Sir Thomas Cavendish

Cavendish, Thomas – From Suffolk, England. (1560-1592) In 1586 prepared an expedition to encompass the globe, modeled on > Drake’s effort. Left in the month of July with three ships to sail to Sierra Leone where he burnt a native town.

After a stay in the Cape Verdes reached Brazil in the end of October. Took seven weeks to pass through the Strait of Magellan, for many days lived off "mussells and limpets and birds, or such as we could get on shore, seeking for them every day as the fowls of the air do."

At Arica burnt shipping, intercepted several vessels making for Lima, Peru. Overhauled the vessels after some profitable captures. While waiting for the Manila-galleon plundered various small towns in Mexico.

14 November 1587 finally met the 600-ton Santa Ana, property of King Felipe II himself. The galleon was unwieldy and slow, possessed no armory to speak of, her deck being so crowded with bales of cargo that there was scarcely room for the people to move about, they numbered more than 300 at the start of the voyage from Manila.

After a chase of several hours the English fired a barrage of small shot in her. Grappled the galleon amidships, some 40 men managing to board her in spite of a hail of rocks dumped on them. There followed a scene of close fighting, the attacker loosing two dead, several wounded, being forced to retreat. Then fired from some distance, doing a great deal of damage, killing and maiming many aboard.

A third time moved in, grappling now near the bow. Again succeeding in boarding, and again were repulsed after heavy fighting. Now Cavendish knew that the galleon had no artillery to strike back. After three hours of gunfire Santa Ana had enough. The sea was pouring into her through gaping holes at the waterline. Almost every Spaniard was wounded, many were killed. The galleon struck her colors. She carried 122.000 gold pesos, a number of fine pearls, and 600 tons of merchandise which was much too much for the two pirate vessels (the third one being sunk near the equator) to load. The Spanish survivors, numbering 190 and including some women, were stripped of their personal possessions "without leaving them a single pin" and put ashore near Cabo San Lucas in Southern California. Santa Ana, including the residue of her cargo, was burnt. Cavendish took as prisoner a Portuguese merchant who had lived in Canton and carried a detailed map of China. Also the galleon’s pilot who knew the Philippines, and five boys.

One of the two ships, the crew not much content with their shares of the booty (they seem to have had little or no part in the fighting), left and was never heard of again. Cavendish’s Desire crossed the Pacific for the Ladrones Archipelago where Magellan had paid his fatal visit, and negotiated the hazardous passage to the Moluccas. On the 19th of March 1588 sighted the Cape of Good Hope. On 10 September "like wearied men, we got into Plymouth." Wearied, but dressed like genuine and happy pirates. Even the loyal Desire was dressed like one: she had damask sails, the topmast covered with cloth of gold. The hands had been away 780 days, and now were rigged out in silks.

Squandered his sudden wealth "in gallantry and following the court". Planned to repeat his success when he sailed from Plymouth in August 1591. When negotiating the Strait of Magellan again the gales were worse than anything the men had experienced. Lost his good spirits, doubting his abilities to bring Desire to the Pacific Ocean. Decided to return and try to sail Eastward for China. Fell ill and died at sea.

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