Sir Francis Drake by Jodocus Hondius

The ‘Golden Hinde’ is a legendary English galleon best known for its captain, Francis Drake and his circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580. On 1 March 1579, Drake captured the Spanish galleon ‘Nuestra Señora de la Concepción’ off the coast of Ecuador and relieved her of six tons of treasure worth over £12 million today. When the ship returned home in September 1580 she was welcomed by Queen Elizabeth 1 who, looking forward to her share of the prize money, said…

“We would gladly be revenged on the King of Spain for divers injuries that we have received.”

… and immediately bestowed a knighthood on Francis Drake. Over 400 years have passed since those heroic days and the Golden Hinde – or at least an identical copy – is now moored on St Mary Overie Dock on London’s Bankside. Earlier this summer she was joined by a new crew from 1st St Margarets Cub Pack who were looking forward to an evening of “Splice the Mainbrace” and “What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?” How wrong they were.

The New Crew

First they were deprived of their Cub uniforms. Then they were ordered to get dressed in sailors’ clothes – 1570’s style. The outfits were historically accurate, i.e they hadn’t been laundered since 1570 and were rather scratchy. Next they were divided into three crews – Officers, Gunners and Barber – Surgeons and told to wait, sniffing and scratching, for the ship’s senior officers. First to arrive was the Master Barber Surgeon, a foul mouthed individual who hadn’t seen a bath in months and was responsible for the health and well being of the crew. He opened proceedings by abusing everyone with an assortment of typical Tudor obscenities – ‘Bedlamite’ – (A mad person) – ‘Malt Worm’ – (A drunk) and ‘Chaser of the Winchester Geese’ (A person partial to the old “Hello Sailor!”) were less offensive examples. Next out was the Master, a slightly less whiffy character, with a rather posh accent who said that Sir Francis couldn’t make it but he was in charge – and anyone who disobeyed the rules would be punished – severely and without mercy! He then outlined some of the punishments on offer – your standard flogging of course with optional extras like having your hand nailed to the mast or being chained up in the bilges. By now the crew had stopped sniffing and scratching and were concentrating very hard indeed.

Master Barber Surgeon
The Surgeon
The Master
The Master
Ships Crew
The Crew

They soon learned that above all things the Master, like his Queen – Elizabeth 1, hated the Spanish (and the Portuguese) with a fiery passion. He said that they were his sworn enemy and every time their names were mentioned everyone had to spit on the deck – Pwtt! Pwtt! He then began to examine his new crew. Having first identified one crew member as a woman disguised as man – a He/She – and another who looked like a man who wanted to be a woman – he turned to one fellow standing quietly in a corner and accused him of being not only a spy – but a Spanish (or possibly Portuguese) spy to boot. Pwtt! Pwtt! After a bout of frustrated swearing because he couldn’t throw the spy overboard to the sharks because they were still in dry dock the Master decided that this Spaniard (or Portuguese) – Pwtt! Pwtt! – should henceforth be referred to as “The Grandee” to remind everyone that he was Spanish (or possibly Portuguese) – Pwtt! Pwtt! – and a spy to boot. This man had to be watched.

The crew under orders

The Master Barber-Surgeon then instructed the crew in the medical niceties of the time….The efficacy of urine as a medicine, the unsolved mystery of why sailors who served in the tropics and ate fruit did not get scurvy and those that didn’t did – and the subtleties of amputating limbs. Without anaesthetics this was an incredibly painful and messy affair with lots of screaming and not all of it from the patient. There were 3 surgical techniques employed:-

  1. Give the patient a piece of wood or leather to bite on. It didn’t stop the pain but it did help reduce the screaming.
  2. Render the patient insensible with brandy. He wouldn’t feel any pain until the following morning when the hangover kicked in. There was a fair chance that the alcohol and the shock of the operation would kill him.
  3. Knock the patient out with the mallet that came as standard with the first aid kit. This would also render him insensible but if applied too vigorously could kill him.

Next followed a typical Tudor maritime meal of rice, vegetables and bread. Those who were looking forward to a tasty side dish of weevils were sorely disappointed. It appeared that life at sea was so tough in Tudor times that even the weevils had gone AWOL. Ho Ho – or perhaps Yo Ho Ho?

The Capstan

After supper the new crew then applied itself to raising the anchor using the ship’s capstan – a large hand operated winch driving a vertical shaft that ran down through the body of the ship. (A capstan should not to be confused with a windlass that drives a horizontal shaft. O.K?)

The next lesson, the loading and firing of the guns, was interrupted when two 21st century ‘malt worms’ decided to show off to their ‘Winchester geese’ by clambering onto the ship and climbing the rigging. The Master Barber Surgeon’s command of Tudor obscenities may have been 400 years out of date but a quick burst of “By my gammer’s withered leg! Be gone thy ale-soused canker blossomed pig swivers.” quickly drove the drunks and their doxies back into the night – and the crew back to their artillery lesson…

Firing cannon is incredibly dangerous so take great care:-

The Master and the Cannon

  • Always mop out the barrel with a damp sponge to quence embers and
    sparks before reloading.
  • Never stand behind the cannon when it is fired. It can knock your head off.
    (This is known in the artillery business as being kissed by the gunner’s daughter.)
  • The gun deck has a very low ceiling to lower the centre of gravity – so mind
    your head.

And it was on the gun deck, beneath the massive oak beams and surrounded by cannon, powder and shot that the young crew slept – officers, barber surgeons and gunners – and dreamed of Spanish doubloons and foreign climes and, come the morn, a happy landfall back in the 21st century.

The golden hinde ship

When the Golden Hinde returned home on 26 September 1580 only 56 of the original crew of 80 remained. Queen Elizabeth’s share of the prize money came to almost £160,000 – enough to pay off her entire foreign debt and still have £40,000 to spare. She made £47 for every £1 she had invested, a total return of 4,700%. ….And when Drake died off Panama in 1596 he made a promise to his crew…

“Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
Strike et when your powder’s runnin’ low;
If the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port o’Heaven,
An’ drum them up the Channel as we drummed them long ago.”

DRAKE’S DRUM by Sir Henry Newbolt

Pwtt! Pwtt!

Credit: The portrait of Sir Francis Drake is by Jodocus Hondius

— from Martyn Day