$1, 400th Anniv of

Discovery of Davis Strait, Canada


400th Anniversary of John Davis’ Third Expedition into the Canadian Arctic

Reverse: Ship “John Davis” with masts, rock in background

The reverse depicts one of the ships used by the English navigator and Arctic explorer John Davis (or Davys, circa 1550-1605) in front of a huge iceberg. Davis made three expeditions to find the Northwest Passage to eastern Asia. In 1585 he sailed with the Sunneshine of London, a three-masted bark of 60 tons with 16-23 men, and the 35-ton Mooneshine of Dartmouth with a crew of 19. He rediscovered Greenland (lost to Europeans since the decline of the Norse settlements), crossed what is now known as Davis Strait, and discovered Cumberland Sound, an inlet on the east coast of Baffin Island. In 1586 and 1587 he charted long stretches of the coasts of Greenland, Baffin Island and Labrador. Davis’ second expedition numbered four ships. Mermayde of 120 tons and Mooneshine headed north through Davis Strait along the west coast of Greenland; Sunneshine and the 10-ton pinnace Northstarre sailed north along the east coast of Greenland to search for a passage between Greenland and Iceland. On his third voyage, Davis in Ellen (or Helen) of London, a small pinnace of 20 tons burden, sailed north through Davis Strait and reached the limit of the icepack at 72º 46’ N. latitude, the northernmost point any European had yet reached; his other two vessels, Sunneshine and the bark Elizabeth of Dartmouth, sailed westward to engage in cod fishing to cover the expenses of the voyage. Davis added to European knowledge of the Arctic more than any other explorer of his time. He also conceived the Davis quadrant (or back-staff) to measure the altitude of the sun to determine latitude, which was in general use for more than 150 years. Between 1591 and 1593 Davis took part in Thomas Cavendish’s attempted circumnavigation of the world. The expedition failed to penetrate the Strait of Magellan and Davis’ ship, Desire, was blown off-course in a storm. Returning home, he discovered the Falkland Islands. From 1598 on, Davis served as a pilot on three voyages to the East Indies, including the successful first voyage of the East India Company. On the third voyage, in the 240-ton Tiger, Davis was killed by Japanese pirates off the coast of Malaya. The inscription DÉTROIT DE DAVIS STRAIT combines the name of the Davis Strait in French (Détroit de Davis) and in English.

The obverse depicts Queen Elizabeth II.