PULLMAN, Wash. — In his new book, “Almost a Hero: The Voyages of John Meares, R.N., to China, Hawaii and the Northwest Coast,” published by the Washington State University Press, author J. Richard Nokes relates the feats of ambition as well as the foibles of an explorer whose accomplishments have been largely ignored by previous historians.
Meares, born in England in about 1756, joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15, served on a number of British naval vessels, and fought in the American Revolution. He then transferred to the merchant navy where he sought his fortune trading furs, acquired from Northwest natives, for Chinese merchandise that would bring a high profit in London.
Unfortunately for Meares and his crew, misfortune struck repeatedly and he never realized his dreams of fortune or fame. Scurvy ravaged MeareÃs crew in Alaska. One of his ships went down at sea with all hands aboard and the Spaniards seized four others. His appeal to Parliament almost provoked a war between England and Spain. Furthermore, he failed to explore the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and although he saw its mouth, he thought the Columbia River was a bay and thus missed the opportunity to be the first non-native to explore it. Through careful research and thoughtful commentary Nokes shows readers that although Meares only came close to being a maritime hero, his ambitions were great and his adventures were indeed important to history.
Nokes, a longtime editor of the Portland Oregonian, has written extensively on maritime history, including his previous book “Columbia’s River: The Voyages of Robert Gray, 1787-1793.”
“Almost a Hero,” an illustrated, 240-page book, is available in the United States in hardback for $35 and in paperback for $19.95 at bookstores or directly from WSU Press at 800/354-7360. In Alaska and Canada, call 509/335-3518.
Editors, please note: For review copies, author photographs, or more information, please call Sue Emory at WSU Press, 509/335-3518.