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’ and ‘The Merchant of Venice’ ·

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 in 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 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 that first page. 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 undone. A frozen hill was named after me, but it cost me £3000. Three. Thousand. Pounds. If you don’t realise how much money that was in 1578, see one of these links[2017 values]  [2021 values] 2021 is the most recent data available. If the Measuring Worth calculator is down (it happens), the Bank of England has an inflation calculator. Not as thorough but better than nothing. for comparable values.

[twcard] G Best 1578 map detailHow did I lose my shirt once again on the sea? In 1577 I had invested the small sum of £25 in Frobisher’s second expedition. He returned with 200 tons of what the assayers swore was gold ore, so I was all in for the third voyage the following year. It was a sure thing! I sold three manors to raise the cash.

While that 1578 expedition was far, far away in the North, North-West, those assayers changed their forsworn minds. The ships brought back an additional 1350 tons of ore. The new rocks were no more valuable than the old rocks, they were only more numerous.

I went almost 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 Register,
Memoirs of Sir Martin Frobisher, Knight.

Here’s an enlightening article from a 2016 issue of Earth Magazine, describing all three of Frobisher’s trips and the results of what now looks to have been outright fraud by the assayers. Not gold-containing ore, but 1.5-billion- to 1.8-billion-year-old biotite gneiss interfingered with black hornblende. At least now I know what my rocks are called.

Most of the gneiss 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 I watched as Christopher Bloody Hatton —whose heraldic crest prompted Francis Drake to change his flagship’s name from Pelican to Golden Hind— made £2300 profit on his investment when Drake returned after circling the globe. Silver and gold from the southern Americas, every ounce plundered from Spanish shipping. Pirated booty, mined and smelted by enslaved natives. No rocks.

James Burke aboard the Golden Hind c1978James Burke aboard the Golden Hind (well, a replica)

James Burke quote re privateering

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.

I didn’t fabricate what I wrote out of whole cloth. Everything had points of origin in reality, experiences that sparked the muse of fire, my voices. This authenticity is fundamental to all good creative writing, even if it isn’t obvious in the writing itself. It was the essential underlying basis for everything I wrote. Folks who claim that Willy Shakspere wrote my words have no way to live with this truth, as it undermines their fragile, complicated system of dogmatic belief in the man-shaped hole and his nearly invisible, completely unconnectable biography. What disservice they do to the work.

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

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

And in The Merchant of Venice, where I named Shylock the moneylender after Frobisher’s promoter Michael Lok, the man who took my 3000 ducats,

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