Fragments of History
Though two full-scale replicas exist of the Golden Hind today – one in London, and the other on Brixham – and though the original ship is considered one of the most important vessels in English history, very little is known about this sturdy little vessel for certain.
This is very strange for a ship which not only took part in a the defeat of the Spanish Armarda (which aimed to bring England back to the Catholic Church) in 1588, but also carried her master, Sir Francis Drake, to glory as the first English vessel to circumnavigate the globe.
It is not known where she was built, for though she carries the lines of a classic ‘Hawkins’ race built galleon (if on the small side), she also seems to have been regarded as having Spanish styling as well, by Drake. This mingling of styles in ships of the period is not unusual however, as all the major powers of the end of the 16th Century were engaged in a shipping arms race: as the galleon became the most potent sea-going weapon (and trade ship) of its day.
The Golden Hind could certainly have been made in the UK, in the wake of John Hawkin’s success with his own ships, and could well have had her keel laid at Chatham, near London. However, no commission, invoices, or plans have ever been discovered for this ship, and this makes is very likely – but impossible to prove – that the Golden Hind was actually taken as a prize at sea (either in war, or via outright piracy).
All we know for sure of her early life is that in 1577, she was acquired by the adventurer Francis Drake as the flagship of a small fleet of of five ships, bound on a journey of circumnavigation and treasure hunting.
An Iron Grip
By the time of Drake, attitudes to the, so called ‘New World’ were rather fixed in the minds of many in Europe.
The Treaty of Tordesillas, ratified by Pope Alexander VI in 1494, divided all lands in the New World between the Portugese and the Castilean Crown, with the Spanish, in principle aiming west into the newly opened Americas, and the Portuguese heading east.
These two powers were the Lords of the Ocean in this age, and so complete was their hold on the seas that they simply did not involve any other nations in their division of the New Lands, certain that the squabbling countries of Europe could not challenge the Royal houses that had so recently thrown back the powerful Caliphate and defeated Moorish power in the Reconquista.
So, as the plundered treasures of East and West flooded back to Europe to swell the coffers of the Spanish and Portuguese royalty, other countries began to turn greedy eyes towards the future: in the England of Queen Elizabeth I, especially.
When she came to the Throne in 1558, the extravagance of her father, the weakness of her brother Edward, and the zealotry of her sister Mary had almost bankrupted the Tudors, and Elizabeth was keen to exploit anything to help restore her family’s income.
Lacking much of a State navy, the Queen took to issuing massive numbers of ‘Letters of Marque’ to private captains who were willing to risk their lives and ships on the gamble of being able to take fat prize or two. These letters were essentially legal licenses to engage in piracy on the high seas, so long as the captains only attacked shipping belonging to specifically noted enemies of the State (basically Spain and Portugal).
In return for these letters, the captains agreed to divide the spoils of their ventures with the state and, under Elizabeth, over 200 Spanish and Portuguese ships were taken by enterprising English captains between 1558 and 1588, when the Spanish finally tired of ‘this heretical woman’ and attempted to bring England back into Mother Church by force.
Ducks, Drakes, and Pelicans
One of the eager young men who took up the Queen’s Challenge was Francis Drake, who hit upon an interesting idea.
He argued that it was folly to tackle Spanish ships in Biscay or the Western Approaches, where the Spanish and Portuguese home squadrons regularly swept the seas and escorted incoming galleons. Rather, argued Drake, if one could hit ships as they left port in the New World, they would be easier pickings – indeed possibly willing to surrender their cargo without much of a fight, being so far from home.
Moreover, the navigator was under pressure to find ways through to the Indies and break the monopoly of the Catholic powers and gain the glory of a true English hero.
It is this reason, perhaps, more than the simple lust for money which drove Drake down the winds to the deep ocean in 1577 in his little Golden Hind – though, at the beginning of the voyage, the ship was actually known as the Pelican.
The stated reason for the unusual name change was as a remembrance of Drake’s old friend Sir Christopher Hatton, who had been one of the main backers of the venture. Whatever the real reason, the newly-minted Golden Hind passed into the Pacific and took the enormous Spanish treasure ship Señora de la Concepción (among other prizes) before making its way home.
By the time Drake made it back to England, all the other original ships in the fleet had been sunk. However, even taking these losses into account, Drake presented Queen Elizabeth with enough gold (largely from the Señora de la Concepción) to cover the vast majority of the country’s outstanding debt, and make all the men who had invested in the journey as wealthy as any in the land.
Indeed, The Queen awarded Drake not only with a bonus of £100,000 in gold and a variety of gems, but also with a knighthood for his services to the Crown, and, it is said, joined him for dinner aboard his little ship.
Though the Golden Hind did take part in a few actions following the Grand Voyage, for the most part she seems to have become something of a curiosity for the nascent tourist trade in England, as folks would be charged a few pennies to visit the ship of ‘the famed Drake,’ when she was drawn up at Deptford.
Indeed, so popular does she seem to have been that she was walled in and roofed over to protect her from the elements, and skirted about with a variety of walkways so that visitors could approach the ship with ease.
Yet despite her fame, time took its toll on her and almost a century from the time she appears in the records, she fell victim to rot and the souvenir hunters of the day. In 1662, the order was finally given to put the Old Girl to the axe, and the Oak which had been the heart of the greatest English ship till HMS victory was sold off to furniture makers.
Possibly a few chairs and a table are all that remains of this noble, little lady…
This one was a real tussle, and no mistake.
I mentioned in the unboxing that I had a few issues but that does not cover it.
I know that old kits are not absolutely perfect, but the components on this ship were so evilly molded that I have had to discard many of them, and either make, make do, or order third party options.
The sails, I have already said, I have ordered new, and in silk, but the anchor was warped, along with most of the tackle blocks being so miscast as to need drilling out. Not absolutely unsurprising, but a little disappointing.
As you can see, there is a great deal of the rigging left to be done once the new sails arrive, but even at this stage, the kit is still nice looking. At 1/200, this is a very small kit indeed – no more than 20cm in the hull. However, despite this, the molding still contains a wealth of fine detail – almost as much as the 1/72 Airfix release – and marks in all the points needed for the builder to replicate the original paint scheme.
I’m not following that, myself, as I am painting her up as a version of The Erasmus, lifted from the pages of James Clavell’s novel ‘Shogun’ – though not the version which appears in the TV miniseries which itself was actually one of the Golden Hind replicas, which had been towed from London round to Japan for filming.
All very complex…
I suppose time has worn me into the quality of kits today, so going back to a model like this was both an eye opener, and a return to form. It reminded me that many of my skills need honing, and many of my tools need updating.
It was a tough build to be sure, but I still say it has come out well indeed.
The Heller ships are challenging builds for such simple things, but they are worth the effort and time, if this example is anything to go by.
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