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Sir Walter RaleighWalter Raleigh (1554 - 1681) was an adventurer, writer, courtier at the court of Elizabeth 1 and an explorer of the Americas. Born in 1554 at Hayes Barton in Devon he went to Oxford University, fought for the Huguenots in the French religious wars and studied law in London where he was able to become familiar with court life and the intellectual community. Raleigh's first venture to America was with his half brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, and it may have been during this voyage that he conceived the plan to establish a colony there. In 1585 he sponsored the first colony on Roanoke Island off present day North Carolina but this failed as did a second attempt in 1587. Further ventures to South America fared little better and a search, in 1595, for the legendary El Dorado, the city of gold, in present day Guyana achieved little. In 1580 Raleigh went to Ireland to help suppress a rebellion and using his experiences and posing as an expert on Irish affairs he won favour with Queen Elizabeth 1, was knighted and became one of the most powerful men in England. He temporarily lost favour when the Queen discovered that he had married one of her maids. However , his return to power was short lived as James 1, who had succeeded the throne on the death of Elizabeth 1, disliked Raleigh. In 1603 Raleigh was accused of plotting against the king and sentenced to death but James 1 commuted the sentence to one of life imprisonment. Raleigh went to the Tower of London for 13 years during which time he penned the first volume of his History of the World and several poems including The Last Fight of the Revenge and The Discovery of Guiana. These works impressed the Elizabethan intellectuals and he became the hero of the heir to the throne, Prince Henry, who tried to secure Raleigh's release from prison. Unfortunately, Prince Henry died in 1612 which frustrated Raleigh who then proposed to King James that he would give him a fortune in gold if he was allowed to return toGuiana. The king agreed on the condition that the Spanish were not offended in any way. The 1616 expedition was a disaster. In Guiana Raleigh's son was killed when, with an aide, he was sent to find El Dorado and attacked a Spanish settlement. Sir Walter Raleigh then returned to England where James 1, invoking the 1603 death sentence, had him beheaded on 29th Octob er, 1618.

John Davis or Davys (c. 1550-1605), was one of the greatest of the Elizabethan seamen and explorers. He went to sea as a boy, and being a west-country man (he was born near Dartmouth, in Devon) was friendly with the two great seafaring families of that neighbourhood, the Gilberts and the Raleighs, who between them did much to rouse and nourish his enthusiasm for maritime exploration. In 1583 he became convinced that navigation was possible between Europe and the Far East around the north of America (the Northwest passage) and two years later he had persuaded the English authorities to fit out an expedition under his command to explore the northern seas west of Greenland. In all he made three voyage in search of the passage (1585, 1586, and 1587) and though he penetrated as far north and west as Hudson's Bay, he just missed, as had Martin Frobisher before him, discovering Hudson's Bay, though he did apparently sight Hudson's Strait. Many of the names still on the map of the Arctic are memorials to his endeavours; the great strait which bears his own name, Exeter Sound, Cape Walsingham, Cumberland Sound, etc. He was home in time from his last expedition to command the Black Dog in the battle of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and in 1589 was in the Earl of Cumberland's fleet operating off the Azores. He was taken on as pilot and navigator by Thomas Cavendish in his second privateering expedition round the world in 1591, which proved a fiasco. Davis's participation in this doubtful venture arose partly, it appears, from Cavendish's suggestion that a search might be made for the Northwest passage from the western end rather than from the eastern. When Cavendish deserted his little fleet at the entrance to the Strait of Magellan, Davis went on alone with his own ship to attempt the passage of the Strait but was driven back by storms. On his way home to England, he discovered the Falkland Islands. Davis was more than a skilled navigator; he was also author of two excellent books on navigation, (The Seaman's Secrets in 1594 and The World's Hydrographical Description in 1595) and the inventor of the back-staff and double quadrant, known as Davis's quadrant, which remained a principal instrument of navigation until the reflecting quadrant was introduced by Hadley in 1731. The remainder of Davis's life was spent mainly in voyaging, particularly to the Far East. He was master (navigator) of Raleigh's flagship in the expedition to Cadiz and the Azores, 1596-7 he went as pilot of a Dutch expedition to the East Indies (1598-1600) in which he only just avoided being killed by treachery in Sumatra. He was first pilot to Sir James Lancaster in 1601-3 in his voyage to the east on behalf of the East India Company; and in 1604 sailed in the same situation with Sir Edward Michelborne, but was killed the following year by Japanese pirates near Sumatra.

John HawkinsJohn Hawkins (1532 - 1595) was the son of a wealthy sea captain and born in Plymouth, Devon. As a young man he went on trading voyages and soon heard stories about the riches which were to be found across the sea towards the west. Fired with enthusiasm he went on to become one of the bravest and boldest Elizabethan seamen and one of the first to undermine Spanish domination in the West Indies. He made many trading voyages to America as a merchant. Unfortunately, although regarded as a hero, some of his expeditions and actions were, in todays terms, of a dubious nature. In 1562 he set sail for Africa where he captured 300 of the local native population to sell as slaves. At Santo Domingo, in the West Indies, the colonists, although forbidden by Spanish law to trade with any other nation, were eager to buy the slaves in exchange for pearls, hides, ginger and sugar. A second voyage some two years later was equally profitable. However, a third voyage in 1568 came to a disastrous end off the coast of Mexico. Hawkins had already broken Spanish law by selling a cargo of slaves to the colonists in the Caribbean so when he, together with his cousin Francis Drake who had accompanied him, sought refuge for their six ships in Veracruz they were attacked by an armed Spanish fleet. Luck held for Hawkins and Drake as they were able to escape but the other four vessels were destroyed or captured. Following these exploits to the West Indies Hawkins came ashore and worked in the service of Elizabeth I for 20 years eventually becoming treasurer and controller of the navy. During this time he built up England's fleet with the objective of challenging Spanish supremacy at sea. He redesigned ships to make them faster, added increased canon and fire power. His foresight was rewarded when, in 1588 and as a vice admiral, he saw the defeat of the Spanish Armada for which he was knighted for gallantry. Back at sea in 1595 he sailed with Sir Francis Drake on an expedition during the course of which he had hoped to rescue his son who was being held captive by the Spanish in Lima, Peru. The voyage was his last. Contracting dysentery Hawkins died on 12th November, 1595 near Puerto Rico and was buried at sea.

Bartholomew Gosnold (d. 1607) commanded the Concord which had been chartered by Sir Walter Raleigh for a trading voyage across the Atlantic. When he reached the coast of Maine he turned northwards eventually landing at Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard giving them both their names. He returned to England with a cargo of furs purchased from the Indians and promoted the colonisation of the area. Interest was aroused and a charter was granted to the London and Plymouth companies 1606. Gosnold together with Christopher Newport returned to Virginia in 1607 with three ships carrying the first Jamestown colonists. He was actively involved in the running of the colony but died of swamp fever later the same year.

George Dixon (c. 1755-1800), British navigator, sailed with Captain James Cook in his third voyage of discovery, and was made a post-captain in the British Navy on his return. In 1785 he sailed on a commercial venture in the ship Queen Charlotte to the coasts of British Columbia, partly to develop the fur trade and partly for exploration. Among his discoveries were Queen Charlotte's Island, Port Mulgrave, Norfolk Bay, and Dixon's Archipelago. On his return to England he became a teacher of navigation at Gosport, near Portsmouth, and was the author of The Navigator's Assistant, published in 1791.

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