John Davis (1550? to 29th December 1605)

 

As a boy I can remember my mum’s sharp intake of breath whenever a television programme was interrupted with a sudden newsflash (they don’t seem to do them anymore and just put a “Breaking News” caption at the bottom of the programme.) There was one in the early eighties when Britain sent ships to the Falklands Islands which had been taken over. The newsflash told us of the fight back had commenced (and it took ten weeks to crush the Argentinian forces.) Before that time I’d never heard of the Falkland Islands. Here I am on the south coast in Dartmouth outside the home of John Davis who discovered them in August 1592. He was one of the main English navigators when Elizabeth I was on the throne.

 

Little is known about him. He was born near this house and learnt about the sea while sailing boats along the River Dart (one of his neighbours was Walter Raleigh.) He was in his thirties when he began searching for the Northwest Passage – a sea route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. They were considered impassable due to constant ice sheet. It took three attempts before John passed through the strait which would be named for him for evermore. He went to western Greenland to Disko Island where - to help establish good relations - he took some musicians and had his sailors dance to the music. Many Arctic points are named after him until Planet Earth ends.

 

He probably found the Falkland Islands by accident. Aged 41 (though his date of birth is guessed) in 1591 he tried to find the passage of the Strait of Magellan. Foul weather beat him but he ended up discovering the Falkland Islands in August 1592. His crew was forced to kill hundreds of penguins for food. Sadly the stored meat went off and only 14 of his 76 crew survived.

 

He was an active man, commanding Black Dog against the Spanish Armada and going on many voyages of discovery. He invented the backstaff which is used to navigate using the altitude of the stars, the sun or the moon. It was so important it remained in use for 200 years. He married twice and well - to Faith who was the daughter of the High Sheriff of Devon and to Dorithy (yes, spelt right) who was the daughter of the Earl of Bath. He had five children, two dying in infancy.

 

Explorers who land in foreign terrain are often murdered by frightened foe. Sadly John was murdered aged 55. He sailed for the East Indies as pilot to Sir Edward Michelborne and was killed off Bintan Island near Singapore. He had seized the vessel of a pirate who killed him in revenge.

 

I’ve walked by his home a couple of times in rain and shine, the latter being more pleasant. You can’t get much closer to the sea he loved. I’m not sure if he lived here with this first or second wife. The red K6 Kiosk telephone box worked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view of the River Dart from his house (I’m not sure what I am doing here)…

 

Looks better when the sun is out…

 

 

I just love a K6 Kiosk…

 

 

The backstaff invented by John…

 

 

 

Looking out on the Rivert Dart where John learnt about the sea and boats…