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History Expeditions & Discoveries

Madness, Betrayal and the Lash

The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver

by (author) Stephen R. Bown

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
Aug 2012
Expeditions & Discoveries, General, 18th Century
Recommended Age
Recommended Grade
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2008
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Dec 2009
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2012
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


This print-on-demand title is available by request from most booksellers.

The tragic story of Captain Vancouver, a great explorer whose triumphs were overshadowed by public humiliation.

From 1792 to 1795, George Vancouver sailed the Pacific waters as captain of a major expedition of discovery and imperial ambition. Britain had its eyes on Pacific North America, and Vancouver valiantly charted four thousand miles of coastline from California to Alaska. His voyage was one of history’s greatest feats of maritime daring, scientific discovery, marine cartography and international diplomacy.

Vancouver’s triumph, however, was overshadowed by bitter smear campaigns initiated by enemies he made on board, in particular Archibald Menzies, the ship’s naturalist, and Thomas Pitt, a well-connected midshipman whom Vancouver flogged and sent home. Both men were members of the governing elite and, once back in London, they destroyed Vancouver’s reputation. Pitt publicly challenged Vancouver to several duels and then beat him in a London street with a cane when he declined. The ailing Vancouver was lampooned in the press as a coward and a bully. Unable to collect back pay, he was left impoverished and ill. He died just after finishing the manuscript of his voyage, scrawling out the final pages on his death bed.

In this gripping tale of maritime daring and betrayal, Stephen Bown offers a long-overdue re-evaluation of one of the greatest explorers of the Age of Discovery.

About the author

Stephen R. Bown was born in Ottawa and studied history at the University of Alberta. He has long been interested in early travellers and explorers. In the summer of 2001 he hiked for seven days to retrace the famous Scottish botanist David Douglas' route over the feared Athabasca Pass. A former multimedia projects producer and freelance writer, Bown contributes to several magazines, including "Alaska, Mercator's World", "Beautiful British Columbia", and "The Beaver". He is also the author of "Sightseers and Scholars: Scientific Travellers in the Golden Age of Natural History". Bown lives outside Calgary, Alberta, with his wife and son.

Stephen R. Bown's profile page


  • Nominated, Lela Common Award for Canadian History
  • Winner, Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Award

Librarian Reviews

Madness, Betrayal and the Lash: The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver

This biography begins with Captain Cook’s return to England and Vancouver’s joining, at age fourteen, the Royal Navy and Cook’s second voyage of circumnavigating the world. Vancouver’s interest in cultures, scientific explorations, geography, ethnography, languages and his navigational prowess contributed to his being one of the greatest naval explorers during the greatest marine survey of all time from 1791–1795. His journeys during these five years meant navigating 65,000 miles of ocean, visiting every continent and mapping multiple-thousands of uncharted coastlines. His abilities as scientific observer, explorer and diplomat are emphasized, as are his negotiations with Maquinna and Bodega in the Nootka controversy.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2008-2009.