Geographer and former politician Samuel Bawlf burst onto the literary scene with a captivating theory that Sir Francis Drake explored the Pacific Northwest of North America almost 200 years before other European explorers, claiming the territory for England as Nova Albion but failing in his primary mission to find a northwest passage between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. There is no definitive proof, of course, and without that school-children's textbooks will remain unchanged, but what a rollicking yarn Bawlf tells - educational, exciting, well researched and thought provoking. A must read for Canadians, maritime historians, and indeed all who enjoy historical fiction.
After some early and notable success under Captain William Hawkins in the Carribbean, Drake captained his own ship, sailing for Queen Elizabeth in 1577 from Plymouth. He led his fleet south and across the Atlantic, through the Strait of Magellan on the southern tip of South America, up the west coast of South and Central America, across the Pacific to the Moluccas and ultimately continuing west around the southern tip of Africa and home to England, bearing riches and becoming the second captain and first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. Bawlf tells of Drake's accomplishments well, along the way highlighting developments in navigation, health (combating scurvy), daily life and seafaring life, geography and cartography, and geopolitics.
With this rich tapestry of detail, Bawlf concentrates on a large gap between the time Drake was know to have landed in New Spain (Mexico) and when he was known to have arrived across the Pacific in the Moluccas, and he painstakingly lays out his evidence that Drake spent the time exploring northwards to the Alaska panhandle.Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
A necessary tellingSept. 23 2003
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An entertaining important accountNov. 15 2003
Seth J. Frantzman
- Published on Amazon.com
This wonderful account is required reading for anyone interested in Piracy, the English Navy or exploration. Sir Francis Drake was a legend and his exploits are almost unbelievable. He almost brought Spanish trade to a standstill in the New world. He Sacked Cadiz and he helped defeat the Spanish armada of 1588. And in 1577-80 he circumnavigate the globe, becoming only the second person to do so since Magellan. Even more extraordinary he did so not for explorations purpose or to seek out trade, but mostly just for the hell of it. Drake went around the world because he had already navigated the straits of Magellan and entered the pacific to raid Spanish trade around Chili and the Philippines. By the time he was near the Philippines it was actually easier for Drake to go west rather then turn back. The authors main argument and reason for writing this book is to investigate what Drake did for the many months that are unaccounted for in his voyage. The Authors argument, based on some evidence, is that Drake discovered/mapped the Northwest, including the coasts of Vancouver, Oregon and Alaska. Most of this information was omitted from official account, most likely because Queen Elizabeth wanted to establish a colony on the west coast of America to rival the Spanish Main. The author explores much of Drakes life as well as covering the circumnavigation in depth. This is an important work that investigates a Pirate turned accidental explorer who helped map a region of the world that wouldn't be acknowledged and re-mapped for almost a hundred year or more. A wonderful account, very entertaining and easy to read.
36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Unsupported by any evidenceFeb. 8 2009
W. L. Morgan
- Published on Amazon.com
Apparently the other reviews of this book were written by people who have no or little knowledge of Drake scholarship. Mr. Bawlf reveals no new sources, no new documents, no new evidence. Instead, he takes second-hand information about Drake's voyage, attributes it to Drake himself, and proceeds to weave a new story. This book is filled with errors, discrepancies and misstatements. At one point Bawlf refers to the "seven-and-a-half" month gap between Drake's leaving Huatulco and his arrival in the western Pacific. In fact the period was April 16 to September 30, 1579, about two months less than Bawlf states.
Another example of sloppy scholarship is Bawlf's definition (in chapter 6) of "knots" as "sailing speed in miles sailed per hour." While the length of a nautical mile has changed in the last four hundred years, in Drake's day it was 800 feet longer than a statute mile, or 6,080 feet. At no time have knots been synonymous with miles.
Bawlf also makes absurd claims about various mapmakers, suggesting relationships between them and Drake that are mere supposition, unsupported by any evidence. That might be the best description for this book, written by a Canadian politician.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Interesting book on an interesting timeJune 7 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
Overall I enjoyed this book. I read it right after a biography of Magellan which made it especially poignant. Drake in many cases landed at places Magellan had previously been to and had to deal with the side or after-effects of Magellan's actions. The book is an easy read and gives a good overview of certain background elements such as Elizabeth and her political considerations. The adventures of Drake and his crew as they circled the world are an exciting read and I learned much.
I have three negative comments on the book: 1) It spent too little time on the Spanish Armada, which may not be the prime topic of the book, but is important to the story. 2) The weird organization at the end with Drake dieing and then the concluding chapters showing where Drake probably visited in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe it works, but it seemed disjointed. and 3) Most important- get a map. Yes lots of old maps are reproduced but not real readable in the paperback and nowhere is there a modern map showing Drake's route. Many latitudes and a few longitudes are given, but without a good memory for the latitude/longitude of say San Francisco, I was a bit lost.
I would recommend this book, but only with accompanying maps.
This history of Drake's voyage around the world in 1577 is a rare delight. It has the narrative force of one of the world's great adventure stories but only because Bawlf clearly and economically provides all of the political and economic context necessary to intrpet the context, the true purpose and the consequences of the voyage. Of the many accounts of Drake's voyage that I've read, this is by far the most comprehensive and enjoyable. The prose is clear, unassuming and well-crafted. It is also, of course, a surprising book. Though the voyage is very well known, many of the well-established events are not. The book is serious scholarship and as compelling as Patrick O'Brian's fiction. The primary thesis of the latter portion of the book, that Drake traveled much further north than is usually assumed, is clearly presented and documented; I hope and expect that this will lead to further scholarship on the issue. Nevertheless, independent of that point, the book remains as one of the clearest and well-written and enjoyable narratives of one of European histories most important voyages.