UNKNOWN SHORE by Robert Ruby


The Lost History of England’s Arctic Colony
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An account of two Arctic explorers and the Meta Incognita (Unknown Shore) that they attempted to settle in England’s first attempt at colonizing the New World.

In 1576 Martin Frobisher sailed from England in search of a northerly trade route to Asia—the fabled “Northwest Passage” that European mariners wasted centuries searching for. On his first voyage, “monstrous ice” kept his ship from exploring “Frobisher Strait,” and he came to the reluctant conclusion that the strait was actually a bay—and thus not the route he was looking for. As proof of having reached land, however, Frobisher brought back to England a captive Inuit and a black stone about the size of a brick. Pieces of the rock were duly sent to assayers, and one of them reported that it contained gold. Not long afterwards Elizabeth I awarded a charter to the Cathay Company (giving it exclusive exploration rights in the region), approved the second and third voyages there, and determined that colonization made financial sense and was to proceed forthwith. As a result, 15 ships and 400 men set out for the Arctic in 1578. Frobisher lost 40 men on the voyage, but he was able to bring home 1,136 tons of the black rock—only to find that it yielded so little gold that it was worthless. The company soon collapsed, and Frobisher’s reputation fell with it. Baltimore Sun editor Ruby (Jericho, 1995) entwines Frobisher’s narrative with that of American newspaper-publisher-turned-explorer Charles Francis Hall, who traveled to the Arctic in 1860. Hall was deeply surprised to learn (from an English-speaking Inuit couple on Baffin Island) of the Frobisher voyages, and he became obsessed with finding the former colony—of which nothing by then remained.

A provocative history of Arctic adventure and colonization. (21 illustrations, 2 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: June 12th, 2001
ISBN: 0-8050-5215-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2001