The Story Of Sir John Hawkins




Sir John Hawkins was born at Plymouth about the year 1520. He was from

his youth devoted to the study of navigation, and began very early to

carry his knowledge into practice by making voyages to Spain, Portugal
and the Canaries, voyages which were in those days great undertakings.

In 1562 he made his first voyage to Guinea for slaves, and then to

Hispaniola, St. John de Porto Rico, and other Spanish islands, for

sugars, hides, silver, etc. His venture proving financially successful

he made another voyage in 1564 with a like purpose, with the same

success, arriving on his return at Padstow in Cornwall, on September

20th, 1565.

Towards the end of the year 1567, he started on the unfortunate voyage

made with the Jesus, the Minion and four other ships to the ports of

Guinea and the West Indies, his own personal account of which is thus

recorded in Hakluyt's "Voyages."

"The ships departed from Plymouth October 2nd, 1567, and had reasonable

weather until the seventh day, at which time, forty leagues north from

Cape Finisterre, there arose an extreme storm which continued four days,

in such sort that the fleet was dispersed and all our great boats lost,

and the Jesus, our chief ship, in such case as not thought able to

serve the voyage. Whereupon in the same storm we set our course

homeward, determining to give over the voyage; but the eleventh day of

the same month the wind changed, with fair weather, whereby we were

animated to follow our enterprise, and so did, directing our course to

the islands of Grand Canaries, where, according to an order before

prescribed, all our ships, before dispersed, met in one of those

islands, called Gomera, where we took water, and departed from thence on

November 4th towards the coast of Guinea, and arrived at Cape Verde,

November 18th, where we landed one hundred and fifty men, hoping to

obtain some negroes; where we got but few, and those with great hurt and

damage to our men, which chiefly proceeded from their envenomed arrows;

although in the beginning they seemed to be but small hurts, yet there

hardly escaped any that had blood drawn of them but died in strange

sort, with their mouths shut, some ten days before they died, and after

their wounds were whole; where I myself had one of the greatest wounds,

yet, thanks be to God, escaped. From thence we passed the time upon the

coast of Guinea, searching with all diligence the rivers from Rio Grande

unto Sierra Leone till January 12th, in which time we had not gotten

together a hundred and fifty negroes: yet, notwithstanding, the sickness

of our men and the late time of the year commanded us away: and thus

having nothing wherewith to seek the coast of the West Indies, I was

with the rest of our company in consultation to go to the coast of the

Myne, hoping there to have obtained some gold for our wares, and thereby

to have defrayed our charge. But even in that present instant there came

to us a negro sent from a king oppressed by other kings, his neighbours,

desiring our aid, with promise that as many negroes as by these wars

might be obtained, as well of his part as of ours, should be at our

pleasure. Whereupon we concluded to give aid, and sent one hundred and

twenty of our men, which January 15th assaulted a town of the negroes of

our allies' adversaries which had in it eight thousand inhabitants, and

very strongly impaled and fenced after their manner; but it was so well

defended that our men prevailed not, but lost six men, and forty hurt,

so that our men sent forthwith to me for more help; whereupon,

considering that the good success of this enterprise might highly

further the commodity of our voyage, I went myself, and with the help of

the king of our side assaulted the town, both by land and sea, and very

hardly with fire (their houses being covered with dry palm leaves)

obtained the town, and put the inhabitants to flight, where we took two

hundred and fifty persons, men, women, and children, and by our friend

the king of our side there were taken six hundred prisoners, whereof we

hoped to have our choice, but the negro (in which nation is seldom or

never found truth) meant nothing less; for that night he removed his

camp and prisoners, so that we were fain to content us with those few

which we had gotten ourselves.

