Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cavendish, Thomas

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CAVENDISH, THOMAS (1560–1592), circumnavigator, was born at the ancestral home, Grimston Hall, in the parish of Trimley St. Martin, Suffolk, not far from the port of Harwich. Like many other gentlemen of the period, he took to piracy as a means to recover his squandered patrimony. His first recorded adventure at sea was in a ship of his own in the ‘The viage made by Sir Richard Greenvile for Sir Walter Raleigh in the year 1585’ (Hakluyt, 1599, iii. 251), in order to plant the first unfortunate colony in Virginia. The fleet of seven sail left Plymouth on 9 April in the above year. Sailing by way of the Canaries to the West Indies, they waited at St. Juan de Porto Rico for a fortnight, ostensibly with the object of building a pinnace, but really with a view of annoying the Spaniards, from whom they captured two frigates, one of which contained ‘good and rich fraight, and diuers Spaniards of account,’ whom they ‘ransomed for good round summes,’ which employment was much more congenial to Cavendish than Raleigh's scheme of ‘Westerne planting.’ Proceeding on their course to Isabella in Hispaniola (Hayti), where they landed, they sailed through the Bahamas, and after sighting the mainland of Florida they arrived on 26 June at their anchorage of Wocokon in Virginia. On July 11 Cavendish formed one of a select company who landed with Grenville, and, among others, Thomas Harriott and John White, the artist to the expedition, in order to explore the mainland of what is now known as North Carolina. After having discovered three towns and a great lake, and industriously sown the seeds of future troubles by their lawless conquest of the harmless natives during a period of eight days, they returned to the fleet. On 27 July the fleet removed to Hatoraske (Hatteras inlet); on 25 Aug. Grenville set sail for England, capturing on his way another richly laden Spanish ship, with which he arrived at Plymouth 18 Sept. 1585. That he was accompanied by Cavendish on his return is certain, as the name of the latter is omitted from the list of 108 gentlemen ‘that remained one whole yeere in Virginia’ under Ralph Lane, the first governor of the colony (Hakluyt, 1598, iii. 251–4).

Immediately after his return to England Cavendish began to prepare on his own account an expedition closely modelled upon that of Sir Francis Drake of eight years before. Of this famous voyage, by which he is best known, there are preserved two accounts: 1. ‘The worthy and famous Voyage of Master Thomas Cavendish, made round about the Globe of the Earth, in the space of two years and less than two months,’ by N. H. (ib. 1589, p. 809). 2. ‘The admirable and prosperous Voyage of the Worshipful Mr. Thomas Cavendish, of Trimley, in the county of Suffolk, esquire, into the South Sea, and from thence round about the circumference of the whole earth; begun in the year of our Lord 1586, and finished 1588. Written by Mr. Francis Pretty, lately of Eye, in Suffolk, a gentleman employed in the same action’ (ib. 1599–1600, iii. 803). The fleet of three ships, manned by 123 hands all told, consisted of the Desire of 140 tons, the Content of 60 tons, and the Hugh Gallant, a barque of 40 tons. Cavendish departed from London 10 June 1586, and, after calling at Harwich, proceeded to Plymouth, whence they sailed 21 July. From internal evidence it may be safely inferred that the first and shorter narrative by N. H. was written under the eye of Cavendish on board the Desire; but the second and more interesting one was partly written by Pretty on board the Hugh Gallant barque before it was sunk near the equator in the Pacific, for want of hands. After an ineffectual skirmish with five large Biscayan ships off Cape Finisterre, five days out from England, Cavendish sailed by the coast of Barbary and the Canaries to Sierra Leone, where he anchored in the harbour 21 Aug. Here his stay of ten days was varied by an attempt to burn the native town and the capture of a sailor of Oporto belonging to a Portuguese ship cast away in the inner harbour. On 6 Sept. he departed from Sierra Leone, and, after a short stay at one of the Cape Verde islands, he shaped his course for South America, reached Cape