Captain James Hanna(y), Explorer and Trader of the Canadian Northwestern Coast, d. 1787

A famous person in Canadian history is Captain James Hanna, an early explorer and the first European to sail near parts of the coastline of modern day British Columbia in 1785. He led a pioneering expedition from China seeking to exploit the lucrative sea otter pelt market as a fur trader. In all the published biographies of James Hanna(y) it is not clear where he originated from and what his back story was in either America or Europe (Ref 1,2,3).

James Hanna’s expedition came about when two British traders in China, John Henry Cox and John Reid, on reading reports of Captain James Cook’s successful expeditions around the Pacific rim in 1778 sensed a business opportunity in the Pacific northwest coast of America. They, probably in an underhand way, circumvented the notional trading exclusivity of the English East India Company ‘supercargoes’ in the east Asia region by privately commissioning Captain Hanna on a specially fitted out small 60 ton brig, the Harmon, in 1785 to make the trans-Pacific journey for the first time from Macau. Captain Hanna followed the Spanish route past Hawaii and Japan and took the prevailing winds and currents across to Nootka Sound arriving on the 8 August 1785. He and his crew initially had some altercations with the native Americans they encountered but eventually befriended them and were successful in trading for furs and returned to Macau with 560 pelts that were quickly sold – reportedly at a profit of £29,000 for the overall venture which is about £6 million in today’s money!

Hanna’s backers seized this lucrative business opportunity and sponsored a second voyage in 1786 on a specially commissioned 120 ton ship, the Sea Otter, that left Macao in May 1786 reaching Canada in August. Unfortunately, they had been preceded by a competitor expedition from Bombay led by James Strange, and as a result Captain Hanna was only able to purchase 50 sea otter skins on this occasion. He did sail further north, however, along the coast discovering and naming a number of inlets and islands on the west coast of modern day Vancouver Island. He made a chart of those parts that he visited and bestowed the names of his patrons on several places, such as Cox’s Island, Lane’s Bay, Fitzhugh Sound, Lance’s Islands and MacIntosh’s Inlet. There are some clues to Hanna’s origins in other names that he chose like Nova Hibernia – now called the Queen Charlotte Islands – and even a bay called St. Patrick’s Bay (see the 1858 map of the region below). On his return to Macau in 1786, Hanna was commissioned to prepare for a third journey to Nootka Sound but unfortunately he died in the Chinese port in 1787 not knowing how famous he had become.

1858 Map of Vancouver Island

Captain James Hanna’s original map of Vancouver Island (1786)  showing where he landed at Nootka Sound

Word of Hanna’s expeditionary success was sent back to England by the East India Company’s representatives in China and reported in the London Morning Post on the 21 September 1786 (a full year after his first journey to allow them to exploit the commercial advantage):

“The Sea Otter, Capt. Hannah, is arrived from King George’s Sound, on the West coast of America, after one of the most prosperous voyages, perhaps, ever made in so short a time. This brig, which was only 60 tons, and manned with 20 men, was fitted out in April 1785, by Capt. Mackintosh, of the Contractor, and some other gentlemen in the Company’s service, as an experiment while the Captain is gone to England to procure a licence from the India Company for the carrying on this trade. Should he succeed in his application, of which I presume there is but very little doubt, I am sensible it will insure them a tremendous fortune; you will be astonished when I tell you, that the whole out-fit, with the vessel, did not cost them 1,000l. and though she was not more than one month on the coast, the furs she collected were sold at Canton for upwards of £30,000. Had they had goods to have bartered, and had been two or three months more on the coast, Captain Hannah assured me he could have collected above £100,000 of furs.—The beauty of these furs is beyond description, and held by the Chinese in the highest estimation: it is astonishing with what rapidity they purchased them.—Captain Hannah acquainted me that there were several sent home to England as presents; your friend Sir Joseph Banks hath two of them sent by this ship, where no doubt you will see them.—It is astonishing that this business hath not been taken up long before this directly from England, as there is a full description of it in the publication you sent me of Capt. Cook’s last voyage: it is fully expected that when the astonishing value of this trade is well known in England, that the Company will send out some of their China ships to trade for furs on that coast, and to try to open a trade from Japan for the disposal of them. Should they be able to accomplish this trade it would be a great acquisition, as it would procure them vast quantities of silver and gold, and the furs would sell for 300 per cent. more than they do at China. The trade is carried on by the Chinese at an amazing advantage.”

