Brief Sampling of Evidence: PORTUS NOVAE ALBIONIS: The Hondius Inset


The Hondius Inset—as it is referred to here—is the single clue which directly and specifically depicts where Drake set up camp to careen the Golden Hind. It is one of four insets Jodocus Hondius placed on the map whose lengthy proper title begins VERA TOTIUS EXPEDITIONIS NAUTICAE. It is generally known as the Hondius Broadside. The insets are the only printed, period records which depict the local topography Drake encountered on his circumnavigating voyage. Drawn by Dutch cartographer Jodocus Hondius, The Hondius Broadside was first issued circa 1590 in London and in 1595 in the Netherlands.

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The Hondius Broadside Map

This is the Hondius Broadside map oriented with north at the top. The Hondius Inset, that showing Drake’s 1579 camp at New Albion, is at the upper left and the Moluccas at the bottom left.

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The Hondius Inset is oriented with north generally to the right in this view.

There are four insets on the map. One depicts Drake at the Moluccas, a second shows the Golden Hind on the south coast of Java, and the third shows where Drake inadvertently sailed the Golden Hind onto a shallow reef on the east side of the Celebes. The fourth inset is of utmost importance to New Albion. It shows Drake’s fortified camp and the Golden Hind at anchor in her careening place. Measuring 1 inche by 2 inches, the Hondius Inset resides in the upper left corner of the map, bears the title Portus Novae Albionis, and has a caption that translates as follows:

With appalling lacerations of their bodies and with numerous sacrifices in the mountains the inhabitants of this port of New Albion lament the departure of Drake whom they have already twice crowned.

Original—that is autograph manuscript—graphic record composition of Drake’s circumnavigation was restricted; the only members of Drake’s crew who drew maps and painted were Francis Drake, his young cousin John Drake, and Francis Fletcher. Eye witnesses were impressed with the excellent work they saw while on board the Golden Hind. Drake’s Portuguese prisoner, Nuño de Silva gave a sworn deposition to Spanish inquisitors after Drake released him. In part it reads:

He (Francis Drake) is an adept at painting and has with him a boy (John Drake), a relation of his, who is a great painter. When they both shut themselves up in his cabin they were always painting.

Similarly, Spanish prisoner, Don Francisco de Zárate, also reported outstanding graphic records made by Drake’s crew:

He carries painters who paint for him pictures of the coast in its exact colors. This I was most grieved to see, for each thing is naturally depicted that no one who guides himself according to these paintings can possibly go astray.

Writing in 1695, English chronicler Samuel Purchas recorded that among the items turned over to Queen Elizabeth when Drake returned was a very large map, a graphic record of his journey which remained at Whitehall Palace and was lost when the structure burned in 1698. It was subject to limited viewing—Purchas himself was one who saw and able to describe it in great detail.

Hondius had been previously authorized to engrave a translation of Lucas Janzoon Wagenaer’s atlas by Queen Elizabeth’s privy council. Sir Christopher Hatton, an investor in Drake’s circumnavigating voyage, used his influence to urge the council to accept Hondius for the atlas engraving task. In the Queen’s court, he was a known, respected cartographer.

There is a good chance that Hondius had been given access to original work and drawings from Drakes’ log or other records when he drafted his map, VERA TOTIUS EXPEDITIONIS NAUTICAE, the Hondius Broadside. Considering Hondius’s role with the atlas, Hatton’s part in publishing it, and the fact that the views on the Hondius Broadside agree substantially with the geographical places they depict, this is likely. Historian Helen Wallis, Keeper of Maps at the British Library, wrote that the Hondius map is a derivative of the original map on display at Whitehall Palace and maintains that Hondius must have seen the Queen’s map at the palace. At the upper center of the map, one can see a portrait of the Queen depicted in the center beneath the Royal Arms—Wallis believes that this may have been directly copied from Drake’s map displayed at Whitehall.

