Martin Frobisher: Elizabethan Privateer and The Arctic Voyages of Martin Frobisher

S. K. Page

Michael Locke was the man who financed Martin Frobisher’s three voyages to Baffin Island in the 157s, and lost his fortune and his reputation in the ensuing scandal (there was no gold in all that ore). Many years later in Venice, he encountered an old sea dog named Juan de Fuca, who convinced Locke that he had seen the western entrance to the Northwest Passage somewhere on the coast of what is now British Columbia, and that he would guide an expedition there if Locke could raise a hundred pounds to pay off de Fuca’s debts and get him to England. Fortunately for Locke, no one in England was willing to send him a hundred pounds, and eventually Juan de Fuca, who was old and infirm, went home to Greece. Locke made his way back to England, convinced that he had lost an opportunity to rebuild his reputation, and never to know what he had been spared.

The story of Michael Locke is a footnote to the story of Martin Frobisher, and is not within the scope of Martin Frobisher: Elizabethan Privateer (Yale University Press), James McDermott’s comprehensive and enthralling account of a fierce sea dog loved by few and forgotten by many.

Nor is Locke’s story to be found in The Arctic Voyages of Martin Frobisher, An Elizabethan Adventure (McGill-Queen’s University Press), Robert McGhee’s very readable account of the three voyages to Baffin Island and the terrific labour of extracting fifteen shiploads of worthless ore from an Arctic mine. (The Frobisher disasters have recently been equalled by the Bre-X gold scandals of the current day.) Frobisher retained his name as a fighting man when he served as vice-admiral under Drake in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. These books together are an invaluable resource, filled with lore and little-known fact and pretty much all that we now know about Frobisher and his fate.

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