Awakening of Europe - M. B. Synge

Drake's Voyage Round the World

"Coastwise—cross seas—round the world and back again."


Drake's chance came at last, and with the sanction of his queen he sailed out of Plymouth harbour, bound for the chartless ocean, hitherto only crossed by Magellan.

It was the middle of November in the year 1577. Drake was now thirty-two, in the prime of his strength and manhood. Dressed in his seaman's shirt, belted at the waist, a scarlet cap with gold band on his head, he waved his farewell to England from the deck of his flagship the Pelican, a small vessel indeed for the vast expedition before him. The seamen—some 150 in number—knew nothing of their destination, but they must have guessed, from the twenty guns on the Pelican, that there was danger ahead.

There was, indeed, danger ahead, but there was danger on board too. Second in command of the little fleet was one Thomas Doughty. His conduct was suspicious from the very first, and by the time South America was reached there was no longer any room to doubt that he was a traitor. Having run the ships into a harbour on the coast of Patagonia, Drake called his men together to take council what should be done. It was the spot where Magellan had tried his mutinous men years ago, and the stump of his gallows stood on the desolate wind-swept shore. The trial lasted two days. The case was even more desperate than Drake had imagined. Doughty had betrayed the queen's secret, he had nearly upset the whole expedition.

"They that think this man worthy of death, let them, with me, hold up their hands," cried Drake at the last.

As the words left his lips a throng of brown hands were raised. The traitor must die. A block was prepared. An altar was raised beside it. Then the two old friends, Drake and Doughty, knelt side by side to ask forgiveness; rising, they kissed one another, and in another minute the sword had fallen, and as Doughty's head was held up to view, Drake cried, "Lo, this is the end of traitors."

From this moment his rule was undisputed. Treason and mutiny played no further part in the expedition. Boldly now Drake entered the Straits of Magellan, bound for the Southern Sea. Storms and tempests burst upon the little ships, but the commander's splendid seamanship triumphed over unknown dangers, till after fourteen days they sailed out into the Pacific Ocean. Here a terrific storm burst upon them. The sky was dark, by night and day the wind roared and howled. This went on for fifty-three days, at the end of which time Drake found himself alone. His little fleet had entirely disappeared. But the winds had driven him farther south than any ship had been before. He landed on an unknown island, and laying himself flat on the earth, he embraced with his arms the southernmost point of the world, now known as Cape Horn.

A month later a Spanish ship was lazily waiting in the harbour of Valparaiso for a wind to carry her to Panama with a cargo of gold from Peru, when a sail hove in sight. The Spaniards ran up flags and beat their drums to welcome their supposed countrymen. The Pelican shot alongside and English sailors leapt on board, crying, "Down, dogs! down!" as they caught and bound the astonished Spaniards. It was not long before the Spanish crew were stowed safely away, and their precious cargo was transferred to the Pelican. For three days the plunder went on. The English, who had lived on salt penguin for months, were refreshed, and the Pelican, richly freighted with Spanish goods, sailed northwards with its prize.

Still chasing and plundering Spanish ships on the coast of South America, Drake made his way northwards and ever northwards, up the coast of North America to San Francisco, still hugging his treasure. The cold was intense, his rigging was frozen, his crew sick, but his hot courage never failed him.

On July 25, 1579, he struck across the unknown ocean, bound for the Moluccas. As if by inspiration, he pushed on and on. Sixty-eight days passed with no signs of land, till at last he reached the Philippine Islands, where Magellan had met his tragic end.

It would take too long to tell of the homeward voyage, by the Cape of Good Hope,—how the treasure-laden ship ran on to a reef among the East India Islands, and how even her commander gave her up as lost; but she overcame all difficulties and accomplished her great exploit. It was three years after Drake had sailed from England that the Pelican, whose name was now changed to the Golden Hind, laboured into Plymouth Sound. The prayer uttered by Drake six years before had been fulfilled. He had sailed the Pacific Ocean in an English ship, and he had sailed it from side to side. Its secret was England's at last, and, laden with its wealth, the triumphant explorer was now stepping ashore to lay his booty at the feet of his queen.

Soon all England was ringing with his name. Elizabeth herself went to Plymouth, and, after a banquet on board, knighted the "master thief of the unknown world." She ordered the Golden Hind to be preserved for ever as a worthy rival of Magellan's Victoria.

The tide of the great Spanish empire had turned at last.