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Sir Martin Frobisher, the Explorer of the Northern Seas. page 3


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It is pleasant to know that the Queen never lost her belief in her trusty servant, though she, like others, must have chafed at the loss of her subscription.

"No more expeditions, an it please you," said the City merchants; but the wealthy courtiers, Leicester and Shrewsbury, Oxford, Pembroke, and Warwick, proposed to try one more voyage, and Drake offered to fit out a ship of 180 tons.

Frobisher went home to his wife in high glee: "It will all come right, pretty mistress; there is to be another voyage, and I, Martin Frobisher, the Admiral." Yet when the instructions came, the poor earnest discoverer was taken aback; for in the paper he read, "We will that this voyage shall be only for trade, and not for discovery of the passage to Cathay."

His heart sank within him - another search for gold! No! he would have none of it. He had the scientific spirit of Agassiz, who, when offered by New York any terms he liked, if he would come and lecture, replied by telegram: "Gentlemen, I have no time for making money."

So Frobisher bluntly refused to lead such an expedition, and Edward Fenton went in his place, - and it was to look for carracks in the South Seas!

How Frobisher and his lamenting wife lived for the next few years we do not know; but in 1580 he was appointed Clerk of her Majesty's ships, and once he went as captain on a Queen's ship, the Foresight, to prevent the Spaniards giving help to the Irish rebels in Munster.

In 1585 a fleet was fitted out to annoy the King of Spain in the West Indies, in return for his seizing all the English ships and seamen found in his ports.

Sir Francis Drake was admiral in the Elizabeth Bon-adventure, Frobisher was vice-admiral in the Primrose; there were twenty-fire vessels and 2300 men, and they were authorised by the Crown to make war upon King Philip of Spain. It was looked upon as a religious war in defence of freedom of conscience. Walsingham wrote to Leicester: "Upon Drake's voyage, in very truth, dependeth the life and death of the (Protestant) cause, according to men's judgment."

The fleet left Plymouth on the 14th of September 1585, and after receiving the submission of Vigo and doing some damage and liberating some English prisoners, they went to Palma, in the Canaries. Here, owing to "the naughtiness of the landing-place, well furnished with great ordnance," Drake and Frobisher were driven off with some loss. At Cape de Verde one of his men was murdered by a Spaniard, arid the penalty exacted was the burning of Santiago, the hospital excepted.

Here a severe sickness broke out, extreme hot burning and continual agues, which led to "decay of their wits" and strength for a long time after; thereby they lost more than two hundred men. Thence they sailed to Dominica, St. Kitts, and Hispaniola. At San Domingo 1200 men were landed under Master Carlisle. It was New Year's Day, 1586, when a hundred and fifty Spanish horse came out to crush the invaders, but had to retire within the walls. There were two gates facing the sea; by these Carlisle entered, dividing his force and vowing that, if God would help them, they would meet in the market-place. This they succeeded in doing, and next day Drake and Frobisher brought their 78 vessels into the harbour, and landed most of the men to share in the spoil.

San Domingo was held for a month and ransacked, but little gold or silver was found, only wine, oil, olives, cloth, silk, and good store of brave apparel, some of which they saved, doubtless for their wives at home.

The Spanish Governor and the troops had fled to a fort three miles from the town, and Drake sent a negro boy with a flag of truce to treat with them for their ransom. The poor lad was met half-way, and so beaten that he could scarcely crawl back to die at the admiral's feet.

Drake was not the man to leave such an outrage unavenged; he ordered the Provost-Marshal to carry two friars to the same spot and hang them there. He also sent a messenger to inform the Governor that two prisoners would be hanged every day until the murderer was given up.

The murderer was given up and hanged, and then the town was fired.

Similar proceedings were taken at Cartagena, though here the Spaniards fought more stoutly, and Indian archers "with arrows most villainously empoisoned" caused the death of many. Many English, too, "were mischiefed to death by small sticks, sharply pointed, that were fixed in the ground, with the points poisoned." As the attack was made in the dark, many were wounded and died. Cartagena was held for six weeks, and many courtesies passed between the Spaniards and the English. A ransom of 28,000 was paid, and Drake restored the town to its inhabitants.

