SAMUEL HEARNE was born in London, in 1745, and, at the age of eleven, embarked on board a vessel under the command of Captain (after wards Lord) Hood; with whom he was engaged in many successful victories against the French, and acquired the right to a considerable share of prize-money, which he requested might be transmitted to his mother, who would know better than himself how to dispose of it. At the termination of the war, seeing little chance of his advancement in the king's navy, he quitted it, and entered the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, who soon found him to be a most intelligent and enterprising auxiliary. In 1768 he made a voyage to the head of the bay, for the purpose of improving the cod fishery in that part; and, at the same time, made a very useful survey of the adjoining coasts. In the following year, he was appointed to head an expedition, the principal objects of which were to ascertain the situation of the Copper Mine River, and the possibility of a north-west passage. Accordingly, on the 6th of November, 1769, he set out, accompanied by four attendants; when after having crossed the Seal River, and walked some time over the barren grounds beyond it, the depth of the snow and scarcity of his provisions compelled him to return, having proceeded no farther than the sixty-fourth degree of latitude.
Undiscouraged by this failure, he immediately made arrangements for a second expedition; and, in February, 1770, resumed the route he had before taken, advancing slowly northward and westward in the pursuit of his object; determined, rather than leave it unattained, to perish by the famine to which he was constantly exposed. 'Often,' he says, 'I fasted whole days and nights, twice upwards of three days, and once near seven days; during which I tasted not a mouthful of any thing, except a few cranberries, water, scraps of old leather, and burnt bones.' In July, while between the sixty-third and sixty-fourth degrees of latitude, he took up his winter quarters among a tribe of Indians, with whom he remained till about the 11th of August, when a gust of wind blowing down and destroying his quadrant, he was compelled to return to Prince of Wales' Fort, where he arrived on the 25th of November, with the loss of his gun and several of his most useful effects, which had been stolen from him by some of his attendants.
On the 7th of the following month, accompanied by an Indian chief, who pointed out a new route likely to lead to the discovery of the copper mine, he set out a third time, in the hope of ascertaining its situation. After determining the latitude of a place called Congecathawhachaga, he began, on the 15th of July, 1771 his survey of the Copper Mine River; in the course of which, he was more than once shocked at beholding the massacre of several parties of Esquimaux, by the Indians who accompanied him. After a journey on foot of nearly one thousand three hundred miles, he reached the mouth of the river, which, from the quantity of whalebone and seal-skins seen by him in the tents of the Esquimaux, he assumed must empty itself into the ocean and that, consequently, he had reached the northern shore of North America, and stood on the borders of the Hyperborean Sea.' Mr. Barrow however, in his Chronological History of Voyages into the Arctic Regions, denies the conclusions of Hearne upon this point, and observes, equally unsatisfactory is his statement as to the latitude of the Copper Mine River;' which, instead of 71 deg. 54 min., he cites the authorities of Dalrymple and other geographers to prove, could only be about sixty-nine degrees.
On leaving the Copper Mine River, Hearne proceeded, in a state of great agony from the soreness of his feet, as far as Lake Athapusco, or the Slave Lake; from which, in February, 1772, he departed eastward, and, on the 30th of June, arrived at Prince of Wales' Fort, after an absence of eighteen months, and having endured, in the latter part of his journey, the horrors of a famine, which destroyed several of his attendants, and nearly proved fatal to himself. On his return, he received the thanks of the Company and a handsome gratuity; and, in 1774, he established in the interior of the country, Cumberland Factory. In 1775, he became governor of the Prince of Wales' Fort; seven years after which, it was attacked and taken by a French squadron, under the command of La Perouse, who seized all the papers he found, but restored the manuscript of Hearne, on condition of its being printed on his arrival in England. After rebuilding, and putting in a good state of defense, the fort, he continued to reside there till 1787; in which year he returned to England, and prepared his journal for the press, which appeared about three years after his death, which took place some time in 1792. The work, containing a preface, in which he refutes the charges of Dalrymple as to the correctness of his latitudes, has been translated into most of the European languages; and besides throwing a light upon one of the most important points in geography, shows its author to have been a man of extraordinary courage and perseverance, of profound observation, and of a benevolent and enlightened mind. He had also intended to publish copies of a vocabulary of the language of the northern Indians, which he had completed in sixteen folio pages; but the original was, unfortunately, lost by a friend to whom he had lent it.