A subsequent 20th century Hawaiian newspaper article (The Honolulu Advertiser, 1 Dec 1948) reported nearly 170 years later that Hanna’s journal from the time indicated that he touched on the Hawaiian Islands on the eastbound portion of his journey in 1785 making him one of the first western traders to take advantage of the archipelago. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper of the 14 Apr 1959 (p64) also reported that the captain of the ship, Sea Otter, was “James Hanna of Massachusetts”. Finally, a later report in the Scottish Caledonian Mercury newspaper of the 8th Nov 1790 (p4) adds some more colour to James Hanna’s life (from the contemporaneous source of Mackintosh) by stating that:

“… Mr James Hannay, an Irish Gentleman … was an adventurer to India. He had been the commander of an English Privateer in the American War, and was well qualified in every respect for the command of the new expedition (from China to Canada) ….” .

These are all clues to Captain James Hanna’s backstory and accounts for why he appeared in the east Indies in the mid-1780s. Privateers were private ship’s captains or vessels that engaged in maritime warfare under a commission of war – both the American rebels and the British authorities authorised such activity between 1776 and 1782 during the bitter war for control of the colonies. The full article on Captain James Hanna from the Caledonian Mercury newspaper from the 8th Nov 1790 (p4) after his death is reproduced below as it gives us more clues to his history:

An examination of British Admiralty and contemporary American and British newspaper articles during the Revolutionary War reveals that a Captain James Hanna appeared quite frequently throughout the conflict from 1779 – 1782. It is highly likely this is the same Captain James Hanna/h/y who appeared in India and China a few years after the end of the Revolutionary War when his main source of employment in north America had dried up. These accounts show that he was a skilled ship’s captain who worked for French merchants initially and then commanded a few armed British merchant navy ships as a privateer. He took prisoners and was in turn taken as a prisoner by American privateers. Capturing a ship was quite lucrative in the 18th century as the ship’s captain could claim a bounty for both the vessel and its cargo; but it was a hazardous existence in time of war. He was likely in his 30s when he was commanding ships during the late 1770s meaning he was born prior to the 1750s. It is also likely he learned his trade sailing between Ireland, Great Britain, France and the American colonies.

January – February 1779:

Captured ship: Bonetta (master James Hanna), a French merchant ship (sloop, 2 men), laden with rum, molasses, sugar, salt; ‘taken’ by Molly (master John Gibson) an American ship under English colours, claiming to be the British privateer General Mathew; taken on 18 January 1779 at Capes of Virginia by the privateers General Mathew (John Forsyth commanding), and Experiment (Alexander McPherson commanding), but on 21 January 1779 was found by the General Campbell with only George Robinson and one other man on board, and brought into New York . The General Campbell found no papers on board.
Reference: HCA 32/283/14, British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

Snow Bonite (also rendered as Bonetta and Bonette), James Hanna, master, 300 tons burthen, mounting two guns, manned by a crew of seventeen seamen, owned by “Mons. Dagore” of Nantes. It had stopped at Charleston, South Carolina, with a cargo of tobacco and turpentine; it was later retaken by the French.
Reference: UK LPR, H.C.A. 32/283/14; The London Gazette, 2-6 Feb. 1779.

