Samuel Purchas, the greatest compiler of English seafaring literature, never travelled more than 200 miles from his birth- place but he played a pivotal role in the literary history of Canada and British Columbia.

Born in Essex (exact date unknown), Purchas (pronounced Pur-kas) was ordained in 1578. He served as chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury and later became the rector of St. Martin's Church in London.

His first important publication was a translation of Jacques Cartier's travel memoir, Cartier's Short and Briefe Narration (1580), followed by Divers Voyages, dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, and Discourse on the Western Planting (1584) for Walter Raleigh. He presented Queen Elizabeth with an analysis of Aristotle's Politics and he completed a translation of Laudonnière's travels to Florida in 1587.

Purchas later published his first major book, an attempt to survey the peoples and religions of the world. It has an unwieldy title provided on the next page.

Purchas then used the papers of Richard Hakluyt and East India Company records, plus many manuscripts he had gathered during his lifetime, to produce his famous omnibus about travel literature. It is known as Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrims. Although Purchas died in the year following its publication, it has remained a long-standing reference work, republished in various editions through the centuries, such as Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes: Contayining a History of the World in Sea Voyages and Lande Travells by Englishmen and Others. (Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1906).

This immense work influenced North Pacific exploration due to its references to a broad inlet between the latitudes of 47º and 48º, as sailed by Juan de Fuca. Was this the Strait of Anian?

Captain James Cook, sailing along the coast in 1778, scoffed at the purported existence of such any wide opening eastward.

"We saw nothing like it,"; Cook wrote. "Nor is there the least probability that ever such thing existed."; In fact, Cook had been blown off-coast and simply missed it.

Samuel Pur-chas became a consultant for the East India Company in 1599 and he died in London in 1626.


Purchas, his pilgrimage or relations of the world and the religions observed in all ages and places discovered, from the creation unto this present. In foure partes. This first containeth a theologicall and geographicall histories of Asia, Africa and America, with the islands adjacent, declaring the ancient religions before the floud, heathnish, Jewish and saracenicall in all ages since, in those parts professed, with their severall opinions, idols, oracles, temples, priestes, fasts, feasts, sacrifices and right, religions, etc., with briefe descriptions of the countries, nations, states, discoveries, etc. (William Stansley, London, 1613)

Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrims (4 vol. Henrie Fetherstone, London, 1625)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2014] "Maritime" "1500-1700"