Who was Willem Barentsz?

Willem Barentsz (approx 1550—20 June 1597) was a Dutch sailor and explorer, who made three voyages to find a northeastern passage, in which he explored the coasts of Nova Zembla and discovered Bear Island and Spitsbergen. Little is known about Barentsz’ life before the beginning of his expeditions. In 1594 he directed the first half of an expedition to discover the northeastern passage (i.e. a seaway around the northcoast of Asia to the Far East). Barentsz followed the coast of Nova Zembla, hoping to sail around the islands, but he was stopped by the ice. The second half of the expedition under Cornelis Nay was more succesful and entered via the Waygats Straits the Kara Sea. The success of Nay resulted in enthusiasm for a second bigger expedition in 1595 under direction of Barentsz and Jacob van Heemskerk with among others Nay and Jan Huygen van Linschoten. (Who participated also in the first expedition under Nay). Because of the ice he didn’t succeed in reaching the Kara Sea. He traded with the local Samojeden close to the mouth of Petsjora. In 1596 Barentsz left for the third time to the north, again with van Heemskerk. This time he didn’t sail eastward from Scandinavia but northward. He discovered an island and called it Veere Island (present Bear Island). Further to the norh, at 80º11’N, he discovered a country and called it “Het Nieuwe Land’(actual Spitsberg). Back on Bear Island the expedition was divided in two groups. One ship under Jan Corneliszoon Rijp tried to find a passage westward of Spitsberg. Barentsz examined the seas between Spitsberg and Nova Zembla. Barents succeeded indeed in rounding the northern point of Nova Zembla, but after that he got stuck in the ice. A house was built of driftwood, known as ‘Het behouden huys’. There they spent the winter. Next spring a sloop was built, so that the sixteen passengers could return to civilization. Barentsz however died a week after leaving. His men returned there indeed. In Kola they were picked up by a Dutch merchant ship under the command of former fellow traveller Rijp. Gerrit de Veer made a travel report of this journey. The remains of Het Behouden Huys were found in 1971 by the Norwegian whaler Elling Carlsen. He brought with him a large amount of treasures and sold them. In 1993-1995 the site was searched through in great detail by Dutch and Russian archeologists.
Willem Barentsz Poolinstituut

Bundeling van kennis, onderzoek en onderwijs over de Noord- en de Zuidpool

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