"Now had we obtained between four and five hundred negroes, wherewith we

thought it somewhat reasonable to seek the coast of the West Indies, and

there, for our negroes, and our other merchandise, we hoped to obtain

whereof to countervail our charges with some gains, whereunto we

proceeded with all diligence, finished our watering, took fuel, and

departed the coast of Guinea, on February 3rd, continuing at the sea

with a passage more hard than before hath been accustomed till March

27th, which day we had sight of an island called Dominique, upon the

coast of the West Indies, in fourteen degrees; from thence we coasted

from place to place, making our traffic with the Spaniards as we might,

somewhat hardy, because the king had straightly commanded all his

governors in those parts by no means to suffer any trade to be made with

us; notwithstanding we had reasonable trade, and courteous entertainment

from the Isle of Marguerite and Cartagena, without anything greatly

worth the noting, saving at Capo de la Vela, in a town called Rio de la

Hacha, from whence come all the pearls. The treasurer who had the charge

there would by no means agree to any trade, or suffer us to take water.

He had fortified his town with divers bulwarks in all places where it

might be entered, and furnished himself with a hundred harquebusiers, so

that he thought by famine to have enforced us to have put on land our

negroes, of which purpose he had not greatly failed unless we had by

force entered the town; which (after we could by no means obtain his

favour) we were enforced to do, and so with two hundred men brake in

upon their bulwarks, and entered the town with the loss only of eleven

men of our parts, and no hurt done to the Spaniards, because after their

volley of shot discharged, they all fled.

"Thus having the town, with some circumstance, as partly by the

Spaniards' desire of negroes, and partly by friendship of the treasurer,

we obtained a secret trade; whereupon the Spaniards resorted to us by

night, and bought of us to the number of two hundred negroes; in all

other places where we traded the Spaniard inhabitants were glad of us,

and traded willingly.

"At Cartagena, the last town we thought to have seen on the coast, we

could by no means obtain to deal with any Spaniard, the governor was so

straight, and because our trade was so near finished, we thought not

good either to adventure any landing or to detract further time, but in

peace departed from thence on July 24th, hoping to have escaped the time

of their storms, which then soon after began to reign, the which they

call Furicanos; but passing by the west end of Cuba, towards the coast

of Florida, there happened to us, on August 12th, an extreme storm,

which continued by the space of four days, which so beat the Jesus,

that we cut down all her higher buildings; her rudder also was sore

shaken, and, withal, was in so extreme a leak, that we were rather upon

the point to leave her than to keep her any longer; yet, hoping to bring

all to good pass, sought the coast of Florida, where we found no place

nor haven for our ships because of the shallowness of the coast. Thus,

being in greater despair, and taken with a new storm, which continued

other three days, we were enforced to take for our succour the port

which serveth the city of Mexico, called St. John de Ullua, which

standeth in nineteen degrees, in seeking of which port we took in our

way three ships, which carried passengers to the number of one hundred,

which passengers we hoped should be a means to us the better to obtain

victuals for our money and a quiet place for the repairing of our fleet.

