Map of Sir Francis Drake's voyage

Changing the course of British history

Francis Drake set sail from Plymouth on 13th December 1577 with a fleet of 5 ships: the Pelican, the Elizabeth, the Marigold, the Swan, and the Christopher (also known as the Benedict).

His mission was to open trade links with new nations and discover new shipping routes, thereby weakening the Spanish dominance of South America. He did this successfully, acquiring treasure from Spanish ships and claiming land on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I.

By June 1578, he landed at Port San Julian, in modern day Argentina.  It was here that fellow officer and friend, Thomas Doughty, was executed after standing trial for mutiny and sedition.

At the Strait of Magellan, the Pelican was renamed the “Golden Hinde in honour of Sir Christopher Hatton, a patron of the voyage whose coat of arms featured a golden female deer (also known as a ‘hinde’).

The Golden Hinde, the Elizabeth and the Marigold then sailed through the Strait of Magellan and emerged in the Pacific Ocean.

As a series of storms erupted, the Marigold sank with all hands and the Elizabeth sailed back to England. The Golden Hinde was blown to the southernmost point of South America, reaching the island now known as Cape Horn.

Francis Drake then sailed north along the west coast of South America acquiring treasure from Spanish and Portuguese ships and settlements.  Upon learning that the Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion (Cacafuego) was sailing towards Peru laden with silver and jewels, Drake quickly strove to make an interception.

The Golden Hinde caught up with the Cacafuego on 1st March 1579 off the coast of Mexico and acquired 362,000 pesos worth of silver from the ship.

Francis Drake continued north and landed in North America, where he repaired the Golden Hinde.  He traded with the local Native Americans there, becoming the first European to make contact with them.

He named the land ‘Nova Albion’ (New England), and claimed it in the name of Queen Elizabeth I. Some historians believe it was located at Point Reyes, California.

Leaving North America, Drake sailed across the Pacific Ocean and through Asia.  His arrived in Plymouth via the Cape of Good Hope on 26th September 1580 – making him the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world.

His treasure was calculated at £600,000 in Elizabethan money – many millions by today’s standards. Queen Elizabeth I knighted Drake on 4th April 1581 aboard the Golden Hinde in Deptford, declaring the ship should be a maritime museum.

Unfortunately, the ship fell into disrepair and disintegrated by the mid-1600s.

All that remains of the original Golden Hinde are a chair made of the timbers, which currently resides at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and a table named the ‘cupboard’ at the Middle Temple in London.