Henry Hudson: Facts and Major Achievements

Henry Hudson – Biography and achievements

Henry Hudson was the English navigator and explorer who devoted much of his professional career searching for a “Northeast Passage” from Europe to Asia. Along the way, he made some very important discoveries that in so many ways enhanced the Age of Exploration in Europe.

Although all four attempts to find the northeast passage and northwest passage to Asia failed, his contributions had profound impact on future navigators and explorers of the North American continent. For example, Hudson was the first European to encounter the Hudson Strait and the Hudson Bay. In addition to those water bodies, the famous Hudson River in New York, U.S., was named for him.

What else was Henry Hudson most known for? World History Edu explores the life and major achievements of this renowned English explorer and navigator.

Quick facts about English navigator and explorer Henry Hudson

Born: c. 1565

Place of birth: England

Disappeared: June 23, 1611?

Place of disappearance and death: Hudson Bay?

Son: John Hudson

Most famous for: attempting to find the northeast passage as well as the northwest passage to Asia

Ships: Discovery, Halve Maen (“Half Moon”)

Major Accomplishments of Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson voyages

Below are 6 major accomplishments of English explorer Henry Hudson.

Henry Hudson’s quest for a short route from Europe to Asia through the North Pole

Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson’s search for the Northeast Passage from Europe to Asia began in the spring of 1607.

Being one of the few explorers in Europe who had extensive knowledge of the Arctic, Henry Hudson was able to secure financial backing from the Muscovy Company of London in his attempt to get to Asia via the North Pole.

In 1607, Hudson, along with a crew of 11 men, which included his son John Hudson, began his journey towards the Arctic. His goal was to find the highly-sought after passage via the North Pole to Asia. He hoped there would be an ice-free route that would enable him and his crew make it around the North Pole and then into the Pacific Ocean.

Henry Hudson experienced very minimal challenges until his journey was halted by a massive ice pack at the Svalbard archipelago (also known as the Spitbergen) near the Arctic Circle. Hudson and his crew, therefore, had to discontinue their journey.

In spite of that, Hudson’s first voyage into the Arctic was remarkable in the sense that it helped enhance what we knew about the North Pole at the time. His findings, thus, built upon the chartings made by early Arctic explorers like Dutch navigator Willem Barents.

Hudson’s Second Voyage (1608)

Although the first expedition of Henry Hudson was met with some challenges, his backers, the Muscovy Company of London, were inspired by the findings that emerged from it. And so, Hudson was once again commissioned to discover the Northeast Passage. The English explorer deployed a different approach this time.

Sailing from England on April 22, 1608, the explorer chose to pass between Svalbard and the islands of Novaya Zemlya. From there he made his way to the east of the Barents Sea. To his disappointment and that of his crew members, Hudson again encountered a big ice pack that prevented him from going further. After about 4 months at sea, Hudson sailed back to England.

The Third voyage – quest to discover the “northwest passage”

No sooner had he arrived in England from his second voyage than did he begin to receive reports of a two likely routs to the Pacific Ocean. According to those reports, the first possible route, which was said to be around latitude 62° N, was based on the findings from George Weymouth’s 1602 voyage. The second possible route, around latitude 40° N, had been inspired by the voyage of Captain John Smith.

Taking all of those reports into consideration, Hudson decided to embark upon a third voyage. This time, he was sponsored by the Dutch, i.e. the Dutch East India Company. On April 6, 1609, on board the ship the Half Moon (known in Dutch as the Half Maen), Henry Hudson sailed from Holland and headed northeast. Unlike his first two voyages where massive ice packs halted him in his track, his third voyage was impeded by unfavorable winds. Rather than throw in the towel and return to Holland, Hudson sailed on, seeking the Northwest Passage instead. This went against the agreement that he signed with his Dutch financiers.

Hudson placed his bets on Captain Smith’s route and sailed for latitude 40° N. The Half Moon’s journey took them along the Atlantic seaboard. Hudson and his crew arrived at Newfoundland in present day Canada. They then continued their travel south, along the Atlantic Coast, where they encountered the great river which was first discovered by Florentine navigator Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524.

Hoping to discover an outlet, Hudson went up the river for almost 150 miles (240 km) until he made it to present-day Albany, New York. He and his crew came to a conclusion that there existed no route via the river to the Pacific. Therefore, Hudson turned his ship around and headed back to Holland.

Henry Hudson quotes

Henry Hudson’s fourth and final voyage

On his return journey to Europe from his third voyage, Hudson is said to have docked in England. He hoped to proceed from Dartmouth, which along the English Channel, to Holland. Around this same time, the English government had issued a ban on explorers and navigators from taking commissions on behalf of other European nations. Therefore, Hudson was left with no option than to send his findings from the third voyage to Holland.

Still committed to discovering the Northwest Passage, Hudson took the reports of English Captain George Weymouth’s 1602 voyage and planned sailing around latitude 62° N.

In April 1611, about a year after his third voyage, Hudson raised his sail again and journeyed from London aboard the 55-ton ship called the Discovery. His fourth and what eventually ended up being his final voyage was sponsored by the British East India Company, the Muscovy Company and other private individuals.