The map has the appearance of credibility—it contains too much fine detail and looks too definitive to be a contrived embellishment for the border of Hondius’s map. The map’s credibility was tested by DNG members, F. Richard Brace and Raymond Aker, to see how they compared with the places they depicted. They compared the Moluccas inset to a modern chart by finding the focal point of the view just as the original mariner constructed such views from his ship by compass bearings to landmarks. The small islands and their relation to Halmahera beyond them compare well. A good comparison with the Portus Javae Majoris inset was found with an 1815 British military field chart of Chilichap Harbor on Java’s south coast. These comparisons confirm that Hondius had access to charts and drawings originating from Drake’s voyage.

All in all, this testifies to the reliability of the Hondius Broadside.

There is significant and considerable topographic detail on the map. Specifically notable are the point and island on the left. They are differentiated from the features on the right by the use of topographic symbols for hills on the right and a dotted and horizontal dashed texture on the point. There is no texture on the island and no indication of a drop off at the edges of either island or point as compared to the showing of bluffs of cliffs at the bottom of the inset. The symbols show that the point and the island are flat features as also is the area to the left of the camp. Indications of hills begin immediately to the right of the camp. The shape of the point is characteristic of a sandspit, and it follows that the camp is located on a beach. Careening requires that a cove be in a harbor; therefore, the bay lies out of sight beyond the top of the map because sandspits of this shape are usual features at the end of a shore of at inlets. No point and island like this has been found in hard, shoreline geographic features anywhere on the coast of California.

Evidentiary Analysis

Thus the search for the careenage basin and camp were begun—the Inset provides key clues and vital information in determining their exact location.

When examining the Inset, one can see at the top right-center is a fort. To its right are symbols indicating hills which continue to bluffs at bottom center. On the left of the fort are short horizontal dashes indicating beach. This is supported by the characteristic sandspit shape of the point. The adjacent, untextured island is flat and featureless; if the point is a sandspit, this island must be a sandbar—a spit could not form in such close relationship to the island.

From this perspective, Drake’s camp must have been located on the west side of Drakes Estero at its mouth. This is the only place where such spits and bars form and where the balance of the requirements imposed by the inset can be met with at Drakes Bay. After extensive exploration of the shores of Limantour Estero and Drakes Estero, this is where the Guild found the site on November 22, 1952.

The Inset shows to the west side of Drakes Estero was a cove adequate in size and depth for the Golden Hind to be hauled from the Estero to ground or careen her. It is known that a 1940s rancher, Bill Hall, bulldozed a dam to form a stock pond. This interfered with the 1579 shape of the cove. Extensive archaeological tests would eventually reveal that the floor of the pond rests under the dam, confirming the entire area had once been covered with Estero water.

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Looking generally southeast, the dam and stock pond which obscure the original shape and full extent of the Cove are seen.

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This diagram is part of the DNG analysis and reconstruction.

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This photo was taken from above the defile leading to the Cove. The dam and resulting stock pond which were once part of the Cove, bluffs, sandspit, entrance to the Estero, and Drakes Bay are visible. This view looks generally southeast.

With this the investigation of the cove, named Drake’s Cove, intensified. Extraordinarily extensive inquiry established remarkable agreement in how the current Drake’s Cove site correlates with the Hondius Inset.

The first point of agreement recognized was the seal-head shape of the Cove at the base of the hills which matched that in the Hondius Inset. Here could be seen the rather straight inner shore with adjoining north and south shores having the same angle of intersection. It was then found that indentations at the crest of the bluff on the north side of the Cove matched indentations in the corresponding shoreline of the Hondius Inset and that the rest terminated in a sharp pint at the top of the bluff as shown in the Inset. This indicated that the Inset was made to show an oblique aerial view; therefore, only this crest was shown leading down to the inner corner of the cove with no detail of the shoreline showing at the base of the bluff. It was found that from the top of the bluff, the rounded shoreline at its base cannot be readily seen.

The bluff on the north side of the Cove is a natural vantage point for viewing Drake’s Cove, and it can be easily conjectured that this view inspired the original drawing for the Portus Novae Albionis inset.