Frio in Brazil 31 Oct. and anchored the next day under the island of St. Sebastian. Here, in order to refit, take in water and fuel, and to build a new pinnace of 10 tons, he anchored for twenty-three days. On 23 Nov. he set sail towards the Straits of Magellan, discovering on his way (17 Dec.) a fine harbour almost as large as Plymouth, known to this day as Port Desire, so named after his own ship, where he spent Christmas in studying the manners and arts of the Patagonians. Departing from Port Desire 28 Dec., Cavendish went coasting along S.S.W. until 3 Jan. 1587, when he reached the opening of the straits, where he lost an anchor in a great storm which lasted three days. On the 6th he commenced his tortuous passage through the straits. The next day he observed traveling overland towards the River Plate a party of twenty-three poor starved Spaniards, two of whom were women, all that remained of the two unfortunate colonies of four hundred persons planted by Pedro Sarmiento, and starved to death in King Philip's City, built and fortified three years before to command the narrowest part of the straits. On 9 Jan. Cavendish reached the ill-fated city, which he renamed the ‘Town of Famine,’ now known as Port Famine; here during his stay of five days he discovered, buried within the four forts, six pieces of ordnance, which he carried off. Cavendish was only too ‘glad to hasten from this place for the noisome stench and vile sauour wherewith it was infected, through the contagion of the Spaniards' pined and dead carcases’ (N. H.) Near the same spot a rescued Spaniard pointed out the hull of a small barque which was judged to be the John Thomas, probably abandoned by Sir Francis Drake nine years before. On 14 Jan. Cavendish resumed his perilous voyage through the straits, which occupied him more than six weeks; wherein ‘they hazarded their best cables and anchors that we had for to hold, which if they had failed we had been in danger to have been cast away, or at least famished.’ For quite a month, adds Pretty, ‘we fed almost altogether on muscles, and limpets, and birds, or such as we could get on shore, seeking for them every day as the fowls of the air do, where they can find food, in continual rainy weather.’

On 24 Feb. Cavendish entered the South Sea or Pacific and plied along the coast of Chili until 30 March, when he reached the Bay of Quintero, a little to the N. of Valparaiso; here Hernando, the Spaniard saved from starvation in the straits, upon being landed to parley with three other mounted Spaniards, leaped up behind and rode away with one of them, and doubtless alarmed the Spaniards along the whole seaboard. On 1 April a handful of the three crews was attacked by nearly two hundred horsemen while watering, but the enemy retired with a loss of twenty-five men as against twelve slain of the English. Sailing along the coast from 15 to 23 April, Cavendish, with two of his ships, came athwart the Port of Mormoreno (Monte Moreno), where he landed. He afterwards came to Arica, where he awaited the arrival of the Content, the crew of which had found in a bay fourteen leagues southwards of Arica 300 tons of botizios of wine of Castile buried in the sand, and she laded herself with as many as she could carry. In this place Cavendish burned three barques and a large ship of 100 tons, which last the inhabitants refused to ransom in exchange for English prisoners taken at Quintero. The Spanish authorities were now thoroughly roused, for Cavendish intercepted two barques coming from the southward towards Lima, 25 to 27 April; the second, from Santiago, near Quintero, had on board letters of advice for the viceroy concerning Cavendish, which were thrown overboard before they could be secured. The contents were revealed by one of the Spaniards, who, by the order of Cavendish, ‘was tormented with his thumbs in a wrench.’ Among the captured was also found ‘a reasonable pilot for those seas,’ who, according to N. H., was also a Spaniard, but according to Pretty a Greek. From 3 to 5 May the little fleet rode in Pisa bay, near the Chincha islands, now famed for its guano deposits. Sailing forward on 16 and 17 May they captured three large ships, one worth 20,000l., which had the chief merchandise in it. Cavendish filled his ships with as much of this as they could carry and burnt the remainder with the captured ships. On 25 May Cavendish arrived at the island of Puna in the gulf of Guayaquil; here they remained eleven days, hauled the Desire and Content on shore for repairs, sank a large Spanish ship lying at anchor, with all her furniture, and burned the town, out of revenge for an unsuccessful sortie of the Spaniards and natives upon a foraging party wherein forty of the enemy were slain, with the loss of twelve English. Pretty describes the ‘great casique’ of the island, his Spanish wife and treasures, his palace with its chambers decorated with old-world hangings of ‘Cordovan leather gilded all over and painted very rare and rich.’ On 7 June Cavendish set forward for Rio Dolce, near the equator, where he sank the Hugh Gallant for want of men. Five days later they doubled the equinoctial line and continued their course northward until 9 July, when off the coast of Guatemala they captured a ship in ballast piloted by Michael Sancius, a Provençal, who informed Cavendish of a great prize that was on its way from the Philippines. Cavendish burned the ship in ballast, as also a barque which he captured the next day which was sent from Lima to carry warning all along the coast. On 28 July he reached Aguatulco (Guatulco), which town they also spoiled and burned during a stay of five days. Weighing anchor from this place in the night of 2 Aug. he overshot Acapulco, the Mexican port for the arrival and departure of the Spanish fleet for the Philippines, and came on 24 Aug. to Puerto de Natividad, where he landed and captured a mounted mulatto, from whom he took more letters of advice. After setting fire to the town and shipping he proceeded to a small island near Mazatlan, where he anchored to water and refit from 27 Sept. until 9 Oct., when the ships weighed anchor for Cape St. Lucas, the well-known headland of Lower California, which Pretty remarks ‘is very like the Needles at the Isle of Wight.’ Here the Desire and Content were beating up and down the coast from 14 Oct. for a whole month, when, between seven and eight in the morning of 14 Nov., the crews of the two ships were roused by the watch in the maintop of the Desire by the cry of ‘A sail!’ which proved to be no other than the long-expected prize from the Philippines, the Admiral of the South Sea, owned by the king of Spain, the Great St. Anna of 700 tons richly laden. Cavendish captured the ship after an obstinate fight of six hours and brought it into the neighbouring harbour of Aguada Segura, where he proceeded to divide the treasure among his own company and that of the Content, who were inclined to mutiny about their share of the money taken. Besides 22,000 pesos of gold the prize contained 600 tons of the richest merchandise, of which Cavendish could only take forty tons for each of his ships, which were already laden to the full. According to the narrative of N. H., ‘this was one of the richest vessels that ever sailed on the seas; and was able to have made many hundreds wealthy if we had had means to have brought it home.’ Cavendish also took out of the Great St. Anna two youths born in Japan and three boys natives of Manilla, the youngest of whom, about nine years old, afterwards found a home with the Countess of Essex. He also took Nicholas Roderigo, a Portuguese, who had resided in Canton and other parts of China, from whom he probably obtained the large map of China referred to at length by Hakluyt (p. 813), and Thomas de Ersola, a Spanish pilot for the Philippines. On the afternoon of 19 Nov., after having burnt his great prize with its contents to the water's edge, Cavendish joyfully set sail alone towards England, leaving the Content in the road, whose company they never saw afterwards. Cavendish continued his voyage across the Pacific until 3 Jan. 1588, when he sighted the island of Guana (Guajan), one of the Ladrones, where he met with a reception from the natives strikingly similar to that experienced by Magellan on their first discovery in 1521. Eleven days later, falling in with Capo Spirito Santo, on the island of Tadaia (Samar), he commenced his tortuous navigation of the Philippines and Moluccas, so evidently misapprehended by Molyneux in his praiseworthy attempt to track and record it on his famous globe of 1593.

