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Memorable Manitobans: Thomas James (c1593-c1635)


Probably born in Bristol, England, he apparently represented that city as a lawyer in a venture to search for a Northwest Passage and ended up in charge of the expedition. James sailed from Bristol on 3 May 1631 aboard the Henrietta Maria with a crew of 22, none of whom had any northern experience. After exploring the south coast of Hudson Bay, James deliberately wintered off Charlton Island, sinking his ship to preserve it from storms. Some of his crew died of scurvy, although most survived by eating green plants found along the shore. James took careful observations, especially of the effects of low temperatures. In the spring the crew refloated the ship and engaged in further exploration before returning to Bristol on 22 October 1632.

James’s account of the journey was published as The Strange and Dangerous Voyage of Captaine Thomas James, in His Intended Discovery of the Northwest Passage into the South Sea wherein the Miseries Indured, Both Going, Wintering, Returning; and the Rarities Observed, Both Philosophicall and Mathematicall, Are Related in This Journall of It (1633). It was a literary triumph. James concluded that no Northwest Passage existed south of 66° North, and this and his account of his sufferings further deflected English Arctic exploration throughout the seventeenth century.

James Bay is named for him.

More information:

Thomas James, Dictionary of Canadian Biography I, 384-85.


Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Page revised: 20 March 2008

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