John Davis – Master Navigator, 1543-1605
Of all the well-known Elizabethan “sea-dogs” of Devon, including Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert, John Davis is perhaps the “poor relation”. Few details of his life are known apart from the accounts of his voyages, including those to the Davis Strait and beyond in search of the fabled North West Passage, published by Hakluyt in 1589. However, he was probably the foremost navigator of his time, with a kindly and popular disposition and dedicated to his work. Apart from the maps and records he left of his voyages in the Arctic, the South Atlantic and East Asia, he wrote two scientific books on navigation called “The Seaman’s Secrets” and “The World’s Hydrographical Description”. He also invented the “Davis quadrant” and back-staff to estimate latitude, and his “Traverse Book” from his final Arctic voyage became the model for ships’ log-books.
Davis, along with Sir Humphrey Gilbert, was one of the great navigators and explorers, who knew Dartmouth as his home port. This is a more detailed account of John Davis’ life and work, based on research by Ray Freeman.
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