They left Cartagena on the 31st of March, after blowing up the fort, and sailed along the coast of Florida, sacking and burning the Spanish settlements of San Juan de Pinos and St. Augustine; then they came to the island of Roanoke, where they found Raleigh's colonists on the verge of starvation, offered them help and a passage home. These colonists had behaved cruelly to the Indians and had suffered for it. They brought home a strange herb, which is thus described:

"There is a herb," says Hariot, one of the colonists, "which is called by the natives uppowoc: the Spaniards call it tobacco. The leaves thereof being dried and brought into powder, they are to take the fume thereof, by sucking it through pipes made of clay, into their stomach and head, whence it purgeth superfluous phlegm and other gross humours, or openeth all the pores and passages of the body."

A month's sailing brought them to Portsmouth, but it was not considered a successful cruise, for they had lost seven hundred and fifty men, chiefly from disease, brought home two hundred pieces of brass cannon, and sixty thousand pounds, of which one-third was given to the soldiers and sailors as prize-money. But the chief gain was in the effect on Philip, who forbade the sailing of his Indian fleet until Drake and Frobisher returned.

These found on landing that nearly every gentleman in England was fitting out a ship for privateering against Spain; that Hawkins and Winter were busy overhauling the Queen's navy, and that England was expecting an invasion. No doubt Frobisher was soon kept busy too, and we will hope that the wife and children at Hampstead had less cause to complain of their poverty when they got their share of the prize-money. And how glad they all were when Frobisher rode home one evening and cried: "News! good wife. What think ye, lads and lasses? The great Armada is on her way at last."

"Alack! and wail-away! is that news for your poor family, Master Frobisher?"

"Ha! ha! it is the time when honest men come to the front, wife. In a word, you shall have no stint of rations henceforth; for I, Martin Frobisher, am to-day appointed Vice-Admiral, in command of a squadron in the Queen's fleet, and go down to Plymouth to-morrow. The Lord High Admiral, Lord Howard, hath writ right excellently of me to her Majesty to this effect nearly: 'Sir Francis Drake, Mr. Hawkins, Mr. Frobisher, and Mr. Thomas Fenner are those whom the world doth judge to be men of the greatest experience that this realm hath.' So, God help us all and defend the right!"

Thus Frobisher, the vice-admiral, rode a-horseback down to Plymouth, and probably played many a game of bowls on the Hoe, while the captains waited for the signal. History tells how, when the call came, Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher waited upon the Spanish rear squadron on that famous Sunday of the 21st of July, cutting in and out amongst the unwieldy galleons, and cheering one another on amid fire, smoke, and bellowing cannon. For six hours the English hornets pursued the Spanish monsters, and by three o'clock the Spanish fleet was disordered and confused, and the English seamen sat down to supper and prayers and letter-writing.

Anon they returned to the pursuit, and as luck would have it, the flagship of the Andalusian squadron under Don Pedro de Valdez came athwart the Triumph and Martin Frobisher. She had lost her foremast and was crippled for speed; so the Duke of Medina Sidonia left her in the lurch. "Left me comfortless in the sight of the whole fleet," wrote Pedro to King Philip. However, Frobisher signalled to Hawkins, and together they came buzzing round the lofty Spaniard with shot of guns. All through the night the flagship defended herself bravely; in the morning who should come through the mist but Drake in the Revenge.

Drake was a busy man just now and could not afford to waste powder, so he sent a pinnace to command them to yield. Don Pedro replied that he was four hundred and fifty strong; he spoke much of his honour and proposed conditions. Drake in return said, "I really have no leisure to parley. If thou wilt yield, do it presently and at once; if not, then I shall well prove that Drake is no dastard." How that terrible name struck a panic into the Spaniards! It was Drake! Don Pedro made haste to come on board the Revenge with forty men, and bowed with Spanish courtesy, paid Drake many compliments, and yielded up his sword. That day Don Pedro dined at Drake's table; his men were sent to Plymouth till their ransoms were paid. Drake's crew took 15,000 ducats in gold out of the spoil and shared it merrily among themselves.

