What and where is the Golden Hind?

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This depiction of the Golden Hind shows her with the captured Spanish ship, Tello’s bark, in the lead. The geographical formation, Point Reyes, is in the background. Drake is rounding it as he sails into Drakes Bay.

According to Guild nautical historian Ray Aker, the Golden Hind was a galleon of about 150 tons, and she had a hull length of about 80 feet, breadth of roughly 23 feet, a normally laden draft of 11 feet, and a deeply laden draft of 13 feet. The Golden Hind had 12 cannons on the lower deck and 6 smaller ones mounted along the main deck.

She was made of wood and square rigged. Her primary sails hung from spars (poles) which ran across the ship and rectangular in shape. Her three vertical masts were the foremast (front), mainmast (center) and mizzenmast (rear). She had a mast which angled out from the front, the bowsprit. This configuration gave the ship excellent handling qualities. The Golden Hind had no steering wheel. Instead, the rudder was controlled by a whip staff which gave the ship limited rudder throw. Cooking was on a central galley, below the main deck and in the middle of the ship. This was a great advantage over other ship designs of the era that had the galley exposed on the main deck.

Records show that the Golden Hind’s keel was laid in 1576 at Coxside in England. The ship was probably an early race-built galleon; one with a reduced forecastle and poop deck. These types of galleons also had a beam that was narrower in proportion to the hull than other galleons.

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Ray Aker’s cutaway scratch-built model of the Golden Hind. It is on display at the Point Reyes National Seashore park headquarters building.


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Ray Aker did extensive study regarding the Golden Hind’s construction and design. His illustration here suggests her size.

She was originally named the Pelican, and with this name she sailed from Plymouth on her way to the Pacific. While at the Cape of Virgins, which stand at the Atlantic entrance to the Strait of Magellan, Drake held a ceremony in which he renamed his ship as the Golden Hind. This very well may have to do with the execution of one of his crew, Thomas Doughty. Doughty was a friend and secretary of a politically influential investor in the journey, Sir Christopher Hatton. Shortly after Doughty’s execution, Drake gave the new name, Golden Hind. A golden hind—hind being a female deer—was on Hatton’s crest. In so honoring Hatton, perhaps Drake sought to soften Hatton’s anger and resentment over Doughty’s execution. This explanation for the curious renaming of the ship, however probable, is not certain.

Drake’s captured Portuguese pilot, Nuño da Silva, was impressed with the Golden Hind saying that she was a good sailor, fit for warfare, and equipped with tackle and masts that were more stout than was typically used at the time. She was also the second ship to circumnavigate the world.

Sir Francis Drake explorer Michael Turner, in his book Sir Francis Drake And The Golden Hind, describes the Golden Hind’s final disposition.

Queen Elizabeth consecrated his ship as a memorial and according to John Stowe, in his Chronicles reprinted in 1592, ordered “His ship to be drawn up in a little crecke neare Deptford upon the Thames . . . to be preserved for all posterity.” Another contemporary commentator William Camden in his Annales of England 1615, which he began writing in 1596, adds that the ship was “lodged in a docke.” Oppenheim in A History of the Royal Navy wrote that the ship was placed in a dock and filled with earth. In the Navy accounts, only £35 8s 6d was expended for a wall of earth around her. In 1624 a new wharf was constructed by most likely building a new wooden wall on the outside of the original.

Sadly, she weathered and decayed. The Golden Hind was finally buried, most of her already rotted and gone. Lumber had been salvaged and used to construct four chairs and a table. Only one of the chairs is known to exist today. It is at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The table can be seen at the Middle Temple of the Inns of Court in London.

In 1998, Sir David Nicholas asked Ray Aker, then Guild president, if he might be able to precisely locate the final resting place of the Golden Hind. Aker was able to find a probable site, a place along a curious zigzag boundary separating Deptford and Lewisham. The zigzag is likely the little creek described in the contemporary accounts. It was destroyed by landfill, possibly encasing the Golden Hind’s grave within it.

Perhaps one day, the remains of the Golden Hind, one of history’s most famous ships, will be excavated and preserved for posterity.

Sources
  • Sugden, John (1990). Sir Francis Drake. New York: Touchstone.
  • Turner, Michael (2006). In Drake's Wake Volume 2 The World Voyage. United Kingdom: Paul Mould Publishing.