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Sir Richard Hawkins, Seaman and Geographer.


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Richard Hawkins was born in 1562, the son of Sir John, who bred his son from an early age to the service of the sea, while his education in geography, history, and mathematics was carefully and thoroughly carried out. He went to the West Indies with his uncle William in 1582, and was with Drake in 1585. He served against the Armada as captain of the Swallow, and afterwards was bitten by the prevailing ambition to search the far-off shores of a new world.

So, with his father's counsel and help, he planned a voyage to Japan, the Philippines and Moluccas, China and the East Indies by the way of the Straits of Magellan and the Pacific. At their own expense father and son had a ship built on the Thames of about 400 tons. "She was pleasing to the eye," Richard says in his "Observations"; "profitable for storage, good of sail and well-conditioned."

But Lady Hawkins craved the naming of the ship, and called it the Repentance, for she said, "Repentance was the safest ship we could sail in to purchase the haven of Heaven." Richard much misliked the name, as though it were of ill omen, and he says, "Well I know she was no prophetess, though a religious and most virtuous lady: yet too prophetical it fell out by God's secret judgments." So he sold his share to his father and was going to give up the enterprise.

But it so fell out that when the Repentance was finished, and was riding at anchor near Deptford, the Queen in her barge was passing by on her way to Greenwich Palace, and having ever an eye for a good ship, asked, " What ship is yon, and to whom does she belong? "

On hearing it was Sir John and Richard Hawkins' new vessel, she bade her bargeman row round about her, viewed her critically from port to stem, and disliked nothing in her but the name. Then with a laugh the Queen cried, "Sir John shall have me for her godmother; I will christen the ship anew, and henceforth she shall be called the Dainty." So as the Dainty she sailed forth and made many prosperous voyages in the Queen's service, though with oft-repeated mishaps to herself.

At last, Sir John resolved to sell her, because she brought so much cost, trouble, and care to him. Then Richard, whose forebodings concerning her had been removed when the Queen named her anew, and who had ever admired her and desired she should continue in the family, repurchased the vessel from his father. By-and-by, having bought stores for his journey and collected a crew, he was preparing to sail in her from Blackwall to Plymouth, there to join two other ships of his own, one of 100 tons, the other a pinnace of 60. As he expected a visit of honour from the Lord High Admiral, Sir Robert Cecil and Sir Walter Raleigh, she was detained some days in the Thames. But bad weather prevented this visit, and so Sir Richard bade the captain and pilot take her down to Gravesend, while he took a last farewell of his father.

He then followed down the river in his barge, and coming to Barking he saw the Dainty at anchor in the middle of the channel, and was told that they had been in no small peril of losing both ship and goods. For as they sailed down with an E.N.E. wind, it suddenly veered to the south, and forced them in doubling a point to tack and luff up. Just then the south wind freshened, and the ship heeled over. Being very deeply laden, and her ports being left open, the water began to rush in. But the crew gave little thought to this, thinking themselves safe in the river, till the weight of the water began to press down one side. Then, when the danger was perceived, and the sheets were flown, she could hardly be brought upright. So, when Sir Richard came aboard, he found a pretty mess below, and preached a fine warning sermon to his officers on taking things too easily even in a river!

When he turned to the men he found them collecting in knots and whispering together.

"Well, lads, what is it now?"

"An' it please yer honour, we of the forecastle may not go no furder in this ship, save she be lightened of her cargo," said the spokesman.

"Lightened! why, she be all right; there would ha' been no danger but for your negligence! Why weren't the lower ports shut and calked?"

"Howbeit, master, we be all afraid to go in her as she be!"

"Very well; an' ye be afeard, I will heave out some tons into a hoy, lads." Then to his officers he said, "Look ye! mariners be like a stiff-necked horse who taketh the bridle between his teeth."

Thus, to content them, he engaged a hoy, into which he loaded eight tons; but untoward weather pursued them all the way to Plymouth.

