Historical Tales: 3—Spanish American - Charles Morris

Drake, the Sea-King, and the Spanish Treasure-Ships

At the end of October, 1578, Sir Francis Drake, the Sea-King of Devon, as he was called, and the most daring and persistent of the enemies of the Spanish settlements in America, sailed from Cape Horn, at the southern extremity of the continent, and steered northward into the great Pacific, with the golden realm of Peru for his goal. A year before he had left the harbor of Plymouth, England, with a fleet of five well-armed ships. But these had been lost or left behind until only the "Golden Hind," a ship of one hundred tons burden, was left, the flag-ship of the little squadron. Of the one hundred and sixty men with whom he started only about sixty remained.

The bold Drake had previously made himself terrible to the Spaniards of Mexico and the West Indies, and had won treasure within sight of the walls of Panama. Now for the first time the foot of a white man trod the barren rocks of Cape Horn and the keel of an English ship cut the Pacific waves. Here were treasure-laden Spanish galleons to take and rich Spanish cities to raid, and the hearts of the adventurers were full of hope of a golden harvest as they sailed north into that unknown sea.

Onward they sailed, nearing the scene of the famous adventures of Pizarro, and about the 1st of December entered a harbor on the coast of Chili. Before them, at no great distance, lay sloping hills on which sheep and cattle were grazing and corn and potatoes growing. They landed to meet the natives, who came to the shore and seemed delighted with the presents which were given them. But soon afterwards Drake and a boatload of his men, who had gone on shore to procure fresh water, were fiercely attacked by ambushed Indians, and every man on board was wounded before they could pull away. Even some of their oars were snatched from them by the Indians, and Drake was wounded by an arrow in the cheek and struck by a stone on the side of his face.

Furious at this unprovoked assault, the crew wished to attack the hostile natives, but Drake refused to do so.

"No doubt the poor fellows take us for Spaniards," he said; "and we cannot blame them for attacking any man from Spain."

Harbor of Valparasio


Some days later a native fisherman was captured and brought on board the ship. He was in a terrible fright, but was reassured when he learned that his captors were not Spaniards, but belonged to a nation whose people did not love Spain. He was highly pleased with a chopping-knife and a piece of linen cloth that were given him, and was sent ashore, promising to induce his people to sell some provisions to the ship's crew. He kept his word, and a good supply of fowls and eggs and a fat hog were obtained.

With the boat came off an Indian chief, glad to see any white men who hated the Spaniards as deeply as he did himself. He was well received and served to the best the ship could afford. Then he said to his entertainer in Spanish, a language he spoke fairly well,

"If you are at war with the Spaniards, I will be glad to go with you, and think I can be of much use to you. The city of Valparaiso lies not far south of here, and in its harbor is a large galleon, nearly ready to sail with a rich treasure. We should all like much to have you capture that vessel."

This was good news to Drake. The next day the "Golden Hind" turned its prow down the coast under full sail, with the friendly native on board. When Valparaiso was reached, Drake saw to his delight that his dusky pilot had told the truth. There lay a great galleon, flying a Spanish flag. Not dreaming of an enemy in those waters, the Spaniards were unsuspicious until the "Golden Hind" had been laid alongside and its armed crew were clambering over the bulwarks. The rich prize was captured almost without a blow.

The crew secured, Drake searched for the expected treasure, and to his joy found that she was laden with over one hundred and twenty thousand dollars in gold coin, and with other costly goods, including about two thousand jars of Chili wine. This rich plunder was transferred to the hold of the "Golden Hind," and the Spanish ship left to her disconsolate captain and crew.

After celebrating this victory with a gleeful feast, in which the rich viands obtained were washed down freely with the captured wine, an armed force was sent ashore to raid the town, whose people fled hurriedly to the fields when they saw the hostile strangers approaching. In the deserted houses and the church a fair supply of gold and silver spoil was found, and what was equally welcome, an abundant addition to their scanty store of provisions. Greatly the richer for her raid, the "Golden Hind" set sail again up the coast, putting the native pilot ashore at the place where he wished to land, and enriching him in a way that drew from him eager protestations of joy and gratitude.