June 1779:

Captured ship: Clinton of New York (master James Park), a Loyalist American ship (sloop) bound from New York under orders to sail in ballast to Tortola and Providence to seek a cargo and return to New York: at Providence, was laden with molasses, limes, coffee, pineapples, and three turtles, for the use of HM Army and Navy at New York ; taken on 24 June 1779 by the pretended privateers of New York Hammond (Warren Lisle commanding) and Germaine (James Hanna commanding). Action by the owners of the Clinton against the owners of the Hammond and Germaine for damages of £5000, for alleged unlawful seizure.
Reference: Royal Navy Court Papers: 1-95; ship’s papers, 96-100. Including a copy of the New York Royal Gazette, 16 February 1780, No 356.

June 1780:

“Captured ship: James (master Leven Harrington), an American merchant ship (schooner, 20 tons, 3 men), bound from York, Virginia to Rappahannock, Virginia laden with indian corn; taken on 20 June 1780 in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia by the privateers Hibernia (James Hanna commanding), and Restoration (Joseph Hughs Burton commanding), and brought into New York.”
Reference: HCA 32/364/13, British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

“Captured ship: Ester [Esther] (master not named), an American merchant ship (15 tons), laden with Indian corn; taken on 23 June 1780 at Chesapeake Bay by the privateer Hibernia (James Hanna commanding), and brought into New York.”
Reference: HCA 32/326/1, British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

July 1780:

“Captured ship: Evening Star (master Hinson Gilbert), an English merchant ship (50 tons, 4 guns, 7 men), bound from Bermuda laden with salt, corn and flour; taken on 4 July 1780 at Rappahannock River in Virginia by the privateers Resolution (John Pindar commanding), Delight (Jacob Stout commanding), Venus (Joseph Trohear commanding), Hibernia (James Hanna commanding), and the Retaliation (? Cameron commanding), and brought into New York.”
Reference: HCA 32/326/8, British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

“Captured ship: Betsey (master William Thompson), an American merchant ship (30 or 50 tons, 7 men), bound from Baltimore, Maryland to St Eustatius, laden with tobacco; taken on 13 July 1780 in latitude 35°N, longitude 74°W of London by the privateer Hibernia (James Hanna commanding) and the privateer Arbuthnot (Jacob Getshews commanding), and brought into New York.
Reference: HCA 32/281/24. British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

August 1780:

“The US Connecticut Privateer Sloop, Randolph, (Commander Nicholl Fosdick) sailed in August 1780, apparently with the Hancock. They steered to the northeast and eventually met the British Privateer Sloop Hibernia (James Hanna) on the 23rd and a prize schooner that she had captured. The schooner was bound from Santee, South Carolina and was put under prize master Henry Franks by the British. Her cargo consisted of naval stores. Hibernia was armed with ten 3-pounders and chose to fight, at least until Randolph got alongside and fired a broadside into her. With one dead and several wounded, Hanna surrendered. Meanwhile Hancock rounded up the schooner. This was undoubtedly the schooner with naval stores that arrived at New London on 25 August. Hancock escorted the Hibernia into New London on 2 September 1780. Following the capture Hancock had been chased by a British frigate, and threw over part of her guns to elude her pursuer. The schooner arrived at Providence, Rhode Island. Randolph returned to port on 4 September, having sprung her mast in a chase.”
Reference: ‘Privateers‘ website

May 1781:

Reference: The Freeman’s Journal or The North-American Intelligencer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · 16 May 1781, Wed · Page 3

March 1782:

“Captured ship: Goede Hoop, Lourens Steljes, master, Dutch merchant ship with letter of marque bound from Curaçao to Virginia laden with salt and coffee mills, captured on 15 March 1782 off Cape Henry, Virginia, by the armed schooner Jack o’ Lanthorn (George Bennison commanding) in company with Delight (Charles Letelier commanding) and Jolly Tar (James Hannah commanding).
Reference: HCA 32/343/4, British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

In conclusion, Captain James Hanna who ventured to the Pacific northwest waters off Vancouver Island in 1785 and set off a race for the lucrative sea otter pelt industry between north America and China that British entrepreneurs exploited, was born in Ireland and was probably of Ulster Scots background given his surname. He was an accomplished sailor and merchant seaman in the north Atlantic trade routes of the 18th century who made money as a privateer for the British during the American War of Independence. It looks like he was based in Massachusetts at one point. When work dried up in America in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris formalised Britain’s defeat in the American War of Independence, he sailed east to India and then China to exploit emerging trading opportunities, ultimately dying there in Macao in 1787.

