Samuel Bawlf's account of the secret voyage Sir Francis Drake undertook from 1577 in order to (dis)prove the theoretical Strait of Anian (as predicted by the Flemish geographer, Abraham Ortelius) that provided a northern passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans is a remarkable account of exploration by one of England's most revered heroes. By piecing together cryptic notes in maps that Drake later gave to his friends after Crown refusal to publish the true account of the voyage of the Golden Hinde, Bawlf presents a more enlightening read of a voyage that has had the official cloak of secrecy about it for the past five centuries.
The author's four part book opens with Drake's privateering in the Carribean at the hands of John Hawkins and his saving of the Judith after the English fleet destruction at San Juan de Ulua. After necessarily giving a brief political sketch of the European powers at the time, Bawlf plunges into Drake's Private War on the Spanish from 1569 to primarily on the Isthmus of Panama, plundering Spanish-looted South American gold. Focusing on his attempts to gain the gold and gems bound for Nombre de Dios we are drawn into a compelling story of one wasted ambush after another until he finally attained success with the aid of the Frnech captain Le Testu and the cimarrones. After the ordered cessation of his privateering he turned his aims towards ther Southern Sea and a passage to Cathay and we learn muh of the politics surrounding Frobisher's claim a strait did exist to Cathay, Walsingham, John Dee and the effort to get an expedition together....to eventually be headed by Francis Drake.
Part II deals with his circumnavigation around the globe as per the official reports of the time. Sailing down South America's Eastern coastline he navigated the treacherous waters of Magellan's straits, discovered that Terra del Fuego is actually a very large island and displayed those almost hollywood-esque tendencies of being a gentleman cosair but his dealings with the traitorous John Doughty showed a man of steel. Once in the Pacific he became the scourge of the Spanish, eventually returning with huge amounts of plunder. It ends with reference to the inordinate amount of time it took him to sails through the Indonesian archipelago (6 months)
Part III deals with his later life, returning constantly to the theme that the details of his voyage were deliberately obscured by the Elizabthan government, pointing to various maps by the great cartographers of the time that show no landmass indications above 50 degrees latitude were permitted. We touch on his famous raid on Cadiz, his destruction of the Spanish Armada, the questioning of his achievements by Cavendish, and his subsequent death from dysentry in the Carribean. Bawlf touches on accounts of his voyage after his death, particularly on resumption of hostilities with Spain during 1625 and how his journey passed into popular myth. Further attempts to prove the existence of the Anian Strait are catlogued, from Perez's attempt of 1774, the Russian fur trade, Captain James Cook in 1778, Dixon's attempt of 1786, and Vancouver's of 1792 which finally concluded the only seaway was the Bering Strait tween the Pacific and the Artic.
Part IV returns to give a true account of the months April to September 1579 where a collation of the evidence (oral, documented and physical evidence) strongly suggests that Drake sailed up the American west coast and located Vancouver island (he named it Nova Albion) going so far as to site a possible colony at the Bay of Small Ships. Much detail is given over to plotting the exact course and whilst theoretical the deductive scholarship is extremely plausible.
Bawlf's book is immensely enjoyable and informative, not only dealing with the particulars of the official and actual events of Drake's voyage but supplying it in a global manner that explains much of Europe's interference in the New World and the commencement of the Great Age of Discovery. We follow a man, who became the greatest navigator of his time in both his country's and his enemies' eyes for whom his voyage to discover a northwest passage in order to further England's colonial hopes actually served to establish England's mastery of the Seas and commence what became a gradual march towards Empire. For the general reader this book is extremely accessible and is magisterial in its command of the subject matter. Never degrading into dry scholarship what Bawlf has managed to do is restore the glory that Drake deserved and reveal the truth behind his search beyond the 50 degree latitude.