Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Drake at Nombre de Dios, July 1572
By Richard Hakluyt (c. 15531616)
From Sir Francis Drake revived, 1626
[Drake sailed along with Hawkins in the troublesome voyage which led to the misadventure at S. Juan de Ulloa in 1568, and escaped in his bark the Judith from the Spanish attack on Hawkinss ships. In each of the three years that followed his return, Drake sailed out to get some amends for his loss! His attack on Nombre de Dios, the mouth of the treasure of the whole world, the port on the Isthmus for the treasure convoys from Panama and the South Sea, was an incident in the third of these voyages. It is only touched on casually by Hakluyt; the full narrative, one of the liveliest in all that part of history, was published in 1626 by Drakes nephew, and is described as faithfully taken out of the report of Master Christopher Ceely, Ellis Hixom, and others who were in the same voyage with him, by Philip Nichols, preacher; reviewed also by Sir Francis Drake himself before his death; and much holpen and enlarged by divers notes, with his own hand, here and there inserted. This account Sir Francis Drake revived is reprinted in Mr. Arbers English Garner, vol. v. pp. 487560.]
THEN we weighed again, and set sail, rowing hard aboard the shore, with as much silence as we could, till we recovered the point of the harbour under the high land. There we stayed, all silent, purposing to attempt the town in the dawning of the day, after that we had reposed ourselves for a while.
But our captain with some other of his best men, finding that our people were talking of the greatness of the town, and what their strength might be, especially by the report of the Negroes that we took at the Isle of Pinos, thought it best to put these conceits out of their heads, and therefore to take the opportunity of the rising of the moon that night, persuading them that it was the day dawning. By this occasion we were at the town a large hour sooner than first was purposed. For we arrived there by three of the clock after midnight. At what time it fortuned that a ship of Spain, of 60 tons, laden with Canary wines and other commodities, which had but lately come into the bay and had not yet furled her sprit-sail (espying our four pinnaces, being an extraordinary number, and those rowing with many oars) sent away her gundeloe towards the town, to give warning. But our Captain, perceiving it, cut betwixt her and the town, forcing her to go to the other side of the bay: whereby we landed without impeachment, although we found one gunner upon the platform in the very place where we landed; being a sandy place and no quay at all, not past twenty yards from the houses. There we found six great pieces of brass ordnance, mounted upon their carriages, some demy, some whole-culvering. We presently dismounted them. The gunner fled. The town took alarm (being very ready thereto, by reason of their often disquieting by their near neighbours the Cimaroons); as we perceived, not only by the noise and cries of the people, but by the bell ringing out, and drums running up and down the town.
Our Captain, according to the directions which he had given over night, to such as he had made choice of for the purpose, left twelve to keep the pinnaces; that we might be sure of a safe retreat, if the worst befell. And having made sure work of the platform before he would enter the town, he thought best, first to view the Mount on the east side of the town: where he was informed, by sundry intelligences the year before, they had an intent to plant ordnance, which might scour round about the town.
Therefore, leaving one half of his company to make a stand at the foot of the Mount, he marched up presently unto the top of it, with all speed to try the truth of the report, for the more safety. There we found no piece of ordnance, but only a very fit place prepared for such use, and therefore we left it without any of our men, and with all celerity returned now down the Mount.
Then our Captain appointed his brother, with John Oxenham and sixteen other of his men, to go about behind the Kings Treasure House, and enter near the eastern end of the Market Place: himself, with the rest, would pass up the broad street into the Market Place, with sound of drum and trumpet. The firepikes, divided half to the one, and half to the other company, served no less for fright to the enemy than light of our men, who by this means might discern every place very well, as if it were near day: whereas the inhabitants stood amazed at so strange a sight, marvelling what the matter might be, and imagining, by reason of our drums and trumpets sounding in so sundry places, that we had been a far greater number than we were.
Yet, by means of the soldiers which were in the town, and by reason of the time which we spent in marching up and down the Mount, the soldiers and inhabitants had put themselves in arms, and brought their companies in some order, at the south-east end of the Market Place, near the Governors House, and not far from the gate of the town, which is the only one, leading towards Panama: having (as it seems) gathered themselves thither, either that in the Governors sight they might shew their valour, if it might prevail; or else, that by the gate, they might best take their Vale, and escape readiest.
And to make a shew of far greater numbers of shot, or else of a custom they had, by the like device to terrify the Cimaroons; they had hung lines with matches lighted, overthwart the wester end of the Market Place, between the Church and the Cross; as though there had been in a readiness some company of shot, whereas indeed there were not past two or three that taught these lines to dance, till they themselves ran away, as soon as they perceived they were discovered.
But the soldiers and such as were joined with them, presented us with a jolly hot volley of shot, beating full upon the egress of that street in which we marched; and levelling very low, so as their bullets ofttimes grazed on the sand.
We stood not to answer them in like terms; but having discharged our first volley of shot, and feathered them with our arrows (which our Captain had caused to be made of purpose in England; not great sheaf arrows, but fine roving shafts, very carefully reserved for the service) we came to the push of pike, so that our firepikes being well armed and made of purpose, did us very great service.
For our men with their pikes and short weapons, in short time took such order among these gallants (some using the butt-end of their pieces instead of other weapons), that partly by reason of our arrows which did us there notable service, partly by occasion of this strange and sudden closing with them in this manner unlooked for, and the rather for that at the very instant, our Captains brother, with the other company, with their firepikes, entered the Market Place by the easter street; they, casting down their weapons, fled all out of the town by the gate aforesaid, which had been built for a bar to keep out of the town the Cimaroons, who had often assailed it; but now served for a gap for the Spaniards to fly at.
