(c. 1585- after June
1658?) was a 17th century English mariner who
sailed to Spitsbergen, Virginia, and
Asia. He piloted the first Spanish whaling ship to Spitsbergen in 1612 and participated
in the Anglo-Persian sieges of Kishm and Ormus in 1622.
Grønfjorden, which Woodcock visited in
1612 and 1617.
A man of the same name was sent on an expedition to the River Ob
by the Muscovy
in 1568. Seeing as how this name is not common, it is
possible that Woodcock may have been a son or grandson of this
In 1610, he served as mate aboard the Muscovy Company ship
(60 tons) on a sealing and exploratory voyage to
Spitsbergen. In 1611, Purchas (1625) states that it was he
who suggested to the Muscovy Company
that six Basque whalers from the town
of St Jean de
Luz, who had experience in the Terranova whale fishery,
should be shipped the following season.
Using his advice,
the Company sent these six whalers, as well as the Mary
(150 tons), Steven
, master, and the Elizabeth
(60 tons), Jonas Poole
, master, to Spitsbergen in 1611- the
first voyage made to the island to hunt what was called the
Greenland Right Whale
mysticetus). Angry over the fact he wasn't chosen to go on
this expedition, he shipped aboard an interloping vessel from
Hull, the Hopewell, Thomas Marmaduke,
master.In 1612, Woodcock piloted the first whaleship
Sebastian, under Juan de Erauso, to Spitsbergen.
he was sent to the gatehouse and tower for sixteen months for
leading the Spanish ship
thither, it was the success of this voyage that induced a fleet of
ships to sail from the Basque country and northern France the
following season (1613).
In 1614 Woodcock returned to whaling. He was forced to serve under
the Muscovy Company, which had been given a monopoly on the trade
the previous year. He sailed as master of the
Prosperous, which resorted to Sir Thomas Smith Bay
(Forlandsundet) and Cross Road (Ebeltofthamna).
latter area he established a temporary whaling station.
Woodcock is mentioned by the Danish as being a master of an English
ship in Green Harbor (Grønfjorden).
He is last mentioned in Spitsbergen in
1618, when he was master of the interloper Sea
East India Company, 1621-23
The city and fortress of Ormuz, 17th
In 1622, Woodcock was among those present in the Anglo-Persian
attack on Kishm (January 23-February 1) and siege of Ormus
(February 9-April 23), in which he was master of the
, vice-admiral of the nine ship English fleet. He was
accused of having "gotten an unknown booty at Ormus", which he
vehemently denied, but was later found guilty of (November 1624).
is mentioned in the travels of Pietro
Della Valle as master of the same vessel, in which Della Valle
sailed from Bandar
Abbas to Surat in January
1623. Della Valle said that Woodcock had spent
over a year with his ship in the Persian Gulf, charting the Strait of Hormuz and adjacent areas for suitable anchorages.
On 22 January (OS), while standing on the deck of the ship,
Woodcock showed Della Valle what he believed to be a piece of
horn (in fact a piece of the tusk of
), which he had found in Greenland
(Spitsbergen) in 1611. Woodcock boastfully claimed to have been the
first Christian to name and discover this country of Greenland the
same year he had found the above-mentioned horn. Woodcock lost the
in March between Surat and Daman
on his way to Mocha
of the crew drowned, among them his son, Richard. He also lost his
whole estate. Woodcock was accused of having contributed to the
loss of the Whale
by taking out ballast and overloading
the ship. Woodcock was in England from 1624 to 1626. In November
1626, at his request, he was acquitted and discharged by the Court.
1635 he was master of the Revenge of London, which
loaded tobacco, skins and other goods in Virginia from Richard
Bennett. At the time he was said to be a sailor of 50
years of age who resided at Wapping, Middlesex.
dated 3 June 1658, is preserved in the
Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury of a certain "Nicholas Woodcocke of King's Cliffe, Northamptonshire", which may or may not belong to the same Nicholas
Woodcock is one of the most important figures in the first phase of
in Spitsbergen (i.e. bay whaling),
as he was not only the one to suggest shipping Basques for the
first whaling voyage to Spitsbergen in 1611, but he led the first
Basque vessel to Spitsbergen the following year. It was the success
of the latter voyage that led to a boom on the trade in
Spitsbergen. His suggestion led to the Basques being
recruited not only by the English in later
years, but by the Dutch, northern
French, and Danish, all who
relied on Basque experts in the opening years of the Spitsbergen
- Purchas (1625), p. 16. "Woodcock was evidently released in
November 1613" (quote from Senning, 1968, p. 245).
- Markham (1881), p. 83, 85.
- Dalgård (1962), pp. 83-84.
- Conway (1904), pp. 42-43.
- Foster (1908), p. xii.
- Della Valle (1892), pp. 3-7. Woodcock, of course, was preceded
(1607) and Barentsz (1596). His memory a little faded,
Woodcock had actually sailed to Spitsbergen for the first time in
1610, not 1611. The editors of this work, thinking that Della Valle
was referring to the real Greenland, put in a note on page 5 that
Frobisher had been there in 1576. The English at this time, as
well as others, referred to Spitsbergen as Greenland, which the
editors were evidently unaware of.
- Coldham (1984), p. 54.
- Purchas, S. 1625. Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes:
Contayning a History of the World in Sea Voyages and Lande Travells
by Englishmen and others. Volumes XIII and XIV (Reprint 1906 J.
Maclehose and sons).