I saw five ships…

golden-hindThis post contains not three ships but five.  It’s also rather brief as this event isn’t exactly a niche happening for keen historians its linked to one of England’s most identifiable historic figures!   Today, 13th December, in 1577 Sir Francis Drake set off from Plymouth with fewer than two hundred men on his greatest voyage.  The Pelican was Drake’s vessel.  He was accompanied by the Elizabeth, the Marigold, the Swan and the Benedict. Just to confuse matters the Benedict was also known as the Christopher.  By January the vessels made landfall in what we now know as Argentina and the Pelican was renamed the Golden Hind as it sailed through the Magellan Straits.

If you want to know more about drake and his various voyages then I suggest the Naval Museum in Greenwich link here which will open a new window and a thorough overview as to whether Drake was a hero (oh yes he was!) or a piratical villain -(oh no he wasn’t! Er, actually, he might have been if you were Spanish – he was a licensed privateer after all).

However, one of the first places I remember visiting as a child was Buckland Abbey in Devon, and my father served for a time in the Royal Navy so I grew up on a diet of seafaring heroics and the story of Drake’s drum, a replica of  which can still be seen at Buckland Abbey – although the original does still exist (and I have seen it).   Drake is supposed to have taken the snare drum with him on his momentous journey of 1577-1580.  The story goes that shortly before his death off Panama he ordered the drum to be returned home to Buckland and if England was ever in peril and the drum beaten then Drake would return to defend his country once more. Of course the sound of ghostly drum rolls have been heard at various times in England’s history including the outbreak of World War One and on the surrender of the Imperial German Navy in 1918.  It was also heard echoing during the dark days of the Dunkirk evacuation and during the Plymouth Blitz.  Folklore rather than history but the ‘story’ in history is one of the things that has always made history so fascinating for me. And, there’s that rather stirring poem by Newbolt – looking back I’m impressed that my father knew it so well having been required to learn it at school and even more impressed that it was deemed suitable for a five-year-old  who then demanded to hear it on more than one occasion- so consequentially it seems appropriate that this post: small part fact, large part folk lore and small part narrative poem finish with Newbolt’s words:

Drake he’s in his hammock an’ a thousand miles away,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
Slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,
An’ dreamin’ arl the time O’ Plymouth Hoe.
Yarnder lumes the Island, yarnder lie the ships,
Wi’ sailor lads a-dancing’ heel-an’-toe,
An’ the shore-lights flashin’, an’ the night-tide dashin’,
He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago.

Drake he was a Devon man, an’ ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha’ sleepin’ there below?)
Roving’ tho’ his death fell, he went wi’ heart at ease,
A’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
“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 drumm’d them long ago.”

Drake he’s in his hammock till the great Armadas come,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
Slung atween the round shot, listenin’ for the drum,
An’ dreamin arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound,
Call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
Where the old trade’s plyin’ an’ the old flag flyin’
They shall find him ware an’ wakin’, as they found him long ago!

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1 Comment

Filed under December, Legends, On this day..., Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

One response to “I saw five ships…

  1. Sir Kevin Parr, Baronet

    Drake was but a pirate and he was present at the Armada but fought only to capture the biggest galleon the Trinidad Velencruz.. Once won over he shapely left the lads fighting and slipped way to sell is prize as salvage. what a man to celebrate. He died of dissentry and was buried in Nombra Dois Bay by his maen glad to rid the ship of smell and shit. He was not a gentleman pirateer buta man only out for himself.

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