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Memorable Manitobans: Jens [Munk] Munck (1579-1628)

Seaman, explorer.

He was born at Barbo, near Arendal, Norway in 1579, the second son of Erik Nielsen Munck. At the age of thirteen he became a cabin boy in a merchant ship. In 1611, after many voyages as sea captain and merchant, he obtained a commission as Captain in the Danish Navy. In 1619 he was instructed by Christian IV of Denmark to endeavour to reach the Far East by the yet undiscovered passage to the north-west of America. Munck’s expedition, comprised of two vessels, the small frigate Enhiörningen (the Unicorn) and a sloop called Lamprenen (the Lamprey), sailed from Copenhagen harbour on 9 May 1619. He passed Cape Farewell on 30 June. The vessels sailed through ice floes along Hudson Strait into Hudson Bay where, setting a south-westerly course, Munck reached a harbour and river in which he took refuge from 7 September 1619 to 16 July 1620.

The first European to visit the harbour and river to be found on the west coast of Hudson Bay at latitude 58° 46’ N., he named it after himself, “Jens Munckes Bay.” In 1686, the name Churchill was given to the harbour and the river by the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay, the name being chosen to honour John Churchill, Governor of the Company, created Duke of Marlborough in 1702. This river, visited first by Munck, enters Hudson Bay through the only natural harbour on the west coast of the Bay. The harbour was included within the boundary of Manitoba on 15 May 1912 by the Manitoba Boundaries Extension Act, when the northern limit of the Province was placed at the 60th parallel of latitude and Hudson Bay.

Within ten months of his arrival at the harbour all but two of the officers and men of Munck’s expedition died from scurvy. With the survivors he sailed in the sloop Lamprey on 16 July 1620. He entered Hudson Strait on 14 August, and on 20 September reached Norway. Despite the unsuccessful search and the tragedy of the expedition, Christian IV was so impressed with Munck’s ability that he was prepared to send him, in 1621, on a second voyage to the newly discovered harbour. This second expedition did not take place but Munck continued to serve in the Danish Navy until his death in 1628.

More information:

Jens Munck, Dictionary of Canadian Biography I, 514-15.

Sources:

Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.

Page revised: 31 March 2008

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