James Colnett
James Colnett
James Colnett was an officer of the British Royal Navy, an explorer, and a maritime fur trader. He served under James Cook during Cook's second voyage of exploration. Later he led two private trading expeditions that involved collecting sea otter pelts in the Pacific Northwest of North America and selling them in Canton, China, where the British East India Company maintained a trading post.
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  • 1806
    Age 53
    He died at his lodgings at Great Ormond Street in London on 1 September 1806.
    More Details Hide Details The bulk of his estate he left to his daughter, Elizabeth, although he had never married. There are several places named after James Colnett including Bahía Colnett (bay) and nearby Cabo Colnett (cape) on Mexico's Baja California peninsula, Mount Colnett on New Caledonia, Cabo Colnett (cape) and nearby Bahía Colnett (bay) in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and Mount Colnett on Meares Island, British Columbia, Canada,. Argonaut Point, in Nootka Sound, British Columbia, is named for Colnett's ship,.
  • 1805
    Age 52
    He remained in command of Glatton until 7 March 1805, when he retired on half-pay.
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  • 1802
    Age 49
    On 29 June 1802, he was appointed to command the transport, on what became his last Pacific voyage.
    More Details Hide Details In command of Glatton, he sailed on 23 September with 399 convicts and some free settlers to Australia. Only 12 of the convicts died during the voyage. Before departing Sydney, Colnett unsuccessfully petitioned Governor Philip Gidley King for a free pardon for one of the female convicts, so that she might share his cabin for the return voyage to England. His petition having failed, Colnett set sail for home with a cargo of timber for use in the Royal dockyards.
  • 1796
    Age 43
    He was advanced to post-captain on 4 October 1796 and appoint to command the following day.
    More Details Hide Details His period of command was short-lived, Hussar was wrecked off the coast of Brittany and Colnett was captured and imprisoned for six months by the French. On his release he was tried by court-martial for the loss of his ship, but was acquitted. After his release he tried to convince the Royal Navy to launch a surprise attack against Spain's poorly defended Pacific coast.
  • 1795
    Age 42
    He was given command of the sloop, and in March 1795 examined the coastal defences of the east coast of England from the River Thames to Boston aboard the galley, subsequently producing a report for the Admiralty.
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  • 1792
    Age 39
    Later, in 1792, he sailed to the Galapagos Islands on behalf of private whaling interests.
    More Details Hide Details His work led to the development of whaling near the Galapagos Islands. Colnett returned to England after the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars and was promoted to commander on 19 December 1794.
  • 1790
    Age 37
    By the time Colnett arrived at Nootka Sound the Princess Royal had sailed to San Blas, arriving there about 13 November 1790.
    More Details Hide Details Therefore, it could not be returned to Colnett as required by the Nootka Conventions. The governments of Spain and Britain agreed that the vessel would be returned to its owners in Macau. Manuel Quimper sailed it from San Blas to the Philippines, stopping at Hawaii on the way. Another Spanish officer was to take the vessel from the Philippines to Macau. Meanwhile, Colnett, having finished trading on the North West coast also sailed to China via Hawaii. By chance both Colnett and Quimper arrived at Hawaii in March 1791. The two met. Colnett demanded that the Princess Royal be turned over at once, while Quimper explained his orders were to take it to the Philippines. Colnett became angry and prepared to seize the ship by force. The quarrel was calmed by John Kendrick Jr. (sometimes known as Juan Kendrick) who had come to Nootka in 1788 aboard the Columbia Rediviva with his father John Kendrick, entered Spanish service as a pilot, and was now on board the Princess Royal. Quimper slipped away at a convenient time and sailed to Manila, arriving in June.
    After the initial crisis at Nootka Sound, James Colnett was taken to San Blas, New Spain, and kept under Spanish custody until released in May 1790.
