Thursday, 24 March 2011

Thomas Cavendish, 1588

An engraving of English explorer Thomas Cavendish, known as "the Navigator" because he was the first to deliberately set out to circumnavigate the globe. The Latin inscription surrounding the bust and map, "THOMAS CANDYSSH NOBILIS ANGLVS ÆTA[TIS] SVÆ XXX", means "Thomas Cavendish, English noble, at the age of 30". National Portrait Gallery London.
Adapted from:
Thomas Cavendish was an explorer, privateer and plunderer born in September 1560 near Ipswich. When he was 12 he inherited a fortune from his deceased father William, but after leaving school at age 17, for the next 8 years or so he squandered most of it on luxurious living. In 1585 he sailed in his own ship with Sir Richard Grenville’s expedition to Virginia and in July 1586 determined to follow Sir Francis Drake in circumnavigating the globe. With only a total crew of 123 he left Plymouth in July 1586 in his 120 ton flagship “Desire” accompanied by the 60 ton “Content” and the 40 ton “Hugh Gallant (later burned in the Pacific due to a shortage of crew).
Reaching the Strait of Magellan on 6 January 1587, they emerged from the strait into the Pacific on 24 February and sailed up the coast of South America, reaching the southern tip of California in October 1587. Cavendish then sailed across the Pacific to the Philippine Islands where he learned about the Chinese and Japanese coasts, which he hoped to use on a second voyage. By 14 May 1588 he reached the coast of Africa, visiting St. Helena from the 8th to 20th June, and finally reached England on 9 September 1588, completing the circumnavigation of the globe seven months faster than Drake, but, like Drake, returning with only one of his ships, the "Desire".
The voyage was a huge financial success for Cavendish, still only aged 28. He sailed on a second expedition in August 1591, going further south to the Strait of Magellan returning to Brazil, where he lost most of his crew in a battle against the Portuguese at the Village of Vitória. Setting off across the Atlantic towards Saint Helena with the remainder of the crew, he died of unknown causes, (worn out with privations and disappointments) possibly off Ascension Island, in June 1592.
His description of St. Helena was printed in Hakluyt, The principal navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and discoveries of the English Nation, 1598 – 1600, Volume XI and can be downloaded at: Page 343. It is also available on Barry Weaver’s site at:
1588 The eighth day of June by breake of day we fel in sight of the yland of S. Helena, seven or eight leagues short of it, having but a small gale of winde, or almost none at all; insomuch as we could not get into it that day, but stood off and on all that night.
The next day being the 9. of June having a pretie easie gale of wind we stood in with the shore, our boat being sent away before to make the harborough; and about one of the clocke in the afternoone we came unto an ancker in 12. fathoms water two or three cables length from the shore, in a very faire and smooth bay under the Northwest side of the yland.
This yland is very high land, and lieth in the maine sea standing as it were in the middest of the sea betweene the maine land of Africa, and the maine of Brasilia and the coast of Guinea: And is in 15. degrees and 48. minuts to the Southward of the Equinoctiall line, and is distant from the Cape of Buena Esperanza betweene 5, and 6. hundreth leagues.
The same day about two or three of the clocke in the afternoone wee went on shore, where wee found a marveilous faire & pleasant valley, wherein divers handsome buildings and houses were set up, and especially one which was a Church, which was tyled & whited on the outside very faire, and made with a porch, and within the Church at the upper end was set an altar, whereon stood a very large table set in a frame having in it the picture of our Saviour Christ upon the Crosse and the image of our Lady praying, with divers other histories curiously painted in the same. The sides of the Church were all hanged with stained clothes having many devises drawen in them.
There are two houses adjoyning to the Church, on each side one, which serve for kitchins to dresse meate in, with necessary roomes and houses of office : the coverings of the said houses are made flat, whereon is planted a very faire vine, and through both the saide houses runneth a very good and holsome streame of fresh water.
There is also right over against the saide Church a faire causey made up with stones reaching unto a valley by the seaside, in which valley is planted a garden, wherein grow great store of pompions and melons : And upon the saide causey is a frame erected whereon hange two bells wherewith they ring to Masse ; and hard unto it is a Crosse set up, which is squared, framed and made very artificially of free stone, whereon is carved in cyphers what time it was builded, which was in the yeere of our Lord 1571.
This valley is the fairest and largest lowe plot in all the yland, and it is marveilous sweete and pleasant, and planted in every place either with fruite trees, or with herbes. There are fig trees, which beare fruit continually, & marveilous plentifully : for on every tree you shal have blossoms, greene, and ripe figs, all at ones : and it is so all the yere long : the reason is that the yland standeth so neere the Sunne.
