Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Knight, James

KNIGHT, JAMES (d. 1719?), arctic voyager, for many years an agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, appears to have been governor of Fort Albany in 1693. In 1714 he was appointed governor of the Nelson River settlement, and in 1717 or 1718 established Prince of Wales's fort at the mouth of Churchill River. From the friendly Indians he heard of a mine, which may possibly have been copper, or more probably pyrites, such as had formerly beguiled Frobisher, but which his fancy at once set down as gold. He hastened to England and urged the company to fit out an expedition to search for it. The company reluctantly equipped two vessels, which sailed in June 1719, with instructions to search for the Straits of Anian and to discover gold and other valuable commodities to the northward. Except so far as related to the conduct of the ships, the command was vested in Knight. Nothing further was heard of them, and it was at first supposed that they had found the fabled straits and were returning to England from the Pacific. But in 1722 a search expedition was sent out under the command of Captain John Scroggs. It met with no success, and the fate of Knight and his companions remained shrouded in mystery till in 1767 the ships' hulls, some of their guns and anchors, and other traces of the presence of Europeans were found at Marble Island by a whaling party. Further examination among the Eskimos elicited the facts that the ships had arrived late in the autumn, presumably of 1719, that in getting into the harbour one, or, more probably, both of them sustained serious damage, that the men built a house and sojourned there that winter and the next, suffering great hardships. At the beginning of the second winter the original fifty had dwindled to twenty, and at the end of that winter to five, all of whom died shortly after, in May or June 1721. As Knight is described as a very old man, verging on eighty, we may conjecture that he died among the first, that is in the end of 1719 or early months of 1720.

[Barrow's Chron. Hist. of Voyages into the Arctic Regions, p. 271; Joseph Robson's Account of Six Years' Residence in Hudson's Bay (1752), p. 36; Sam. Hearne's Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean (1795), p. xxviii; Report from the Committee appointed to Inquire into the State and Condition of the Countries adjoining to Hudson's Bay (1749), p. 49.]

J. K. L.