28 January 2021

The death of Sir Francis Drake, explorer, sea captain and pirate, 28th of January, 1596,



1564: Devon sailor Francis Drake sets out on a journey of adventure. He learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life in an audacious plan to steal a fortune.

Some historians believe it was the 27th, but Richard Hakluyt says it was the four in the morning of the 28th of January, 1596, when Sir Francis Drake, explorer, sea captain and pirate, died of dysentery in Portobelo harbour, Panama. 

Drake's last campaign began well, departing from Plymouth on August 28, 1595. As well as six of the queen's warships, the fleet included twenty-one armed merchant ships, with a crew 9of fifteen hundred sailors and a thousand soldiers.

Jointly commanded with his old captain Sir John Hawkins, their plan was to capture a Spanish treasure ship, thought to have with 2,000,000 ducats aboard, which had been damaged in a storm at sea, and was undergoing repairs in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Their surprise attack failed, as San Juan was well defended, so Drake continued to his old hunting grounds at Nombre de Dios, on the Panama isthmus. He led an attack on Porto Bello at the end of December, 1595, but this was also  a failure. 

The crews began to suffer from fever, and it was reported that 'the fire in theor stomachs began to break forth.'  The illness was most likely severe dysentery, and on January 28th, 1596, Drake realised his own death was near. He asked to be dressed in his armour, and although he requested burial on land, Drake was buried at sea in a lead coffin.

Richard Hakluyt's account states that:
The 28 at 4 of the clocke in the morning our Generall sir Francis Drake departed this life, having bene extremely sicke of a fluxe, which began the night before to stop on him. He used some speeches at or a little before his death, rising and apparelling himselfe, but being brought to bed againe within one houre died. He made his brother Thomas Drake and captaine Jonas Bodenham executors, and M. Thomas Drakes sonne [the later Sir Francis Drake, first baronet] his heire to all his lands except one manor which he gave to captain Bodenham.
There have been many attempts to discover Drake's coffin using the latest sonar and remote submersibles, but at the time of writing none have been successful. 

Tony Riches

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