Black Tudors: Diego and The Golden Hinde
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What was the plan for the voyage of 1577 and what was the role of Diego? Who sponsored it, and what were the goals and objectives?
The voyage was to become the first English circumnavigation of the world. But, the objective was not peaceful exploration, and the route was planned from the outset with attacks on the Spanish in mind. If the English could pass through the Magellan straits, something they had never done before, they would be able to raid the unguarded Spanish ports on the Pacific coast of South America.
The voyage had powerful sponsors in Sir Francis Walsingham, Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester, Christopher Hatton, and Queen Elizabeth I.
Drake set out from Plymouth with five ships, his own ship the Pelican, the Elizabeth, the Marigold, the Swan and the Benedict, and a combined crew of 170 men.
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The voyage was significant in its ambition, and it has also provided us with several further accounts which provide insights into the life and experiences of Diego.
The Role of Diego on the Pelican
What was Diego’s role onboard?
Diego was included in the crew as personal manservant to Drake with duties in preparing clothes, serving meals and running errands.
It’s likely that he would also be valued for the skills he had shown previously as an interpreter and go-between.
Other Africans at Sea
Were there other Africans on Tudor Ships?
There are other examples in contemporary accounts of Africans onboard Tudor ships. These are seen in accounts of the voyages of Walter Raleigh in the period and from other accounts of other merchants and mariners.
Drake himself used an African guide in a later 1585 attack on Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands. This unidentified man who had sailed from England had previously lived in Santiago. He was asked by Drake to act as guide for 700 men, due to his local knowledge of the area.
At least eight Africans joined the Golden Hinde as Spanish ships were captured and ports raided during her journey up the Pacific coast of South America, but only three remained aboard, besides Diego, after the ship left Mexico.
One of these was a woman named Maria, taken when Drake captured a ship off the coast of Guatemala in April 1579.
The Story of De Silva, Captured Portuguese Navigator
What other information do we have about Diego from the records of the 1577-1580 voyage?
We have one important account from a Portuguese navigator named Nuno de Silva, whose ship, the Santa Maria, Drake captured in January 1578 near the Cape Verde islands.
Drake kept de Silva on board for his navigation skills and knowledge of the South American coastline.
But after Drake put de Silva ashore in Mexico in April 1579, he was interrogated by the Spanish authorities, and told them a few things about Diego, who he had spoken to regularly during the fifteen months they were both aboard the Golden Hinde.
It was de Silva who reported that Diego had originally been taken prisoner by Drake from a ship near Nombre de Dios, which contradicts the account in Sir Francis Drake Revived.
He also confirmed that Diego spoke good Spanish and English, and had told him about the activities of Drake and his brother with the Panama Cimarrons.
Brazil, Storms, Mutiny and Loss of Other Ships
What kind of challenges did Diego and the crew face on the voyage?
After leaving Africa, the ships set off across the Atlantic reaching Brazil in April 1578. As the ship sailed south towards Cape Horn, the crew faced many challenges which included mutiny on one of the ships and severe storms leading to devastating losses to Drake’s fleet.
At the Straits of Magellan between modern Chile and Tierra Del Fuego, the ships met storms with several of the ships running aground or being forced to turn back.
By the time Drake reached Cape Horn at the Southern tip of South America, only the Pelican was left from the ships that had set out.
It was at this point that the Pelican was renamed the Golden Hinde in reference to the coat of arms of one of the wealthy sponsors, Christopher Hatton.
The Attack at Mocha Isle
After the Golden Hinde rounded Cape Horn and the point where the Atlantic meets the Pacific, it headed north along the coast of Chile on the Pacific side of the continent. The ship reached Mocha Isle off Chile in November 1578.
Here Drake and Diego faced conflict from the local inhabitants. Drake and his crew including Diego went ashore in search of food, water and supplies.
Drake and his men were initially welcomed and provided with food, but through a misunderstanding suspected of having Spanish sympathies. This arose after one of the crew tried to communicate in Spanish, angering the islanders who had been badly treated by the Spanish in the past.
It’s possible the crew member who used Spanish words could have been Diego. As we’ve seen it’s likely that he was particularly valued on the voyage as an interpreter for his combined English and Spanish skills.
Drake’s men were attacked, with two men taken prisoner and others wounded including Diego and Drake.
Did Diego survive? Diego was wounded by multiple arrows, and most historians have assumed he died at this point. But a marginal note in one of the voyage accounts records he actually died a year later near the Molucca islands in Indonesia. This is further evidenced by the accounts of Drake’s cousin and Spanish and Portuguese, like de Silva, who mention his presence later on the voyage.
Later Accounts of Diego
After the attack off Chile, the ship sailed up the Pacific coast, past Mexico to modern day California, and west across the Pacific Ocean.
Diego, Maria and the two unnamed African men who remained on board after the departure from were probably some of the first Africans to set foot in the modern United States of America, when the Golden Hinde stopped at California.
Some of the later reports about Diego come from the testimony of another captured Portuguese pilot, Juan Pascual.
He mentioned two Black men, including one who spoke English and Spanish and came from England, who must have been Diego. He also reported this man had made a contract with Drake, which suggests he was being paid wages.
Pascual’s testimony provides further intriguing insights into the life of Diego. He recounted that the two African men he met onboard took part in English Protestant worship, which confirms the likelihood Diego had become a Protestant during his four years in Plymouth.
Pascual also recounts conversations with Diego about Drake’s route back to England. This would be intelligence which the Spanish would be keen to have and Drake to keep secret. It’s likely Diego would protect Drake’s interests in these matters.
Death of Diego
Diego died near the Molluca islands in Indonesia, and so sadly did not complete the circumnavigation voyage. Neither did Maria and the two other African men, who were abandoned on Crab Island, Indonesia.
By this time, Maria was heavily pregnant, though it is unclear whether the father was a Spaniard, an Englishman, or even Diego or one of the other African men who had been aboard.
Diego died a free man, who had been valued by Drake as an interpreter, and for his knowledge, skills and experience.
But the experience of Maria underlines that Drake was still capable of cruel and callous treatment towards Africans.
Find Out More
You can read some of the original primary source accounts of the cirumnavigation voyage in The World Encompassed and in the collection of sources New Light on Drake both published by the Hakluyt Society and available online.
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