Front Matter A Little Old World Early Mariners Is the World Flat Herodotus the Traveller Alexander Explores India Pytheas Finds British Isles Julius Caesar as Explorer Strabo's Geography The Roman Empire and Pliny Ptolemy's Maps Pilgrim Travellers Irish Explorers After Mohammed Vikings Sail Northern Seas Arab Wayfarers Travellers to the East Marco Polo Mediaeval Exploration Ends Mediaeval Maps Prince Henry of Portugal Bartholomew Diaz Christopher Columbus A Great New World Vasco da Gama Reaches India Discovery of Spice Islands Balboa Sees Pacific Ocean Magellan Sails Round World Cortes Conquers Mexico Explorers in South America Cabot Sails to Newfoundland Cartier Explores Canada Search for a Northwest Passage Frobisher Searches for Passage Drake's Famous Voyage Davis Straight Barents Sails to Spitzbergen Hudson Finds His Bay Baffin Finds His Bay Raleigh Searches for El Dorado Champlain and Lake Ontario Discoverers of Australia Tasman Finds Tasmania Dampier Discovers a Straight Behring Finds his Straight Cook Discovers New Zealand Cook's Third Voyage Bruce in Abyssinia Mungo Park and the Niger Vancouver and his Island Mackenzie and his River Parry and Lancaster Sound The Frozen North Franklin's Land Voyage Parry's Polar Voyage The Search for Timbuktu Landers Discover the Niger Ross Discovers North Pole Flinders Names Australia Sturt's Discoveries in Australia Ross in the Antarctic Seas Franklin Discovers Passage David Livingstone Burton and Speke in Africa Livingston Traces Nyassa Expedition to Victoria Nyanza Baker Finds Albert Nyanza Livingstone's Last Journey Through the Dark Continent Nordenskiold's NE Passage The Exploration of Tibet Nansen Reaches Farthest North Peary Reaches the North Pole The Quest for the South Pole Dates of Chief Events

Book of Discovery - M. B. Synge

Drake's Famous Voyage Round the World

"Call him on the deep sea, call him up the sound,

Call him when ye sail to meet the foe;

Where the old trade's plyin' and the old flag flyin',

They shall find him ware an' wakin', as they found him long ago!"

Henry Newbolt.

Drake's famous voyage, as it is known to history (1577-1580), was indeed famous, for although Magellan's ship had sailed round the world fifty years before, Drake was the first Englishman to do so, and, further, he discovered for us land to the south of Magellan's Strait round which washed the waters of Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, showing that the mysterious land marked on contemporary maps as Terra Australis and joined to South America was a separate land altogether. He also explored the coast of America as far north as Vancouver Island, and disclosed to England the secret of the Spice Islands. The very name of Drake calls up a vision of thrilling adventure on the high seas. He had been at sea since he was a boy of fifteen, when he had been apprenticed to the master of a small ship trading between England and the Netherlands, and many a time he had sailed on the grey North Sea. "But the narrow seas were a prison for so large a spirit born for greater undertakings," and in 1567 we find Drake sailing forth on board the Judith  in an expedition over to the Spanish settlements in America under his kinsman, John Hawkins. Having crossed the Atlantic and filled his ships with Spanish treasure from "the Spanish Main," and having narrowly escaped death from the hands of the Spaniards, Drake had hurried home to tell of the riches of this new country still closed to all other nations. Two years later Drake was off again, this time in command himself of two ships with crews of seventy-three young men, their modest aim being nothing less than to seize one of the Spanish ports and empty into their holds the "Treasure House of the World." What if this act of reckless daring was unsuccessful? The undertaking was crowned with a higher success than that of riches, for Drake was the first Englishman to see the waters of the Pacific Ocean. His expedition was not unlike that of Balboa some sixty years before, as with eighteen chosen companions he climbed the forest-clad spurs of the ridge dividing the two great oceans. Arrived at the top, he climbed up a giant tree, and the Golden Sea of which he had so often heard—the Pacific Ocean of Magellan, the waters washing the golden shores of Mexico and Peru—all lay below him. Descending from the heights, he sank upon his knees and "humbly besought Almighty God of His goodness to give him life and leave to sail once in an English ship in that sea."

[Illustration] from Book of Discovery by M. B. Synge


Jealously had the Spanish guarded this beautiful Southern Sea, now her secrets were laid bare, for an Englishman had gazed upon it and he was not likely to remain satisfied with this alone.