On 15 Jan., while anchoring off the small island of Capul, at the south end of Luzon, Cavendish was compelled for his own safety to hang the Spanish pilot De Ersola, who, by a secret letter, attempted to betray him into the hands of the authorities at Manilla, then an unwalled town guarded by galleys. On 24 Jan., after making the island of Masbate, he passed between Panama (Panay) and the island of Negroes, and sailing west of Mindanoa, he directed his course S.E. until 8 Feb., when he sighted Batochina (Batchian), one of the Moluccas S. of Gilolo. Here we are met by two geographical puzzles. According to N. H., Cavendish sailed down the Straits of Macassar to the W. of the Celebes, for he writes ‘we ran between Celebes or Batachina and Borneo until the 12th day of February’ (Hakluyt, 1589, p. 812). In consequence, Molyneux in his globe (see infra) assigns the name of Batachina to the Celebes; this error, however, is corrected by Pretty, who writes: ‘On the 14th day of February we fell with eleven or twelve very small islands, lying low and flat. These islands (evidently the Xullas), near the Moluccas, stand in three degrees, 10 minutes to the southward of the line’ (ib. iii. 820). Again, on 28 Feb. N. H. writes: ‘We put through between the Straits of Java major and Java minor and ankered under the south-west part of Java major’ (ib. 1589, p. 812). The identity of Java major with Java proper is undisputed, but the hitherto unsettled questions have been, the identification of the Straits, Java minor, and the anchorage. Professor Arber (English Garner, iv. 125) holds that the Straits were those of Sunda, W. of Java proper. Colonel Yule, however, suggests (Marco Polo, ii. 267) that they were the Straits of Baly, E. of Java, and that the Java minor of Cavendish was the island of Baly. Both these assumptions are, however, disproved by Thos. Fuller, the sailing master of the Desire, who writes: ‘From the W. end of Java minor unto the E. end of Java major the course is W. and by N. and E. and by S. and the distance between them is 18 leagues; in the which course there lieth an island between them, which island (referred to in the margin as Baly) is in length 14 leagues’ (ib. iii. 832). Again he writes: ‘The first day of March wee passed the Straights at the W. head of the island of Java minor (i.e. Lombok), and the 5th day of March we ankered in the bay at the Wester (sic) end of Java maior, where wee watered and had great store of victuals from the town of Polambo’ (ib. p. 834). Pretty adds to the confusion when he writes that the king of that (i.e. the W.) part of the island was ‘Raja Bolamboang,’ who it is to be feared has been confounded with the Raja of Balamboang, whose descendants were to be found at the E. end of Java down to 1788 (cf. Van der Aa). From this it follows that, after passing through the Straits of Lombok with Baly, on the E., Cavendish sailed along the S. coast of Java proper for five days, and that his anchorage for twelve days afterwards was at Paliboam-Ratoe, in Wijnkoopers Bay, under the S.W. end of Java, as stated by all the three narratives of N. H., Pretty, and Fuller. From 11 March and all through April Cavendish traversed the main between Java and Africa, when on 19 March he sighted the long-wished-for Cape of Good Hope. On 8 June he anchored under the island of St. Helena, where he stayed twelve days for refreshment, and was the first to discover it to the English nation. On 20 June he shaped his course for England, where, upon arriving off the Lizard 3 Sept., he was greeted by a Flemish vessel with the news of the overthrow of the Spanish Armada. After encountering a violent storm of four days' duration in the Channel, N. H. closes his narrative thus: ‘On … 10 Sept. 1588, like wearied men, through the favour of the Almighty, we got into Plymouth, where the townsmen received us with all humanity’ (Hakluyt, 1589).

The fame of Cavendish as the second English circumnavigator of the globe was now almost at its zenith. Popular feeling respecting the voyage and its leader found expression in ballads, the titles only of three of which are preserved to us under their respective entries for publication (3 Nov. 1588): ‘A Ballad of Master Cavendish's Voyage, who by travel compassed the Globe of the World, arriving in England with abundance of treasure’ (14 Nov. 1588); ‘A new Ballad of the famous and honourable coming home of Master Cavendish's Ship the Desire, before the Queen's Maiesty at her Court at Greenwich,’ 12 Nov. 1588, &c. (3 Dec. 1588); ‘Captain Robert's Welcome of good-will to Captain Cavendish.’ This last, however, may have been either a ballad or a broadside (cf. Arber, Reg. Stat. Comp. ii. 505–9). Two of the rarest cartographical records of the voyage are to be found on the terrestrial globe by Molyneux (see supra), and an equally rare map by Jodocus Hondius, who engraved the gores for the globe. Respecting the first Blundeville writes: ‘The voyage as well of Sir F. Drake as of Mr. Th. Candish is set down and showed by help of two lines, the one red … doth show what course Sir Francis observed in all his voyage … the blew line showeth in like manner the voyage of Master Candish.’ A unique example of this globe, the first made in England in 1592, the year of Cavendish's death, is preserved in the library of the Middle Temple. The map of the world in hemispheres, engraved by Hondius in 1597, evidently copied from the globe, is also accompanied by the accounts of Sir F. Drake's voyage, and that of Cavendish by N. H., both translated from Hakluyt (1589) into Dutch. The allusion in one of the ballads to Cavendish's reception by the queen at Greenwich serves somewhat to confirm the tradition that a greater part of his wealth, either inherited or acquired by spoiling the Spaniards, was squandered ‘in gallantry and following the court’ (Biog. Brit.) The tradition also serves to throw some light upon the causes that led him to undertake his last fated voyage, which was evidently meant for a repetition of the previous one in every particular, as proved by the heading of the record preserved to us, which reads, ‘The last Voyage of the worshipfull M. Thomas Candish (sic), esquire, intended for the South sea, the Phillipines, and the coast of China, with three tall ships and two barks. Written by M. J. Jane’ (Hakluyt). The fleet, comprising the Leicester galleon, commanded by Cavendish, the Roebucke, his old ship the Desire, commanded by Captain John Davis of Arctic fame [q. v.], the Black Pinnace, and the Daintie, left Plymouth on 26 Aug. 1591, and sighted the coast of Brazil at St. Salvador (lat. 12° 58′ 16″ S.), or Campos (lat. 21° 36′ 30″ S.), on 29 Nov., where they were becalmed four days. After a feeble attempt to take the town of Santos (lat 23° 55′ 1″ S.) on 24 Jan., he set forward on his voyage, but, owing to the lateness of the season and the unusually bad weather, Cavendish was separated from the rest of his fleet until 18 March, when he rejoined Davis at Port Desire. Two days later they sailed for the Straits of Magellan, where, after many furious storms, they sailed halfway through the straits, and on 21 April 1592 the ships anchored in a cove four leagues W. from Cape Froward, where they remained until 15 May, enduring great hardships, Cavendish all the while being with Davis on board the Desire. It soon became obvious that Cavendish had outlived his reputation as a leader of men; unnerved probably by his own misery and that of his crews, he resolved against their wishes to make for the Cape of Good Hope in his own ship, the Leicester, but being deterred by the sound advice of Davis from attempting ‘so hard an enterprise with so feeble a crew,’ he determined to depart out of the Straits of Magellan, ‘and to return again for Santos in Brazil.’ On 20 May, the fleet being once more off Port Desire about thirty leagues, Cavendish in the night altered his course to seaward, in consequence of which, the Desire and Black Pinnace being lost sight of in the darkness, he never saw Davis afterwards. Cavendish once more made for Brazil. After several disastrous attempts to land at Santos and Espirito Santo, where he was deserted by the Roebucke, he made one last effort to reach St. Helena. He ‘got within two leagues,’ and afterwards sought for an island in 8° S. lat. (evidently Ascension). The last notice of Cavendish in the homeward voyage of the Leicester is his own record of the death of his cousin, John Locke, in 8° N. lat. Cavendish died a few days later, probably of a broken heart. In his last hours he accused Davis of having deserted him, but from all we know of the character of Davis this is not only unjust, but also incredible. Long after the separation of the fleet on 20 May previous, Davis not only returned to Port Desire to seek for Cavendish, but he also made no less than three unsuccessful attempts to sail through the straits down to the end of 1592. Such were the hardships they endured, that out of it crew of seventy-six men who sailed from England two years before, only a 'small remnant' of fifteen lived to return with Davis in misery and weakness so great that they 'could not take in or heave out a saile' of the Desire, which arrived off Bearhaven in Ireland on 11 June 1593, fully a year after the death and burial of Cavendish at sea. For engraved portraits of Cavendish, see Grainger (i. 247).

[Aa's Aardrijsküdig Woordeboek der Nederlanden, 1840, 2° deel, p. 51; Arbert's English Garner, 4, 125; Arber's Transcript of Registers of Stationers' Company, ii. 505-9: Biog. Brit. c. 1196; Blundeville's Exercises, 1594; Davis's Voyages (Hakluyt Soc.), 1880; Encyclopedia Britannica. art. 'Globe,' Hakluyt, 1589-99, vol. iii.; Holland'a Hero-ologia, p. 89; Lediard's Naval History, 1735, p. 229; Yule's Marco Polo, 2nd ed. 1875; Cal. Carew MSS.; Hist. MSS. Comm. App. 4th Rep. 372; Harl. MS. 268, f. 161.]

C. H. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.58
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
358 ii 20 f.e. Cavendish, Thomas: for 1555? read 1560
16 f.e. after Harwich insert and was baptised 19 Sept. 1560 (Addit. MSS. 19122, f. 350, 19087, f. 131)
363 i 22 add to authorities Cooper's Athenæ Cantabrigienses, vol. ii. p. 136