Article References

1. “Dictionary of Canadian Biography, James Hanna
2. “James Hanna (trader)” Wikipedia
3. Pierce, Richard A. (1979). “Hanna, James“. In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. IV (1771–1800) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.

18th Century Maritime Influences on British Columbia Place Names

Cox Island, 1786 Hanna – after Mr. J.H. Cox, who backed the early trading by Captain Hanna of the Snow Sea Otter. Commented on by Lord Vancouver on 24 August, 1792.

Fitzhugh Sound, 1786 Hanna – the source has not been located but Lord Vancouver accepted the name on 9 August, 1792.

Hanna Rocks and Channel – after Capt. James Hanna of the trading snow Sea Otter who in 1785 made the first British trading expedition from the China coast to Nootka Sound and the B.C. coast. Name adopted on the Admiralty charts by Capt. Pender, 1865.

Pearl Rock., 1786 Hanna – part of the Sea Otter group. Recorded by Lord Vancouver on 10 August, 1792.

Sea Otter Islands & Cove, 1786 Hanna – after his 120-ton snow Sea Otter, which was named after the most valuable item of the fur trade, during the second commercial venture to Nootka.

Smith Sound, 1786 Hanna – during his trading cruise. Accepted by Lord Vancouver on 9 August, 1792.

Virgin Rocks, 1786 Hanna – while trading in the Sea Otter, Lord Vancouver noted them and relocated them on the chart of 10 August, 1792.

Captain James Hanna(y), Explorer and Trader of the Canadian Northwestern Coast, d. 1787

A famous person in Canadian history is Captain James Hanna, an early explorer and the first European to sail near parts of the coastline of modern day British Columbia in 1785. He led a pioneering expedition from China seeking to exploit the lucrative sea otter pelt market as a fur trader. In all the published biographies of James Hanna(y) it is not clear where he originated from and what his back story was in either America or Europe (Ref 1,2,3).

James Hanna’s expedition came about when two British traders in China, John Henry Cox and John Reid, on reading reports of Captain James Cook’s successful expeditions around the Pacific rim in 1778 sensed a business opportunity in the Pacific northwest coast of America. They, probably in an underhand way, circumvented the notional trading exclusivity of the English East India Company ‘supercargoes’ in the east Asia region by privately commissioning Captain Hanna on a specially fitted out small 60 ton brig, the Harmon, in 1785 to make the trans-Pacific journey for the first time from Macau. Captain Hanna followed the Spanish route past Hawaii and Japan and took the prevailing winds and currents across to Nootka Sound arriving on the 8 August 1785. He and his crew initially had some altercations with the native Americans they encountered but eventually befriended them and were successful in trading for furs and returned to Macau with 560 pelts that were quickly sold – reportedly at a profit of £29,000 for the overall venture which is about £6 million in today’s money!

Hanna’s backers seized this lucrative business opportunity and sponsored a second voyage in 1786 on a specially commissioned 120 ton ship, the Sea Otter, that left Macao in May 1786 reaching Canada in August. Unfortunately, they had been preceded by a competitor expedition from Bombay led by James Strange, and as a result Captain Hanna was only able to purchase 50 sea otter skins on this occasion. He did sail further north, however, along the coast discovering and naming a number of inlets and islands on the west coast of modern day Vancouver Island. He made a chart of those parts that he visited and bestowed the names of his patrons on several places, such as Cox’s Island, Lane’s Bay, Fitzhugh Sound, Lance’s Islands and MacIntosh’s Inlet. There are some clues to Hanna’s origins in other names that he chose like Nova Hibernia – now called the Queen Charlotte Islands – and even a bay called St. Patrick’s Bay (see the 1858 map of the region below). On his return to Macau in 1786, Hanna was commissioned to prepare for a third journey to Nootka Sound but unfortunately he died in the Chinese port in 1787 not knowing how famous he had become.

