[Joseph T. Walbran. British Columbia Coast Names. 1595-1906. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1909., p. 527-529.
Whidbey island, Puget sound, U. S. territory, state of Washington. Named by Vancouver, in 1792, after his indefatigable and careful officer, Joseph Whidbey, R.N., master of the Discovery. This book would not be complete without a notice of Whidbey, for an officer in Vancouver’s expedition examined more of this coast line in an open boat than the master of the Discovery, and doubtless he often suggested to his commander the names which many points and islands at present bear.
He was a most accurate and painstaking observer, and little seems to have escaped his attention when on his boat expeditions, if we may judge from the fidelity with which his remarks apply to the coast today. Vancouver apparently had the greatest confidence in Whidbey’s judgment and skill, and from long experience was, no doubt, fully justified in reposing this trust in his officer. They had been ship-mates previous to this voyage.
The examination of this coast line to ascertain if a passage existed to the eastward, commonly known as the Northwest passage, was most carefully carried out by Vancouver and his staff, and when their work was finished this Question, so far as concerned the coast line between the strait of Juan de Fuca and Cook’s inlet, was finally disposed of, and Admiral de Fonti’s strait was proved to be a myth.
Day in and day out, Sunday and every other day, rain, wind and shine, Vancouver’s little boats for three seasons had kept at work, winding through the tortuous and mountainouS channels of this coast until much was known and charted. The first boat expedition left the ships, 7 May, 1792, from Port Discovery; and the last expedition returned to the ships, 19 August, 1794, to Port Conclusion; hence the name.
When the boats, coming from different directions, met on the 16 August and found their labors ended, Whidbey remarks :-” that it is not possible for language to describe the joy that was manifested in every countenance on thus meeting their comrades and fellow adventurers, by which happy circumstance, a principal object of the voyage was brought to a conclusion.”
After the boats had made fast in a little cove for the night, a good deal of joking went round amongst the seamen over the fact that the expedition had sailed from England on the first of April to look for a Northwest passage. Vancouver named the sound where the boats terminated their work on the 16th, Prince Frederick’s sound, that day being the birthday of H.R.H. Frederick, Duke of York. (Vancouver, 8 , VI, pp. 37-40.) In 1799, four years after his return home in the Discovery. Whidbey made a survey of Torbay, published by Arrowsmith in 1800. A copy of this chart is in the British Museum and on this copy is drawn an oval line with a note in the margin: “The oval in the middle of the bay is marked with a view of forming an island to make a harbor of the bay.” This is rather curious, considering that Torbay is not very far from Plymouth and the position is somewhat similar to the Plymouth breakwater, with the construction of which Whidbey was afterwards associated for many years.
In 1803 appears a paper from Mr. Whidbey in the Philosophical Transactions, on the sinking of the Dutch frigate Ambuscade. In 1806 when holding the position of Master Attendant of Woolwich dockyard he was instructed to proceed to Plymouth in company with Mr. J. Bennie, C.E., to examine the sound in regard to the construction of a breakwater.
They were assisted by Mr. Remains, the Master Attendant of Plymouth dockyard, who was ordered to join them, and the annual report on the breakwater was made 21 April, 1806. Whidbey seems to have been a man to gain, wherever he went, the respect and good will of those with whom he was brought in contact.
On the subject of appointing, a superintendent for the contemplated breakwater, Lord St. Vincent, who is said to have first suggested it, speaks thus highly of Whidbey in a letter dated 21 November, 1806, addressed to the Right Hon. Thomas Grenville. “Mr. Whidbey is the man of all others I should select to conduct the new works in Plymouth sound under the superintendence of Mr. Rennie, who will come down to his assistance whenever he is in fault. No two men understand each other better?’ (Brenton’s “Life of Earl St. Vincent.” II, p. 329.) After a long delay an order in council was passed on the 22 June, 1811, to commence the work, and the plain of Messrs. Rennie, Whidbey and Remains was adopted. This plan was published in pamphlet form in 1820. The first stone of the breakwater was laid with great ceremony on 12 August, 1812, the birthday of the Prince Regent. Mr. Whidbey was the resident superintendent from the commencement until 31 March, 1830, when he had to resign, as the anxious duties of his office were too much for his declining health; Mr. W. Stuart, who had been his assistant, succeeded him. The breakwater first appeared above the water, 31 March, 1813, and was completed in April, 1841. The whole of the work was designed by Mr. Rennie, and carried out by Mr. Whidbey and Mr. Stuart. In the account of the breakwater, published in 1848, by the designer’s son, Sir John Rennie, Mr. Whidbey is often mentioned. (Rennie “Historical Account of Plymouth Breakwater,” 1848; Annual Register, 1812, LIV, p. 102.) In 1815, Lieutenant Von Kotzebue in his exploring voyage to the Pacific called at Plymouth and visited Mr. Whidbey. In the journal of the voyage he states :-” After I had concluded my business, I paid a visit to Mr. Whidbey, a friend of Captain Krusenstern. This well informed and very amiable man had made the voyage with Vancouver. Mr. Whidbey is now constructing the Breakwater at Plymouth, a work that does him much credit.” (Kotzebue’s Voyage, 1815-1816, London, 1821. I, p. 98.) Whidbey was a master, RN., with seniority of 1779, and retired in May, 1805. (Naval Records, Admiralty.) He died at Taunton, Somersetshire, in 1833, and is buried in the churchyard of the Parish Church of St. James, Taunton, where appears the following epitaph:
Sacred to the memory of JOSEPH WHIDBEY, EsQ., F.R.S.,Died October 9th, 1833. Aged 78 years. [Joseph T. Walbran. British Columbia Coast Names. 1595-1906. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1909. p. 527-529].