In 1573 Drake came home with his wonderful news, and it was not long before he was eagerly talking over with the Queen a project for a raid into this very Golden Sea guarded by the Spaniards. Elizabeth promised help on condition that the object of the expedition should remain a secret. Ships were bought for "a voyage to Egypt"; there was the Pelican  of one hundred tons, the Marygold  of thirty tons, and a provision ship of fifty tons. A fine new ship of eighty tons, named the Elizabeth, mysteriously added itself to the little fleet, and the crews numbered in all some one hundred and fifty men. No expense was spared in the equipment of the ships. Musicians were engaged for the voyage, the arms and ammunition were of the latest pattern. The flagship was lavishly furnished: there were silver bowls and mugs and dishes richly gilt and engraved with the family arms, while the commander's cabin was full of sweet-smelling perfumes presented by the Queen herself. Thus, complete at last, Drake led his gay little squadron out of Plymouth harbour on 15th November 1577, bound for Alexandria—so the crews thought.

Little did Drake know what was before him, as, dressed in his seaman's shirt, his scarlet cap with its gold band on his head, he waved farewell to England. Who could foresee the terrible beginning, with treachery and mutiny at work, or the glorious ending when the young Englishman sailed triumphantly home after his three years' voyage—the world encompassed?

Sir Francis Drake


Having reached the Cape de Verde Islands in safety, the object of the expedition could no longer remain a secret, and Drake led his squadron boldly across the Atlantic Ocean.

On 5th April the coast of Brazil appeared, but fogs and heavy weather scattered the ships and they had to run into the mouth of the La Plata for shelter. Then for six weary weeks the ships struggled southward, battered by gales and squalls during which nothing but the daring seamanship of the English navigators saved the little vessels from destruction. It was not till 20th June that they reached Port St. Julian of Magellan fame, on the desolate shores of Patagonia. As they entered the harbour, a grim sight met their eyes. On that windswept shore was the skeleton of the man hung by Magellan years before.

History was to repeat itself, and the same fate was now to befall an unhappy Englishman guilty of the same conduct.

Drake had long had reason to suspect the second in command, Doughty, though he was his dear friend. He had been guilty of worse than disobedience, and the very success of the voyage was threatened. So Drake called a council together and Doughty was tried according to English law. After two days' trial he was found guilty and condemned to die. One of the most touching scenes in the history of exploration now took place. One sees the little English crews far away on that desolate shore, the ships lying at anchor in the harbour, the block prepared, the altar raised beside it, the two old friends, Drake and Doughty, kneeling side by side, then the flash of the sword and Drake holding up the head of his friend with the words, "Lo, this is the end of traitors."

[Illustration] from Book of Discovery by M. B. Synge


It was now midwinter, and for six weeks they remained in harbour till August came, and with three ships they emerged to continue their way to the Straits of Magellan. At last it was found and boldly they entered. From the towering mountains that guarded the entry, tempests of wind and snow swept down upon the "daring intruders." As they made their way through the rough and winding waters, they imagined with all the other geographers of their time that the unknown land to the south was one great continent leading beyond the boundaries of the world. Fires lit by the natives on this southern coast added terror to the wild scene. But at the end of sixteen days they found themselves once more in the open sea. They were at last on the Pacific Ocean.

But it was anything but pacific. A terrible tempest arose, followed by other storms no less violent, and the ships were driven helplessly southward and westward far beyond Cape Horn. When they once more reached the coast they found in the place of the great southern continent an indented wind-swept shore washed by waves terrific in their height and strength. In the ceaseless gale the Marygold  foundered with all hands and was never heard of again. A week later the captain of the Elizabeth  turned home, leaving the Pelican, now called the Golden Hind, to struggle on alone. After nearly two months of storm, Drake anchored among the islands southward of anything yet known to the geographers, where Atlantic and Pacific rolled together in one boisterous flood. Walking alone to the farthest end of the island, Drake is said to have laid himself down and with his arms embraced the southernmost point of the known world.

He showed that the Tierra del Fuego, instead of being part of a great continent—the Terra Australis—was a group of islands with open sea to east, south, and west. This discovery was first shown on a Dutch silver medallion struck in Holland about 1581, known as The Silver Map of the world, and may be seen to-day in the British Museum.

Remarking that the ocean he was now entering would have been better called "Mare Furiosum" than "Mare Pacificum," Drake now directed his course along the western coast of South America. He found the coast of Chili, but not as the general maps had described it, "wherefore it appeareth that this part of Chili hath not been truly hitherto discovered," remarked one on board the Golden Hind. Bristling with guns, the little English ship sailed along the unknown coast, till they reached Valparaiso. Here they found a great Spanish ship laden with treasure from Peru. Quickly boarding her, the English sailors bound the Spaniards, stowed them under the hatches, and hastily transferred the cargo on to the Golden Hind. They sailed on northwards to Lima and Panama, chasing the ships of Spain, plundering as they went, till they were deeply laden with stolen Spanish treasure and knew that they had made it impossible to return home by that coast. So Drake resolved to go on northward and discover, if possible, a way home by the north. He had probably heard of Frobisher's Strait, and hoped to find a western entrance.