1858 Map of Vancouver Island

Captain James Hanna’s original map of Vancouver Island (1786)  showing where he landed at Nootka Sound

Word of Hanna’s expeditionary success was sent back to England by the East India Company’s representatives in China and reported in the London Morning Post on the 21 September 1786 (a full year after his first journey to allow them to exploit the commercial advantage):

“The Sea Otter, Capt. Hannah, is arrived from King George’s Sound, on the West coast of America, after one of the most prosperous voyages, perhaps, ever made in so short a time. This brig, which was only 60 tons, and manned with 20 men, was fitted out in April 1785, by Capt. Mackintosh, of the Contractor, and some other gentlemen in the Company’s service, as an experiment while the Captain is gone to England to procure a licence from the India Company for the carrying on this trade. Should he succeed in his application, of which I presume there is but very little doubt, I am sensible it will insure them a tremendous fortune; you will be astonished when I tell you, that the whole out-fit, with the vessel, did not cost them 1,000l. and though she was not more than one month on the coast, the furs she collected were sold at Canton for upwards of £30,000. Had they had goods to have bartered, and had been two or three months more on the coast, Captain Hannah assured me he could have collected above £100,000 of furs.—The beauty of these furs is beyond description, and held by the Chinese in the highest estimation: it is astonishing with what rapidity they purchased them.—Captain Hannah acquainted me that there were several sent home to England as presents; your friend Sir Joseph Banks hath two of them sent by this ship, where no doubt you will see them.—It is astonishing that this business hath not been taken up long before this directly from England, as there is a full description of it in the publication you sent me of Capt. Cook’s last voyage: it is fully expected that when the astonishing value of this trade is well known in England, that the Company will send out some of their China ships to trade for furs on that coast, and to try to open a trade from Japan for the disposal of them. Should they be able to accomplish this trade it would be a great acquisition, as it would procure them vast quantities of silver and gold, and the furs would sell for 300 per cent. more than they do at China. The trade is carried on by the Chinese at an amazing advantage.”

A subsequent 20th century Hawaiian newspaper article (The Honolulu Advertiser, 1 Dec 1948) reported nearly 170 years later that Hanna’s journal from the time indicated that he touched on the Hawaiian Islands on the eastbound portion of his journey in 1785 making him one of the first western traders to take advantage of the archipelago. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper of the 14 Apr 1959 (p64) also reported that the captain of the ship, Sea Otter, was “James Hanna of Massachusetts”. Finally, a later report in the Scottish Caledonian Mercury newspaper of the 8th Nov 1790 (p4) adds some more colour to James Hanna’s life (from the contemporaneous source of Mackintosh) by stating that:

“… Mr James Hannay, an Irish Gentleman … was an adventurer to India. He had been the commander of an English Privateer in the American War, and was well qualified in every respect for the command of the new expedition (from China to Canada) ….” .

These are all clues to Captain James Hanna’s backstory and accounts for why he appeared in the east Indies in the mid-1780s. Privateers were private ship’s captains or vessels that engaged in maritime warfare under a commission of war – both the American rebels and the British authorities authorised such activity between 1776 and 1782 during the bitter war for control of the colonies. The full article on Captain James Hanna from the Caledonian Mercury newspaper from the 8th Nov 1790 (p4) after his death is reproduced below as it gives us more clues to his history:

