Chronicles of America 

Cartier's Second Voyage

Not for five years after his return in 1536, therefore, did Cartier again set out for the St. Lawrence. This time his sponsor was the Sieur de Roberval, a nobleman of Picardy, who had acquired an ambition to colonize a portion of the new territory and who had obtained the royal endorsement of his scheme. The royal patronage was not difficult to obtain when no funds were sought. Accordingly in 1540 Roberval, who was duly appointed viceroy of the country, enlisted the assistance of Cartier in carrying out his plans. It was arranged that Cartier with three ships should sail from St. Malo in the spring of 1541, while Roberval's part of the expedition should set forth at the same time from Honfleur. But when May arrived Roberval was not ready and Cartier's ships set sail alone, with the understanding that Roberval would follow. Cartier in due course reached Newfoundland, where for six weeks he awaited his viceroy. At length, his patience exhausted, he determined to push on alone to Stadacona, where he arrived toward the end of August. The ships were unloaded and two of the vessels were sent back to France. The rest of the expedition prepared to winter at Cap Rouge, a short distance above the settlement. Once more Cartier made a short trip up the river to Hochelaga, but with no important incidents, and here the voyageur's journal comes to an end. He may have written more, but if so the pages have never been found. Henceforth the evidence as to his doings is less extensive and less reliable. On his return he and his band seem to have passed the winter at Cap Rouge more comfortably than the first hibernation six years before, for the French had now learned the winter hygiene of the northern regions. The Indians, however, grew steadily more hostile as the months went by, and Cartier, fearing that his small following might not fare well in the event of a general assault, deemed it wise to start for France when the river opened in the spring of 1542.

Cartier set sail from Quebec in May. Taking the southern route through the Gulf he entered, early in June, the harbor of what is now St. John's, Newfoundland. There, according to Hakluyt, the Breton navigator and his belated viceroy, Roberval, anchored their ships side by side, Roberval, who had been delayed nearly a year, was now on his way to join Cartier at Quebec and had put into the Newfoundland harbor to refit his ships after a stormy voyage. What passed between the two on the occasion of this meeting will never be known with certainly. We have only the brief statement that after a spirited interview Cartier was ordered by his chief to turn his ships about and accompany the expedition back to Quebec. Instead of doing so, he spread his sails during the night and slipped homeward to St. Malo, leaving the viceroy to his own resources. There are difficulties in the way of accepting this story, however, although it is not absolutely inconsistent with the official records, as some later historians seem to have assumed. (Justin Winsor, "Narrative and Critical History of America", vol. iv., 58.)

At any rate it was in no pleasant humor that Roberval now proceeded to the St. Lawrence and up to Cap Rouge, where he took possession of Cartier's post, sowed some grain and vegetables, and endeavored to prepare for the winter. His company of followers, having been recruited from the jails of France, proved as unruly as might have been expected. Discipline and order could only be maintained by the exercise of great severity. One of the malefactors was executed; others were given the lash in generous measure. The winter, moreover, proved to be terribly cold; supplies ran low, and the scurvy once again got beyond control. If anything, the conditions were even worse than those which Cartier had to endure seven years before. When spring arrived the survivors had no thought of anything but a prompt return to France. But Roberval bade most of them wait until with a small party he ventured a trip to the territory near what is now Three Rivers and the mouth of the St. Maurice. Apparently the whole party made its way safely back to France before the autumn, but as to how or when we have no record. There is some evidence that Cartier was sent out with a relief expedition in 1543, but in any case, both he and Roberval were in France during the spring of the next year, for they then appeared there in court to settle respective accounts of expenses incurred in the badly managed enterprise.

Of Cartier's later life little is known save that he lived at St. Malo until he died in 1557. With the exception of his journals, which cover only a part of his explorations, none of his writings or maps has come down to us. That he prepared maps is highly probable, for he was an explorer in the royal service. But diligent search on the part of antiquarians has not brought them to light. His portrait in the town hall at St. Malo shows us a man of firm and strong features with jaws tight-set, a high forehead, and penetrating eyes. Unhappily it is of relatively recent workmanship and as a likeness of the great Malouin its trustworthiness is at least questionable. Fearless and untiring, however, his own indisputable achievements amply prove him to have been. The tasks set before him were difficult to perform; he was often in tight places and he came through unscathed. As a navigator he possessed a skill that ranked with the best of his time. His was an intrepid sailor-soul. If his voyages resulted in no permanent establishment, that was not altogether Cartier's fault. He was sent out on his first two voyages as an explorer, to find new trade routes, or stores of gold and silver or a rich land to exploit. On his third voyage, when a scheme of colonization was in hand, the failure of Roberval to do his part proved the undoing of the entire plan. There is no reason to believe that faint-heartedness or lack of courage had any place in Cartier's sturdy frame.

For sixty years following the ill-starred ventures of 1541-1542 no serious attempts were made to gain for France any real footing in the regions of the St. Lawrence. This is not altogether surprising, for there were troubles in plenty at home. Huguenots and Catholics had ranged themselves in civil strife; the wars of the Fronde were convulsing the land, and it was not until the very end of the sixteenth century that France settled down to peace within her own borders. Norman and Breton fishermen continued their yearly trips to the fishing-banks, but during the whole latter half of the sixteenth century no vessel, so far as we know, ever made its way beyond the Saguenay. Some schemes of colonization, without official support, were launched during this interval; but in all such cases the expeditions set forth to warmer lands, to Brazil and to Florida. In neither direction, however, did any marked success attend these praiseworthy examples of private initiative.

The great valley of the St. Lawrence during these six decades remained a land of mystery. The navigators of Europe still clung to the vision of a westward passage whose eastern portal must be hidden among the bays or estuaries of this silent land, but none was bold or persevering enough to seek it to the end. As for the great continent itself, Europe had not the slightest inkling of what it held in store for future generations of mankind.

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