It took him a month to prepare for his voyage and gather his company together; and when the crews were all hired, his friends were employed two days, with the help of the justices of the town, in searching all lodgings, taverns, and alehouses before his people could be got aboard; for some would ever be taking their leave and never depart; some drank themselves so drunk, that, except they were carried aboard, they could not walk one step; others feigned themselves to be grievously sick; others to be indebted to their host, and could not leave until they were ransomed; and others, to benefit themselves by the earnest-money paid them in advance, absented themselves from a wicked desire to make an unfair living by deceiving one master after another. There were some, too, who had pawned a chest, or a sword, or two shirts, or a card and instruments for sea. Thus Sir Richard in his "Observations" rehearses the grievances of a sea captain, and he adds: " In what sort they dealt with me is notorious, and was such that if I had not been provident to have had a third part more of men than I had need of, I had been forced to go to sea unmanned, or to give over my voyage. And many of my company at sea vaunted how they had cosened and cheated the Earl of Cumberland, Master Cavendish, and others, some of five pounds, some of ten or more; and truly I think my voyage prospered the worse for their lewd company."

Hawkins was against the custom of making imprests to the sailors, as the money paid in advance was called. " All who go to sea nowadays are provided of food and house-room and all things necessary, and in long voyages of apparel also; that nothing is to be spent during the voyage."

Imprests to married men, made in the form of a monthly allowance to their wives, he thought useful.

When he had drawn his three ships out into the Sound a storm broke from the west, in which the Dainty was hardly saved by cutting away her mainmast, and the pinnace was sunk. A kind friend pushed off from the shore to warn him against proceeding further after such a mischance.

"Be warned, my good Richard, for 'tis a presage of ill success this bad beginning; and remember, though the Queen named your ship the Dainty, yet she was first baptized Repentance; therefore, I would forewarn you heartily."

"I thank you, sir; yet the hazard of my credit and the danger of disreputation, if I took in hand that which I should not prosecute by all means possible, are more powerful with me than your grave and sage counsel. The pinnace has been raised; I see the wind is now fair, sir; can I prevail upon you to make one of our company? If not, my barge -"

"Oh! not on any account, friend Richard, not on any account, I protest!"

The troublesome adviser was off quicker than he had come; and if it had been Sir Francis Drake instead of Richard Hawkins, he would have winced under the hearty laugh of that boisterous rover.

But Richard had a quieter way of gentle sarcasm, though both could be very freezingly polite if the occasion called for it. Sir Francis, indeed, was thought by Spanish Dons to be the most courteous of English seamen.

In ten days' time, with the help of his wife's father, Hawkins was able to put all in as good state as before the storm. "Once again," he says, "in God's name, I brought my ships out into the Sound and began to take leave of my friends, and of my dearest friend, my second self, my wife, whose unfeigned tears had wrought me into irresolution, and sent some other in my room, had I not considered that he that is in the dance must needs dance on, though he do but hop, except he will be a laughing-stock to all."

On the afternoon of the 12th of June 1593, he says: "I looft near the shore to give my farewell to all the inhabitants of the town, whereof the most part were gathered together upon the Howe, to show their grateful correspondency to the love and zeal which I, my father and predecessors have ever borne to that place, as to our natural and mother-town. And first with my noise of trumpets, after with my waytes, and then with my other music, I made the best signification I could of a kind farewell. This they answered with the waytes of the town, and the ordnance on the shore, and with shouting of voices, which with the fair evening and silence of the night, were heard a great distance off."

We can see that Richard Hawkins had a greater gift of imagination and of love of nature than his father John; in fact his "Observations" on his voyage to the South Seas are well worth reading even in these days of common travel. When the three ships were near the equator, his men began to fall sick of the scurvy, as was usual; for they had no means in those days of counteracting the flesh food by stores of canned fruit and vegetables. "I wish," he writes, "some learned man would write of this disease, for it is the plague of the sea and the spoil of mariners;... in twenty years, since I have used the sea, I dare take upon me to give account of 10,000 men consumed by the scurvy."