As they approached the Arctic regions the weather grew bitterly cold, and "vile, thick, stinking fogs" determined them to sail southward. They had reached a point near what we now know as Vancouver Island when contrary winds drove them back and they put in at a harbour, now known as San Francisco, to repair the ship for the great voyage across the Pacific and home by the Cape of Good Hope. Drake had sailed past seven hundred miles of new coast-line in twelve days, and he now turned to explore the new country, to which he gave the name of New Albion. The Indians soon began to gather in large quantities on the shore, and the King himself, tall and comely, advanced in a friendly manner. Indeed, he took off his crown and set it on the head of Drake and, hanging chains about his neck, the Indians made him understand that the land was now his and that they were his vassals.

[Illustration] from Book of Discovery by M. B. Synge


Little did King Drake dream, as he named his country New Albion, that Californian gold was so near. His subjects were loving and peaceable, evidently, regarding the English as gods and reverencing them as such. The chronicler is eloquent in his detailed description of all the royal doings.

"Before we left," he says, "our General caused to be set up a monument of our being there, as also of Her Majesty's right and title to that kingdom, namely, a plate of brass, fast nailed to a great and firm post, whereon is engraved Her Grace's name and the day and year of our arrival here, and of the free giving up of the province, both by the people and king, into Her Majesty's hands, together with Her Highness' picture and arms in a piece of sixpence current money. The Spanish never so much as set foot in this country the utmost of their discoveries reaching only to many degrees southward of this place.

"And now, as the time of our departure was perceived by the people, so did the sorrows and miseries seem to increase upon them not only did they lose on a sudden all mirth, joy, glad countenance, pleasant speeches, agility of body, but with signs and sorrowings, with heavy hearts and grieved minds, they poured out woeful complaints and moans, with bitter tears and wringing of their hands, tormenting themselves. And, as men refusing all comfort, they only accounted themselves as those whom the gods were about to forsake."

Indeed, the poor Indians looked on these Englishmen as gods, and, when the day came for them to leave, they ran to the top of the hills to keep the little ship in sight as long as possible, after which they burnt fires and made sacrifices at their departure.

Drake left New Albion on 23rd July 1579, to follow the lead of Magellan and to pass home by the southern seas and the Atlantic Ocean. After sixty-eight days of quick and straight sailing, with no sight of land, they fell in with the Philippine Islands, and on 3rd November with the famous Spice Islands. Here they were well received by the King—a magnificent person attired in cloth of gold, with bare legs and shoes of Cordova skins, rings of gold in his hair, and a chain "of perfect gold" about his neck. The Englishmen were glad enough to get fresh food after their long crossing, and fared sumptuously on rice, hens, "imperfect and liquid sugar," sugar-canes, and a fruit they call figo, with plenty of cloves. On a little island near Celebes the Golden Hind  was thoroughly repaired for her long voyage home. But the little treasure-laden ship was nearly wrecked before she got away from the dangerous shoals and currents of these islands.

"Upon the 9th of January we ran suddenly upon a rock, where we stuck fast from eight of the clock at night till four of the clock in the afternoon the next day, being, indeed, out of all hope to escape the danger; but our General, as he had always hitherto showed himself courageous, so now he and we did our best endeavours to save ourselves, which it pleased God so to bless, that in the end we cleared ourselves most happily of the danger."

[Illustration] from Book of Discovery by M. B. Synge


Then they ran across the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope in calm weather, abusing the Portuguese for calling it the most dangerous Cape in the world for intolerable storms, for "This Cape," said the English, "is a most stately thing and the finest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth."

And so they came home. After nearly three years' absence Drake triumphantly sailed his little Golden Hind  into Plymouth harbour, where he had long ago been given up as lost. Shouts of applause rang through the land at the news that an Englishman had circumnavigated the world. The Queen sent for Drake to tell his wonderful story, to which she listened spellbound. A great banquet was held on board the little ship, at which Elizabeth was present and knighted Drake, while she ordered that the Golden Hind  should be preserved "as a worthy rival of Magellan's Victoria"  and as "a monument to all posterity of that famous and worthy exploit of Sir Francis Drake." It was afterwards taken to pieces, and the best parts of wood were made into a chair at Oxford, commemorated by Cowley's lines—

"To this great ship, which round the world has run

And, matched in race the chariot of the sun;

Drake and his ship could ne'er have wished from fate

A happier station or more blest estate;

For lo, a seat of endless rest is given

To her in Oxford and to him in Heaven."

Sir Francis Drake died at sea in 1596.

"The waves became his winding sheet, the waters were his tomb,

But for his fame the ocean sea was not sufficient room."

World at the time of Drake