Shortly after this, on September 16th, we entered the port of St. John

de Ullua, and on our entry, the Spaniards thinking us to be the fleet of

Spain, the chief officers of the country came aboard us, which, being

deceived of their expectation, were greatly dismayed, but immediately,

when they saw our demand was nothing but victuals, were recomforted. I

found also in the same port, twelve ships, which had in them, by the

report, 200,000 livres in gold and silver, all which (being in my

possession with the King's Island, as also the passengers before in my

way thitherward stayed) I set at liberty, without the taking from them

the weight of a groat; only, because I would not be delayed of my

despatch, I stayed two men of estimation, and sent post immediately to

Mexico, which was two hundred miles from us, to the presidents and

council there, showing them of our arrival there by the force of

weather, and the necessity of the repair of our ships and victuals,

which wants we required, as friends to King Philip, to be furnished of

for our money, and that the presidents in council there should, with all

convenient speed, take order that at the arrival of the Spanish fleet,

which was daily looked for, there might no cause of quarrel rise between

us and them, but, for the better maintenance of amity, their commandment

might be had in that behalf. This message being sent away on September

16th, at night, being the very day of our arrival, in the next morning,

which was the sixteenth day of the same month, we saw open of the haven

thirteen great ships, and understanding them to be the fleet of Spain, I

sent immediately to advertise the general of the fleet of my being

there, giving him to understand that, before I would suffer them to

enter the port, there should be some order of conditions pass between us

for our safe being there and maintenance of peace. Now, it is to be

understood that this port is a little island of stones, not three feet

above the water in the highest place, and but a bow-shot of length any

way. This island standeth from the mainland two bow-shots or more. Also

it is to be understood that there is not in all this coast any other

place for ships to arrive in safety, because the north wind hath there

such violence, that, unless the ships be very safely moored, with their

anchors fastened upon this island, there is no remedy for these north

winds but death; also, the place of the haven was so little, that of

necessity the ships must ride one aboard the other, so that we could not

give place to them nor they to us; and here I began to bewail the which

after followed: 'For now,' said I, 'I am in two dangers, and forced to

receive the one of them.' That was, either I must have kept out the

fleet from entering the port (the which, with God's help, I was very

well able to do), or else suffer them to enter in with their accustomed

treason, which they never fail to execute where they may have

opportunity, or circumvent it by any means. If I had kept them out, then

had there been present shipwreck of all the fleet, which, amounted in

value to six millions, which was in value of our money 1,800,000 livres,

which I considered I was not able to answer, fearing the Queen's

Majesty's indignation in so weighty a matter. Thus with myself revolving

the doubts, I thought rather better to abide the jutt of the uncertainty

than the certainty. The uncertain doubt was their treason, which by good

policy I hoped might be prevented; and therefore, as choosing the least

mischief, I proceeded to conditions. Now was our first messenger come

and returned from the fleet with report of the arrival of a viceroy, so

that he had authority, both in all this province of Mexico (otherwise

called Nova Hispania) and in the sea, who sent us word that we should

send our conditions, which of his part should (for the better

maintenance of amity between the princes) be both favourably granted and

faithfully performed, with many fair words how, passing the coast of the

Indies, he had understood of our honest behaviour towards the

inhabitants, where we had to do as well elsewhere as in the same port;

the which I let pass, thus following our demand. We required victual for

our money, and license to sell as much ware as might furnish our wants,

and that there might be of either part twelve gentlemen as hostage for

the maintenance of peace, and that the island, for our better safety,

might be in our own possession during our abode there, and such ordnance

as was planted in the same island, which was eleven pieces of brass, and

that no Spaniard might land in the island with any kind of weapon.

"These conditions at the first he somewhat misliked--chiefly the guard

of the island to be in our own keeping, which, if they had had, we had

soon known our fate; for with the first north wind they had cut our

cables, and our ships had gone ashore; but in the end he concluded to

our request, bringing the twelve hostages to ten, which with all speed

on either part were received, with a writing from the viceroy, signed

with his hand and sealed with his seal, of all the conditions concluded,

and forthwith a trumpet blown, with commandment that none of either part

should inviolate the peace upon pain of death; and, further, it was

concluded that the two generals of the fleet should meet, and give faith

each to other for the performance of the promises, which was so done.

