December, 1578: Drake fails to make friends in Coquimbo

In December 1578, while idly circumnavigating the globe and having encountered a Spanish ship at Valparaiso, “easing [it] of so heavy a burden” as the treasure it carried, (not yet Sir) Francis Drake and his crew sailed north in the Golden Hind in search of both the rest of their squadron and a safe harbour for some rest and refit. On board with them was their chaplain Francis Fletcher, a who kept a journal:

For this cause, December 19 we entred a bay, not far to the southward of the town of Cyppo [Coquimbo] now inhabited by the Spaniards, in 29 deg 30 min [south] where having landed certain of our men, to the number of 14, to search what conveniency the place was likely to afford for our abiding there ; we were immediately descried by the Spaniards of the town of Cyppo aforesaid, who speedily made out 300 men, at least whereof 100 were Spaniards, every one well mounted upon his horse ; the rest were Indians, running as dogs at their heels, all naked and in most miserable bondage.

As you’ll see the journal is not shy in demonizing the Spanish and especially their treatment of the native Chileans whom Fletcher is pleased to note his own crew treat admirably on every possible occasion, especially if they help them cause trouble for the mutually hated Spanish.

Things aren’t looking good for Drake’s assuredly entirely innocent and wildly outnumbered expedition to shore, but fortunately they spotted the descending hoard (they could hardly have missed it):

They could not come any way so closely, but God did open our eyes to see them before there was any extremity of danger whereby our men being warned, had reasonable time to shift themselves as they could ; first from the main, to a Rock within the sea ; and from thence into their boat : which being ready to receive them, conveighed them with expedition, out of the reach of the Spaniards fury, without the hurt of any man:

Phew! They got away, and I’d lay odds it was via the rocks just off Fuerte Lambert of Coquimbo, now the local sea lions’ favourite sunning spot. Looking around a bit, it seems a number of people think that Drake “discovered” the bay of La Herradura, which is to the south of modern day Coquimbo. Leaving aside the idea of “discovering” a bay right next to another bay the Spanish had been using for some 34 years, landing there would have been significantly less to his “conveniencies” than landing in the Coquimbo bay proper, because “Cyppo” was not where it is now. Drake was inevitably interested in what we now call La Serena, which was then commonly known as Coquimbo, and that is where the Spanish garrison would have been stationed. Fletcher even tells us that the Spaniards of La Serena had “descried” the ship in their own bay. La Herradura cannot be seen from La Serena, and vice versa.

Anyway, back to the beach where it seems not quite all of the landing party have made it after all: someone’s having an attack of excessive bravery, or something like that:

only one Richard Minivy, being over bold and careless of his own safety would not be intreated by his friends nor feared by the multitude of his enemies, to take the present benefit of his own delivery : but chose either to make 300 men by outbraving of them to become afraid,

What on earth is he playing at?

or else himself to dye in the place; the latter of which indeed he did, whose dead body being drawn by the Indians from the Rock to the shore was there manfully by the Spaniards beheaded, the right hand cut off, the heart pluct out, all which they carryed away in our fight, and for the rest of his carkase they caused the Indians to shoot it ful of arrows, made but the same day of green wood, and so left it to be devoured of the beasts and foules,

Well that’s not nice, is it? Presumably the marauding Spaniards and their native slaves take off again leaving Drake’s crew to at least clean up. I guess they had made their point.

but that we went a shoare again and buried it : wherein as there appeareth a most extream & barbarous cruelty, so doth it declare to the work, in what miserable feare the Spaniard holdeth the government of those parts; living in continuall dread of the forreign invasion by strangers, or secret cutting of throats, by those whom they kept under them in so shameful slavery, I mean the Innocent and harmles Indians.

Well, quite, occupying foreign armies are what they are, and oppression and brutalization of the invaded are their stock in trade.

Then there is the following interesting deduction (presumably the greenness of the arrows is noted as they are pulled out of poor Minivy’s remains):

And therefore they make sure to murther what strangers soever they can come by, and suffer the Indians by no means to have any weapon longer then they be in present service: as appeared by their arrows cut from the tree the same day, as also by the cred[i]ble report of others who knew the matter to be true. Yea they suppose they shew the wretches great favor, when they do not for their pleasures whip them with cords, and day by day drop their naked bodies with burning bacon :  which is one [of] the least cruelties amongst many, which they usually use against that Nation and people.

Prudent, I suppose, not allowing the natives weaponry until they’re needed, but you might worry about friendly fire anyway, if good treatment is defined as not torturing them.

The episode ends with something of an understatement. Well, the English do that, don’t they?

This being not the place we looked for; nor the entertainment such as we desired; we speedily got hence again, and Decem 20 the next day, fell with a more convenient harbor, in a bay somewhat to the Northward Cyppo lying in 27deg 55 min South the line [the equator].

My guess is they dropped anchor again somewhere near Huasco, if being off by 25 arcmin north as they were for Coquimbo is anything to go by.

(Incidentally, Francis Fletcher would later fall afoul of Drake’s good humour and end up being summarily excommunicated by him for giving a sermon he failed to find entirely satisfactory. Can ship’s captains do that? Either way, the journal gets very thin afterwards.)

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