There be also great store of divers of lymon trees, orange trees, pomegranate trees, pomecitron trees, date trees, which beare fruite as the fig trees do, and are planted carefully and very artificially with very pleasant walkes under and betweene them, and the saide walkes bee overshadowed with the leaves of the trees : and in every voyde place is planted parceley, sorell, basill, fenell, annis seede, mustard seede, radishes, and many speciall good hearbes : and the fresh water brooke runneth through divers places of this orchard, and may with very small paines be made to water any one tree in the valley.
This fresh water streame commeth from the tops of the mountaines, and falleth from the cliffe into the valley the height of a cable, and hath many armes out of it, which refresh the whole yland, and almost every tree in it. The yland is altogether high mountaines and steepe valleis, except it be in the tops of some hilles, and downe below in some of the valleis, where marvellous store of all these kinds of fruits before spoken of do grow : there is greater store growing in the tops of the mountaines then below in the valleis : but it is wonderfull laboursome and also dangerous travelling up unto them and downe againe, by reason of the height and steepenesse of the hilles.
There is also upon this yland great store of partridges, Abundance of which are very tame, not making any great hast to flie away though one come very neere them, but onely to runne away, and get up into the steepe cliffes : we killed some of them with a fowling piece. They differ very much from our partridges which are in England both in bignesse and also in colour. For they be within a little as bigge as an henne, and are of an ashe colour, and live in covies twelve, sixteen, and twentie together you cannot go ten or twelve score but you shall see or spring one or two covies at the least.
There are likewise no lesse store of fesants in the yland. Great store of which are also marveilous bigge and fat, surpassing those which are in our countrey in bignesse and in numbers of a company. They differ not very much in colour from the partridges before spoken of.
Wee found moreover in this place great store of Guinie cocks, which we call Turkies, of colour blacke and white, with red heads : they are much about the same bignesse which ours be of in England : their egges be white, and as bigge as a Turkies egge.
There are in this yland thousands of goates, which the Spaniards call Cabritos, which are very wilde : you shall see one or two hundred of them together, and sometimes you may beholde them going in a flocke almost a mile long. Some of them, (whether it be the nature of the breed of them, or of the country I wot not) are as big as an asse, with a maine like an horse and a beard hanging downe to the very ground : they will clime up the cliffes which are so steepe that a man would thinke it a thing unpossible for any living thing to goe there. We tooke and killed many of them for all their swiftnes : for there be thousands of them upon the mountaines.
Here are in like maner great store of swine which be very wilde and very fat, and of a marvellous bignes : they keepe altogether upon the mountaines, and will very seldome abide any man to come neere them, except it be by meere chance when they be found asleepe, or other- wise, according to their kinde, be taken layed in the mire.
We found in the houses at our comming 3. slaves which were Negros, & one which was borne in the yland of Java, which tolde us that the East Indian fleete, which were in number 5. sailes, the least whereof were in burthen 8. or 900. tunnes, all laden with spices and Calicut cloth, with store of treasure and very rich stones and pearles, were gone from the saide yland of S. Helena but 20, dayes before we came thither.
This yland hath bene found of long time by the Portugals, and hath bene altogether planted by them, for their refreshing as they come from the East Indies. And when they come they have all things plentiful for their reliefe, by reason that they suffer none to inhabit there that might spend up the fruit of the yland, except some very few sicke persons in their company, which they stand in doubt will not live untill they come home, whom they leave there to refresh themselves, and take away the yeere following the other Fleete if they live so long. They touch here rather in their comming home from the East Indies, then at their going thither, because they are throughly furnished with corne when they set out of Portugal, but are but meanely victualled at their comming from the Indies, where there groweth little corne.
The 20. day of June having taken in wood & water and refreshed our selves with such things as we found there, and made cleane our ship, we set saile about 8. of the clocke in the night toward England. At our setting saile wee had the winde at Southeast, and we haled away North- west and by West. The winde is commonly off the shore at this yland of S. Helena.

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