An examination of British Admiralty and contemporary American and British newspaper articles during the Revolutionary War reveals that a Captain James Hanna appeared quite frequently throughout the conflict from 1779 – 1782. It is highly likely this is the same Captain James Hanna/h/y who appeared in India and China a few years after the end of the Revolutionary War when his main source of employment in north America had dried up. These accounts show that he was a skilled ship’s captain who worked for French merchants initially and then commanded a few armed British merchant navy ships as a privateer. He took prisoners and was in turn taken as a prisoner by American privateers. Capturing a ship was quite lucrative in the 18th century as the ship’s captain could claim a bounty for both the vessel and its cargo; but it was a hazardous existence in time of war. He was likely in his 30s when he was commanding ships during the late 1770s meaning he was born prior to the 1750s. It is also likely he learned his trade sailing between Ireland, Great Britain, France and the American colonies.

January – February 1779:

Captured ship: Bonetta (master James Hanna), a French merchant ship (sloop, 2 men), laden with rum, molasses, sugar, salt; ‘taken’ by Molly (master John Gibson) an American ship under English colours, claiming to be the British privateer General Mathew; taken on 18 January 1779 at Capes of Virginia by the privateers General Mathew (John Forsyth commanding), and Experiment (Alexander McPherson commanding), but on 21 January 1779 was found by the General Campbell with only George Robinson and one other man on board, and brought into New York . The General Campbell found no papers on board.
Reference: HCA 32/283/14, British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

Snow Bonite (also rendered as Bonetta and Bonette), James Hanna, master, 300 tons burthen, mounting two guns, manned by a crew of seventeen seamen, owned by “Mons. Dagore” of Nantes. It had stopped at Charleston, South Carolina, with a cargo of tobacco and turpentine; it was later retaken by the French.
Reference: UK LPR, H.C.A. 32/283/14; The London Gazette, 2-6 Feb. 1779.

June 1779:

Captured ship: Clinton of New York (master James Park), a Loyalist American ship (sloop) bound from New York under orders to sail in ballast to Tortola and Providence to seek a cargo and return to New York: at Providence, was laden with molasses, limes, coffee, pineapples, and three turtles, for the use of HM Army and Navy at New York ; taken on 24 June 1779 by the pretended privateers of New York Hammond (Warren Lisle commanding) and Germaine (James Hanna commanding). Action by the owners of the Clinton against the owners of the Hammond and Germaine for damages of £5000, for alleged unlawful seizure.
Reference: Royal Navy Court Papers: 1-95; ship’s papers, 96-100. Including a copy of the New York Royal Gazette, 16 February 1780, No 356.

June 1780:

“Captured ship: James (master Leven Harrington), an American merchant ship (schooner, 20 tons, 3 men), bound from York, Virginia to Rappahannock, Virginia laden with indian corn; taken on 20 June 1780 in Chesapeake Bay, Virginia by the privateers Hibernia (James Hanna commanding), and Restoration (Joseph Hughs Burton commanding), and brought into New York.”
Reference: HCA 32/364/13, British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

“Captured ship: Ester [Esther] (master not named), an American merchant ship (15 tons), laden with Indian corn; taken on 23 June 1780 at Chesapeake Bay by the privateer Hibernia (James Hanna commanding), and brought into New York.”
Reference: HCA 32/326/1, British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

July 1780:

“Captured ship: Evening Star (master Hinson Gilbert), an English merchant ship (50 tons, 4 guns, 7 men), bound from Bermuda laden with salt, corn and flour; taken on 4 July 1780 at Rappahannock River in Virginia by the privateers Resolution (John Pindar commanding), Delight (Jacob Stout commanding), Venus (Joseph Trohear commanding), Hibernia (James Hanna commanding), and the Retaliation (? Cameron commanding), and brought into New York.”
Reference: HCA 32/326/8, British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

“Captured ship: Betsey (master William Thompson), an American merchant ship (30 or 50 tons, 7 men), bound from Baltimore, Maryland to St Eustatius, laden with tobacco; taken on 13 July 1780 in latitude 35°N, longitude 74°W of London by the privateer Hibernia (James Hanna commanding) and the privateer Arbuthnot (Jacob Getshews commanding), and brought into New York.
Reference: HCA 32/281/24. British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

