"The Navigator"

Born: 19 Sep 1560, Trimley St. Martin, near Ipswich, Suffolk, England

Died: May 1592

Father: William CAVENDISH

Mother: Mary WENTWORTH

Cavendish was born in 1560 at Trimley St. Martin near Ipswich, Suffolk, England. His father was William Cavendish; he was a descendant of Roger Cavendish, brother to Sir John Cavendish from whom the Dukes of Devonshire and the Dukes of Newcastle derive their family name of Cavendish. Thomas Cavendish was related by marriage to Cecils, Frobisher, Brandon, Seckford, Tollemache, Wingfield and Wentworth families, "a charmed circle of famous navigators". Thomas' own sister, Douglas Cavendish, married the writer on matters of maritime activity and colonisation, Richard Hakluyt (b. 1552 - d. 1616).

When Cavendish was 12 he inherited a fortune from his deceased father William, Thomas and his mother went to live with Lord Wentworth at Nettleshead, Suffolk. But after leaving school at age 17, for the next 8 years or so he spent most of it on luxurious living. At the age of 15 he attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University for two years, but did not take a degree. In 1580, he went to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, where his sister Anne became one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting. Through his family he had easy access to important figures at court; he became a friend of Sir George Carey, son of Lord Hunsdon, of Lord Chamberlain, and of George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, who became the most active aristocratic privateer in the country. He was a member of the Parliament for Shaftesbury, Dorset, in 1584. He sailed with Sir Richard Grenville to Virginia in 1585 gaining much valuable experience but losing money on his investments. He was a Member of Parliament for Wilton, 1586.

Privateer, mariner and Member of Parliament, Thomas Cavendish, was the second Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. His sister Anne (a maid of honour) married a mariner, the illegitimate Sir Robert Dudley, son of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and lover Douglas Howard.

Cavendish was a friend of Walter Raleigh who, though unlikely to have had any electoral patronage as early as 1584, was a member of the group surrounding Henry Herbet, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, who controlled the patronage at Shaftesbury and Wilton.

Little is known of Cavendish between 1577 and 1585, when he commanded a ship under Richard Grenville in the expedition to Virginia. Cavendish, Grenville and Ralph Lane  departed from Plymouth on 9 Apr 1585 and planned for the fleet to sail together to the West Indies via the Canary Islands; however, in bad weather off the coast of Portugal, one of the pinnaces sank and the other ships separated. In his ship Tyger, Grenville sailed on alone to the rendezvous point off Puerto Rico where he constructed a fortification and built a new pinnace. Cavendish and the Elizabeth, last seen a month earlier and 3000 miles away, joined them there. Here Cavendish also participated in the capture of Spanish ships, an activity that held greater interest for him than colonization did. The English did continue their voyage and on 26 Jun 1585 they arrive at Wococon Inlet (somewhere near today's Ocracoke Inlet) on the Outer Banks. Three days later Tyger ran aground with the loss of most of the supplies that it carried. This loss contributed greatly to the eventual failure of the colony.

Among the men on the expedition were John White, the artist whose paintings would soon portray the area, and Thomas Harriot, the brilliant scientist whose written accounts later excited Englishmen. Cavendish joined Grenville, White, Harriot, and others in exploring the area. They visited the Indian villages of Secotan and Pomeiooc, both painted by John White, and Aquascogoc, burned in a dispute over a missing silver cup. Cavendish participated both in the gathering of valuable information and in an event which led to lasting problems with the Native Americans and to the eventual abandonment of the colony.

Although the records are not clear, Cavendish probably sailed with Grenville on 25 Aug 1585 and arrived in Plymouth on 18 Sep. Cavendish did not return to Roanoke Island the next year and had no more involvement with the Roanoke voyages. After the voyage Grenville complained of the behaviour of Cavendish, who seems already to have been showing the weakness that caused loss of life on his last voyage. 

He was the first who deliberately tried to emulate Sir Francis Drake and raid the Spanish towns and ships in the Pacific and return by circumnavigating the globe. While members of Magellan's, Loaisa's, Drake's, and Loyola's expeditions had preceded Cavendish in circumnavigating the globe, it had not been their intent at the outset.

