The Half Moon, melody in silver
signed 'Montague Dawson' (lower left)
oil on canvas 71.1 x 104.2cm (28 x 41in).
Despite the relative unfamiliarity of her name, the humble little Half Moon or, more correctly, the Halve Maen has assumed a small place in maritime history thanks to her seminal role in the long quest for the elusive North West Passage.
Built in Amsterdam in 1608 to the order of the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.), she was measured at a mere 80 tons and was 65 feet in length with a 17½ foot beam. Barque-rigged and with a flat-bottomed hull, she had been designed to trade in the shallow waters around Vlieland and Texel [in the Zuyder Zee] yet, despite those limitations, the V.O.C. chose her for their first expedition to search for a new route to the riches of the Orient the so-called North West Passage, a westward route off the northern shores of Canada which would soon become an obsessive dream for so many men in the ensuing centuries. Having selected their ship, the V.O.C. then chose the English explorer Henry Hudson to command her and the Halve Maen embarked upon her great adventure from Amsterdam on 25th March 1609.
After a false start in the Barents Sea, Halve Maen turned towards the west and was off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland by early July and, on the 12th, was off Nova Scotia. Heading south, the expedition stopped at Cape Cod and reached the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 18th August. Subsequently exploring the estuary of the Delaware River and thence into lower New York Bay before sailing far up the Hudson River, Halve Maen finally turned for home on 4th October and, after thirty-three days at sea, made her landfall at Dartmouth where Hudson himself decided to remain. In 1610, by which time Hudson had left on his own second expedition, Halve Maen returned to Holland where her crews accounts of what they had seen immediately prompted the V.O.C. to establish trading posts in both New York Bay as well as further up the Hudson River.
Whilst the hunt for a North West Passage eventually came to nothing, Hudsons first expedition in the Halve Maen nevertheless made a highly significant contribution to the exploration of the eastern seaboard of North America and paved the way for the establishment of the city of New York which would, in time, become the financial and social hub of the worlds greatest power.