Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hawkins, William (d.1554?)

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HAWKINS or HAWKYNS, WILLIAM (d. 1554?), sea-captain and merchant, son of John Hawkyns of Tavistock (d. before 1490) and his wife Joan, daughter of William Amadas of Launceston, was probably born at Plymouth, where his father held land under the corporation. His alleged kinship with the family of Hawkins of Nash in Kent is entirely unsubstantiated. Neither his son, Sir John Hawkyns, nor Sir John's son, Sir Richard, used the arms of the Nash family—argent, on a saltire sable, five fleurs-de-lys or. All evidence points to the Hawkynses being a Devonshire family, settled for many generations at Tavistock.

Early in the sixteenth century William Hawkyns was a well-to-do freeman of Plymouth. He seems to have combined the businesses of shipowner, captain, and merchant, also serving occasionally as an officer of the king's ships. He may probably be identified with the Hawkyns who in 1513 was master of the Great Galley, a ship of 700 tons and four hundred men. The captain of the Great Galley at this time was one John Flemyng, and in the same fleet William Gonson was captain of the Mary Grace (Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, i. 552). In the next generation the families of Flemyng and Hawkyns intermarried with that of Gonson. We may suppose that he was the William Hawkyns who in 1523, and again in 1524, was associated with John Amadas as a collector of the subsidy in Devonshire (ib. iii. 1362; iv. 233).

Hawkyns is described by Hakluyt as ‘a man for his wisdom, valour, experience, and skill in sea causes, much esteemed and beloved of King Henry VIII, and one of the principal sea-captains in the west parts of England in his time.’ Only three of his many voyages are specially mentioned. In or about 1528, in command of his own ship, the Pole, of 250 tons, he sailed for the Guinea coast, where he traded with the negroes for ivory and other commodities; and afterwards, ‘arriving on the coast of Brazil, used there such discretion and behaved himself so wisely with those savage people, that he grew into great familiarity and friendship with them.’ In a second voyage (c. 1530) ‘one of the savage kings of the country was contented to take ship with him and to be transported into England,’ Hawkyns leaving behind in the country, as a pledge of his safety, ‘one Martin Cockeram of Plymouth.’ This Brazilian king was brought up to London and presented to Henry VIII at Whitehall, and a year later sailed with Hawkyns on the homeward voyage. Unfortunately he died on the passage out, and it was feared that Cockeram's life might be in danger. The savages were, however, ‘persuaded of the honest dealing of our men;’ the hostage was safely restored, and Hawkyns returned to England with his ‘ship freighted and furnished with the commodities of the country.’ Hakluyt, writing in 1589, adds, on the testimony of Sir John Hawkyns, that Cockeram ‘was living in the town of Plymouth within these few years.’

In 1532–3, and again in 1538–9, Hawkyns was mayor of Plymouth, which he also represented in the parliaments of 1539, 1547, and 1553 (October to December). In February 1554–5 he is spoken of as ‘recently deceased’ (Hawkins, p. 6). He married Joan, daughter of William Trelawney, and left issue two sons, William [q. v.] (d. 1589) and John [q. v.], both of whom are separately noticed. Sir Francis Drake is sometimes spoken of as the nephew of Sir John Hawkyns, and it has been supposed that his mother must have been a sister of Sir John, a daughter, that is, of William Hawkyns. But no exact evidence of this has been found; the degree of relationship between Drake and the Hawkynses is doubtful.

[Prince's Worthies of Devon, p. 389; Hakluyt's Principal Navigations, iii. 700. This account of Hakluyt's has been reprinted in The Hawkins's Voyages, edited for the Hakluyt Society by Clements R. Markham, whose biographical introduction embodies most of the little that is known. Miss Mary W. S. Hawkins's Plymouth Armada Heroes contains some interesting notes extracted from the Plymouth records.]

J. K. L.