High altitude aerial photographs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 1943 and 1952 were initially used to analyze the Cove. They showed that the crest of the bluffs on the north side had a angular agreement to within a few degrees of the profile shown in the Hondius Inset. They also confirmed close angular agreement with other parts of the Cove, as at the inner corners and outer angle of the bluff. They confirmed the close relationship of the configuration of the crest and terminating point to those features in the Hondius Inset. The Inset now had a distinct orientation, but being intended as a view and not a map, it did not have North-South and East-West alignment.

DNG researchers saw early that the spit and island combination that Hondius showed could form at Drakes Estero: this combination had been previously observed. There was doubt among them, however, as to how those features in the Inset precisely related to Drakes Estero. Reconstruction effectively erased all the doubt.

Guild members knew that the original Portus Novae Albionis drawing required a skilled freehand artist to mentally contrive a bird’s eye view. He would have to imagine himself as looking down on the Cove from a high elevation.

A much easier way for the original Portus Novae Albionis artist to draw the view would be to draft it as a scale map, or plan: pace distance, measure angles by compass bearings, and plot features by angle vectors from a single established point at the top of the bluff overlooking the Cove. The fort, tents, and then ship could then be drawn in an accurate oblique view rather than bird’s eye view. In this way, the artist could create a very accurate scale illustration.

Assuming the drawing was thus drafted, DNG researchers began the reconstruction. Deducing that the draftsman used the northern bluff overlooking the Cove as a vantage point, DNG researchers located a center point from which all visible features of the Cove and the spit could be plotted by radial vectors. They also located a corresponding center point on the Hondius Inset. From that point on the Inset, they drew radial vectors to all the principal features—including the ship and fort—as they would have been seen from the bluff. Then they drew the same vectors on an overlay of the 1952 aerial photograph. They located the spit and island by using the length of the straight shoreline at the inner recess of the cove as a scale, which by measurement in the field was found to be about 500 feet.

They found striking similarities with the spit and island on the Inset and the 1952 aerial photo. The island on the Inset fell into a location adjacent to the entrance of the channel of Drakes Estero near where the modern island showed in 1952 and 1953. They had notable similarities. It is highly probable that the island and spit on the Inset were broader in reality than they are shown—researchers found that features’ apparent width is much foreshortened when observed from the height of the bluff.

Ultimately, this reconstruction showed the Inset spit and island fell into the area where they would have formed, actually have formed, and still do naturally form at Drakes Estero.

The radial vectors produced other surprises. The vector through the fort satisfactorily located it on the beach in relation to the bluff and hill adjacent to it. The vector through the ship placed it at the head of the Cove thus proving the Inset view showed the ship anchored in an appropriate location. At that location, deep water exists when the cycle of changes in sandspit formation at the Estero make a cul-de-sac of the Estero’s main channel by overlapping it.

An amazing detail in the Hondius Inset was subsequently found in the original 1852-53 topographic survey of Drakes Bay. Close analysis of the Inset shows a small cusp in the upper right corner of the Cove. The corresponding feature is not seen today—a 1953 mudslide slipped into that corner which added to an earlier slippage caused by wear on the soil from cattle. The survey distinctly shows the past existence of a cusp identical to that in the Inset. The cusp was still there in the southwest corner of Drake’s Cove.

In addition to the reconstruction, other Inset features agree in full concert with the Cove. While much of the Cove has sparse vegetation, a dense growth of tree-like Blue Blossom grow on the lee side of the hill. The original artist, or Hondius, places trees at such a place seen at the upper right corner of the Inset.

Also in the upper right corner of the Inset is a group of indigenous people with an Englishman waving farewell to them. At the corresponding site at the Cove, there is a defile between the bluff facing the Cove and hill on the south. As it is the only place one can conveniently descend to Drake’s camp site, logically this is the route the people would have used to come and go to the camp.

