SHEPARD (Shepheard), THOMAS, mate and captain in the HBC; fl. c. 1668–81.
He was chief mate of the Nonsuch (Capt. Zachariah Gillam) on the pre-charter voyage of 1668–69 to James Bay. He would, therefore, have been present when Gillam and Chouart Des Groseilliers took formal possession of Rupert River and would have assisted in building Charles Fort, the first English habitation in present-day Quebec.
The Nonsuch arrived back in England in October 1669 and then, or shortly afterwards, Shepard sought employment elsewhere. Whilst master of the Golden Lyon of Dunkirk he claimed to have re-discovered Busse Island, one of the “lost” islands of the Atlantic. It was supposed to have been seen originally in 1578 from one of the ships attached to Sir Martin Frobisher’s third expedition in search of a northwest passage. The circumstances in which Shepard sighted the elusive island on 22 Aug. 1671 are not known, but whatever his story, it interested the governor and Committee when he approached them in December 1673. He was requested to estimate the cost of an expedition to Busse Island and a move was made to obtain a royal charter. This charter was at length obtained on 13 May 1675 when the king granted to the HBC “All that Island called the Busse Island lying betweene fifty seaven and fifty nyne Degrees of Northerne Latitude or thereaboutes,” together with similar privileges to those enjoyed under the charter of 2 May 1670.
Meanwhile, in 1674, Shepard had commanded the Company’s Shaftesbury pink to James Bay. Unfavourable ice conditions delayed his return to England until the autumn of 1675, by which time plans for an expedition to Busse Island had been made. What subsequently happened is not altogether clear as there are gaps in the Company’s minutes and correspondence, but the account books show that Shepard sailed in command of the Prince Rupert in 1676 (HBC Arch., A.14/2, f.50), and that on 16 October of the same year petty expenses were paid “for severall post Letters & other Letters upon the first news of Capt. Shepards arrivall from attempting the discovery of Buss Island” (ibid., A.15/1, p. 4). The account books have no record of any cargo brought back by Shepard, although they give details of that obtained on the 1676 voyage of the Shaftesbury (Capt. Joseph Thompson). This omission, together with the item for petty expenses, suggests that, unlike Thompson, Shepard did not go to James Bay in 1676, but searched unsuccessfully for Busse Island.
Shepard’s employment with the company ended in 1676; although he was re-engaged in February 1681 he was dismissed in the following May for “haveing behaved himself Ill.”
Shepard’s career in the HBC can be followed in HBRS, V, VIII (Rich). For appraisals of Shepard’s rediscovery of Busse Island see: Miller Christy, “On ‘Busse Island,’” in Danish arctic expeditions (Gosch), I, 164–202, and A. M. Johnson, “The mythical land of Buss,” Beaver (Dec., 1942), 43–47.