Francis Drake

Portrait of Francis Drake

Map of New Albion

Francis Drake became the first Englishman to sail through the Strait of Magellan in 1577. He was on his way to raid Spanish colonies on the Pacific coast of America in his ship, The Golden Hind. He was acting as a privateer for England against her Spanish enemy. A privateer is a pirate with permission to loot.

Detail from the title page of 'Sir Francis Drake Revived'

On his voyage Drake also explored the waters south of Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. He reported that he had found no evidence for the giant southern continent that people believed existed. Despite this discovery geographers continued to put the Unknown Southern Land (Terra Australis Incognita) on maps.

Detail from the title page of 'Sir Francis Drake Revived'

Drake sailed along the west coast of America looking for a passage back to the Atlantic. He claimed northern California, which he called New Albion. He then crossed the Pacific to the Spice Islands in Indonesia. From there he made his way back to England. When he returned in 1580, he became the first English sailor to go right around the world. Queen Elizabeth I knighted him on the deck of his ship.

The portrait of Francis Drake (top left) is from Sir Francis Drake Revived, published in 1653, seventy years after Drake’s voyage around the world. This book tells the story of Drake's life. The title page says that he is a role model to 'stir up all heroic and active spirits of these times, to benefit their country and eternize their names by like noble attempts’. Click on the portrait to see more.

The map (bottom left), from a 1755 atlas, shows part of California. It is labeled ‘New Albion so named by Sir Francis Drake 1542’. 1542 is a misprint for 1579. Click on the map to follow Drake's outward journey.