David, Thompson

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David Thompson was born in London, England, on April 30, 1770. His parents were Welsh, and of little means. His father died when he was two, and at the tender age of seven, he was enrolled by his mother in the historic 'Grey Coat' charity school near Westminster Abbey. Having shown an aptitude for mathematics, his education was oriented towards preparing him for life as a midshipman in the Royal Navy. His studies included algebra, trigonometry, geography, and navigation using 'practical astronomy'. Over the years, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) made periodic requests to the school for students to be apprenticed to the North American fur trade. Many of these students would later receive training from Philip Turnor, the HBC's first chief surveyor. Among these pupils were Joseph Hansom, George Hudson, John Hodgson, and George Donald. As Thompson neared the end of his education, the Hudson's Bay Company asked for four more apprentices. Only two were eligible at that time ; one of them was the fourteen-year-old David Thompson. In May 1784, he set sail for Hudson's Bay aboard the Prince Rupert. He never saw his mother or England again. It is not known what duties he may have performed during the voyage, but he owned a Hadley's quadrant when he left England, presented to him when he finished school. The Hadley's quadrant was a double-mirrored navigational instrument which could measure angles up to ninety degrees. In 1785, he had to leave this quadrant behind at Churchill when he was transferred to York Factory, expecting it to be forwarded to him eventually. He apparently never used it again, since in 1790 it was requisitioned by Joseph Colen for use aboard the York Factory sloop. Thompson's early work in America did not include surveying. He later wrote '[in 1789] I regained my mathematical education...', suggesting he had become quite rusty (Glover, 55). In 1786 Thompson journeyed inland along the North Saskatchewan River to Manchester House (northwest of today's...
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