"Thus, at the end of three days, all was concluded, and the fleet

entered the port, saluting one another as the manner of the sea doth

require. Thus, as I said before, Thursday we entered the port, Friday we

saw the fleet, and on Monday, at night, they entered the port; then we

laboured two days, placing the English ships by themselves and the

Spanish ships by themselves, the captains of each part, and inferior men

of their parts, promising great amity of all sides; which, even as with

all fidelity was meant of our part, though the Spanish meant nothing

less of their parts, but from the mainland had furnished themselves with

a supply of men to the number of one thousand, and meant the next

Thursday, being September 23rd, at dinner-time, to set upon us of all

sides. The same Thursday, the treason being at hand, some appearance

showed, as shifting of weapons from ship to ship, planting and bending

of ordnance from the ship to the island where our men were, passing to

and fro of companies of men more than required for their necessary

business, and many other ill likelihoods, which caused us to have a

vehement suspicion, and therewithal sent to the viceroy to inquire what

was meant by it, which sent immediately straight commandment to unplant

all things suspicious, and also sent word that he, in the faith of a

viceroy, would be our defence from all villainies. Yet we, not being

satisfied with this answer, because we suspected a great number of men

to be hid in a great ship of nine hundred tons, which was moored next

unto the Minion, sent again unto the viceroy the master of the

Jesus, which had the Spanish tongue, and required to be satisfied if

any such thing were or not; on which the viceroy, seeing that the

treason must be discovered, forthwith stayed our master, blew the

trumpet, and of all sides set upon us. Our men which were on guard

ashore, being stricken with sudden fear, gave place, fled, and sought to

recover succour of the ships; the Spaniards, being before provided for

the purpose, landed in all places in multitudes from their ships, which

they could easily do without boats, and slew all our men ashore without

mercy, a few of them escaping aboard the Jesus. The great ship which

had, by the estimation, three hundred men placed in her secretly,

immediately fell aboard the Minion, which, by God's appointment, in

the time of the suspicion we had, which was only one half-hour, the

Minion was made ready to avoid, and so, loosing her headfasts, and

hailing away by the sternfasts, she was gotten out; thus, with God's

help, she defended the violence of the first brunt of these three

hundred men. The Minion being passed out, they came aboard the

Jesus, which also, with very much ado and the loss of many of our men,

were defended and kept out. Then were there also two other ships that

assaulted the Jesus at the same instant, so that she had hard work

getting loose; but yet, with some time, we had cut our headfasts, and

gotten out by the sternfasts. Now, when the Jesus and the Minion

were gotten two ship-lengths from the Spanish fleet, the fight began hot

on all sides, so that within one hour the admiral of the Spaniards was

supposed to be sunk, their vice-admiral burned, and one other of their

principal ships supposed to be sunk, so that the ships were little to

annoy us.

"Then is it to be understood that all the ordnance upon the island was

in the Spaniards' hands, which did us so great annoyance that it cut all

the masts and yards of the Jesus in such sort, that there was no hope

to carry her away; also it sank our small ships, whereupon we determined

to place the Jesus on that side of the Minion, that she might abide

all the battery from the land, and so be a defence for the Minion till

night, and then to take such relief of victual and other necessaries

from the Jesus as the time would suffer us, and to leave her. As we

were thus determining, and had placed the Minion from the shot of the

land, suddenly the Spaniards had fired two great ships which were coming

directly to us, and having no means to avoid the fire, it bred among our

men a marvellous fear, so that some said, 'Let us depart with the

Minion;' others said, 'Let us see whether the wind will carry the fire

from us.' But to be short, the Minion's men, which had always their

sails in readiness, thought to make sure work, and so without either

consent of the captain or master, cut their sail, so that very hardly I

was received into the Minion.

"The most part of the men that were left alive in the Jesus made shift

and followed the Minion in a small boat, the rest, which the little

boat was not able to receive, were enforced to abide the mercy of the

Spaniards (which I doubt was very little); so with the Minion only,

and the Judith (a small barque of fifty tons) we escaped, which barque

the same night forsook us in our great misery. We were now removed with

the Minion from the Spanish ships two bow-shots, and there rode all

that night. The next morning we recovered an island a mile from the

Spaniards, where there took us a north wind, and being left only with

two anchors and two cables (for in this conflict we lost three cables

and two anchors), we thought always upon death, which ever was present;

but God preserved us to a longer time.

"The weather waxed reasonable, and the Saturday we set sail, and having

a great number of men and little victual, our hope of life waxed less

and less. Some desired to yield to the Spaniards, some rather desired

to obtain a place where they might give themselves to the infidels; and

some had rather abide, with a little pittance, the mercy of God at sea.

So thus, with many sorrowful hearts, we wandered in an unknown sea by

the space of fourteen days, till hunger enforced us to seek the land;

for hides were thought very good meat; rats, cats, mice, and dogs, none

escaped that might be gotten; parrots and monkeys that were had in great

prize, were thought there very profitable if they served the turn of one

dinner. Thus in the end, on October 8th, we came to the land in the

bottom of the same bay of Mexico, in twenty-three degrees and a half,

where we hoped to have found habitations of the Spaniards, relief of

victuals, and place for the repair of our ship, which was so sore beaten

with shot from our enemies, and bruised with shooting of our own

ordnance, that our weary and weak arms were scarce able to defend and

keep out the water. But all things happened to the contrary, for we

found neither people, victual, nor haven of relief, but a place where,

having fair weather, with some peril we might land a boat. Our people,

being forced with hunger, desired to be set aland, whereunto I


"And such as were willing to land I put apart, and such as were desirous

to go homewards I put apart, so that they were indifferently parted, a

hundred of one side and a hundred of the other side. These hundred men

were set on land with all diligence, in this little place aforesaid,

which being landed, we determined there to refresh our water, and so

with our little remain of victuals to take the sea.