He had found by practical experience that sour oranges and lemons were most profitable; the "oil of vitry," too, was beneficial, if one took two drops of it mingled in a draught of water with a little sugar. Then he spoils his scientific accuracy by a general statement which is on a par with the theory that nature abhors a vacuum. "But the principal of all is the air of the land, for the sea is natural for fishes, and the land for men."

As the winds were contrary and the voyage was prolonged, the scurvy grew so "fervent" that every day there died more or less; then the men lost heart and begged he would carry them homeward. But Hawkins assured them that the speediest refreshing they could look for was the coast of Brazil.

"If I were to put all my sick into one ship and send them home, it would be only to make that vessel their grave. Resolve, my lads, to continue on our course till God shall please to look upon us with His fatherly eyes of mercy."

A few days after this the Dainty took fire, and it cost the crew some hours of hard work to put it out. When all was over, Hawkins called the crew together, and said: "We have had a sharp trial, and God hath given us the victory: I am sure ye shall all desire to return thanks to the Almighty for this deliverance; for some of you may hitherto have disregarded religious feelings, but ye have not despised them in your very hearts. Let us kneel and thank the good God!"

After this solemn act of thanksgiving, Hawkins said: "Now, boys, in order to show that we are verily thankful, let me with your general consent take order to banish swearing out of the three ships." And they all agreed to do so.

But to make this matter more easy to accomplish he invented a plan which is still, I believe, used in some young ladies' schools; though not perhaps for the purpose of expelling rude swearing and seamen's oaths.

In every ship he ordained there should be kept a ferula, or small stick, which was to be given to the first who was taken with an oath. This man could be rid of it only by taking another in the same offence, when he was to give him a palmada, or stroke on the palm, transferring to him the instrument of punishment. Whoever had it in his possession at the time of evening or morning prayer was to receive three palmadas from the captain or master, and still bear it, till he could find another victim of the oath. In a few days both swearing and feruks were out of use in all three ships. "For in vices custom is the principal sustenance; and for their reformation it is little available to give good counsel, or make good laws, except they be executed."

When at last there were left not more than four-and-twenty sound men in the three ships, Hawkins steered for the nearest shore. Anchoring two leagues off the port of Santos, in Brazil, he sent his captain and sixteen armed men with a flag of truce, "a piece of crimson velvet and a bolt of fine hoi-land," with divers other things, as a present to the Governor, and a letter written in Latin saying that, being bound to the East Indies for traffic, contrary winds had forced him upon that coast, and begging to be allowed to exchange some goods. The officer commanding the garrison at the harbour-mouth received them courteously, and detained them while the letter was sent to the Governor some twelve miles up country. As the boat did not return to the Dainty next day, Hawkins manned a pinnace and made a show of strength "where was weakness and infirmity."

He anchored right opposite the village and waited for a reply.

Soon he saw a flag of truce and sent a boat for the Governor's letter.

The Portuguese Governor was courteous, but firm. He said that in consequence of the war between England and Spain he had received orders not to suffer any English to trade within his jurisdiction, nor even to land. He craved pardon, therefore, and desired Hawkins to quit the port within three days, or he must treat them as enemies.

Meanwhile, to the great joy of the sick sailors, the boat first sent from the Dainty had returned, bringing about three hundred oranges and lemons which they had bought from the women of the country. The very sight of the fruit seemed to have given them more heart, though when all was divided, it came to only three or four to each sick man.

Hawkins, however, could not get out of the harbour with the pinnace, because the wind sufficed him not for thirty-six hours.

"In which time," he says, "I lived in a great perplexity, for that I knew our own weakness and what they might do unto us if they knew the facts. Any man that putteth himself into an enemy's port hath need of the eyes of Argus, and the wind in a bag, especially when the enemy is strong and the tides of force; for with either ebb or flow those who are on the shore may thrust upon him inconveniences, inventions of fire, or with swimming and other devices may cut his cables - a common practice in all hot countries. The like may be effected with rafts, canoes, boats or pinnaces, to annoy and assault him; and if this had been practised against us, our ships must of force have yielded, for they had none in them but sick men; but many times opinion and fear preserveth the ships, and not the people in them."

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