Script No. 68

It's difficult to research the history of Lake Superior for very long without running into Henry Wolsey Bayfield, surveyor for the British Navy.

Born in Hull, England, on January 21st, 1795, Bayfield obviously knew early on what he wanted to do with his life. At the age of 11 he enlisted in the Royal Navy and joined the crew of the HMS Pompey, where he soon saw action in the strait of Gibraltar. Unlike many ships boys his age, powder monkeys who were the likeliest to die when a gunpowder magazine was hit, Bayfield survived the Napoleonic wars. He managed to educate himself while serving, and a few years later made his first visit to North America when he was sent to the West Indies on a surveying voyage aboard the HMS Beagle . (The ship would later carry another man of science named Darwin to the Pacific and immortality). After the War of 1812 ended, Bayfield found himself in Canada, looking for his next assignment. It wasn't long before the bright young man was recruited to serve with Captain William Fitzwilliam Owen (of Owen's Sound fame) as the hydrographer mapped the shoreline of Lake Ontario in 1816. A year later Lieutenant Bayfield was given his own command at the age of 22, charting Lake Erie, then in 1818, the western Lakes.

Which brought him to Lake Superior, where he was to spend the next six years, the first European to sail its waters-voyaging, measuring and describing the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes. It was lonely work. In Bayfield's own words, "cut off entirely, from Society...particularly female society...not within Six hundred miles of the settled parts of the country, and could only receive letters from...England once in six months." By the time his explorations were ended, he and his crew had charted the entire shoreline of Lake Superior. Bayfield himself had helped chart the Canadian shore of all four of the other Great Lakes (sorry Champlain). He would go on to be named a commander in 1826, and retire in 1856, after completing an enormous thirty-year survey of the St. Lawrence River. Eleven years later he was made an admiral. On February 10, 1885, at the age of ninety, Admiral Bayfield died. He left behind a well-documented chain of great inland seas, and it wasn't until a few years before his death, that improved technologies made more accurate charts possible. Three years before, the passenger steamer Asia went down in Georgian Bay during a September storm, with a loss of 150 lives. This proved the impetus for new surveys, and lead to the founding of the Canadian Hydrographic Service in 1887. On August 17th, 1996, a permanent outdoor exhibit was dedicated in Discovery Bay, Ontario, as a tribute to Henry Wolsey Bayfield. Wisconsin had already honored him, in 1856, when a new settlement on the red-cliffed shore overlooking Madeline Island, was named for the admiral. We'll check out Bayfield the next time we pay a visit to the shores of Lake Superior.

Until next week, for Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.

© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte