Trade between Europe and Cathay (the Orient) had slowed considerably in the mid-16th century. Various wars had blocked many overland trade routes and many trade ships had been lost attempting to sail beneath Africa around the dangerous Cape of Good Hope. Spain controlled most of Central and South America and piracy was rampant. Jacques Cartier had failed to find a passage to the Orient through North America, which left only the possibility of a passage over the continent... the Northwest Passage.
Martin Frobisher was a pirate who hoped to redeem himself to Queen Elizabeth I by finding the Northwest Passage for the glory of England. Finally gaining a commission from the Queen, Frobisher set sail in 1576 aboard the Gabriell, accompanied by the Michaell. The crew of the Michaell became intimidated by the ice near Greenland and turned back for England. On arrival in England, the crew reported to the Queen that the Gabriell had been lost at sea and that Frobisher was dead.
Frobisher, meanwhile, had continued sailing west to Resolution Island (which he named 'Queen Elizabeth's Forlande') off the south-west coast of Greenland and then on into Frobisher Bay (which he named Frobisher Strait) in the south-eastern portion of Baffin Island. As Frobisher sailed on into the bay, his ship was approached by several Inuit (previously named 'Eskimos' by the explorers) paddling in strange, enclosed boats (kayaks) and, as they drew nearer, Frobisher was convinced that he had found Asians. With land to his port and starboard, he was convinced he had found the Passage and that North America lay to port (left) and Cathay lay to starboard (right). Frobisher gave the Inuit an assortment of trinkets and some food and drink, which the Inuit graciously accepted. Using sign language, Frobisher convinced the Inuit to guide them through the passage, which they promised to do the next day.
When the 'Asians' failed to return, Frobisher sent 2 men out in a rowboat to search for them. They rowed in the direction of the Inuit and disappeared beyond the horizon. They reappeared quite some time later, rowing toward the Gabriell, but, for some mysterious reason, turned around and rowed back, never to be seen again.
Frobisher discovered that he was, in fact, in a bay and not in an open passage to the west. Nonetheless, he was still convinced he had found Asians, and when a single Inuit approached, Frobisher lured him aboard with the gift of a bell and kidnapped him. He would be taken back to England as proof of the passage.
Meanwhile, Frobisher had done some on-shore exploring and found vast quantities of black rocks filled with gold. He ordered a supply loaded aboard ship and, before the ice threatened to block his ship, set sail for England.
Frobisher was greeted to a hero's welcome. Queen Elizabeth was as excited with the 'Asian' as she was with the gold and immediately commissioned Frobisher to return the next year to claim the land for England.
* First Voyage 1576 - The Northwest Passage *
Second Voyage 1577 - Meta Incognita
Third Voyage 1578 - Gold Fever