HMS Discovery, 1879
George Vancouver Statue on Purfleet Quay, Kings Lynn, Norfolk, photographed by Graham Taylor
Sent by the Royal Navy, from 1757 to 1798, Captain George Vancouver commanded one of the greatest geographic surveys ever undertaken, exploring and charting the coastlines of North America from the vicinity of San Franciso northwards, and including what are now the American States of Alaska, Washington and Oregon as well as British Colombia. Those charts were so detailed and accurate that they served as the key reference for coastal navigation for generations.
During his journeying, many place names were named after friends and acquaintances such as Mount Baker, Mount St Helens, Whidbey Island, Burrard Inlet and more.
Perhaps what many people do not realise is that George Vancouver was born in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, England, the sixth and youngest child of his Dutch-born father John, Deputy Collector of Customs. A very responsible position in what was then a very important trading port.
At age 13 he entered the Royal Navy as a ‘young gentleman’ future candidate for midshipman, a role he took up aboard HMS Resolution on Captain James Cook's second voyage searching for Terra Australis. He was also on the third voyage aboard HMS Discovery. After 9 years service in the West Indies he was given command of the new ship Discovery named in honour of Captain Cook’s old vessel, and went on to complete the survey for which he is best known, sailing by way of the Cape of Good Hope and Australia, Tahiti and the Hawaiian Islands. As well as surveying coastlines, Vancouver also collected botanical samples.
George Vancouver, 35 years old when he surveyed the Pacific Coast of Canada, spent only one day on the actual site of what would eventually be called Vancouver, and would surely have been proud to know that the growing port settlement would,100 years later carry his name. There is also a second smaller but older Vancouver, lying only 300 miles away across the Colombia River in Washington, USA.
Vancouver BC, lies between Burrard Inlets to the north and the Fraser River Delta to the south, opposite Vancouver Island, and is just north of the US state of Washington. It has a fine natural harbour, one of the best in the world, facing the sea and mountains.
After serving 25 years in the Royal Navy, Captain Vancouver’s early retirement was not a happy one as he was involved in several legal disputes against powerful opponents which weakened his health. For a man so renowned he died in obscurity at the age of 40, less than three years after completing his remarkable voyages. His grave is in the churchyard of St Peter's church, Petersham in the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames.
Both cities of Vancouver have erected fine statues to the man who literally put them on the map so very far away from his birthplace of King’s Lynn.