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John Meares

John Meares
Lieutenant John Meares. From an engraving after the picture by W. Beechey in Meares' Voyages.
Born c. 1756
Dublin, Ireland
Died 29 January 1809
Bath, United Kingdom

John Meares (c. 1756 – 1809) was a navigator, explorer, and maritime fur trader, best known for his role in the Nootka Crisis, which brought Britain and Spain to the brink of war.


  • Career 1
  • Legacy 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5


Meares' father was Charles Meares, "formerly an attorney of great eminence, and for several years pursuivant of his Majesty's Court of Exchequer in Dublin".[1] In 1771, Meares joined the Royal Navy as a captain's servant and was commissioned a lieutenant in 1778. In 1783 he joined the merchant service and in 1785, based in India, formed the Northwest America Company for collecting sea otter furs by trade with the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and selling them in China. The East India Company held a monopoly on British trade in the Pacific and required all British traders to be licensed with the company and pay duties. Meares did not license his ships with the East India Company and instead tried to conceal the illegal activity by using the flag of Portugal.[2] Meares registered his ships in Macau, a Portuguese colony in China. Non-British ships were not required to have licences from the East India Company.[3]

He sailed from Queen Charlotte. Meares gave Dixon his bond never to trade in the Northwest again, and returned to China by way of the Sandwich Islands. Showing no gratitude to Dixon, Meares proceeded to sue him for allegedly overcharging him for the supplies that saved his life.

The launch of the North-West America at Nootka Sound, 1788

In 1788, Meares started a new expedition with two vessels and more false papers. The ships sailed under the Portuguese flag and were given Portuguese names: the Felice Adventurero, captained by Meares, and the Iphigenia Nubiana, under William Douglas. The names are spelled in various ways, such as Feliz Aventureira and Efigenia Nubiana.[4] They sailed from China on 22 January 1788 and arrived at Nootka Sound, on Vancouver Island, in May. Using Nootka Sound as a base of operations he spent the summer trading for furs along the coasts of present-day British Columbia. Meares later claimed that Maquinna, a chief of the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) people, sold him some land on the shore of Friendly Cove in Nootka Sound, in exchange for some pistols and trade goods, and that on this land some kind of building was erected. These claims would become a key point in Britain's position during the Nootka Crisis. Spain strongly disputed both claims, and the true facts of the matter have never been fully established.[5] Maquinna himself later called Meares a liar and denied selling him any land.[4] The land and building aside, there is no doubt that Meares's men, and a group of Chinese workers they brought, built the sloop North West America. It was launched in September 1788, the first non-indigenous vessel built in the Pacific Northwest.[5] In September Meares left, sailing the Felice Adventurero to China. The Iphigenia Nubiana and North West America wintered in the Hawaiian Islands.[4] While on the island of Kauai, Meares picked up a Hawaiian chief or "prince of Attooi" (Kauai) by the name of Tianna (Kaiana), whom he took aboard his ship. He took Tianna to Guangzhou (Canton), China, where Meares found a Hawaiian women by the name of Winée, who had been left there by captain Charles William Barkley of the Imperial Eagle. Eventually, Meares returned Tianna to his homeland but Winée died of illness on the voyage home. Winée and Tianna are considered the two first Hawaiians to have traveled abroad.[6] Later, Meares gained possession of Barkley's nautical gear and his journal. Barkley wife, Frances Barkley, later wrote that Meares, "with the greatest effrontery, published and claimed the merit of my husband's discoveries therein contained, besides inventing lies of the most revolting nature tending to vilify the person he thus pilfered."[7]

During the winter of 1788-89 Meares was in

  • Biography at the Dictionary of National Biography (1885)
  • McDougall, Walter A. (1993). Let the Sea Make a Noise: A History of the North Pacific from Magellan to MacArthur. BasicBooks.
  • Robert J. King, "John Meares: Dubliner, Naval Officer, Fur Trader and would be Colonizer" at Alexandro Malaspina Research Centre Research Papers