In following and returning divers of our men were hurt with the weapons which the enemy had let fall as he fled; somewhat, for that we marched with such speed, but more for that they lay so thick and cross one on the other.
Being returned, we made our stand near the midst of the Market Place, where a tree groweth hard by the Cross; whence our Captain sent some of our men to stay the ringing of the alarm bell, which had continued all this while; but the church being very strongly built and fast shut, they could not without firing (which our Captain forbade) get into the steeple where the bell rung.
In the meantime, our Captain, having taken two or three Spaniards in their flight, commanded them to shew him the Governors House, where he understood was the ordinary place of unlading the mules of all the treasure which came from Panama by the Kings appointment. Although the silver only was kept there; the gold, pearl, and jewels (being there once entered by the Kings officer) was carried from thence to the Kings Treasure House not far off, being a house very strongly built of lime and stone, for the safe keeping thereof.
At our coming to the Governors House, we found the great door where the mules do usually unlade, even then opened, a candle lighted upon the top of the stairs; and a fair gennet ready saddled, either for the Governor himself, or some other of his household to carry it after him. By means of this light we saw a huge heap of silver in that nether room; being a pile of bars of silver of, as near as we could guess, seventy feet in length, of ten feet in breadth, and twelve feet in height, piled up against the wall, each bar was between thirty-five and forty pounds in weight.
At sight hereof, our Captain commanded straitly that none of us should touch a bar of silver; but stand upon our weapons, because the town was full of people, and there was in the Kings Treasure House near the water side, more gold and jewels than all our four pinnaces could carry: which we would presently set some in hand to break open, notwithstanding the Spaniards report of the strength of it.
We were no sooner returned to our strength, but there was a report brought by some of our men that our pinnaces were in danger to be taken; and that if we ourselves got not aboard before day, we should be oppressed with multitude both of soldiers and townspeople. This report had his ground from one Diego a negro, who, in the time of the first conflict, came and called to our pinnaces, to know whether they were Captain Drakes? And upon answer received, continued entreating to be taken aboard, though he had first three or four shot made at him, until at length they fetched him; and learned by him, that, not past eight days before our arrival, the King had sent thither some 150 soldiers to guard the town against the Cimaroons, and the town at this time was full of people beside; which all the rather believed, because it agreed with the report of the Negroes which we took before at the Isle of Pinos. And therefore our Captain sent his brother and John Oxenham to understand the truth thereof.
They found our men which we left in our pinnaces much frightened, by reason that they saw great troops and companies running up and down, with matches lighted, some with other weapons, crying Que gente? que gente? which not having been at the first conflict, but coming from the utter ends of the town (being at least as big as Plymouth), came many times near us; and understanding that we were English, discharged their pieces and ran away.
Presently after this, a mighty shower of rain, with a terrible storm of thunder and lightning, fell, which poured down so vehemently (as it usually doth in those countries) that before we could recover the shelter of a certain shade or pent-house at the western end of the Kings Treasure House (which seemeth to have been built there of purpose to avoid sun and rain) some of our bowstrings were wet, and some of our match and powder hurt. Which while we were careful of, to refurnish and supply, divers of our men harping on the reports lately brought us, were muttering of the forces of the town, which our Captain perceiving, told them that he had brought them to the mouth of the Treasure of the World: if they would want it, they might henceforth blame nobody but themselves!
And therefore as soon as the storm began to assuage of his fury (which was a long half-hour) willing to give his men no longer leisure to demur of those doubts, nor yet allow the enemy farther respite to gather themselves together, he stept forward commanding his brother, with John Oxenham and the company appointed them, to break the Kings Treasure House; the rest to follow him to keep the strength of the Market Place, till they had despatched the business for which they came.
But as he stepped forward, his strength and speech failed him, and he began to faint for want of blood, which, as then we perceived, had, in great quantity, issued upon the sand, out of a wound received in his leg in the first encounter, whereby though he felt some pain, yet (for that he perceived divers of the company, having already gotten many good things, to be very ready to take all occasions of winding themselves out of that conceited1 danger) would he not have it known to any, till this his fainting, against his will, bewrayed it; the blood having first filled the very prints which our footsteps made, to the greater dismay of all our company, who thought it not credible that one man should be able to spare so much blood and live.
And therefore, even they which were willing to have adventured the most for so fair a booty, would in no case hazard their Captains life; but (having given him somewhat to drink wherewith he recovered himself, and having bound his scarf about his leg for the stopping of the blood) entreated him to be content to go with them aboard, there to have his wound searched and dressed, and then to return on shore again if he thought good.
This, when they could not persuade him unto (as who knew it to be utterly impossible, at least very unlikely, that ever they should, for that time, return again, to recover the state in which they now were: and was of opinion, that it were more honourable for himself, to jeopard his life for so great a benefit, than to leave off so high an enterprise unperformed), they joined altogether and with force mingled with fair entreaty, they bare him aboard his pinnace, and so abandoned a most rich spoil for the present, only to preserve their Captains life: and being resolved of him, that while they enjoyed his presence, and had him to command them, they might recover wealth sufficient; but if once they lost him, they should hardly be able to recover home, no, not with that which they had gotten already.