must of course have been officers of the land companies on board, and there is reason to believe North was among these; but when sea-captains died on the voyage, land officers took their places. North's ensign, John Howard, died on 6 Oct., after leaving the island of Bravo, probably a victim to the ‘calenture’ or infectious fever which then ravaged the fleet. At length (17 Nov. 1617) the adventurers came in sight of the coast of Guiana, and cast anchor off Cayenne. Thereupon Raleigh, who was disabled by fever, ordered five small ships to sail into Orinoco, ‘having Captain Laurence Kemys [q. v.] for their conductor towards the mines, and in those five ships five companies of fifty.’ Of one company North was in command, and Raleigh describes him and another captain, Parker, Lord Monteagle's brother, as ‘valiant gentlemen, and of infinite patience for the labour, hunger, and heat which they have endured.’
After a long and difficult passage up the river the explorers disembarked, and bivouacked on the left bank, in ignorance that they were in the neighbourhood of the little town of San Thomé, founded by the Spaniards in a district long since claimed by Raleigh as an English possession. No sooner had night closed upon the little camp than the Spaniards, who had watched every movement from the surrounding woods, made a sudden attack, which, says Raleigh, ‘being unlooked for, the common sort of them were so amazed, as, had not the captains and some other valiant gentlemen made a head and encouraged the rest, they had all been broken and cut in pieces.’ The English force, however, soon prevailed, pursued the enemy into the town, and, finding small plunder, soon reduced it to ashes.
These disasters, which included the death of Raleigh's son, a captain of one of the five companies, led Kemys to return to the fleet, now at anchor off Punto de Gallo. Throughout this unhappy enterprise North's endurance had been severely tried. The expedition, victualled for one month, had been absent for two. His men, at the outset degraded and ill-disciplined, were rendered doubly so by hardship and disappointment. Both soldiers and sailors were now in a state of mutiny. One by one the ships weighed anchor and slipped away, until three only, mutilated and miserably provisioned, remained to escort Raleigh's ship, the Destiny, on her voyage home. Among the few who chose to bear their old commander company was Roger North. It appears that he was on board one of the two vessels afterwards sent on to Plymouth with despatches, and to him was assigned the task of breaking the evil tidings to the king on 23 May 1618. Oldys describes him as having done this ‘in a very just and pathetical manner,’ adding ‘it might have had a good effect had the king's pity been as easily moved as his fear.’
The spirit of adventure was still strong in North, and in 1619 he petitioned for letters patent authorising him to establish the king's right to the coast and country adjoining the Amazon river; to found a plantation or settlement there, and to open a direct trade with the natives. The project provoked the determined opposition of Gondomar, who seems to have secured the support of Lord Digby; Roger's brother, Lord North, attacked Digby with much bitterness when he argued against the expedition as being to the prejudice of the king of Spain. James, however, provisionally granted the required letters patent under the great seal, and nominated North governor of the proposed settlement. The Earls of Arundel and Warwick, Lord North, and ‘others of great estate’ were among the adventurers, engaging to pay, for the first voyage, a third of the whole sum guaranteed by them.
But Gondomar's agents had procured a command from the king that the voyage should be stayed until further orders, and when Gondomar himself arrived, he ‘spared neither solicitation nor importunitie to stop ye voyage, insomuch as he came to ye Counsel Table for this only busines, and did there bouldly and confidently affirme that his Master had ye actuall and present possession of these countries, but he would not hear our witnesses to ye contrary.’ North's petition for leave to start consequently obtained no answer. He nevertheless received through the Duke of Richmond a message of encouragement from the king, and was suffered to make his preparations without hindrance. His ship and pinnace lay idle in Plymouth Harbour, manned by a goodly company of mariners and landsmen, who, impatient of delay, and in despair of their captain's coming, grew disaffected. This fresh element of perplexity induced North to join his ship. ‘I desired my friends,’ he writes, ‘to let me know how it would be taken. I staied by the way, and at Plimouth some three weeks after my going from London, till I receaved letters that all was well, and that ye world expected I should goe without bidding.’Thus encouraged, he sailed out of Plymouth Sound early in May 1620, having obtained from Buckingham one of the passports which as lord high admiral it was his privilege to sell. A proclamation was at once issued (15 May), which set forth that ‘Roger North having disloyally precipitated and embarqued