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Francis Drake (c1540 - 1596) was born around 1540 near the Devon town of Tavistock. He was apprenticed as a mariner and was given his first command, the Judith in 1567 which was one of a squadron of vessels led by Sir John Hawkins, a kinsman of Drake, on a slave trading voyage to the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, the squadron was attacked by a Spanish fleet and all but two ships were lost. Drake made two trading voyages to West Indies in 1570 and 1571 which were very profitable and in 1572 he commanded two vessels which engaged in marauding exploits against Spanish ports in the Caribbean. During this voyage Drake captured the port of Nombre de Dios on the Isthmus of Panama, destroyed the nearby town of Portobelo and saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. He returned to England with a cargo of Spanish silver and the reputation as a brilliant privateer. From 1573 until 1576 he spent his time in Ireland helping to quell a rebellion. On 13th December 1577 Drake set sail from Plymouth, England, with five ships and 166 men his own vessel being the Golden Hind. Elizabeth 1 had secretly commissioned Drake to embark on an expedition against the Spanish colonies on the Pacific coast of America. The small fleet successfully crossed the Atlantic but on arrival in the Rio de la Plata (River Plate) estuary in South America he was forced to abandon two of the ships. The three remaining ships continued southward until, in August 1578, they left the Atlantic Ocean and entered the Straits of Magellan at the tip of South America. After sixteen days the three ships sailed into the Pacific Ocean to be confronted with a series of violent storms which lasted for more than 50 days. One ship was destroyed, the second sailed back to England, but Drake in the Golden Hind, although having been blown far to the south, sailed on. He ventured northward along the coast of South America plundering Valparaiso and other Spanish ports. He also took the opportunity to capture Spanish ships so that he could use their more up-to-date charts. Considering that Drake now only had one small ship and the residue of the 166 men that sailed with him from Plymouth, he must have been a remarkable tactician to achieve so much. Drake continued sailing northwards looking for an eastward passage back to the Atlantic, possibly as far north as latitude 48 degrees north which is close to the present day US-Canadian border. Failing to locate a passage he brought the Golden Hind round and headed south until he reached an inlet which offered protection from the weather, for repairs. This inlet is now known as Drake's Bay and is situated north of San Francisco. Drake claimed the land for his queen and called it New Albion. After completing his repairs Drake set sail again on 23rd July,1579 on a westward heading which would take him across the Pacific Ocean. After calling at the Moluccas, a group of islands in the southwest Pacific, Celebes and Java in Indonesia, he rounded the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the African continent. Carrying a cargo of rich spices from the east and captured Spanish treasure he eventually arrived back in England in September 1580. Drake was a hero and accredited as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world. Seven months later on board the Golden Hind he was knighted by the queen. In 1581 he became mayor of Plymouth and served as a member of Parliament in 1584 and 1585. But Drake was a seaman, navigator and explorer and at the end of 1585 he set sail again with a large fleet for the West Indies where he raided many Spanish settlements including Saint Augustine in present day Florida. Before returning to England he called at Roanoke Island, an island off present day North Carolina where an unsuccessful attempt had been made to establish the first English Colony in the New World, to bring back the colonists. It was after this visit to North America that Drake supposedly brought tobacco to England for the first time. By 1587 war between England and Spain inevitable and Drake was ordered by the queen to sail to Cadiz to destroy the Spanish fleet which was being assembled there by Philip II, the king of Spain. He was partially successful but the Spanish were still able to amass a sizeable fleet with which to attack the English. In 1588 Drake, as vice admiral, defeated the Spanish Armada. It is well known story that Drake was playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe when the Spanish Armada was sighted but he insisted on finishing his game before putting to sea. In the following year Drake set off on an expedition to seek and destroy the remaining Spanish fleet but was unsuccessful, returning to Plymouth where he entered Parliament once again. In 1595, Elizabeth I dispatched Drake, together with his kinsman Sir John Hawkins, on a further expedition to the West Indies, once again, to seek out the Spanish forces. The expedition was a failure and both Drake and Hawkins contracted and died of dysentery while in the Caribbean and were buried at sea.

A Replica of the Golden Hind seen visiting the Tower Pier in London. Note the size compared with the ships of today.
The Golden Hind, originally called the Pelican was about 60 feet long from stem to stern post with a beam of approximately 19 feet. The depth in her hold was about 9 to 10 feet.

 

For an insight into life at sea during Elizabethan times
read Albert Marrin's
The Sea King: Sir Francis Drake and his Times

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