George Vancouver sailed on Captain Cook’s 1772 expedition to the South Pacific and Antarctic as a young seaman. There is a story that he ran to the bowsprit of the Resolution as Cook was about to turn around, having reached the most southerly point of their voyage. Vancouver shouted “ne plus ultra!” meaning “no one further!” and claimed to be the person to have been the closest to the South Pole. Vancouver sailed with Cook again in 1776, travelling to Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest.
Vancouver was assigned to the Discovery (not to be confused with Cook’s vessel of the same name) to survey, oversee the ceding of Spanish claims to the British, and continue the search for a Northwest Passage. Sailing from Falmouth on April 1, 1791, they set a course for the Pacific via the south coast of Australia and New Zealand. Sighting North America on April 17, 1792, at around 39' North latitude, the ships turned north, sailing for the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but bypassing the mouth of the Columbia River. Vancouver’s officers surveyed Puget Sound, in what is now Washington State, and the expedition proceeded up the mainland coast of British Columbia, meeting the Spanish vessels Sutil and Mexicana under the Galiano-Valdés expedition on June 22. Working with the smaller Spanish vessels, they determined that they were sailing a passage between a large island and the mainland. This island was jointly circumnavigated by the British and Spanish expeditions and was named the Island of Quadra and Vancouver in honour of the captains. Its name was later shortened and it is known today as Vancouver Island.
Completing this phase of the survey, Vancouver turned his vessels to Nootka Sound for a meeting with the Spanish, then headed for winter harbour in the Sandwich or Hawaiian Islands. They returned in May of 1793 to survey the northern coastline, working on hydrographic survey as far as 56' North latitude. They sailed back to the Sandwich Islands in September, to winter and conduct surveys of the island chain. In 1794, Vancouver completed charting the area of Prince William Sound, Alaska. They turned south on August 19, 1794 for a final meeting in Nootka Sound before their homeward voyage. Sailing the route around South America, the Chatham made for Brazil and the Discovery for Britain, arriving in Ireland in September and sailing up the Thames River towards London on October 20, 1795.