One of the war commanders who fought and defeated the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drake, was also one of the pioneers of English naval tradition. His ship was first named, ‘Pelican’, but then changed to ‘Golden Hind’ to honor his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose family crest was a golden hind. Queen Elizabeth I also partly sponsored Sir Francis Drake as the leader of an expedition intended to pass around South America through the Strait of Magellan and to explore the coast that lay beyond.

He set sail in December 1577 with five small ships, manned by 164 men, and reached the Brazilian coast in early 1578. On 1 March 1579, now in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Ecuador, Golden Hind challenged and captured the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. This galleon had the largest treasure captured to that date: over 360,000 pesos (equivalent to around £480m in 2017. The treasure took six days to transship and included 26 tons of silver, half a ton of gold, porcelain, jewelry, coins, and jewels.

On 26 September 1580, Francis Drake sailed his ship into Plymouth Harbour with 56 of the original crew of 80 left aboard. The ship was unloaded at Saltash Castle nearby, where the treasure offloading was supervised by the Queen’s guards. The final treasure also included six tons of cloves from the Spice Islands, at the time worth their weight in gold.

Golden Hind

Over half of the proceeds went to the Queen and country and were used to pay off the annual debt in its entirety. Queen Elizabeth I herself went aboard Golden Hind, which was then permanently at Deptford on the Thames Estuary, where she had requested it be placed on permanent display as the first ‘museum ship’.

QE I

Her share of the treasure came to at least £160,000: “enough to pay off her entire government debt and still have £40,000 left over to invest in a new trading company for the Levant. Her return, and that of other investors, was more than £47 for every £1 invested, or 4,700%After Drake’s circumnavigation, Golden Hind was maintained for public exhibition at the dockyard at Deptford, London. The ship remained there from 1580 to around 1650, 45 years after Queen Elizabeth had died, before the ship eventually rotted away and was broken up.

A full-size reconstruction of the ship Golden Hind that you see in the picture was launched in 1973 and sailed more than 140,000. Since 1996, she has been berthed at St Mary Overie Dock, in Bankside, Southwark, London, where she is open to the public and hosts a range of educational programs.