WIGATE, JOHN, naval clerk, fl. 1741–46.
John Wigate was appointed in the spring of 1741 as clerk of the naval sloop Furnace, which sailed in June to Hudson Bay under the command of Christopher Middleton in search of a northwest passage. After the failure of the expedition Wigate became associated with his fellow crew-members Edward Thompson and John Rankin in the campaign organized by Arthur Dobbs to discredit Middleton’s handling of the expedition. Like the others, Wigate was ready to swear at the admiralty hearings of 1743 that Middleton had falsified his journal and chart of the voyage, and he was perhaps the more ready to do so since nine months after the expedition’s return in the autumn of 1742 Wigate had still received no pay as a result of Middleton’s insistence that he must first deliver up the accounts of the Furnace. Wigate’s only distinctive contribution to the controversy over the Middleton expedition was his apparent responsibility for a map issued under his name in 1746 (probably to coincide with the sailing of the private discovery expedition organized by Dobbs). The map summed up in vivid cartographical form Dobbs’ main arguments. It showed the west coast of Hudson Bay broken by unexplored inlets, notably Rankin Inlet; and the Wager was firmly marked “Wager Strait,” open to the west, and with a tide flowing through it from that direction. Whether Wigate did more than lend his name to Dobbs for the map is questionable; but in any case the honour of composition was a doubtful one, for within a year of the map’s publication William Moor’s expedition discovered that both Rankin Inlet and the Wager were closed bays, as Middleton had always maintained.
[The argument between Middleton and Wigate over the accounts of the Furnace is set out in PRO, Adm. 2/480, pp.55, 171. References to Wigate’s role in the attack on Middleton are to be found in the latter’s A vindication of the conduct of Captain Christopher Middleton . . . (London, 1743) and in Arthur Dobbs, Remarks upon Middleton’s defence. Wigate’s map was published as Chart of the seas, straits, &c. thro’ which his majesty’s sloop “Furnace” pass’d for discovering a passage from Hudson’s Bay to the South Sea (London, 1746); a modern representation of it is given in Williams, British search for the northwest passage, 76. g.w.]