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DAVIS, John, navigator, born in Sandridge, England, about 1550; died at sea, near the coast of Malacca, in December 1605. He went to sea at an early age, and in 1585 was given command of an expedition for the discovery of a northwest passage to India. He sailed from Dartmouth on 7 June 1585, with the "Sunshine," of fifty tons, and the "Moonshine," of thirty-five, manned by twenty-three and seventeen men respectively. He sailed as far north as 66° 40', entering the strait that has since borne his name, and, finding no hindrance to his progress, concluded that he had discovered the northwest passage, but was obliged by stress of weather to return, arriving at Dartmouth on 30 September On 7 May 1586, he sailed again from Dartmouth with the "Sunshine," the "Moonshine," the "Mermaid," of 100 tons, and the "North Star," a pinnace of ten tons. At the end of July the crew of the "Mermaid" became discontented and put back for England. after the '" Sunshine" and the pinnace had been sent to explore eastward of Greenland. Captain Davis pursued the voyage alone, and, after reaching a point not as far north as in his first voyage, but about as far west, returned to England, arriving early in October. On 19 May 1587, he sailed again from Dartmouth with the "Elizabeth," the "Sunshine," and the "ttelen," a smaller vessel. He took the same course as before, and was confirmed in his belief that he had found the passage; but, not having provisions for a long voyage, he was obliged to return to England. N otwithstanding his discovery of the entrance to Baffin bay, there was no new expedition in quest of the northwest passage till that of Waymouth, fifteen years later.
In 1591 Davis accompanied Cavendish on his second and very disastrous voyage to the South sea. He afterward made five voyages to the East Indies as a pilot, and in the last was killed, while serving under Sir Edmund Michelbourne, in an engagement with the Japanese in the straits of Malacca. He is said to have been the inventor of a quadrant for taking the sun's altitude at sea, which preceded Hadley's sextant. He published " Seaman's Secrets," a treatise on navigation (London, 1594), and "The World's Hydrographical Descriptions" (1595), in which the arguments of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, showing the probability of a northwest passage to China, are in part repeated. See "Voyages and Works of John Davis, the Navigator," by Captain Albert A. Markham, published by the Hakluyt society (London, 1880).
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