Hudson passed through Iceland before going west, hoping to follow Weymouth’s proposed Pacific-bound channel. By August of that year, he had sailed through an inlet (now called Hudson Strait) and then entered a bay area (the Hudson Bay). Thinking the Hudson Bay offered an outlet to the Pacific, Hudson continued heading towards the east coast until he encountered the James Bay, where he came to a dead end. There was no route to the Pacific, and the ship had to turn back and return to England.

Hudson had an enduring interest in finding a short route from Europe to Asia

Prior to Hudson, an English navigator John Davis journeyed (in 1585) to the Arctic on a quest to find the Northwest Passage to (from Europe) Asia. Some historians suggest that Henry Hudson was part of the preparation process of Davis’ expedition to the Arctic. If that were the case, that would likely explain Hudson’s interest in finding the Northwest Passage to Asia.

Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson quotes

He was a committed and knowledgeable explorer

The fact that he  was commissioned for a whopping four times to discover a short route from Europe to Asia is testimony to the confidence people had him as an explorer and a navigator. Hudson must have thoroughly read the accounts of some of the first European explorers of the Age of Exploration, particularly the ones that ventured into the Arctic. It is therefore safe to say that Hudson was a well-versed explorer on Arctic geography.

Hudson is also most known for the sheer level of commitment he displayed on the four expeditions that he embarked upon. The extremely dangerous nature of the expeditions did not faze him as he went one expedition after the other. This trait of his was also one of the reasons why his wealthy sponsors had a tremendous amount of trust in him as an explorer and navigator.

How did Henry Hudson die?

Henry Hudson

John Collier’s painting of Hudson, his son, and loyal crew set adrift

Biting winter conditions compounded Hudson’s already despondent situation. The disappointment soon evolved into a bitter quarrel among his crew members, who were by this time restless and aggressive. Soon, some crew members accused Hudson of hoarding rations for his close crew members.

On his way back to England, crew members Henry Green and Robert Juet led a mutiny against Hudson. The mutineers took into custody Hudson, his son John Hudson, and seven other alleged allies of the captain. After a few deliberations, the mutineers cast Hudson and the eight men adrift on Hudson Bay.

On June 22, 1611, Hudson and the eight men, seven of which were suffering from scurvy, were given a small open lifeboat and then left to fend for themselves in a very hostile and unfamiliar environment.

It is unclear what fate Henry Hudson or the eight men suffered after they were cast away. None of them were ever heard from again. To this day, the whereabouts of the bodies of Hudson and the eight men remain unknown.

As for some of the leaders of the mutiny, it’s been stated that they were killed during a deadly confrontation with Eskimos. According to Abacuk Pricket’s account, alleged mutineer Juet died of starvation just a few days before the ship arrived in Ireland.

The ship, Discovery, did eventually make it back to England, however, with significantly fewer men than it had at the start of the voyage. No punishment was meted out to any of the eight sailors that returned with the Discovery.

Henry Hudson’s sponsors and patrons

Henry Hudson accomplishments | Image: Replica of the Halve Maen (Half Moon)

Henry Hudson was commissioned three times by England, i.e. the British East India company – 1607, 1608, and 1610/11. He was commissioned once by the Dutch, i.e. the Dutch East India Company, in 1609. Other sponsors and financiers of Hudson include: Muscovy Company of London and the Virginia Company of Plymouth.

More on Henry Hudson

Hudson took quite a lot of inspiration from voyage reports and findings of Dutch explorer Willem Barents and Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano.

Before the mutineers left Hudson and the eight other castaways in the Hudson Bay, they gave them some clothes, pikes, some food and other provisions. This account is from navigator Abacuk Pricket, one of the survivors, possibly a member of the mutineers, that made it back to England.

The leaders of the mutiny, Henry Green and Robert Juet, were very close friends of Henry Hudson. The latter even accompanied Hudson during his 1609 voyage. It remains unclear why Greene and Juet took such drastic decision as casting away Hudson.

All in all, Henry Hudson embarked upon four very dangerous voyages in his lifetime.

Henry Hudson was described by many as a strong-willed sea captain. He was never the kind to back down from challenges. However, he has been accused of endorsing favoritism on his ship. If the accounts are true, then it was very much evident towards the latter part of the fourth voyage.

In addition to the Hudson Bay, the Hudson River and the Hudson Strait bearing Henry Hudson’s name, the Hudson County in New Jersey, the town of Hudson in New York, and the Henry Hudson Bridge in New York City are named after the English navigator and explorer.

While cruising up the Hudson River, Henry Hudson came about 100 miles away from the expedition team led by French explore Samuel de Champlain. Even though the two explorers were so close to each other, they were not aware of each other’s presence in the region.

Known as Muhheakunnuk (“Great Waters Constantly in Motion”), the Hudson River served as an important waterway during the American Revolution. However, did you know that it was named in honor of English explorer and navigator Henry Hudson? Hudson exploration in the area in the early 17th century allowed for the Dutch settle in the Hudson Valley.  | Hudson River – The Bear Mountain Bridge across the Hudson River as seen from Bear Mountain


Butts, E. (2009). Henry Hudson: new world voyager. Toronto: Dundurn.

Rink, O. A. (1986). Holland on the Hudson: an economic and social history of Dutch New York. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 29

Mancall, P. (2009). The Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson. Basic Books

Sandler, C. (2007). Henry Hudson: Dreams and Obsession. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp

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