missing), presumed 1603
  • · pg 1160
  • Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence
  • · Edited by Kevin Gilvary
  • · Parapress, 2010
  • · PDF files, free to download []
  • · pgs 389-392 (Hamlet), 144-146 (The Merchant of Venice)