"The next day, having on land with me fifty of our hundred men that

remained, for the speedier preparing of our water aboard, there arose an

extreme storm, so that in three days we could by no means repair our

ships. The ship also was in such peril that every hour we looked for


"But yet God again had mercy on us, and sent fair weather. We got aboard

our water, and departed October 16th, after which day we had fair and

prosperous weather till November 16th, which day, God be praised, we

were clear from the coast of the Indians and out of the channel and

gulf of Bahama, which is between the Cape of Florida and the Islands of

Cuba. After this, growing near to the cold country, our men, being

oppressed with famine, died continually, and they that were left grew

into such weakness that we were scarcely able to manoeuvre our ship; and

the wind being always ill for us to recover England, determined to go to

Galicia, in Spain, with intent there to relieve our company and other

extreme wants. And being arrived the last day of December, in a place

near unto Vigo, called Pontevedra, our men, with excess of fresh meat,

grew into miserable diseases, and died a great part of them. This matter

was borne out as long as it might be, but in the end, although there was

none of our men suffered to go on land, yet by access of the Spaniards

our feebleness was known to them. Whereupon they ceased not to seek by

all means to betray us; but with all speed possible we departed to Vigo,

where we had some help of certain English ships, and twelve fresh men,

wherewith we repaired our wants as we might, and departing January 20th,

1568, arrived in Mounts Bay in Cornwall the 25th of the same month,

praised be God therefore."

If all the misery and troublesome affairs of this sorrowful voyage

should be perfectly and thoroughly written, there should need a painful

man with his pen, and as great time as he had that wrote the "Lives and

Deaths of the Martyrs."

Sir John Hawkins rendered great service under Lord Howard in 1588,

against the Spanish Armada, acting as rear admiral on board H.M.S.

Victory, where we are told he had as large a share of the danger and

honour of the day as any man in the fleet; for which he deservedly

received the honour of knighthood, and was particularly commended by

Queen Elizabeth. In 1590 he was sent, in conjunction with Sir Martin

Frobisher--each having a squadron of men-of-war--to infest the coast of

Spain, where they met with many adventures but not much success. Later,

a proposition was made to the queen by Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis

Drake, to fit out an expedition for the West Indies to harry the

Spaniards, a proposition which they backed with an offer to bear the

greater part of the expense themselves. The queen favoured the design,

and the two ablest seamen of the time sailed from Plymouth on August

28th, 1595, with a squadron of twenty-seven ships and barques, and a

force of two thousand five hundred men. Divided counsels seem to have

interfered with the success of this expedition, Sir John and Sir Francis

not agreeing as to the course to be pursued. A few days before their

departure they received notice from the queen that the Plate fleet had

safely arrived in Spain, with the exception of a single galleon, which,

having lost a mast, had been obliged to return to Porto Rico; the

capture of which she recommended to them as practical without

interfering with the general design of the expedition. Sir John was for

immediately executing the queen's commands, but Sir Francis inclined

first to go to the Canaries, in which he prevailed over his friend and

colleague, but not over his enemies. In the meantime the Spaniards had

sent five stout frigates to bring away the damaged galleon from Porto

Rico, which convoy, falling in with the Francis, the sternmost of Sir

John's ships, captured her before she could receive assistance from the

admiral. This is said to have so affected the veteran Sir John, that he

died on November 21st, 1595, soon after his vessel had sighted the

island of Porto Rico.

"Sir John Hawkins," says Dr. Campbell, "was the author of more useful

inventions, and introduced into the navy better regulations than any

officer who had borne command therein before his time. One instance of

this was the institution of that noble fund the Chest of Chatham,

which was the humane and wise contrivance of this gentleman and Sir

Francis Drake, and their scheme that seamen, safe and successful,

should, by a voluntary deduction from their pay, give relief to the

wants, and reward to those who are maimed in the service of their

country, was approved by the queen, and has been adopted by posterity."