    More Details Hide Details His company's ship, the Argonaut was returned to his command. He was still not permitted to leave until July, after which he sailed north to Clayoquot Sound where he resumed his fur trading activities. In early 1791, he revisited Nootka Sound. By then Francisco de Eliza was the Spanish commandant at Nootka. Colnett had been given a passport by the Vice Roy of New Spain allowing him to sail to Nootka Sound in order to receive the Princess Royal, which had been seized in 1789, but to then leave the coast because it was, the Vice Roy said, Spanish territory. Colnett was also forbidden to trade with the indigenous peoples. However, when Colnett arrived at Nootka he told Eliza, the commandant, that the passport had been lost at sea. Colnett spent about five months trading along the coast, acquiring about 1,100 sea otter pelts.
    Bowing to pressure from Britain, Spain agreed to sign the Nootka Conventions in 1790, ending the Nootka Crisis and beginning the first phase of the Spanish withdrawal from the Pacific Northwest.
    More Details Hide Details Three separate Nootka Conventions were signed and it took over five years to resolve the many outstanding problems. Among other things, Spain agreed to restore the captured ships to their owners and pay them an indemnity. Both nations sent officials to Nootka Sound in order to carry out the details of the Nootka Conventions. George Vancouver served as Britain's representative at Nootka, while Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra served as Spain's. While both were respectful toward one another and even became friends, they could not reach an agreement about how to carry out their instructions. They decided instead to await further instructions. At this time, they decided to name the large island on which Nootka was now proven to be located as "Quadra and Vancouver Island". Years later, as Spanish influence declined, the name was shortened to simply Vancouver Island.
  • 1789
    Age 36
    In 1789 a Spanish expedition under Estebàn José Martínez set sail from San Blas in order to occupy Nootka Sound.
    More Details Hide Details Arriving on 5 May 1789, the Spanish quickly built a few buildings and a small fort with the Spanish flag clearly displayed. Martinez formally occupied the land and began checking the papers of visiting vessels. Two American fur trading ships were already anchored in the sound, one of which was the Columbia Rediviva, and more arrived later, including the Lady Washington, under Robert Gray. Soon after Martínez secured control of the Nootka Sound a number of other vessels arrived, including the Princess Royal, under Thomas Hudson, along with Iphigenia (William Douglas); the Argonaut, under James Colnett, and North West America, under Robert Funter - all British fur trading vessels. Martínez was particularly troubled by the appearance of Colnett's Argonaut. Not only was the Argonaut carrying material and supplies obviously intended for the construction of a permanent base, but a group of Chinese laborers were also on board, one of the first examples of "coolie" labour in the Pacific Northwest. Martínez, whose warships gave him de facto control, asserted Spanish sovereignty. After a heated exchange between the two men, Martínez had Colnett arrested, along with the crew of the Argonaut. Martínez wrote in his journal about personal insults slung at him by Colnett. He was also irritated by Colnett having sailed the Argonaut under Portuguese rather than a British flag, which he felt was deceptive. After a complicated series of events, Martínez ended up with three captured ships and their crews, including the Argonaut, Princess Royal, and North West America.
    Before the Nootka Crisis of 1789, Spain had long held that all foreign sailors in the Pacific Ocean were to be treated as enemies.
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    Due to Colnett's central role in the initial incident that sparked the international crisis, Colnett's account of his second fur trading voyage, including the events at Nootka Sound in 1789, was published in 1940, as part of the Champlain Society's General Series.
    More Details Hide Details His first trading voyage journal remained unpublished until 2005. Colnett was born in Devon at Devonport in 1753, and was baptised on 18 October 1753 at Stoke Damerel parish church, Plymouth. His parents were James and Sarah (née Lang) Colnett. He had two older sisters and one younger brother. Very little is known about his life until he joined the Royal Navy as an able-bodied seaman in 1770. Colnett joined the Royal Navy in June 1770, initially serving as an able seaman aboard, and then aboard as a midshipman under Lieutenant James Cook from September until December 1771, when both Cook and Colnett moved to. Colnett served as a midshipman during Cook's second voyage to the Pacific Ocean between 1772 and 1775. After returning to England in 1775, Colnett continued to serve in the Royal Navy during the American War of Independence, being appointed gunner aboard on 1 January 1776 and then as master of.
    Colnett is remembered largely for his involvement in the Nootka Crisis of 1789 - initially a dispute between British traders and the Spanish Navy over the use of Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island that became an international crisis that led Britain and Spain to the brink of war before being peacefully resolved through diplomacy and the signing of the Nootka Conventions.
