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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

In search of the Golden Hind

Golden Hind, Bankside, St Mary Overie, around London Bridge
Someone posted a picture on the social network, Google Plus, labelled "The Golden Hind, London".  Only it wasn’t the Golden Hind at all – it was another vessel entirely, some massive tall ship.  A couple of days’ later, someone else posted a photograph which he claimed to be of the White Cliffs of Dover; it wasn’t – it was Beachy Head.  Now, it’s wonderful that folk want to circulate pictures of all the fabulous things to see in Britain (even if some of them are photo-shopped into ridiculous colours), but I know you will be shocked to hear that there are people out there who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about; they probably don't even know who took the photograph.  Yet the falsehood is out there in the ether, ready to trip up the unwary. You may think that’s a little harsh, bearing in mind these are almost certainly innocent, albeit lazy, errors.  But consider the disappointment that could result from confusion.  Imagine the consternation if someone muddled up St Pauls with the White House, or Brighton Pavilion with the Taj Mahal (no, no – not the one that serves a good Lamb Tikka – the other one).  A Bit About Britain may contain mistakes (and nuts), but at least we all know where we are.

Where was I?  I was going to enlighten you about the Golden Hind - of which my overseas reader may never have heard.  The Golden Hind was a ship, originally named the Pelican, which sailed in a small fleet of five vessels from Plymouth, England, in the year 1577.  They were on a mission to open up trade links with new countries and their leader was the infamous Francis Drake.  Drake was what the English, masters of euphemism, call ‘a merchant adventurer’, but what most people would call a pirate.  Under pressure, the English may reluctantly accept the term whilst pointing out that “he was our pirate, so that makes it OK”. 

Golden Hind, Francis Drake, captured treasure, sailed round the world
Drake’s interpretation of his mission was to loot any Spanish or Portuguese ship or settlement he could find, which I know many of you will find reprehensible (especially if you are Spanish or Portuguese).  He returned after 33 months, in September 1580, with a vast load of treasure, having sailed to the coast of what is now Brazil, through the Straits of Magellan, up the Pacific coast (landing in California), across to the Philippines, Java, round the Cape of Good Hope and home to Plymouth via the west coast of Africa.  Just before he rounded South America, El Draque renamed his ship the Golden Hind in honour of his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose family crest was a golden female deer.  Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world.  Of the five ships that set out, the Golden Hind was the only one to return, with a crew of 56 remaining men.  Good Queen Bess, Queen Elizabeth I, knighted Drake for his exploits on the poop deck of the Golden Hind in Deptford.  Her half share of the profits was more than the crown’s income for a year and enabled her to pay off her entire foreign debt – with loose change.  Just imagine the uproar if the honours system worked in a similar way today.

Replica of Golden Hind, visit London
The Golden Hind was put on display in Deptford – surely one of the first such examples of a public attraction – until it rotted away sometime in the 17th century.  There are three bits left - but they belong in other stories (see the Middle Temple for two of them).

The ship pictured is a full-size replica, Golden Hinde II.  It was conceived in 1968 by two American businessmen, Art Blum and Albert Elledge, who wanted to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Drake’s landing on the west coast of the USA in 1579.  Loring Christian Norgaard, a Californian naval architect, spent three years meticulously researching the right dimensions and materials.  There were probably no detailed design drawings for ships in Tudor times, and there was certainly nothing in existence for the Golden Hind.  The work was given, appropriately, to a Devon shipyard, J Hinks & Son of Appledore, and Golden Hind II was duly launched in 1973.  She has sailed all over the world, just like her illustrious predecessor - and even as far as Salford - but is now berthed, for the time being, at St Mary Overie Dock on London’s Bankside.

I have a more nostalgic recollection of another replica of the Golden Hind, moored in picturesque Brixham Harbour, Devon.  On a family holiday as a child, I vividly remember the excitement of wandering over this tiny ship.  It was only the words ‘ice cream’ that brought me back from the Spanish Main where, as Drake’s lieutenant, I swashbuckled my way to untold riches, sword in hand.  The ship was constructed in 1964 for a TV series and it is still there, still open to the public.  Both ships, actually, have had reasonably successful careers in film and TV.

Golden Hind, Bankside attractions, Golden Hind Brixham
What gets me is their size – they are diminutive.  Drake’s crew was meant to number about 70 (give or take); where did he put them all?  Where did he put the heaps of gold, which the Spanish had ransacked from the Incas etc?  I confess to being a little confused about the length of the Golden Hind, which I was sure was not much more than a cricket pitch (66 feet).  Indeed, one source said that the ship was 70 feet long, but another said it was double that.  Perhaps someone with nautical knowledge can shed some light on this apparent discrepancy?  120 feet seems a bit big to me.  In any event, irrespective of size, I wouldn’t fancy sailing round the world nowadays, let alone in Tudor times; I mean, they’d only just stopped falling off the edge hadn’t they?

For a bit more about the Golden Hind in London, visit the website for the Golden Hinde II.

For a bit more about the Golden Hind in Brixham, Devon, visit the website for the Golden Hind.  It will be featured on another post in the future.


  1. I remember seeing one in the harbour at Torquay when I was a child, might even have a photo somwhere.
    Nice to know there is a new one to look at. Great story from you as ever

  2. i remember a lot of the huge ship i have seen since childhood. i am not sure if they were famous or not. but i loved them all the same. the one i recall to mean the most & that is due to me loving The Muppets ... was with Kermit the Frog at the figure one on the front of the ship. it was too awesome. all in wood & such fine craftsmanship. totally awesome!! ( :

    sorry to hear that folks were posting not correct info. that is very confusing for folks. i enjoy history & love to see it in person. would love to see this beauty. thanks for sharing. i enjoyed your post.

    1. Thanks Beth. The image of Kermit as a figurehead is so dreadful I'll simply have to experience it someday! Send pictures!

  3. Fascinating history for the original. I wouldn't mind seeing this one myself.

  4. I saw this ship when visiting London on Tuesday, My brother and I went on the London Eye and then a 40 minute cruise up the Thames and we passed this "Golden Hind" which we were told was a copy. I remember seeing the Golden Hind in Brixham as a child and 50+ years on again there a couple of years ago when we were on holiday in Devon.
    One of the best ships along the Thames is HMS Belfast with all it's history. My husband is a Radio Ham and sometimes uses the shack onboard as a member of the RNARS.

    1. Totally agree about HMS Belfast. It was featured on A Bit about Britain earlier in June. Really appreciate your visit to ABAB and your comments.

  5. And I thought that the SS William A. Irvin (huge iron ore ship harbored at Duluth, MN) was the end of my interest in touring a ship. I did know of the Golden Hind but had no idea that some Californians had built a replica. That would be fun to tour, and so much more interesting to visit it in London than in California.

  6. i get seasick just thinking of it.


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