August 1780:

“The US Connecticut Privateer Sloop, Randolph, (Commander Nicholl Fosdick) sailed in August 1780, apparently with the Hancock. They steered to the northeast and eventually met the British Privateer Sloop Hibernia (James Hanna) on the 23rd and a prize schooner that she had captured. The schooner was bound from Santee, South Carolina and was put under prize master Henry Franks by the British. Her cargo consisted of naval stores. Hibernia was armed with ten 3-pounders and chose to fight, at least until Randolph got alongside and fired a broadside into her. With one dead and several wounded, Hanna surrendered. Meanwhile Hancock rounded up the schooner. This was undoubtedly the schooner with naval stores that arrived at New London on 25 August. Hancock escorted the Hibernia into New London on 2 September 1780. Following the capture Hancock had been chased by a British frigate, and threw over part of her guns to elude her pursuer. The schooner arrived at Providence, Rhode Island. Randolph returned to port on 4 September, having sprung her mast in a chase.”
Reference: ‘Privateers‘ website

May 1781:

Reference: The Freeman’s Journal or The North-American Intelligencer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · 16 May 1781, Wed · Page 3

March 1782:

“Captured ship: Goede Hoop, Lourens Steljes, master, Dutch merchant ship with letter of marque bound from Curaçao to Virginia laden with salt and coffee mills, captured on 15 March 1782 off Cape Henry, Virginia, by the armed schooner Jack o’ Lanthorn (George Bennison commanding) in company with Delight (Charles Letelier commanding) and Jolly Tar (James Hannah commanding).
Reference: HCA 32/343/4, British New York Vice-Admiralty Court.

In conclusion, Captain James Hanna who ventured to the Pacific northwest waters off Vancouver Island in 1785 and set off a race for the lucrative sea otter pelt industry between north America and China that British entrepreneurs exploited, was born in Ireland and was probably of Ulster Scots background given his surname. He was an accomplished sailor and merchant seaman in the north Atlantic trade routes of the 18th century who made money as a privateer for the British during the American War of Independence. It looks like he was based in Massachusetts at one point. When work dried up in America in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris formalised Britain’s defeat in the American War of Independence, he sailed east to India and then China to exploit emerging trading opportunities, ultimately dying there in Macao in 1787.

Article References

1. “Dictionary of Canadian Biography, James Hanna
2. “James Hanna (trader)” Wikipedia
3. Pierce, Richard A. (1979). “Hanna, James“. In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. IV (1771–1800) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.

18th Century Maritime Influences on British Columbia Place Names

Cox Island, 1786 Hanna – after Mr. J.H. Cox, who backed the early trading by Captain Hanna of the Snow Sea Otter. Commented on by Lord Vancouver on 24 August, 1792.

Fitzhugh Sound, 1786 Hanna – the source has not been located but Lord Vancouver accepted the name on 9 August, 1792.

Hanna Rocks and Channel – after Capt. James Hanna of the trading snow Sea Otter who in 1785 made the first British trading expedition from the China coast to Nootka Sound and the B.C. coast. Name adopted on the Admiralty charts by Capt. Pender, 1865.

Pearl Rock., 1786 Hanna – part of the Sea Otter group. Recorded by Lord Vancouver on 10 August, 1792.

Sea Otter Islands & Cove, 1786 Hanna – after his 120-ton snow Sea Otter, which was named after the most valuable item of the fur trade, during the second commercial venture to Nootka.

Smith Sound, 1786 Hanna – during his trading cruise. Accepted by Lord Vancouver on 9 August, 1792.

Virgin Rocks, 1786 Hanna – while trading in the Sea Otter, Lord Vancouver noted them and relocated them on the chart of 10 August, 1792.