“How frigid zones reward the advent’rers toils”: natural history writing and the British imagination in the making of Hudson Bay, 1741-1752




Melchin, Nicholas

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During the 1740’s, Hudson Bay went from an obscure backwater of the British Empire to a locus of colonial ambition. Arthur Dobbs revitalized Northwest Passage exploration, generating new information about the region’s environment and indigenous peoples. This study explores evolving English and British representations of Hudson Bay’s climate and landscape in travel and natural history writing, and probes British anxieties about foreign environments. I demonstrate how Dobbs’ ideology of improvement optimistically re-imagined the North, opening a new discursive space wherein the Subarctic could be favourably described and colonized. I examine how Hudson Bay explorers’ responses to difficulties in the Arctic and Subarctic were seen to embody, even amplify, central principles and features of eighteenth-century British culture and identity. Finally, I investigate how latitude served as a benchmark for civilization and savagery, subjugating the Lowland Cree and Inuit to British visions of settlement and improvement in their home territories.



Exploration, Dobbs, North, Eighteenth century, Arctic, Landscape, Canada, Inuit, Cree, Indian, Indigenous, Subarctic, Tree, Forest, Colonial, Northwest Passage, Ellis, Swaine, Drage, Robson, Middleton, Oldmixon, Cold, Hudson Strait, Hudson's Bay Company, Representation, Sub-arctic, English, Britain, England, Empire, Climate, Improvement, Colonization, Discourse, Identity, 1740, 1750