Mad North North West

· 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 you the whole story. I left something out because it wasn’t relevant to what I was discussing, but 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 1603 Annales, I was looking for 1576, when I returned to England after my Italian trip. I scrolled near to the file’s end, and started reading where I landed. It was almost random.

This was literally the first item on the first page that I read. It’s from 1578.

Easier 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 men who were deceived and undone. I lost £3000. Three. Thousand. Pounds. If you don’t realise how much wealth that was back then, click one of these links for comparison figures. [2017 values] [2018 values]

In 1577 I had put £25 into the second expedition, which came back with 200 tons of what the expert assayers were certain was gold ore. I was all in for the next trip in 1578. It was a sure thing, and I sold three manors to raise the cash.

While the third expedition was away in the North North West, the experts changed their minds. The ships returned with 1350 additional tons of ore, but the new rocks were no more valuable than the old rocks. They were only much more numerous.

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

Excerpts from the New England Historical and Genealogical
Memoirs of Sir Martin Frobisher, Knight.
See source details at the end of the post.

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. Pirated Spanish gold, every ounce of it. Stolen. Already smelted. No rocks.

Frobisher failed in 1578. I died in 1604. Four centuries passed. In 2015 I got online, and on 13 March 2017 I opened the PDF of the 1603 Annales. My fiscal fiasco, 439 years old, was right there to annoy me all over again.

I didn’t invent my stuff out of whole cloth. Everything had a source, an origin point in reality that sparked my imagination. The work’s no good otherwise. This applies to anyone’s work, not just mine, but especially to mine.

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

And in The Merchant of Venice:

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)