Sunday, October 23, 2011

The First English Traders

When English traders came to enter the new field of enterprise in the North-west they found formidable barriers to trade in the monopolies held by the two great companies, the East India and the South Sea. The former controlled the trade to China, the most important market for the coveted sea-otter peltries. The latter commanded all the trade to the South Pacific islands, the natural provisioning area for the northern ventures. As a result the English maritime fur-traders eventually fell behind their American competitors--known in the field as the "Boston" traders. Some of the earlier English traders sought to circumvent the monopolies by sailing under the colors of another country, but it was soon found that this custom had its disadvantages.

Such was supposed to have been the case of the first English trader, James Hanna, who, in his small brig of 60 tons the "Sea Otter," sailed from Macao (the Portuguese port near Hong Kong) in 1785. During his voyage, Hanna, it is thought, must have visited Haida Gwaii although no actual record proves it. The following year came Captains Lawrie and Guise, in the ships Captain Cook and Experiment. The have been outfitted in Bombay by English merchants and may have sailed under the protectioin of the powerful East India Company. At all events though they, too, left no definite record, they are believed to have traded in the vicinity of the Islands. The discovery of Queen Charlotte Sound is attributed to them at least, which they named in honor of the consort of King George III. The results of their trading trip were spectacular, for at its close they were reputed to have sold 604 sea-otter skins for 24,000 Chinese dollars. This news spread fast among the traders of Macao and Canton. The "fur rush" to the islands of the North Pacific was not fairly launched.

Hanna returned on a second voyage in 1786, leaving Macao in May and reaching Nootka, the central gathering place for all the traders for a number of years, in August. Here he found that Guise and Lawrie had preceded him and bought up most of the furs before his arrival. As a result, his second venture was not nearly so profitable as his first. Returning to Macao in February, 1787, he disposed of his cargo for about $8,000.

next:-- London Traders-Portlock and Dixon