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  • 1788
    Age 35
    Detailed information about Russian activities in Alaska was acquired in 1788, including ominous indications that Russia might seize control of Nootka Sound.
    More Details Hide Details This, in addition to the rapidly increasing numbers of fur traders working the Pacific Northwest coast - mainly British but also American and others - coupled with Spain's firm claim of sovereignty north to 61°N latitude (the vicinity of Prince William Sound, Alaska), and the lack of any Spanish outpost north of California, made it imperative that a firm stand be taken. During the 1780s Nootka Sound had become the focal point of all these conflicting factors. It was perhaps not the best port of the region, but it was well known and well charted, fairly easy to reach, and usefully located at a general base of operations and a place of rendezvous. Over the years it had become the fur-trader's primary harbour and gathering point. Factors such as these resulted in Russia, Britain, and Spain all deciding to build a fort there, in order to solidify their claims and interests. From Spain's perspective, which had long regarded the entire region as Spanish territory, the occupation of Nootka Sound would be the first step toward creating a new province of New Spain, north of California and south of Alaska. Implicit in such a plan was the restriction of free trade by other nations, a policy the Spanish had long enforced within the lands of the empire. The position of the British government, since the days of Queen Elizabeth, had been that its subjects had the right to navigate the ocean and visit, trade, and make settlements anywhere not already occupied by a civilized nation.
    In August 1788 Duncan sailed the Princess Royal to Hawaii where he found Colnett and the Prince of Wales.
    More Details Hide Details Together they sailed to Canton, China, arriving in late November 1788. They sold their cargo of sea otter pelts. The Prince of Wales was taken back to England via the Cape of Good Hope, but James Colnett stayed in China. The Princess Royal also remained in order to carry out a second fur trading voyage starting the next year. Colnett was given command of another two-vessel expedition. The Argonaut sailed under Colnett, with the Princess Royal under Thomas Hudson. During the time of Colnett's first voyage two other British ships, owned by John Meares and his partners, were trading on the North West coast. Meares had chosen not to pay for licenses from the East India Company and South Sea Company, instead striving to conceal the ship's illegal conduct by using the Portuguese flag. During the winter of 1788-89 the owners of all four vessels decided to form a joint venture under the protection of the licenses, although the South Sea Company license applied only to the Prince of Wales and Princess Royal. The joint venture had no firm name; Meares called it variously "The Associated Merchants of London and India" or "The United Company of British Merchants Trading to the North West Coast of America". Colnett called it "The South Sea Company of London". It was loosely referred to as "this united Company". In early 1789 Colnett was given command of the joint undertaking as a whole.
  • 1786
    Age 33
    On 17 August 1786 he went on half pay as work for naval officers fell following the end of hostilities.
    More Details Hide Details Between 1786 and 1791 Colnett led two private fur-trading ventures. With the Royal Navy's approval and a leave of absence he was first given command of a two-vessel fur trading expedition to the Pacific Northwest coast, Hawaii, and China. The vessels included the Prince of Wales and Princess Royal. Afterwards, a second expedition was organized with the Argonaut and the Princess Royal. The second expedition culminated in the Nootka Crisis. The first voyage was under the aegis of the London-based King George's Sound Company, first known as Richard Cadman Etches and Company, which owned the ships. The second was a joint venture of the King George's Sound Company and John Meares and his partners. Both companies were exploring the possibilities of collecting sea otter pelts along the Pacific Northwest coast, via trade with the indigenous peoples, and selling the goods in China. The idea had its origins in Cook’s third voyage, during which sea otter pelts obtained along the northwest coast of America, from Nootka Sound northwards, were sold for high prices and great profit in Canton.
  • 1783
    Age 30
    He was with Bienfaisant until 1783, when he joined as her first lieutenant.
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  • 1779
    Age 26
    He rose in the ranks, passing his lieutenant's examination on 4 February 1779, and ten days later, on 14 February, he was appointed third lieutenant of.
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  • 1753
    Age 0
    Born in 1753.
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