On May 19, 1792, young Si’ahl stands beside his father, watching the HMS Discovery anchor off Bainbridge Island. The 10-gun British survey ship, led by Captain George Vancouver, has sailed into Puget Sound to claim the Northwest for Britain. Si’ahl- Chief Seattle-will grow up to lead the Duwamish and Suqamish tribes through changing times. His people will remember this moment.
HMS Discovery 1789, built by Randall, Gray & Brents of London, was a full-rigged, Royal Navy survey ship. She was best known as the lead ship in captain George Vancouver’s exploration of the west coast of North America in his famous 1791-1795 expedition.
On 1 April 1791 the HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham departed from Falmouth to explore the South Coast of Australia. Over the course of the next 4 years, Vancouver’s Discovery surveyed the North Pacific Ocean, wintering in Spanish California or Hawaii.
The Discovery’s mission was to exert British sovereignty over part of the Northwest Coast following the hand-over of the Spanish Fort San Miguel at Nootka Sound, although exploration in co-operation with the Spanish was an important secondary objective. Exploration work was successful as relations with the Spanish went well. Despite 4 years of dispatches with their governments, Vancouver and the Spanish Commandant Juan Quadra failed to formally conclude an agreement. Remarkable the Discovery only lost 6 sailors in accidents over these 5 years.
After 4 years at sea, Discovery was in great need of repair. She was laid up until 1798 when she was refitted as a bomb vessel and re-commissioned under Commander John Dick. As a bomb vessel Discovery had an armament of 1 x 13” mortar; 1 x 10” mortar; 8 x 24-pounder carronades & 2 x 6-pound guns.
In October 1800 Commander John Conn replaced Dick. HMS Discovery took part in the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 and was awarded a Naval General Service Medal. She was paid off in October that year and was laid up in ordinary in May 1802. After that she served as a hospital ship and later as a convict ship until 1831. She was broken up in 1834.