A curious detail in the Inset is the figure standing in the water, tending a small fire between the Golden Hind and the fort. This would not be an invention of Hondius; it is something that makes sense only to the person who witnessed it. At the Cove it is easily explained and understood by the presence of shallow water between the ship and fort. The figure, an indigenous person was making a sacrificial fire on stranded driftwood. At the end of the spit we see such a fire on a stump or log. Similar driftwood stumps and logs have been found on the beach at the Cove.

A final point to consider regard the bluffs shown at the bottom center of the Inset. These directly relate to the bluffs outside the Cove which face the Estero. Those in the Inset have a rolling form with shading at the crest. The bluffs which are at the corresponding location by the Estero today have a similar rolling form.

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This Inset enlarged detail shows the person attending the sacrificial fire while in shallow water between ship and shore.

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This photo of the land close to Drakes Estero and along Drakes Bay give a sense of the terrain’s rolling form.

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A 1950s era photo by Guild member Matthew Dillingham shows the Cove including all of Hall’s pond and corresponding dam. From roughly the same position as the photographer, Ray Aker illustrates the probable position of the 1579 artist.

Summary Conclusion

The correlating agreement with the cove depicted on the Hondius Inset and natural cove off Drakes Estero—Drake’s Cove—are:

  • Agreement between the seal-head shape of the coves
  • Angular agreement at the southwest corner of the coves
  • Angular agreement at the northwest corner of the coves
  • Point for point agreement with indentations on the north side of the coves
  • Corresponding points of land at the end of the bluff on the north side of the coves
  • Agreement between cusps in the southwest corner of the coves
  • Topographic agreement between hill symbols in the Inset and hills at Drake’s Cove
  • Topographic agreement between the short, horizontal dash symbolism from left of the fort to the end of the point in the Inset and texture of the beach and spit at Drake’s Cove
  • Agreement with bluffs at the bottom of the Inset and the bluffs which currently face Drakes Estero
  • Agreement between the Hondius Inset point and island and sandspits and small sandbar type islands that normally form at Drakes Estero
  • Agreement with the Inset anchorage for the Golden Hind and a deep basin at Drake’s Cove suitable for such anchorage
  • Agreement with the Hondius Inset location of Drake’s fort and a comparable location at Drake’s Cove
  • Agreement with the location of trees in the Hondius Inset and the location at Dtrake’s Cove where the tree-like Blue Blossom and dense vegetation are found
  • Agreement with the location of native people at the right of the Inset and the location of a defile at the south-west corner of Drake’s Cove, the only place where it is convenient to descend to the site of Drake’s fort
  • Logical explanation for a native person standing in the water and tending a fire
  • Presence of driftwood at Drake’s Cove corresponding to the stump in which a sacrificial fire is being burned in the Inset.

A Note Regarding Orientation

One not having a certain familiarity with maps may be somewhat confused as to the orientation of the Hondius insets—they are not oriented with the rest of the map. This is not an uncommon practice. Insets often have a different orientation than the rest of the map. The reasons vary. Often, due to limited space, features must be rotated to simply fit on the paper when drawn in an inset. One must also remember that the insets that Hondius drew or copied from the original were also not meant to be maps. They were illustrations, a detailed view of a notable moment along Drake's journey. Here you will also see how neither the Hondius Inset nor the Moluccas Inset are oriented with the rest of the map. Again, these are views, a perspective recording an event Drake encountered along his way to circumnavigating the world.

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This shows the Moluccas Inset from the Hondius Broadside. The view is as would have been seen from aboard a ship when looking east toward the islands.

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The following is a study by Ray Aker in which he correlates the Moluccas Inset view with a birds-eye view of landforms. This establishes the Moluccas Inset artist depicting the Moluccas in an orientation, east at the top of the inset, which is different than the orientation of the primary Hondius Broadside image of the world.

  • Aker, Raymond (1978). Francis Drake At Drakes Bay, Palo Alto: Drake Navigators Guild
  • Nuthall, Zelia (1914). New Light on Drake . . . Hakluyt Society
  • Purchas, Samuel (1906). Purchas His Pilgrimes
  • Wallis, Helen (1979). The Voyage of Sir Francis Drake Mapped In Silver and Gold. University of California.