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SCOLVUS, JOHN, navigator and pilot who may have visited Labrador in 1476; fl. c. 1470–80.

His Christian name is often spelled Jean or Johannes; his surname spelled Scolnus, Scoluus, Scolus, Szkolny, Kolno, Skolvsson. Other variations are known. His nationality is disputed, but probably he was Danish or Norwegian; the suggestion of his being Polish is perhaps based on a corruption of pilatus to polonus. Nothing is known of his personal life.

Scolvus’s place in history depends chiefly upon an inscription that Gemma Frisius placed on his globe of about 1536 within the Arctic Circle, north of a strait dividing “Terra Corterealis” and “Baccalearum Regio” from a westward projection of “Groélādia.” The inscription says, “Quij, the people to whom John Scolvus, a Dane, penetrated about the year 1476 (Quij populi ad quos Ioés Scoluus danus peruenit circa annum 1476),” (Bjprnbo, “Cartographia Groenlandica,” Tavle iv, 250 ff.). A document prepared about 1575 in connection with Frobisher’s first voyage includes a similar statement: “In the north side of this passage [Streicte of the three Bretheren], John Scolus, a pilot of Denmerke, was in anno 1476” (Three voyages of Frobisher (Collinson), 4). Other 16th-century references probably derive from Frisius’s inscription.

No details of his voyage are known, but it seems likely that he accompanied one at least of the expeditions under Pining and Pothorst sent by Christian I of Denmark to Greenland and perhaps beyond. Frisius appears to have obtained his information about Labrador from Portuguese sources. The Danes and Portuguese were, in Christian’s reign, co-operating in a search for a northwest passage.

An examination of 16th-century maps and toponymy and, in particular, of Frisius’s globe, suggests the strong probability that the Labrador visited by Scolvus was, in fact, Greenland.

Alan Cooke

“State papers previous to the first voyage,” in The three voyages of Martin Frobisher, in search of a passage to Cathaia and India by the North-West, AD1576–8, reprinted from the first edition of Hakluyt’s Voyages, with selections from manuscript documents in the British Museum and State Paper Office ed. Richard Collinson (Hakluyt Soc., 1st ser., XXXVIII, 1867), 3–4. A. A. Bjprnbo, “Cartographia Groenlandica,” Meddelelser om Grpnland, udgivne af Kimmissionen for Ledelsen af de Geologiske og Geografiske Underspgelser i Grpnland, XLVIII (1912). L. M. Larson, “Did John Scolvus visit Labrador and Newfoundland in or about 1476?” Scandinavian Studies and Notes, VII (1921–23), 81–89. S. E. Morison, Portuguese voyages to America in the fifteenth century (Cambridge, Mass., 1940), 35–41. Fridtjof Nansen, In northern mists: arctic explorations in early times (2v., London, 1911), II. Oleson, Early voyages, 118. E. G. R. Taylor, Tudor geography, 1485–1583 (London, 1930). Heinrich Winter, “The pseudo-Labrador and the oblique meridian,” Imago Mundi, II (1937), 61–74.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Alan Cooke, “SCOLVUS, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 26, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/scolvus_john_1E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/scolvus_john_1E.html
Author of Article:   Alan Cooke
Title of Article:   SCOLVUS, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1966
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   March 26, 2023