Historic globe project hits stumbling block for former Victorian

Historian Sam Bawlf frustrated with retraction of agreement by Royal B.C. Museum

Sam Bawlf

A former provincial heritage minister is irate after the Royal B.C. Museum backed out of an agreement to exhibit evidence that, if true, would upend B.C.’s history books.

For the past three years, Sam Bawlf has been lobbying the government to digitize and display a Molyneux globe, a 415-year-old map created after Sir Francis Drake’s voyage around the world from 1577 to 1580. Bawlf purports the globe proves Drake discovered what is now British Columbia in 1579, nearly 200 years before Captain James Cook dropped anchor off Vancouver Island.

“Call it a 400-year-old Google Earth,” he said.

Bawlf, a former Victoria-area resident now living on Salt Spring Island, spent three years securing provincial and federal commitments to digitize the globe – currently held by a private organization in London, England – for Canadian scholarly study.

But the museum backed out of the agreement in January, citing a lack of academic scrutiny on the controversial evidence.

“I absolutely agree with Mr. Bawlf that this needs to be presented to the Canadian public,” said Jack Lohman, the museum’s CEO. “But we’re not in the business of authenticating academic research.”

Bawlf contends he didn’t ask the museum to authenticate his work, which is presented in his 2003 book, The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake.

If Drake was the first European to reach this part of North America, as Bawlf claims, it could be a sticking point in aboriginal land treaties throughout the coastal areas. The date of first contact with First Nations is a key reference point to all claims of aboriginal rights and title.

“When you move that date by 200 years, it’s very significant,” Bawlf said.

He added it would be impossible for such accurate detail to be depicted on Molyneux’s globe without direct observation of the coastline by someone who was familiar with latitude and compass bearings.

“For the RBCM to present the globe without this information would amount to deliberate suppression of the case for Drake’s explorations, presentation of which had been the whole purpose of the project from the outset,” he said.

Bawlf’s theory has yet to gain a foothold in common history, but has been praised by several established geographical scholars.

In response to Bawlf’s requests earlier this year, cultural development minister Ida Chong provided half of the $30,000 required by Library and Archives Canada to digitize the globe. But without RBCM support, the federal government has backed out of the agreement as well.

“So now we have the money sitting there … and we just want to get on with it,” Bawlf said, adding the remaining $15,000 has been put up by a private business.

In a statement, Chong’s office confirmed $15,000 had been issued and said the RBCM would “assist Mr. Bawlf in his project to digitize and to bring the globe to Victoria in the future.”

Bawlf wants the province to intervene and force the museum to present both the globe and his evidence, but the ministry did not indicate it would take further action.

“The public have a right to know what happened to the project … we’ve hit a wall,” Bawlf said.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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