Given 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.