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Vancouver, A Life


Vancouver, A Life: 1757-1798 is kind to Captain Vancouver. It is also weighty (308 pp.) and solidly erudite. The first half of the book tells George Vancouver's story, and considers some interesting questions: the longitude problem, Vancouver's influence on the Hawaiian “Tamaahmaah,” Vancouver's method of surveying, his alleged homosexual relationship with Quadra, the question of his cruelty on board (not cruelty, Godwin argues, but justified efforts to curb potential chaos), the perplexing cross-purposes of Vancouver's task (defending Nootka and charting the Northwest), his conflict with mischief-maker Lord Camelford, Vancouver's untimely death. There are numerous quotations from Vancouver's log.

The second half of the book contains many “hitherto overlooked Vancouver despatches, letters and charts” (Godwin's Preface). It also contains detailed notes, some of which show Godwin the revisionist at work, e.g., he praises the heroic (and unacknowledged) work of Admiral Saunders: “Without the co-operation of Admiral Saunders there could have been no victory (at the Plains of Abraham: Ed.). For eleven weeks before the assault (...) Saunders and his officers, among them Cook, were charting the channel of the St. Lawrence, a dangerous and difficult (because of the French cannons along the cliff face. Ed.) task.” (Appendix)

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