Good and bad fortune attended the adventurers in this voyage up the South American coast. One of the examples of good fortune came at a place called Tarapaza, where a boatload of men, who had gone ashore, came upon a Spaniard lying fast asleep on the bank of a small stream. By his side, to their surprise, were thirteen heavy bars of solid silver. The sleepy treasure-bearer and his silver were speedily secured. Farther inland the party met with another Spaniard and an Indian boy, who were driving some sheep, with bulging bags upon their backs. On opening those they were found also to contain silver bars. It was a joyous party that returned to the "Golden Hind" with the treasure thus unexpectedly obtained, and it began to look almost as if the country grew silver.

The next raid of the adventurers was at a place called Arica, a small seaport town at the output of a beautiful and fertile valley. Here lay two or three Spanish vessels which were quickly captured and searched for goods of value. The town was not taken, for a native whom Drake met here told him of a Spanish galleon, heavily laden with a valuable cargo, which had recently passed up the coast. Here was better hope for spoil than in a small coastwise town, and the "Golden Hind" was speedily under sail again.

"A great galleon is ahead of us," said Drake to his men. "I am told she is richly laden. The first man of you who sets eyes on her will win my hearty thanks and a heavy gold chain into the bargain."

It may well be imagined that the eyes of the sailors were kept wide open in the days that followed. The man to win the golden chain was John Drake, the admiral's brother, who rushed to him one morning, as he came on deck, with the glad tidings,

"Yonder is the galleon!"

He pointed to the far northern horizon, where the sails of a great ship were just becoming visible through the morning haze. "Make all sail!" was the cry, and the English cruiser glided swiftly forward before the fresh breeze towards the slow-moving Spanish ship.

Not dreaming of such an unlikely thing as an English ship in those waters, as yet never broken except by a Spanish keel, the captain of the galleon took the stranger for a craft of his own nation, and shortened sail as the "Golden Hind" came up, signaling for its officers to come on board. Drake did so, with a strong body of armed sailors, and when the Spanish captain learned his mistake it was too late to resist. The crew of the galleon were put under hatches, and her cargo, which proved to be rich in gold and silver, was quickly transferred to the "Golden Hind." Then captain and crew of the galleon were put ashore, and the captured ship was set adrift, to try her chances without pilot or helmsman in those perilous seas. The next storm probably made her a grave in the breakers.

Great had been the spoil gathered by the English rovers, a rich wealth of treasure being within the coffers of the "Golden Hind," while she was abundantly supplied with provisions. Drake now thought of returning home with the riches he had won for himself and his comrades. But the port of Lima, Pizarro's capital, lay not far up the coast, and here he hoped for a rich addition to his spoil. Though satisfied that a messenger had been sent from Valparaiso to warn the people of the presence of an armed English ship on the coast, he had no doubt of reaching Lima in advance of news brought overland.

On reaching the port of Lima a number of Spanish vessels were found, and, their captains being unsuspicious, were easily taken. But they contained no cargoes worth the capture. Lima lay several miles inland from the port, and the governor, on hearing of these depredations, imagined that the stranger must be a Spanish vessel that had fallen into the hands of pirates and was on a free-booting cruise. While he was making preparations for her capture the messenger from Valparaiso arrived and told him the real character of the unwelcome visitor.

This news spurred the governor to increased exertions. An armed English war-ship on their coast was a foe more to be dreaded than a pirate, and the wealth it had taken at Valparaiso was amply worth recapture. With all haste the governor got together a force of two thousand men, horse and foot, and at their head hurried to the port. There in the offing was the dangerous rover, lying motionless in a calm, and offering a promising chance for capture.

Hastily getting ready two Spanish ships and manning them heavily from his forces, he sent them out, favored by a land-breeze which had not reached Drake's sails. But before they had gone far the "Golden Hind" felt the welcome wind and was soon gliding through the water. With his small force it was hopeless for the English captain to face the strongly armed Spaniards, and his only hope for safety lay in flight.

The pursuit went on hour after hour, the Spaniards at times coming near enough to reach the "Golden Hind" with their shots. As the wind varied in strength, now the chase, now the pursuers, gained in speed. The Spanish ships proved fair sailers and might in the end have overhauled the Englishman but for a precaution the governor had neglected in his haste. Expecting to capture the English ship in a short run, he had not thought of provisioning his vessels, and as the chase went on their small food supply gave out and the soldiers were nearly famished. In the end the governor, who was on board, was reluctantly forced to order a return to port.

Yet he did not give up hope of capturing the English rovers. On reaching Lima he sent out three more ships, this time fully provisioned. But Drake and his men had won too good a start to be overtaken, and the new pursuers never came within sight of him.

