Sir Francis Drake 

Francis Drake in 48° North Latitude;
as related by Francis Drake's young cousin, and companion on Drake's s voyage of circumnavigation, John Drake,
in two depositions made in Argentina and Peru. The two depositions, made under oath, are the only genuine first-hand accounts of Drake's voyage, and the only accounts to have located the landing on the west coast of North America at 48 degrees, suggesting that Francis Drake landed and remained for six weeks on the coast of Vancouver Island in 1579. See bibliographical note

Francis Drake's cousin John took part in the circumnavigation at about age 15 as a page. Two years later, as captain of the forty-ton Francis, owned by Francis Drake, he deserted the ill-fated Fenton expedition and was shipwrecked on the coast of Brazil. John was captured by Indians, who, after thirteen months, turned him over to the Spanish. Anxious to tap this source of first-hand information, they put John through the terrors of at least two interrogations before Tribunals of Inquisition.
Drake had entered the North Pacific, crossing the equator for the second of four times, on March 5, 1579 as he sailed past Cape Francisco in Ecuador. He reached Guatulco ten days later. From his captured Spanish charts, he knew that to go further north from there, what with the clockwise rotation of the winds and currents of the North Pacific, he needed to sail a Spanish course--see map.
Here the three synoptic accounts, as translated by Zelia Nuttall (see biblio.), are presented for the days covering that voyage from Mexico to Canada, in parallel, and verbatim. Bold text is emphasis added by this editor.

John Drake 1st deposition1
March 24, 1584
John Drake 1st deposition
(Antonio de Herrera's 1606 recount)
John Drake 2nd deposition2
January 8-10, 1587

They sailed out at sea always to the north-west and north- north-west the whole of April and May until the middle of June, from Guatulco, which lies in 15 degrees north, until they reached 48 degrees north.

He sailed towards the northwest and northeast two months encountering great storms and a sky obscured with many fogs, until he reached a latitude of something more than 45 degrees--

see map at right, and Bishop in bibliography

Then they left and sailed, always on a wind, in a north-west and north-north-westerly direction, for a thousand leagues until they reached forty-four degrees when the wind changed and he went to the Californias where he discovered land in forty-eight deg.

--for the purpose of seeking the strait [de los Bacallaos3] which has been referred to [earlier in the account].

On their voyage they met with great storms. All the sky was dark and full of mist. On the voyage they saw five or six islands in 46 and 48 degrees. Captain Francis gave the land that is situated in 48 degrees the name of New England.

Francis Drake on this journey, saw five or six islands of good soil. He called one San Bartolome, one San Jaime [James], and another [island] which seemed to be the largest , and the best, Nueva Albion [New England].

They were there a month and a half, taking in water and wood and repairing their ship.

Here he remained a month and a half repairing the two ships which he had with him.

There he landed and built huts and remained for a month and a half, caulking his vessel.

  • The commemorative statue of Drake is one of 14 historical figures on the Parliament Library building in Victoria, just 2.4 crow miles west of the landing site.
  • The proposed landing site is at 48 and 41/100 degrees degrees north latitude. See more description below.
  • On the glacially scoured Harling Point, overlooking the Salish Sea, is the Sahsima, a Songhees Transformer Stone (slideshow below).

The translated caption of the 1590 Portus Novae Albionis by Hondius reads With appalling lacerations of their bodies and numerous sacrifices in the hills, the inhabitants of this port of New Albion lamented the departure of Drake, whom they had already twice crowned.

The victuals they found were mussels and sea lions.

During that time many Indians came there and when they saw the Englishmen they wept and scratched their faces with their nails until they drew blood, as though this were an act of homage or adoration. By signs Captain Francis told them not to do that, for the Englishmen were not God.

These people were peaceful and did no harm to the English, but gave them no food. They are of the colour of the Indians here [Peru] and are comely. They carry bows and arrows and go naked.people

The climate is temperate4, more cold than hot. To all appearance it is a very good country. Here he caulked his large ship and left the ship he had taken in Nicaragua.5 He departed, leaving the Indians, to all appearance, sad.

From there they went to the islands "de los Ladrones." On account of the great cold they did not go further north than 48 degrees and from the said New England they navigated to the south-west to the islands "de los Ladrones," [thieves] which are in nine degrees.

From here he went to the Ladrones Islands in 9 degrees...

