Radisson’s Voyages and Samuel Pepys

Radisson. Green Line, opened 1976.

It would seem that my corner of the internet is all a flurry with the concluding entry this week of Samuel Pepys’ Diary, lovingly recreated for a digital world by Phil Gyford at pepysdiary.com.

Pepys kept a diary from 1 January 1600 to 31 May 1669, stopping to preserve his eyesight. It is one of the primary sources for the Restoration of the British monarchy as well as of the Great Plague which afflicted London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666, which solved the former problem and led to the reconstruction of the city.

Although Pierre-Espirit Radisson, explorer and founding genius of the Hudson Bay Company, is not mentioned in the diary, it is reasonably certain that Pepys would have been aware of the Frenchman’s plans to establish a trade route from the Hudson Bay to Europe. As Chief Secretary to the Admiralty, Pepys was in the thick of things when it came to things maritime and it is among his papers, in the Bodelian Library in Oxford, that the translation of the Radisson’s Voyages has been preserved.

The Voyages were an essential part of Radisson’s strategy to persuade the English elite that he and his brother-in-law, Menard des Grosseillier’s, or ‘Mr Gooseberry’ as he was known in London, were the best men to lead the venture. Full of half truths, welcoming yet easily manipulable first nations, and ungrateful French governors, the Voyages spare nothing of the harsh winter that the traders could expect. They are part explorer’s tale and part marketing campaign and without them it is possible that the British would not have ventured into the frozen sea of the Hudson Bay and that the history of Canada would have taken a radically different course.

Thanks to Christopher Moore, @wynkenhimself, and Chaucer Doth Tweet for the heads up. Here’s an interview with Phil Gyford whose eyesight I hope is faring better than that of his subject. You can follow Phil Gyford on Twitter @philgyford.

Consulted for this post

Nutte, Grace Lee. ‘Pierre-Espirit Radisson.’ Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. University of Toronto and Université Laval. Web. 31 May 2012.

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