OTD: Thomas Button dispatched in search of Northwest Passage

On today’s date in 1612, Welsh Royal Navy officer Thomas Button sailed out of London in search of the Northwest Passage.

The aim of the expedition, which was backed by the Prince of Wales and the Northwest Company, was to retrace “the now familiar route,” according to Lincoln Paine’s 2000 book, Ships of Discovery and Exploration.

The previous expedition began in 1610 and was commanded by English explorer Henry Hudson, who sailed in the Dutch East India Company ship Halve Maen as far as present-day Albany, N.Y., in 1609.

“Back in the employ of his fellow countrymen, Hudson sailed from Gravesend on April 17, 1610, and Discovery was the first ship definitely to enter Hudson Strait,” wrote Paine.

“Hudson cruised south along the east coast of the bay that bears his name and into James Bay, where on November 10, he and his crew were frozen in with scant provisions. Over the harsh winter, the near-starving crew became increasingly hostile to Hudson’s command and on June 22, 1611, they mutinied. Led by Henry Greene, who ‘would rather be hanged at home than starved abroad,’ the mutineers put Hudson, his son, and seven of the infirm crew in the Discovery’s shallop and sailed away.”

“Hudson was never heard from again.”

The coin’s obverse features the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II.


According to Paine, Button’s 1612 expedition “included no mention of a search for Hudson or his crew.”

Button eventually reached the mouth of a river, which he named Nelson in honour of a crew member who had lost his life, before wintering at what is now Port Nelson, where his two ships, Discovery and Resolution, were pulled ashore.

In 1613, he and his crew continued searching for the Northwest Passage.

Button later discovered and named Mansel Island before returning home to England in September 1613. He and his men were the first recorded Europeans to visit present-day Manitoba.

“He is given credit for leading an expedition into uncharted waters and securing for his country the first claim to the lands bounding the west coast of Hudson Bay,” reads the Manitoba Historical Society website. “Three hundred years later, on 15 May 1912, Port Nelson was included in the territory given to the Province of Manitoba on the extension of its boundaries. Thus, it may be claimed for Thomas Button that he was the first white man to visit this area which now belongs to Manitoba.”

One of Button’s direct descendants, Edward Button, helped to unfurl Manitoba’s new provincial flag on May 12, 1966.

One of Edward Button’s “most treasured possessions,” according to a provincial memo issued in 1966, “is a saucer-sized medal, struck to mark the jubilee of the reign of King George Third.”

“It has been in possession of the Button family since 1808,” adds the memo. “Normally the eldest son in the family is custodian of the medal, and it was sent to him on the death of his father a number of years ago.”


In 2015, the Royal Canadian Mint issued the fourth coin of its “Great Canadian Explorers” series.

The $200 gold coin features on its reverse, which was designed by Laurie McGaw, a depiction of Hudson on his final Arctic voyage. The image centres on a full portrait of Hudson, who is gazing to the right through a spyglass. He wears a heavy fur coat and hat as well as long leather boots. To the right side is a stylized map of Hudson Bay with Hudson’s spyglass pointing directly to the bay’s centre. Below the map, Hudson’s ship, Discovery, rests at anchor. To the left side is an Elizabethan-era directional wind rose.

The coin has a diameter of 29 millimetres with text on the reverse reading “CANADA,” the face value of “200 DOLLARS” and the year-date of “2015.” There was a mintage of 2,000 coins.

Leave a Reply

Canadian Coin News


Canadian Coin News is Canada's premier source of information about coins, notes and medals.

Although we cover the entire world of numismatics, the majority of our readers are Canadian, and we concentrate on the unique circumstances surrounding collecting in our native land.

Send Us Your Event

Running an event? Send it to us and we will display it on Canadian Coin News!

Submit Event →

Subscribe To 26 Issues For Just $59.99/year

Subscribe today to receive Canada's premier coin publication. Canadian Coin News is available in both paper and digital forms.

Subscribe Now

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Periodical Fund of the Department of Canadian Heritage.