Day 513: Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson

Cover for Fatal JourneyGiven that little is known about the final voyage of Henry Hudson, Fatal Journey‘s tag line (A Tale of Mutiny and Murder in the Arctic) seems to promise more than it can deliver. In fact, I often felt that history and anthropology professor Mancall padded this short book’s content with whatever came to hand.

Hudson’s final voyage to try to find the fabled Northwest Passage ended in 1611 in James Bay. He and his men had been forced to spend a brutal winter there, and now that the ice was starting to melt, Hudson was trying to decide whether to press on or return to England. At that point, some of his men mutinied and set Hudson, his son, and other crew members adrift in a small boat. They were never seen again. The only evidence of their fate is from the testimony of the surviving mutineers, who claimed that the engineers of the mutiny all died on the way home.

Mancall’s book looks at Hudson’s other voyages in more detail and describes in a matter-of-fact, undramatic way the hardships of the final journey. He also fills in a lot of information about other voyages of exploration, maritime law, just about anything sea-related. This approach is sometimes interesting, sometimes frustrating, as when he starts out the chapter about the mutineers’ trial with ten pages on the history of the crown’s attitude toward piracy.

For the most part, I felt that the book could be replaced by a long, more interesting magazine article. Hudson hardly appears in this book and we hear nothing directly from him. So, I was especially bothered by the author’s conclusions that Hudson’s fate was due to his own hubris.

7 thoughts on “Day 513: Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson

  1. Carolyn O May 1, 2014 / 3:42 pm

    What about it made you keep reading?

    • whatmeread May 1, 2014 / 3:45 pm

      It wasn’t downright boring. I usually only stop reading if something just irritates the heck out of me, for example, if it is very poorly written or annoying or badly plotted. I wanted to see how it turned out for Hudson. But what I think is, they don’t know. I think the mutineers came back and told lies. And I also think that his blaming it on Hudson is horrible, but that only comes out in about the last paragraph.

  2. Naomi May 1, 2014 / 4:52 pm

    I’m always intrigued by books like this. Unsolved mysteries, especially at sea, but they only work if there are definite theories as to the how and why, or if they are fictionalized so as to come up with a satisfying ending for the reader (knowing that it is fictionalized).

    • whatmeread May 2, 2014 / 7:32 am

      Yes, that’s probably why I continued writing. The author had a theory, but as far as I’m concerned, he had little evidence to back it up. Of course the mutineers are going to blame everything on Hudson, but he had been a good leader on his other expeditions, a man who came back with all his crew.

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