Merchant Navy really began to develop in the fifteenth century.
As trade and commerce expanded the merchants of the day began
to travel overseas looking for new products and new markets.
The sixteenth century saw the voyages of exploration by famous
Elizabethan seamen and navigators; famous names which included
Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh and Martin Frobisher. We usually
regard these men as historical heroes, but in many respects
a lot of their exploits bordered on piracy. However, they set
forth into the unknown in tiny ships and tribute must be paid
to their bravery without which England would never have become
a great sea power.
Richard Chancellor (d.
1556), British navigator, was,
in 1553, appointed captain and pilot major of an expedition
under Sir Hugh Willoughby to find a North-East passage to India.
With Willoughby in the Bona Esperanza and himself in
the 160-ton Edward Bonaventure, and accompanied by
the Bona Confidentia, the three ships were towed down
the Thames on 22 May 1553 and past the Royal Palace of Greenwich,
the ship's companies being dressed in sky-blue cloth and saluting
the king as they passed. However the final departure from England
was delayed until July, the ships reaching the Lofoten Islands
in August when, after a stay of three days, they continued their
northward voyage. As they prepared to round the North Cape,
they encountered a severe storm and became separated. After
waiting seven days at the rendezvous Chancellor went on alone
and reached the White Sea where he landed and visited Ivan the
Terrible in Moscow. This led to the founding of the Muscovy
Company designed to stimulate trade between England and Russia.
During a second voyage in 1555 he called at Arzina, where Willoughby
and his men had succumbed to an Arctic winter, and collected
the body of his former chief, together with his papers and goods.
Returning from a third voyage in 1556, during which he had embarked
a Russian ambassador to England, his ship was wrecked off Petsligo,
Aberdeen, and Chancellor was drowned together with most of his
Martin Frobisher (c 1535
was of England's greatest Elizabethan seamen and
one of the first explorers to seek the Northwest Passage to
the Far East. Born around 1535 in Altofts, Yorkshire, he spent
his early years in London. In 1544 he became apprenticed as
a cabin boy and quickly learned to demonstrate his daring and
skills as a seamen. He steadily rose through the ranks and was
promoted to captain in 1565. On 7th June 1576, set sail on what
was the first expedition by an Englishman to seek out the Northwest
Passage. Three small ships sailed from England, the Gabriel
, the Michael and a small unnamed pinnace which was
lost in a storm. The Michael deserted shortly afterwards
but the Gabriel continued alone and eventually arrived
at the mouth of a bay which Frobisher believed was the entrance
to the Northwest Passage. The bay was actually on Baffin Island
and is now known as Frobisher Bay. He then returned to England
and brought with him samples of black earth which were rumoured
to contain gold. In 1577 another expedition financed by Elizabeth
1 set sail for Canada but neither this nor a subsequent voyage
were successful in finding valuable ores or establishing colonies.
However, Frobisher remained in the Queen's favour and in 1585,
as vice admiral on the Primrose, he accompanied Sir
Francis Drake on an expedition to the West Indies for the purpose
of raiding the Spanish colonies. In 1588 he played a valiant
role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada and was rewarded with
knighthood. After trying to retire in Yorkshire for a year,
in 1592 he commanded a fleet equipped by Sir Walter Raleigh
and set about harrying Spanish merchant ships that were transporting
gold from Panama. In November 1594 Frobisher was participating
in the relief of Fort Crozo near Brest in France when, on the
22nd, whilst engaging the Spanish fleet, he was mortally wounded
and later died in Plymouth.
a half brother of Sir Walter Raleigh and lived at Compton, near
Dartmouth, Devon. His early career was spent soldiering in France,
Holland and Ireland where he was knighted for his services.
However, his lifelong ambition was to seek out the North-West
passage to Cathay and in 1576 published his famous 'Discourse'
on the subject. His patience was rewarded when, in 1578, he
was granted a charter by Elizabeth I for such a voyage. not
only to search for the passage but also to establish a colony
in Newfoundland where he was to be the Governor. His first expedition
got no further than the Cape Verde Islands where it was set
upon by the Spaniards.
When the money and credit ran out Gilbert returned to soldiering
for a short while but in 1583, with Raleigh's help and by "selling
the clothes off my wife's back", he was able to finance another
expedition. He sailed from Plymouth in June 1583 in the Delight
accompanied by the Ark Royal, which had been provided
by Raleigh, the Swallow, the 10 ton Squirrel
and vessel in the flotilla, the Golden Hind. The Ark
Royal soon left the group and returned home on the pretext
of sickness. The remainder reached St John's, in Newfoundland
where, on 5th August 1583, after taking possession of the territory,
Gilbert set up the first English colony in North America .
Gilbert, in reality, was a god-fearing academic and not being
a leader of men found it difficult to impose law and order.
After sending the Swallow back to England with the
sick and disillusioned he set sail in the Squirrel
and led the others southwards to explore the coast. On 29th
August the Delight was lost when she ran aground and
two days later the Golden Hind and Squirrel
set course for home. When the ships reached the Azores they
encountered fierce storms and on clearing one of them Gilbert
was seen sitting in the stern of the Squirrel reading
a book. As the Golden Hind closed within earshot Gilbert cheerfully
called across "we are as near to heaven by sea as by land".
Captain Hayes, commanding the Golden Hind, later reported
the loss of the Squirrel. 'The same Monday night,
about twelve, the frigate [Squirrel] being ahead of
us in the Golden Hind, suddenly her lights were out...in that
moment the frigate was devoured and swallowed up of the sea.'
Gilbert perished with the remainder of his crew. Edward Fenton (d.
1603), commanded the Gabriel
in Martin Frobisher's second voyage in search of the Northwest
passage in 1577, and in the following year was second-in-command
of the third expedition for the same purpose, sailing in the
Judith. In 1582 he was selected to command a trading
expedition into the Indian Ocean and eventually to China, with
instructions to discover, if possible, a western entrance to
the Northwest passage. This expedition got no further than Brazil
because of quarrels among the officers, and in fact returned
to England with many of them in irons. In the battle against
the Spanish Armada in 1588, Fenton commanded the English ship
(Foxe) - (1586-1636)was
born in Hull and went to sea at an early age and in 1606 offered
his services for an expedition to Greenland but was rejected.
Having the desire to undertake Artic exploration in 1629 he
successfully petitioned the king for money to finance an expedition
to seek out the North-West passage. He was provided with the
pinnace Charles and a crew of twenty-two men by the
Admiralty and set sail from Bristol in 1631. When he reached
Frobisher Bay he worked his way along the north shore of the
Hudson Strait until he arrived at Coates Island where he began
his search for the passage. He spent some time making observations
in the channel which bears his name but when the winter ice
began to close in he decided to return home without achieving