But Frobisher and Hawkins had meant to take this galleon and share in all this prize-money and ransom-money. They had no time now to grumble or quarrel, as the fight was not yet over; but long after, on the 10th of August, when the crews were again on shore, Frobisher said angrily of Drake: "He thinketh to cozen us of our shares of the 15,000 ducats; but we will have our share, or I will make him spend the best blood in his belly, for he hath done enough of those cozening cheats already."

Don Pedro having defended his ship all night against Frobisher and Hawkins had then surrendered to the mere terror of Drake's name. A better-tempered man than Frobisher might have felt aggrieved at the ill-luck.

By Wednesday most of the fighting was over, and Lord Howard divided his fleet, now increased from sixty sail to a hundred in one week, into five squadrons, of which Frobisher was to command the fourth squadron and guard the narrow sea. On Thursday, 25th July, Frobisher had a hard fight against the Santa Anna and a Portuguese galleon. At last Lord Howard came to his rescue, and was so full of admiration for the prowess shown that the next day he knighted Frobisher and Hawkins.

By Monday the 29th of July, we find Frobisher in the Triumph, with Drake and Hawkins closely pursuing the Spaniards over the Flemish shoals; there they dashed in upon the crescent formation and drove some ashore to be wrecked, and others to the angry seas outside. The galleons of Spain were so tall that the English could not conveniently assault them; so "using their prerogative of nimble steerage, they came oftentimes very near upon the Spaniards, and charged them so sore that now and then they were but a pike's length asunder. And so, continually giving them one broadside after another, they discharged all their shot, both great and small upon them, spending a whole day in that violent kind of conflict."

Later, when the great Armada sped north under a rising gale, Frobisher and his squadron remained in the Channel to guard the shore against Parma.

In May 1590, he was sent as vice-admiral under Sir John Hawkins to cruise along the Spanish coasts and intercept the carracks from India. But Philip was keeping all his trading vessels in port; so they returned to England in October with so few prizes that the Queen expressed great displeasure. The next thing we hear of Frobisher is his being sent in a swift pinnace by the Queen to recall Walter Raleigh as he was starting for the Isthmus of Darien. Frobisher took Raleigh's place and commanded one squadron; his orders being to cruise about the coasts of Spain and "to amaze the Spanish fleet."

Fortunately a big Biscayan ship with a valuable cargo came in sight, was captured and sent home, to the Queen's well liking; but after that Frobisher had no more good fortune.

In 1594 Henry of Navarre wrote to Queen Elizabeth for help in dislodging a force of 3000 Spaniards from the Brittany coast. Raleigh pressed the subject at Court until Frobisher was sent with ten ships to try and save Brest from falling into Philip's hands. Frobisher landed his troops and joined Sir John Norris, who was about to attack Fort Crozon, near Brest. The Spaniards made a stout resistance and many English fell. The Queen, hearing this news, wrote to Norris advising more caution: "The blood of man ought not to be squandered away at all adventures." She wrote, too, in November to Frobisher: -

"Trustie and well-beloved, wee greet you well... we perceive your love of our service and your owne good carriage, whereby you have won yourself reputation....

We know you are sufficientlie instructed howe to prevent any soddaine mischief, by fire or otherwise, upon our fleet under your charge...."

So we see the Queen caring for her men and her ships, and frankly commending her trusty admiral for his foresight - but letting him see that she was ever watchful over his doings.

The Crozon fort was taken and razed to the ground, but the brave Frobisher was wounded in the hip by a musket-ball. It would have been a trifle in our days of scientific dressing, but the surgeon, when he extracted the ball, left the wadding behind; the wound festered, fever and death ensued. Here is Frobisher's last letter to the Lord High Admiral as he lay wounded: -

"I was shott in with a bullett at the batterie, so as I was driven to have an incision made to take out the bullett; so as I am neither able to goe nor ride. And the mariners are verie unwilling to goe except I goe with them myself. Yet, if I find it come to an extremitie, we will do what we are able: if we had our vittels, it were easily done."

That was just like Frobisher! though he lies on his death-bed, he is ready to go with his men to front the foe, "if it come to an extremitie."

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