Late in 1577,
Francis Drake left England with five ships, ostensibly on a
trading expedition to the Nile. On reaching Africa, the true
destination was revealed to be the Pacific Ocean via the Strait
of Magellan, to the dismay of some of the accompanying gentlemen
and sailors. Still in the eastern Atlantic, a Portuguese
merchant ship and its pilot - who was to stay with Drake for 15
months - was captured, and the fleet crossed the Atlantic, via
the Cape Verde Islands, to a Brazilian landfall.
Running down the Atlantic South American coast, storms,
separations, dissension, and a fatal skirmish with natives
marred the journey. Before leaving the Atlantic, Drake lightened
the expedition by disposing of two unfit ships and one English
gentleman, who was tried and executed for mutiny. After rallying
his men and unifying his command with a remarkable speech, Drake
renamed his flagship, previously the Pelican, the Golden Hind.
In September of 1578, the fleet, now three ships, sailed through
the deadly Strait of Magellan with speed and ease, only to
emerge into terrific Pacific storms. For two months the ships
were in mortal danger, unable to sail clear of the weather or to
stay clear of the coast. The ships were scattered, and the
smallest, the Marigold, went down with all hands. The Elizabeth
found herself back in the strait and turned tail for England,
where she arrived safely but in disgrace. Meanwhile, the Golden
Hind had been blown far to the south, where Drake discovered -
perhaps - that there was open water below the South American
The storms abated, and the Golden Hind was finally able to sail
north along the Pacific South American coast, into the
previously undisturbed private waters of King Philip of Spain.
The first stop, for food and water, was at the (now) Chilean
Island of Mocha, where the rebellious residents laid a nearly
disastrous ambush, having mistaken the English for their Spanish
After this bad beginning in the Pacific the tide turned, and for
the next five and a half months Drake raided Spanish settlements
at will, among them Valpariso, Lima and Arica, and easily took
Spanish ships, including the rich treasure ship "Cacafuego,"
leaving panic, chaos, and a confused pursuit in his wake. During
this time, he captured and released a number of Europeans, whose
subsequent testimony survives. The plundering was remarkable for
its restraint; neither the Spanish nor the natives were
intentionally harmed, there was very little violence, and there
were very few casualties. Drake's crew in the Pacific was of
unknown number, with estimates ranging from around sixty to one
After stopping to make repairs at an island, Cano, off the coast
of Southern Mexico and after a final raid, on the nearby (now
vanished) town of Guatulco, the Golden Hind, awash with booty,
including perhaps twenty-six tons of silver, sailed out of
Spanish waters in April of 1579. As she left the sight of all
Spanish observers, and of the captured Portuguese pilot who had
been set ashore, she was accompanied by a small captured ship,
crewed by Drake's men, which was kept for an unknown time.
Sailing first westerly and then northerly, well off the shore of
North America, the leaking Golden Hind reached a northernmost
position variously reported as between 48 degrees and 42 degrees
north latitude, a range which includes most of Washington, all
of Oregon, and a sliver of California. There, somewhere in the
region he named Nova Albion, in the strangely cold and windy
June of 1579, Drake found a harbor - reportedly at 48, 44, 38
1/2, or 38 degrees. He stayed in this now lost harbor for over
five weeks, repairing the Golden Hind and enjoying extensive and
peaceful contact with the Indians. Before he left he set up a
monument, in the form of an engraved metal plate, which has
never been found.
After stopping briefly at some nearby islands to fill out his
larder, Drake turned his back to America and sailed into the
vast Pacific. The crossing was uneventful, and landfall was made
in sixty eight days, at a location which, like the Lost Harbor,
The next months were spent puttering about in the Indonesian
archipelago, making promising commercial contacts, local
political alliances and trading for spices - and again entering
the sight of witnesses. Difficulty in finding a route through
the thousands of islands nearly ended the journey in January of
1580, when the Golden Hind ran hard onto a reef in apparent open
water; but after several desperate days a change of wind brought
Continuing westward, the Golden Hind crossed the Indian Ocean
without incident, rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the
Atlantic, sailed up the coast of Africa, and arrived
triumphantly in England in the fall of 1580, nearly three years
and some 36,000 miles having passed beneath her keel.
Upon Drake’s return in 1580, Queen Elizabeth knighted him on the
deck of the "Golden Hind", and made him the mayor of Plymouth.
Queen Elizabeth had a good deal to be grateful for with Drake’s
journey, as for each pound used to finance it, she earned 47.
Although Drake established fame for his bravery and courage, he
wasn’t well liked by his contemporaries. Drake was; however,
liked by Queen Elizabeth, and she placed him in command of a
fleet of ships with which he inflicted a great deal of damage on
the oversea Spanish Empire.
On the 28th of January 1596, 16 years after Drake was knighted,
he began his last journey against the Spanish strongholds of the
West Indies where after successfully accomplishing his
objectives Drake passed away. As a farewell, Drake’s crew
ignited two captured vessels, and while the cannon’s did solute
him, the water of the Caribbean Sea had engulfed him.
The Queen was astounded by the
tremendous quantity of silver, gold and jewels Drake had taken
from the Spanish. Because she had personally invested 1,000
crowns in the venture, she received 47,000 crowns in return.
This was enough money to pay off England’s foreign debt as well
cover future expenses of the country for several years.
Queen Elizabeth allowed Drake to keep 10,000 crowns with which
he purchased the large estate called Buckland Abbey north of
Plymouth. Buckland Abbey today is a museum of the British
National Trust and holds many of Drake’s possessions.
April 4th, 1581 Queen Elizabeth boarded the elaborately
decorated “Golden Hind” and knighted Drake for being the first
Englishman to circle the globe. Drake was granted a coat of arms
with the Latin motto “Sic Parvis Magna” which translates to
English as “Greatness from Small Beginnings”.