Bookshelf / Madness, Betrayal and the Lash

Madness, Betrayal and the Lash

The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver


Winner of the 2009 Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Award & also shortlisted for the Canadian Authors' Association Lela Common Award for History"

He led the greatest sailing voyage of all time: five years at sea, across 65,000 miles of ocean, the equivalent of twice around the world, visiting every continent and mapping tens of thousands of miles of uncharted coastline. Yet he died in disgrace, shunned and in debt. What went wrong? How did the hero of Nootka Sound end up the laughingstock of London society?

In the wake of Captain Cook's fatal final voyage, the outline of a new land was revealed on the far side of the world. A decade later one of the young officers of that voyage returned to those waters as the captain of his own expedition — and as the agent of imperial ambition. To map a place is to exercise control over it, and Great Britain had its eyes on Pacific America — a potentially vital piece of the geographical puzzle in the European struggle for global supremacy, and the western coast of their sole remaining North American colony. The incredible voyage that transpired between 1791-1795 was one of history’s greatest feats of maritime daring, scientific and ethnographic discovery, marine cartography, and international diplomacy, involving Spain, Russia, Great Britain and the United States and indigenous Hawaii.

The incredible true story of George Vancouver — world traveler and Royal Navy officer — Madness, Betrayal and the Lash is a tale of adventure at sea, the struggle of empires and of one man’s battle against illness, the isolation of command and Britain’s polarizing class system. When fourteen-year-old Vancouver enlisted with the celebrated James Cook in 1772 he soon found himself transported to lands of which he had never dreamed. During ten years girdling the globe with Cook he learned leadership and marine skills that would guide him on his own epic voyage.

Vancouver's feats are unparalleled: he navigated the coast of Pacific America and the Hawaiian Islands, voyaging 10,000 miles in small boats while charting over 1,700 miles of coastline. He gave a shape to North America and disproved the existence of the mythical Strait of Anian, a Northwest Passage south of the arctic. His diplomacy and discoveries influenced the location of several international borders. But the young captain was harboring within him the kernels of an illness, not yet evident when he departed, but growing daily like a cancer – an illness that, before killing him, would drive him into uncontrollable rages, leaving him shamed, exhausted and bedridden . . . and ill-equipped to avoid a violent confrontation that had terrible repercussions. How could he have known that his actions on the far side of the world were being secretly reported on, debated and unfairly judged by the aristocratic governing elite?

Madness, Betrayal and the Lash is a compelling and vivid new biography that places George Vancouver in the pantheon of the greatest mariners of his age, and places his voyage in the context of Great Britain’s 18th century epic struggle for global dominance. The book will combine history and human drama as it circles the globe from the sea ports of Great Britain to the palm studded beaches of the south Pacific and Australia; from the frigid fringe of Antarctica to the stormy waters of Alaska; from the majestic forests and devilish shores of Old Oregon to the city of London and the scandal that hastened Vancouver’s death and destroyed his reputation and legacy.

Madness, Betrayal and the Lash will be published by Douglas & McIntyre in the spring of 2008.