Thomas Cavendish, navigator

Thomas Cavendish, navigator
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Image by lisby1
Portrait Of A Gentleman, Thought To Be English Navigator Thomas Cavendish (1560?1592). Attributed To John Bettes The Younger (C.1530-1615/6). Oil On Panel.

Sir Thomas Cavendish (or Candish) (September 19, 1560[1], Trimley St. Martin, Suffolk, England died c. May 1592, in the North Atlantic) was known as "the Navigator" because he was the first who deliberately set out to circumnavigate the globe. While members of Magellan’s, Loaisa’s, Drake’s, and Loyola’s expeditions had preceded Cavendish in circumnavigating the globe, it had not been their intent at the outset. After his first circumnavigation, which made him rich from Spanish gold, he set out for a second but was not as fortunate and died a young man of 32 at sea.

Cavendish was born in 1560 at Trimley St. Martin near Ipswich, Suffolk, England. He was a descendant of Roger Cavendish, brother to Sir John Cavendish from whom the Dukes of Devonshire and the Dukes of Newcastle derive their family name of Cavendish. At the age of 15 he attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University for two years, 1575-1577, but did not take a degree. He was a member of the Parliament for Shaftesbury, Dorset, in 1584. He sailed with Sir Richard Grenville to Virginia in 1585. He was a member of Parliament for Wilton, 1586. He circumnavigated the globe between 1586-1588. Embarked on a second voyage around the world in 1591 and died of unknown causes in the South Atlantic in 1592.

When Cavendish was 12 he inherited a fortune from his deceased father, but after leaving school at age 17, for the next 8 years or so he spent most of it on luxurious living. Determined to make a new fortune at sea, he purchased the small ship Elizabeth and took part in Sir Richard Grenville’s 1585 expedition to Virginia.

In July 1586, determined to follow Drake by circumnavigating the globe, Cavendish built a larger ship named the Desire. His small fleet set out from Harwich on 27 June 1586 and reached the Strait of Magellan on 6 June 1587. They emerged from the strait into the Pacific on 24 February and sailed up the coast of South America, reaching the southern tip of California in October 1587. Along the way he burned three Spanish towns and thirteen ships and visited the ruins of the failed Spanish settlement of Rey Don Felipe and renamed it Port Famine.

In early November 1587 Cavendish captured the 600-ton Spanish galleon Santa Anna off Cabo San Lucas, looting the ship of its valuable cargo, which included over 122,000 silver dollars, at the time the richest Spanish treasure to fall into English hands. Cavendish’s ship was too small to carry all the treasure, and he did not have enough men to sail the Spanish galleon, so he burned the galleon and sent it and the remaining treasure to the bottom of the harbour. Cavendish also captured a Spanish pilot, Alonso de Valladolid, who knew the way across the Pacific.

Cavendish then sailed across the Pacific to the Philippine Islands where he learned about the Chinese and Japanese coasts, which he hoped to use on a second voyage. Off Cabo, Cavendish took with him two Japanese adventurers, only known by their Christian names, Christopher and Cosmas, who accompanied him during his expeditions between 1587 and 1591. He also came into possession of a large map of China. By 14 May 1587 he reached the coast of Africa and finally reached England on 9 September 1588, completing the circumnavigation of the globe nine months faster than Drake, but, like Drake, returning with only one of his ships, the Desire.

His voyage was a huge success financially and otherwise; Cavendish was only 28. Many later accounts say that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I for his actions against the Spanish, however historian David Judkins says "Although Elizabeth received him, she did not knight him."[1]

Cavendish sailed on a second expedition in August 1591 on the Lester, accompanied by John Davis on the Desire. They reached the Brazil harbour port of Santos, which they looted. Going further south to the Strait of Magellan, the Lester nearly foundered. Cavendish then returned to Brazil, where he lost most of his crew in a battle against the Portuguese at the Village of Vitória, in the State of Espírito Santo. He set off across the Atlantic towards Saint Helena with the remainder of the crew, but died, possibly off Ascension Island. John Davis continued on and discovered the Falkland Islands, before returning to England with most of his crew lost to starvation and illness.