From here he went alone with the said ship, taking the route to the Moluccas. On account of the currents which hindered him he directed his course towards China before he reached the latitude of one and a half deg. north. From there they went to the Island of " los Ladrones" [thieves] in nine deg.

That is it; just the 16C Spanish recorded first hand accounts of John Drake; no conspiracy theories or State secrets, because the manuscripts archived in Seville were never published until 1911. The entire accounts, from the start of the voyage to the return to England, can be read online from the links in the bibliography below.

Note that in these three final statements, John Drake's latitude for the "Isle of Thieves" (Babelthaup Island in the Palau group) is nearly 2° of latitude too high; however, the 15° latitude for Guatulco given in the 1st deposition is almost correct. John Drake said 48 degrees; how accurate were 16C latitude determinations?

See article on 16C longitude by lunar eclipse.

Foul Bay, charted and named by Capt. George Vancouver in the 1790s, is proposed as a candidate careenage at N48 on the "largest and best island."
Please do not disturb residents; there is limited parking and public access to Gonzales Beach at Foul Bay Road in the Fairfield district of Victoria. There is also a nice general view of the bay at the intersection of Crescent Road and Penzance Street on Harling Point at the Chinese Cemetery. See a Google map of the bay and area showing Salish sites. See news re a candidate site in California.6

The people and places that the English probably saw in those six weeks in June and July of 1579.
In 1929 an English silver sixpence dated 1571 was found by a man digging in a garden in Oak Bay, just 2 miles northeast of Foul Bay. Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun, Thursday, February 19, 2009
strait of juan de fuca
Post Script: Having survived the inquisition, John Drake spent the rest of his life in captivity in Peru.


1 Examined by Alonzo Vera y Aragon, through the interpreter Juan Perez, in the city of Santa Fe, Province of the Rio de la Plata, March 24, 1584. Read the full account online from bibliography below

2 The examination of John Drake by Chief Inquisitor Don Antonio Gutierrez de Ulloa of the Tribunal of the Inquisition at Lima, Peru during the audiences held on the 8th, 9th and 10th days of January 1587. Read the full account online from bibliography below

3 The John Drake depositions confirm that Drake returned to England via Cape Horn, thus completing history's second circumnavigation of the globe. This is the view taken by popular histories, but at the time of the voyage, because of the secrecy maintained by Elizabeth, some had conjectured that Drake had returned to England via either the Northeast Passage above the Promontory of Tabin (see letter Mercator to Ortelius), or the Northwest Passage, the conjectured Strait of Anian, or Sebastian Cabot's Strait of Bacalloas [codfish].
In today's much warmer climatic, the Northwest Passage has become ice free for summer shipping for a 40% savings in distance between Europe and Asia than through the Suez Canal. 2010, 4 ships; 2011, 34 ships; 2012, 46 ships.

4 John Drake: "The climate is temporate."
June daytime highs at Victoria, BC average 65°f, with cool nights dropping to 51°f, which under the international Köppen climate classification system is a salubrious Cfb.
Contrast that with the 16C description of the fog-bound northern coast of California (see note 6 next) by Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo, who in the spring of 1542 "met with such extreme cold" that he "had to return south." He described the mountains along the coast as Sierra Nevadas--snow covered mountains. After Cabrillo died on San Miguel Island, his 2nd in command Bartolemé Ferrelo turned north again to perhaps as high as 43 degrees, but probably did not see Cape Mendocino. Cape Mendocino (perhaps for Don Antonio de Mendoza, first viceroy of New Spain) was probably not named until 1584 by Francisco de Gali returning from Manilla. It is so called at 45 1/2° degrees on a map by Ortelius in 1587 and at 42° on a Molineux globe of 1592.

Going out on a limb: This is a live camera at University of California (Davis campus) Marine Laboratory at Horseshoe Cove on Bodega Head. It may show a sunny view, but in summer, not common. A very common summer condition is what The World Encompassed called "most vile, thicke, and stinking [sulphurous] fogges."

Sebastian Vizcaino shivered through the same frigid weather in 1602.
In 1864 Mark Twain wrote that "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."
In today's warmer climate, the average June/July temperature at Point Reyes (N38) remains a foggy 3-5 degrees colder than Vancouver Island (N48), and has the highest annual average hours of fog on the west coast at 1,337 hours.

