Exploration and Settlement

Ferdinand Magellan

What was Thomas Cavendish‘s claim to fame?

English navigator Thomas Cavendish (c. 1560–1592) followed in Sir Francis Drake’s (1540 or 1543–1596) footsteps. Seeing Drake return from his exploits at sea and against the Spanish, Cavendish was inspired. And it was for good reason: Drake had earned himself fame, wealth, and the honor of being knighted. So in 1586 Cavendish set out with three ships for Brazil, made it through the Strait of Magellan and then proceeded to capture Spanish treasure—including their prized ship, the Santa Ana. The Kings of Spain later mourned the loss and the fact that the ship had been taken by “an English youth … with 40 or 50 companions.”

Cavendish, now in the Pacific, continued his voyage, which took him to the Philippines, Moluccas, and Java before he rounded the Cape of Good Hope (Africa) and returned home. The journey had taken 2 years and 50 days, cost him two of his own ships, and made him the third person to circumnavigate the globe.

But his welcome in England was not what he expected: Cavendish was received with acclaim, but was not knighted by the queen. The fame and fortune that had come his way quickly vanished; he spent most of his new money, and his renown soon faded. By 1590 Cavendish thought he would try the journey again. Setting sail with five ships in August 1591, the fleet was headed for trouble. Having made it to South America, heavy storms separated the ships as they attempted to make their way through the Strait of Magellan. The ship Cavendish captained turned back toward Brazil, attempting to make landfall. But Cavendish himself never made it. He died en route, believing he had been deserted by his mates.


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