Social Approaches to an Industrial Past: The Archaeology and Anthropology of Mining

By A. Bernard Knapp; Vincent C. Pigott et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Mining, colonialism and culture contact

European miners and the indigenous population in the sixteenth-century Arctic

Robert M. Ehrenreich

ABSTRACT

Mining expeditions usually go to regions far beyond the control of the societies that sent them. Rarely are the regions so remote that there are no indigenous populations with which to interact, however. Mining expeditions can thus mark the first encounter between cultures and, based on the perceived threat, develop many of the militaristic and societal characteristics of colonial outposts. This study examines the cultural dynamics of the sixteenth-century English mining expeditions to Baffin Island, Northwest Territories, Canada, and the effects of the interaction with the indigenous population.


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Martin Frobisher was an Elizabethan explorer who traveled to Baffin Island in 1576 in search of the Northwest Passage. English merchants were at a serious disadvantage during this period. Spain was receiving gold and other luxury goods from its colonies in the New World. Portugal controlled the colonies and shipping lanes along the west and east coasts of Africa and thus most of the trade between western Europe and China. In the other direction, the journey around Cape Horn was long and dangerous. Thus, England needed a new route to China. The primary potential short-cut pursued by the English was the Northwest Passage, which supposedly circumvented the New World via the north.

Frobisher initially sought funding for the expedition from the merchant class of Britain since they had the most to gain from its discovery, but since they ‘never regard virtue without sure, certain, and present gains, he repaired to the Court (from whence, as from the fountain of our common wealth, all good causes have their chief increase and maintenance)’ (Best 1578/1:47). The Earl of Warwick primarily funded the initial expedition, which consisted of 2 ships (Gabriel and Michael), a pinnace (ship’s boat) and 36 men. Frobisher set sail on 15 June 1576. The ships traveled up the east coast of Britain and then to Iceland and Greenland. Disaster struck approximately halfway through the voyage. The

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