Hearne, Samuel

  Samuel Hearne, explorer, fur trader (b at London, Eng 1745; d there Nov 1792). He joined the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) in 1766 and was chosen to search for a western passage, by river or sea, across the Barren Lands. His first 2 attempts ended ingloriously, as he was bullied, robbed and deserted by his Native guides. He left PRINCE OF WALES FORT again, 7 December 1770, with MATONABBEE, a skilful leader of great prestige among the Chipewyan. They walked across trackless wastes, cold, wet and hungry, patiently following the seasonal migrations of the caribou. They travelled west, likely to Alcantara Lake, and then north to the COPPERMINE RIVER.

Hearne followed the shallow river to the Arctic Ocean, realizing that it was useless as a trade route. Furthermore, an intensive search yielded only a single lump of copper. Hearne earned the contempt of his companions when he refused to join them in the massacre of a helpless party of Inuit, the traditional enemies of the Chipewyan, at a place he called BLOODY FALL. The exhausted Hearne followed his guides as they hurried south, impatient to meet their wives. They crossed GREAT SLAVE LAKE December 24, and Hearne suffered from the extreme cold, losing his toenails to frostbite. Wintering in the forest, where they could hunt and build canoes, Matonabbee's band brought Hearne to base 30 June 1772.

 Hearne admitted that his expedition brought no material advantage to the HBC. He tried to meet competition from Canadian pedlars by building the HBC's first inland post. He was taken up the Grass River to Cranberry Portage, across Lake Athapapusko, down Goose River to Goose Lake, and finally to the Saskatchewan where he began CUMBERLAND HOUSE in 1774. In 1776, he was appointed chief at Prince of Wales's Fort, which he surrendered to the French in 1782. He retired in 1787, criticized for his timidity and in failing health, and spent the last few years of his life writing and speaking about his remarkable adventure. The literary artistry of A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean, published 3 years after Hearne's death, secured his fame in letters as well as exploration. He left a dramatic description of his own sufferings and a vivid portrait of Matonabbee and his resourceful people.