5 A bark belonging to Rodrigo Tello captured at Caño. Drake found on board two pilots headed for Panama to take the new governor to the Philippines, Alonzo Sanchez Colchero and Martin de Aguirre, who were carrying navigation charts and rutters for the Pacific [Mar del Zur].

6 On October 17. 2012, in an apparent settlement of the long-running debate as to the location on the northwest coast of North America where Drake landed in 1579, the United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed a document creating The Drakes Bay Historic and Archaeological District National Historic Landmark, which gives formal recognition to Drakes Bay, CA as the site of first contact between Europeans and the Coast Miwok people with the wreck of Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeño's galleon the San Agustin in 1595, and also as "the most likely site" of Francis Drake's landing in 1579. This National Historic Landmark lies within the 77,000 acre Point Reyes National Seashore in the area of Drakes Estero and Limantour Spit at 38 degrees north latitude. The photo here is looking east across the bay from Pt. Reyes.

But in an email to the Sonoma Press Democrat, Secretary Salazar made it quite clear that the approved landmark nomination by the Drake Navigators Guild "does not address the controversy regarding [Drake's] landing site," and the designation "should not be interpreted as providing a definitive resolution of the discussion." The designated US National Historic Landmark at Drakes Bay is a full 10 degrees south of the "48 degrees" sworn to by John Drake in 1584, and repeated three years later in 1587--a discrepancy of over 700 statute miles!

John Drake said 48 degrees. He said it twice. How accurate were 16C latitude determinations?
See here an article on Drake and longitude.

Bibliography (read linked online; in full)

Bishop, R. P., Drake's Course in the North Pacific, British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Vol. III, No. 3, Vancouver, BC, 1930, for an analysis of Drake's route from Guatulco to Vancouver Island.

Donno, Elizabeth Story, An Elizabethan in 1582; The Diary of Richard Madox, Fellow of All Souls, The Hakluyt Society, London, 1976 [sic, for 1974]

Fuller-Eliott-Drake, Elizabeth Douglas, Lady, The Family and Heirs of Sir Francis Drake, (Vol. 1), Smith, Elder, London, 1911.

Hondius, Jodocus "Broadside" map (c.1595), with the Portus plan inset, is part of the collection of the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley, CA.

Nuttall, Zelia, New Light on Drake, Hakluyt Society, London, 1914.
See p.24 for translations of the 1584 John Drake deposition, and p.34 for the 1587 deposition, both of which reside in the Archive General de Indias in Seville, Spain).

Taylor, E. G. R., Tudor Geography; 1485-1583, Methuen & Co. LTD, London, 1930, for background on the planning of Drake's voyage.

Wagner, Henry R, Sir Francis Drake's Voyage Around the World, John Howell, San Francisco, 1926.
See p..330 for Antonio de Herrera's 1606 almost word for word recount of John Drake's first deposition published in his Historia General del Mundo, and utilized three years later by Bartolome Leonardo Argensola in his Conquista de las islas Malucas.

Bibliographical note: Other than the two John Drake depositions, there are no published accounts of this part of the voyage that are first-hand accounts. The others are either hearsay, or compilations from mostly unknown contributors; viz. the "divers others" credited on the title page of The World Encompassed, which was not published until 44 years after John Drake's first deposition. The latitude of 48 as the landing site on the northwest coast of America is also found in the even earlier (1582) diary of Richard Madox, chaplain of the Fenton Expedition, but Madox credits the information not to John Drake, but to "M[aster] Haul [sic]." Christopher Hall had been with all three of Frobisher's voyages, but not Drake's, so this was a third hand account; perhaps Hall had it from either Thomas Hood [Whood] or William Hawkins, who had been with Drake.

There are two longer accounts of Drake's voyage of circumnavigation, Hakluyt's The Famous Voyage (1589) and The World Encompassed (1628), but they were compiled much after the voyage and from many unnamed sources--divers others. In those two accounts, as in most of the other short accounts, the latitude of the landing is given at near N38 degrees, and the descriptions of the people encountered on the Northwest coast of North America have long ago been clearly demonstrated to relate to those people who once lived at that latitude on that coast, not to N48 degrees. But although their reported latitudes of the landing sites cannot be reconciled with the John Drake depositions, they are fascinating accounts, and are, like the above, presented here in parallel.

Bacallaos Exploration Society
aliquid verè redolentque piscis

Not endorsed by the Pacific Coast Exploration Society