ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

Robert Bylot

To Yukon & Alaska Pioneer Biographies

    Little is known about the life of one of the most daring of the early explorers in the Canadian Arctic, even though one of the more dramatic of the Arctic Islands was named to honour him. Perhaps an unfortunate experience with Captain Henry Hudson in 1611 doomed him to relative obscurity.

    Bylot was the mate on Hudson's ship Discovery when they first sailed into what is now Hudson Bay. During the strife that followed, he was stripped of his rank, and eventually joined the mutineers who set Hudson, his son and several sailors adrift in an open boat. Except for Bylot's skills in navigation, the rest of the crew likely would have suffered the same fate as those abandoned in the bay. He was able to sail the ship back to England, earning himself a pardon for his actions during the mutiny.

    In 1612, Bylot returned to Hudson Bay, this time with Sir Thomas Button. They reached the mouth of the Nelson River, where they wintered over. In the spring of 1613 they continued north, reaching a latitude of 65° before returning to England.

    In 1615 and 1616, Bylot continued the search for the Northwest Passage as captain of his own ship, the Discovery. The 1615 voyage proved that Hudson Strait was definitely not the sought-after route to Asia. The following year, several notable achievements were made possible by a combination of Bylot's talents in ice navigation, and the brilliant navigational and mapping skills of his pilot, William Baffin. Robert Bylot and his crew were the first Europeans to see Jones, Lancaster and Smith Straits, important waterways which were named after patrons of the voyage, Alderman Jones, Sir James Lancaster and Sir Thomas Smith. They mapped the entire bay that was named to honour Baffin. And, most significantly, they were able to reach 70° 45' North Latitude, a record which held for 236 years.

    Bylot successfully sailed back to England, but nothing is known about his life after that point. William Baffin, moreover, often receives full credit for the successes of the 1616 voyage.

All About Bylot Island
from prehistory to current park development plans.

Henry Hudson
An extremely detailed biography.

The Voyages of Captain Luke Foxe of Hull, and Captain Thomas James of Bristol, in Search of a Northwest Passage, in 1631-32