First voyage

By Jul 1586 Spain and England were in a war which would later culminate with the Spanish Armada and its threatened invasion of England in 1588. Thomas Cavendish determined to follow Sir Francis Drake by raiding the Spanish ports and ships in the Pacific and return by circumnavigating the globe. Lord Hunsdon has been suggested as one of his patrons. After getting permission for his proposed raids Cavendish built a larger 120 ton sailing ship, with 18 cannons, named the Desire. He was joined by the 60 ton, 10 cannon, ship Content, and the 40 ton ship Hugh Gallant. With his three ships and 123 men he set out from Plymouth, England on 21 Jul 1586. Five days later, off Cape Finisterre they were involved in a minor skirmish with five Biscayne ships. Sailing past the Canary Islands they reach Sierre Leone on 21 Aug. While there Cavendish captured a Portugese ship and attempted to burn a native village. In Sep he departed for Brazil, where he took on water and built a pinnace. On 17 Dec 1586 he sailed into an estuary on his flagship. He named the harbour Port Desire (Puerto Deseado in spanish) after his ship, and the point of land at the harbour mouth is still known as Punta Cavendish. They spent Christmas there, and met only a few native Americans, who shot arrows that wounded some of the crew. After ten days Cavendish took his ships on their way. They reached the Strait of Magellan on 6 Jan 1587.

He anchored first at the island of Santa Magdalena near present day Punta Arenas, Chile. There, in two hours, they killed and salted two barrels-full of penguins for food.

As part of Spain's measures to prevent a repeat of Drake's 1578 entry into the Pacific via the Magellan Strait, in 1584 Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa had founded the city of Rey Don Felipe, approximately 58 km (36 mi) south of Punta Arenas, and the city of Nombre de Jesus, near Punta Virgenes, today argentinian Patagonia. When Thomas Cavendish landed at the site of Rey Don Felipe in 1587 he found only ruins. The people of Nombre de Jesús had left the settlement, moving westward on a painful journey on foot through the narrow coast searching Rey Don Felipe. The settlers and soldiers were starving one by one. The only surviving was Tomé Hernandez, who was able to embark on the ship captained by Thomas Cavendish. Cavendish left the other survivors, 14 men and 3 women, of whom nothing more was known. Through the story of Tomé Hernandez in 1620, it was learned the unfortunate history of frustrated colonization. Cavendish renamed the place Port Famine. The name was subsequently translated into Spanish as Puerto Hambre or Puerto del Hambre, and these names are still in use.

After extensive exploration of the many inlets, labyrinths, and intricate channels of the islands and broken lands of Tierra del Fuego and its environs they emerged from the strait into the Pacific on 24 Feb and sailed up the coast of South America.

There on the Pacific coast he sank or captured 9 Spanish ships and looted several towns of quantities of fresh food, supplies and treasure. He also repaired two of his own ships, Desire and Content, and burned Hugh Gallant because he lacked the men to sail her.

One of the captured Spanish ships' pilots revealed that a Manila galleon was expected in Oct or Nov 1587 and usually stopped at Cape San Lucas on the Baja California peninsula before going on to Acapulco. The Manila galleons were restricted by the Spanish Monarch to one or two ships/year and typically carried all the goods accumulated in the Philippines in a year's worth of trading silver, from the Mints in Peru and Mexico, with the Chinese and others, for spices, silk, gold and other expensive goods. In 1587 there were two Manila galleons: the San Francisco and the Santa Ana. Unfortunately both encountered a typhoon on leaving the Philippines and were wrecked on the coast of Japan. Only the 700 ton Santa Ana was salvageable and after repairs resumed her voyage.

Upon reaching the Gulf of California in Oct 1587 Cavendish and his two ships put in at an island above Mazatlan where they careened their ships to clean their bottoms and made general repairs. They had to dig wells for water. They sailed for Cape San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula and set up patrols to see if they could spot the Manila galleon. Early on 4 Nov 1587 one of Cavendish's lookouts spotted the 600 ton galleon manned with over 200 men. After a several hour chase the English ships overhauled the Santa Ana, which conveniently had no cannons on board to allow more cargo. After several hours of battle during which Cavendish used his cannon to fire ball and grape shot into the galleon while the Spanish tried to fight back with small arms, the Santa Ana, now starting to sink, finally struck her colors and surrendered.

Because of the great disparity in size the Content and Desire had to pick and choose what rich cargo they wanted to transfer to their ships from the much larger Santa Ana. One hundred and ninety Spaniards (including Sebastián Vizcaíno (b. 1548 – d. 1624), later explorer of the California coast), and Filipino crewmen, were set ashore with food and some weapons in a location where they had water and food available. Cavendish kept with him two Japanese sailors, three boys from Manila, a Portuguese traveler familiar with China and a Spanish pilot (navigator). They loaded all the gold (about 100 troy pounds or 122,000 pesos worth) and then picked through the silks, damasks, musks (used in perfume manufacture), spices, wines, and ship's supplies for what they could carry. Some in Mexico claimed that the total value of the cargo was about 2,000,000 pesos. After setting fire to the Santa Ana, the Desire and Content sailed away on 17 Nov 1587 to begin their voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

While burning, the Santa Ana drifted onto the coast where the Spanish survivors extinguished the flames, re-floated the ship and limped into Acapulco.

