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Cavendish, Thomas, 1560-1592

Account of the last voyage of Thomas Cavendish.

Physical Description:
1 v. (38 leaves) ; 20 cm.
Rare Books and Manuscripts
G246.C38 L37 1592+ Oversize
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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Archives & Manuscripts
Sir Thomas Cavendish (1560-1592) is best known as the second Englishman to lead a voyage around the world, after Sir Francis Drake. Cavendish had squandered the fortune he made on his circumnavigation and in an attempt to regain his wealth undertook a second such voyage, which ended in disaster. Departing from Plymouth in August 1591, he reached the Strait of Magellan by March 1592 but was unable to pass through because of stormy weather. After two months, his crew rebelled; they were almost out of food, "as smalle a portion as ever men were at in the seaes" (fol. 34), and forced Cavendish to abandon the expedition.
Phillipps MS 25851.
Provenance: Tristram Gorges; Reverend Joseph Hunter; Sir Thomas Phillipps (MS 25851); Lionel and Philip Robinson; Paul Mellon (1962).
Bound in contemporary limp vellum fashioned from a manuscript deed, trimmed to fit the paper to which it is stitched. The parchment cover appears to have been reattached upside down (at an undetermined time), with what once may have been a title in ms. now on the back cover. The deed on the inside covers of the parchment, probably written by Tristram Gorges, dates to the late 16th century, and relates to the transfer of land in Cornwall (cf. Quinn).
The manuscript is reproduced in its entirety (except for the inside covers), together with a transcription, in Quinn's The last voyage of Thomas Cavendish, 1591-1592.
Quinn, David Beers. The last voyage of Thomas Cavendish, 1591-1592 : the autograph manuscript of his own account of the voyage, written shortly before his death : from the collection of Paul Mellon. Chicago : Published for the Newberry Library by the University of Chicago Press, [1975].
Selected exhibitions: "Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art" (Yale Center for British Art, 18 April-29 July, 2007); "Wilde Americk: Discovery and Exploration of the New World" (Yale Center for British Art, 27 September-30 December, 2001).
Original manuscript account of Thomas Cavendish's last voyage, written by Cavendish in his own hand, in 1592. The writing is in a secretary hand, in pen and black ink throughout, on paper. The manuscript is approximately 10,000 words in length, and is signed by Cavendish twice on folio 38. Writing is on the recto only of each leaf, except for the first two leaves, which bear writing on both sides. It was written in the mid-Atlantic shortly before he died at sea, brokenhearted and in despair, toward the end of 1592. He addressed the work to his friend and executor, Tristram Gorges: "now I am growne so weake & fainte as I am scarce able to holde the penn in my hande" (fol. 32).
Cavendish's last voyage departs from Plymouth on 26 August 1591, with 350 men on five ships (the Galleon Leicester, the Roebuck, the Desire, the Daintie, and the Black Pinnace). After sacking Santos (in Brazil), the Daintie was dispatched to England heavy with plunder. In March 1592, the remaining four ships continue to the Strait of Magellan. There, in April, they encounter fierce winter storms, with severe winds and snow, "not durable for Christians"; in "7 or 8 daies in this extremitie there dyed 40 men and sickened 70 so that there was not 50 men that were able to stand uppon the hatches" (fol. 3). At this point, Cavendish considers reversing direction, to head to China via the South Atlantic and the Cape of Good Hope. His men, however, petition to return to Brazil to regroup. Cavendish gives in to this proposal, "Which they so muche seemed to desire and I so much hated" (fol. 7). On May 20, as the four ships return to Port Desire, they inadvertently split up, as the Galleon Leicester and Roebuck go one way, and the Desire and Black Pinnace another. Cavendish blames John Davis: "Davys in the Desier and my Pinnis loste me in the night after which tyme I never hard of theme but as I synce understood Davis his intention was ever to rune away" (fol. 7).
The Galleon Leicester and the Roebuck retreat north to Brazil. In the process they incur much additional trouble, including a storm that heavily damages the Roebuck and a failed raid in which Cavendish loses many men. With a crew of just 90 on the Leicester, he is determined to sail again for the Strait of Magellan. He could, however, "by noe meanes get my companie to give their consentes to go" (fol. 32). The Leicester instead heads for St. Helena, but errors of navigation prevent their landfall. The crew then decides to proceed northward, seeking the island of Ascension. Cavendish, already troubled by his inability to make his crew obey, becomes completely distraught upon the death of his cousin Captain John Cocke: "amongst such hel houndes, my spirit was cleene spent" (fol. 35).
Cavendish intended, if he and his ship reached Ascension Island, "to have there ended my unfortunate lief" (fol. 36). The island could not be found, however, and the ship finally turns toward home. Cavendish dies shortly thereafter from unknown causes and is buried at sea. His crew sails on, likely obtaining food and water in the Azores. Further details of the voyage home are not known, but the ship, the Galleon Leicester, was first heard of again in Portsmouth in March, 1593.
A copy of the present manuscript came into the possession of the writer Samuel Purchas (possibly through the auspices of Richard Hakluyt) and was published in abbreviated form in his Pilgrimes (1625), in which Purchas supresses the most "passionate speeches of Master Candish [sic] against some private persons" (vol. 4, p. 1191).
Subject Terms:
Cavendish, Thomas, 1560-1592.
Davis, John, 1550?-1605.
Gorges, Tristram, ca. 1562-1608.
Hunter, Joseph, 1783-1861 -- Ownership.
Magellan, Strait of (Chile and Argentina) -- Discovery and exploration -- British -- Early works to 1800.
Mutiny -- Great Britain -- Early works to 1800.
Ocean travel -- Early works to 1800.
Phillipps, Thomas, Sir, 1792-1872 -- Ownership.
Purchas, Samuel, 1577?-1626. Hakluytus posthumus.
Seafaring life -- Great Britain -- Early works to 1800.
South America -- Discovery and exploration -- British -- Early works to 1800.
Travel literature -- 1592.
IIIF Manifest:

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Wilde Americk - Discovery and Exploration of the New World, 1500-1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-09-27 - 2001-09-27) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

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