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MOOR, WILLIAM, HBC sailor, explorer; m. 1757 to Mary Bradley at Greatham, Co. Durham, England; d. there 1765.

William Moor was a County Durham man who served on Hudson’s Bay Company ships on their annual voyages to the bay from about 1730 to 1741. Under the guidance of his cousin, Christopher Middleton, he advanced from ship’s boy to first mate on vessels in Middleton’s command. With his cousin he left the company’s employ in 1741, and he was given the command of the 150-ton converted collier, Discovery, which the admiralty had purchased to accompany Middleton in the Furnace on an expedition to search for the northwest passage. On the voyage Moor played a secondary role, and his terse and uninformative journal adds little to the fuller record kept by Middleton. The poor quality of the crew recruited in London, and sickness during the expedition’s wintering at Prince of Wales Fort (Churchill, Man.) [see Thompson], hampered Moor in his efforts to assist Middleton in the survey of the shoreline and tides of the west side of Hudson Bay. As he lamented in his journal in early July 1742, “we cannot spare time to Sound . . . What with Making and Shortng Sail for the Furnace, and then being so badly Mann’d.” The Discovery usually kept close company with the Furnace, and as the ships left for home in mid-August 1742 Moor firmly observed in his journal, “There is no Passage into the other Ocean between Churchill and the Latitd 67°N.”

Moor was not at first involved in the attack on Middleton launched by Arthur Dobbs and some of the Furnace’s crew after their return to England. In correspondence with Middleton in May and June 1743 he denied that there was a passage through the Wager, a large inlet discovered by the expedition the previous July, and was sceptical about the “Cock-and-Bull Story” to that effect being put about by Middleton’s accusers. But by 1745 Moor was publicly repeating the arguments of Dobbs on this issue, and the reason for his belated change of allegiance is not hard to find. In March 1744 Dobbs had written that Moor was to be given command of the proposed private discovery expedition to Hudson Bay as he was “very sober and carefull and will also be an Adventurer [subscriber] himself.” This expedition, financed by £100 shares, sailed in May 1746 to discover the northwest passage, claim the £20,000 reward offered by an act of parliament the previous year, and pave the way for a dramatic expansion of British trade in North America and the Pacific. Moor commanded the Dobbs Galley; another former HBC seaman, Francis Smith, the smaller California.

The expedition spent a month struggling through the ice of Hudson Strait, and explored for only a few days before deciding to winter at the HBC post at York Factory (Man.). The winter was notable for acerbic disputes between Moor and Smith, carefully recorded by the factor James Isham, and for outbreaks of scurvy which killed seven of the crew and weakened many others. The panic that accompanied a fire on the Dobbs Galley on the outward voyage, the quarrels at York between the officers of the two ships, and the hard drinking which contributed to the attacks of scurvy, say little for Moor’s competence as a commander; and the explorations of the 1747 summer season confirm the impression that weakness and uncertainty afflicted the whole expedition. The two ships usually explored independently, with little apparent attempt by Moor to coordinate the surveys made. Most of the close coastal work was carried out by the Resolution, the longboat of the Dobbs Galley which had been converted into a small schooner, and by the California’s longboat. Separately or in company with each other they explored most of the west coast of the bay between latitudes 61°N and 65°N, discovered Chesterfield Inlet but did not follow it to its end, and pushed up the Wager until 150 miles from the entrance “we had the Mortification to see clearly, that our hitherto imagined Strait ended in two small unnavigable Rivers. . . .” Amid confusion and dissension, with Moor facing a threat of mutiny, and one-third of his crew too ill to come on deck, the decision was taken to sail for home.

On the expedition’s return to England the organizing North West Committee expressed its dissatisfaction with Moor’s conduct, including his creditable reluctance to engage in illegal trade while at York. This frosty reception may explain the fact that Moor’s evidence before the parliamentary committee of 1749 inquiring into the trade of Hudson Bay did little to help Dobbs’ cause. In particular, he asserted that if a northwest passage existed it was farther north than he had once thought, and was perhaps unnavigable. There are no further references to Moor in HBC records or Dobbs’ papers. He appears to have retired at about this time to Greatham, where he married a local woman and where he died in 1765.

Glyndwr Williams

[There are references to Moor’s service with the company in HBC Arch., particularly in A.1/34. His log of the Discovery on the 1741–42 voyage is in PRO, Adm. 51/290, pt.ix. References to his role on the voyage and to his career in general are scattered throughout the voluminous pamphlet literature produced during the Middleton-Dobbs controversy (and listed in Williams, British search for the northwest passage) and among the Dobbs correspondence in Castle Ward (Downpatrick, N.I), Castle Ward papers, VI. No log kept by Moor has been found for the 1746–47 expedition, but Henry Ellis, Dobbs’ agent on board the Dobbs Galley, published A voyage to Hudson’s-Bay by the Dobbs Galley and California, in the years 1746 and 1747, for discovering a north west passage . . . (London, 1748). More critical references to Moor are to be found in the rival version by the “Clerk of the California” [Charles Swaine (T. S. Drage)], An account of a voyage for the discovery of a north-west passage . . . (2v., London, 1748–49), and in Isham’s notes printed in HBRS, XII (Rich and Johnson). Moor’s evidence before the 1749 parliamentary committee is in G.B., Parl., Report from the committee on Hudson’s Bay, 228–29. Some details of his last years are in John Brewster, The parochial history and antiquities of Stockton upon Tees . . . (2nd ed., London, 1829). A short biographical sketch of Moor is given in HBRS, XII (Rich and Johnson), 334–36, and Moor’s part in the discovery voyages is discussed in Williams, British search for the northwest passage.  g.w.]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Glyndwr Williams, “MOOR, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 17, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/moor_william_3E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/moor_william_3E.html
Author of Article: Glyndwr Williams
Title of Article: MOOR, WILLIAM
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 3
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1974
Year of revision: 1974
Access Date: September 17, 2014