The Content was never heard from again. The Desire tried to avoid conflict for the rest of her voyage.

After crossing the Pacific Ocean, Cavendish and the Desire arrived at the island of Guam on 3 Jan 1588. There he traded iron tools for fresh supplies, water and wood, supplied by the natives. On further landings in the Philippines, Java and other islands he traded some of his captured linen and other goods for fresh supplies, water and wood, and collected information about the Chinese and Japanese coasts. He hoped to use this information to augment existing English knowledge of the area and for a possible second voyage. His crew of about 48 men replaced their worn out clothing and bedding with uniforms made out of silken damask.

By 14 May 1588 he reached the coast of Africa and returned home by way of the Cape of Good Hope, stopping at the island of Saint Helena for fresh supplies.

Returning to Plymouth at the beginning of Sep 1588 with only one of the original three ships, the Desire, but with the bulk of his treasure intact, his track must have crossed that of Medina Sidonia, who was on his way back to Santander after the defeat of the Armada. Partly through generosity, partly from extravagance, his booty soon disappeared, a contemporary reporting that ‘although his great wealth was said to have sufficed ... for his whole life, yet he saw the end thereof within very short time’; and one of his relatives later blamed him for ‘dealing in sea-causes, for he thereby overthrew his house and fortunes’. On 9 Sep 1588 the Desire sailed into the harbor at Plymouth, England. Later she paraded up the River Thames through London, displaying her new sails of blue damask.

The first voyage of Thomas Cavendish was a huge success both financially and otherwise; Cavendish was only 28. The circumnavigation of the globe had been completed in two years and 49 days; nine months faster than Drake, although, like Drake, Cavendish returned with only one of his ships, with a crew of about 48 men. He was knighted by Elizabeth who was invited to a dinner aboard the Desire. England celebrated both the return of the Desire and the defeat of the Spanish Armada earlier that year.

Second voyage

Being admitted a free burgess of Southampton, Cavendish sailed on a second expedition in Aug 1591 with five ships, himself sailing as admiral on the Leicester Galleon, and accompanied by the navigator John Davis and Adrian Gilbert. They went further south and suffered problems in the winter at the Strait of Magellan so turned north. Supplies were short and Cavendish quarrelled with several of his subordinates, behaving in so unbalanced a way that it was thought his mind was becoming deranged. On 20 May 1592 the Desire and the Black Pinnace lost touch with other ships and went into Port Desire to wait for Cavendish. He did not turn up, so in Aug they sailed to the nearby Penguin Island then south, but were caught by a storm and, forced to run before the wind, came on unknown islands, making the first provable sighting of the Malvinas Islands. John Davis continued on with Cavendish's crew and ships, returning to England with most of his crew lost to starvation and illness.

Cavendish returned to Brazil, where they lost most of the crew in a battle against the Portuguese at the Village of Vitória. After Cavendish's men had raided the town of Santos and destroyed several Portuguese sugar plantations, they traveled on and eventually left Anthony Knyvett, who had developed frostbite in the Strait of Magellan, along with nineteen other sick or mutinous men on the then remote island of Ilhabela. Anthony Knyvett, an illegitimate son of Sir Henry Knyvett of Charlton, later wrote about his adventures in Brazil.

Cavendish died of unknown causes at age 32, possibly off Ascension Island in the South Atlantic in May or Jun 1592. The last letter of Cavendish, written to his executor a few days before his death, accuses John Davis of being a "villain" who caused the "decay of the whole action". His will, made at sea, and proved 14 Feb 1596 by Tristram Gorges, bequeathed the ships to Sir George Carey. Apart from a bequest of 100 marks to one of the Queen’s surgeons, the residue of the property went to Cavendish’s sister Anne and left two ships to her husband, Robert Dudley. His executor was to see that ‘every adventurer receive proportionably to his adventure’. Cavendish had his will sealed in a packet and the man who delivered it to Gorges was to receive £40. Cavendish’s last message to Gorges reads: ‘I left none in England whom I loved half as well as yourself. I have no more to say, but take this last farewell, that you have lost the lovingest friend that was lost by any’.

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