Further reading

  1. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine for August 1790, Vol.LX, Part II, no.2, death notices for 31 July, p. 767.
  2. ^ Colnett, James (1940).  
  3. ^ a b c Fryer, Mary Beacock (1 October 1986). Battlefields of Canada. Dundurn Press. pp. 131–140.  
  4. ^ a b c d e Meares, John, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  5. ^ a b c d Pethick, Derek (1980). The Nootka Connection: Europe and the Northwest Coast 1790-1795. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. pp. 18–23.  
  6. ^ John Meares (1916) [1791]. Hawaiian Historical Society Reprints (1787, 1788, and 1789). Extracts from Voyage Made in the Years 1788 and 1789 From China to the Northwest Coast of America, with an Introductory Narrative of a Voyage Performed in 1786, From Bengal, in the Ship "Nootka" (Hawaiian Historical Society) 
  7. ^ BARKLEY, Frances, ABCBookWorld
  8. ^ a b c Frost, Alan (1 October 1999). The Voyage of the Endeavour: Captain Cook and the Discovery of the Pacific. Allen & Unwin. pp. 133–134, 138.  
  9. ^ McDowell, Jim (April 1998). José Narváez: The Forgotten Explorer. Spokane, Washington: The Arthur H. Clark Company. pp. 31–41.  
  10. ^ The Nootka Crisis, pp. 1-3, Canadian Military Heritage
  11. ^ Naish, John (1996). The Interwoven Lives of George Vancouver, Archibald Menzies, Joseph Whidbey and Peter Puget: The Vancouver Voyage of 1791-1795. The Edward Mellen Press, Ltd.  
  12. ^ "Meares Island".  
  13. ^ "Meares Point".  
  14. ^ "Meares Bluff".  
  15. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Meares Glacier
  16. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Meares Passage
  17. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Meares Island
  18. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Meares Point
  19. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Port Meares
  20. ^ "Felice Island".  
  21. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Felice Strait


See also

Cape Meares, in the present United States state of Oregon, is named after Meares. Also named after him is Meares Island, located in the entrance of Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia.[12] Other places named for him in British Columbia include Meares Point and Meares Bluff.[13][14] Meares Glacier, Meares Passage, Meares Island, Meares Point, and Port Meares, all in Alaska, are named after him.[15][16][17][18][19] Felice Island, in British Columbia, and Felice Strait, in Alaska, are named for Meares's ship.[20][21]


Not much is known of Meares' life after the settlement of the Nootka controversy. So far as is known he received none of the Spanish indemnity money. He was rewarded for his role by promotion to the rank of commander on 26 February 1795. The marriage of “John Meares Esq. of Frome, [Cornwall], to Miss Mary Anne Guilleband, at the Abbey church, Bath” was noted in The Whitehall Evening Post of 9 July 1796. Meares apparently considered Bath his home after his retirement from the Navy, and according to his "last will and testament" he owned property in Jamaica. The death of John Meares, “a Commander in his Majesty’s Navy”, at Bath on 29 January 1809, was noted in a newspaper advertisement by his solicitors inviting his creditors to a meeting at the George and Vulture Tavern, Cornhill, London, to take consideration of the state of his affairs. The value of his estate when probated was estimated to be under £7,500. His will listed no spouse or child, but a brother and sister were among the beneficiaries. Perhaps his wife, the former Mary Ann Guilliband, whom he married in 1796, was already deceased.

. British Columbia and Oregon disproved a number of Meares' other claims. Nonetheless, Meares's claims formed a basis for negotiation of British title to [11] in 1790. It gained widespread attention, especially in light of the developing Voyages Made in the Years 1788 and 1789, from China to the North West Coast of America In 1790, Meares published

Martínez arrived at Nootka Sound on 5 May 1789. He found three ships already there. One was Meares's Iphigenia Nubiana. Martínez seized the ship and arrested its captain, William Douglas. After a few days Martínez released Douglas and his ship and ordered him to leave and not return. Douglas heeded the warning. The other two ships were American, the Strait of Georgia in 1791.

When news of the seizures reached Meares in China he sailed to England. He arrived in April 1790, confirmed various rumors, claimed to have bought land and built a settlement at Nootka before Martínez, and generally fanned the flames of anti-Spanish feelings. He submitted a report to the Home secretary William Wyndham Grenville, in which he exaggerated the permanence of his settlement in Nootka Sound and the financial losses sustained by his company.[4] In May the issue was taken up in the HMS Discovery.

While the British fur traders were getting organized, the Spanish were continuing their effort to secure the Pacific Northwest. At first the Spanish were responding mainly to Russian activity in Alaska. On a 1788 voyage to Alaska, Esteban José Martínez had learned that the Russians were intending to establish a fortified outpost at Nootka Sound.[8] This, in addition to the increasing use of Nootka Sound by British fur traders, resulted in the Spanish decision to assert sovereignty on the northwest coast once and for all. Plans were laid for Nootka Sound to be colonized. Spain hoped to establish and maintain sovereignty on the entire coast as far north as the Russia posts in Prince William Sound.[5] The Viceroy of New Spain, Manuel Antonio Flores, instructed Martínez to occupy Nootka Sound, build some kind of structure, and to make it clear that Spain was setting up a formal establishment.[9]

[4] at Nootka Sound. Meares himself remained in China.Princess Royal and Argonaut were to join the North West America and Iphigenia Nubiana The [8]

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