Homeward bound with an abundant treasure, the rovers pressed merrily on. To return by the Straits of Magellan seemed too risky a venture with the Spaniards keenly on the alert, and the adventurous Englishman decided to sail north, expecting to be able to find a passage through the seas north of the American continent. The icy and impassable character of these seas was at that early date quite unknown.

Onward through the Spanish waters they went, taking new prizes and adding to their store of treasure as they advanced. The coastwise towns were also visited and booty obtained from them. At length the South American continent was left behind and the "Golden Hind" was off the coast of Central America. About mid April they left the shore and stood out to sea, at last bound definitely for home.

Drake fancied that the Pacific coast stretched due northward to the limit of the continent, where he hoped to find an easy passage back to the Atlantic, but after more than five weeks of a north-westward course, gradually verging to due north, he was surprised to see land again to his right. At first taking it for a large island, he soon learned that he had met the continent again and that America here stretched to the northwest.

He was off the coast of the country now called California, in a new region which English eyes had never seen, though Spaniards had been there before. The land seemed well peopled with Indians, very different in character and degree of civilization from those of Peru. They were simple-minded savages, but very friendly; fortunately so, since, as they lay in harbor, the ship sprang a leak, and it became necessary to take measures to repair the damage.

The ship was anchored in shallow water near the shore, her cargo and provisions were landed and stored, and steps taken to make the necessary repairs. While this was going on the mariners were visited by the savages in large numbers, occasionally with what were thought to be signs of hostility. But their friendliness never ceased, and when at length their visitors, with whom they had established very amicable relations, were ready to depart they manifested the greatest grief, moaning, wringing their hands, and shedding tears.

The harbor of the "Golden Hind" was in or near what is now called the Golden Gate, the entrance to the magnificent bay of San Francisco. On the 23rd of July, 1579, the ship weighed anchor and sailed out of the harbor. On the hillside in the rear was gathered a large body of Indians, some of them fantastically attired in skins and adorned with feathers, others naked but for the painted designs which covered their bodies. They built bonfires in all directions in token of farewell, and Drake and his officers stood on deck, waving their hats to their new-made friends. Slowly the hill with its fires of friendship disappeared from view, and they were on the open ocean again.

From this point the ship sailed northward, skirting the coast. But the farther they went the colder the weather became, until it grew so bleak that it was deemed necessary to give up the hope of reaching home by the northern route. Yet to return by the way they had come would be very dangerous with their small force, as the Spaniards would probably be keenly on the lookout for them. Only one course remained, which was to follow the route taken by Magellan, sixty years before, across the vast Pacific, through the islands of Asia, and around the Cape of Good Hope. Drake had with him the narratives and copies of the charts of the first circumnavigator of the globe, and it struck him that it would be a great and glorious thing to take the "Golden Hind" around the earth, and win him the credit of being the first Englishman to accomplish this wonderful task.

The prow of the "Golden Hind" was thereupon turned to the west. Quick and prosperous was the voyage, the sea being almost free from storms, and after sixty-eight days in which land had not been seen a green shore came in view. It was the last day of September, 1579.

The voyagers had many interesting experiences in the eastern archipelago, but no mishaps except that the ship grounded on a rocky shoal near one of the islands. Fortunately there was no leak, and after throwing overboard eight of their cannon, three tons of cloves they had gathered in their voyage through the isles of spices, and many bags of meal, the "Golden Hind" was got afloat again, none the worse for her dangerous misadventure.

Stocking their vessel once more with spices and sago at the island of Booten, and meeting with a hospitable reception at the large island of Java, they sailed to the south, doubling the stormy Cape of Good Hope without mishap and entering the Atlantic again. Finally, on the 26th of September, 1580, the "Golden Hind" dropped anchor in Plymouth harbor, from which she had sailed nearly three years before, and with wealth enough to make all on board rich.

Never had England been more full of joy and pride than when the news of the wonderful voyage of the "Golden Hind" round the world was received and its strange adventures told. Queen Elizabeth was glad to make a knight of the bold sea-rover, changing his name from plain Francis Drake to Sir Francis Drake, and the people looked on him as their greatest hero of the sea. In our days acts like his would have been called piracy, for England was not at war with Spain. But Drake was made a hero all the same, and in the war that soon after began he did noble work in the great sea fight with the Spanish Armada.