William Baffin and Robert Bylot's expeditions, 1615–16

Dates Explorer Ships Outcomes
1615–16 William Baffin,
Robert Bylot
Discovery Mapped what is now known as Baffin Bay. Went the furthest north, setting a record which held for over two centuries.


Despite Thomas Button naming the inlet he found at the North-west corner of Hudson Bay Ne Ultra (‘No further’) there was speculation that this inlet might be a way through to the passage. William Baffin (accompanied by commander Bylot who had sailed with Button) set forth in 1615 aboard the Discovery, now on its fifth arctic voyage. Baffin was an outstanding navigator, pioneering new techniques for calculating longitude by observing the moon’s relationship to the stars.

First voyage

Baffin and Bylot's first expedition, 1615Baffin and Bylot's first expedition, 1615 - click to enlarge On their first voyage Baffin and Bylot mapped the south coast of what is now known as Baffin Island. Sailing to the north of Southampton Island Baffin and Bylot concluded that the body of water they had entered was enclosed (and therefore could not yield any passage) and turned back to England arriving in Plymouth in September ‘without the loss of one man’. Baffin surmised that if a passage did exist it would be found up Davis Strait, and it was with this idea in mind that a second voyage set sail in 1616.

Second voyage

Baffin and Bylot's second expedition, 1616Baffin and Bylot's second expedition, 1616 - click to enlarge Travelling up Davis Strait Baffin and Bylot managed to navigate the ice and sail north into what is now appropriately named Baffin Bay. However, impassible ice further north eventually halted progress. Before returning to England the mouths of various straits were explored, notably Lancaster Sound. Ice blocked its entrance and Baffin concluded that it could not form any part of the passage.

Upon his return Baffin wrote to his investors concluding, ‘there is no passage nor hope of passage in the north of Davis Strait [Baffin Bay]. We having coasted all, or near all the circumference thereof, and find it to be no other than a great bay, as the voyage doth truly show’. Edward Parry was to prove otherwise, sailing through Lancaster Sound – but his discovery lay over 200 years in the future.

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