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Sir Francis Drake: A Pictorial Biography by Hans P. Kraus


- The Actors
- The Unfortunate Voyage
- Drake's First Success
- The Famous Voyage
- The Spanish Defenses
- The Caribbean Raid
- The Cadiz Raid
- The "Invincible" Armada
- The Beginning of the End
- The Last Voyage

Catalogue of the Collection

The Spanish Defenses of the Strait of Magellan, the Pacific Coast and the Caribbean after the Drake Circumnavigation

The Pacific coasts were practically without defenses until after Drake's arrival in 1578. Don Francisco de Toledo, Viceroy of Peru from 1568 to 1581, immediately took steps to correct this. Reproduced (first page only) is the original draft of his letter to Juan Ortiz de Zárate, Governor of Río de La Plata, telling him of Drake's depredations, and of his sending an expedition through the Strait of Magellan, under the command of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1532-1592), to see whether an English garrison had been left there, and to survey sites for a fortress to prevent other raiders from passing through.

Toledo requests the Governor to assist the two ships of the expedition, to send to him any dispatches from it overland by way of Tucuman, and to inform him of any other English ships off the coast of Río de La Plata. The present letter was, of course, sent to La Plata overland. Sarmiento is not named in it as the commander, as he probably was not yet selected for that service at the time of writing. He did not receive his official appointment as commander until October 9th, 1579, three days before the expedition finally sailed after encountering many delays in its preparation.

Letter of Francisco de Toledo, Viceroy of Mexico, concerning Drake, 1579. [2]
Letter of Francisco de Toledo, Viceroy of Mexico, concerning Drake, 1579. [2]

The Sarmiento voyage is important for a number of reasons. It was the second complete west-to-east traversal of the Strait, and the first to make an accurate survey and detailed description of it. It led directly to the first attempt to make a settlement there, the ill-fated Sarmiento expedition of 1581-1583.

The translation of the text on the left is as follows:

Report on the incursion through the strait by the English ship and on the precautions taken against it.

A ship belonging to English raiders passed through the Strait of Magellan into the Pacific Ocean and reached the port of Santiago in the province of Chile on 6th December last year, 1578. This ship plundered one laden with a large quantity of gold that was in port there, and also other ships in ports along this coast, and did other damage. On the 13th February it arrived off the port of this city [i.e., Callao, port of Lima] and we were taken entirely unawares by so surprising an event, for, although there had been so much time for me to be warned from Chile of the presence of this ship, nothing was done. The excuse for this was that the Governor was away at the front in the region of the Araucanians, and neither the royal officials nor the city council were willing to take responsibility for chartering a ship to bring me the news, which, if it had arrived, would have saved so much loss and avoided the expense to His Majesty and to private citizens.

This has grown considerable because of the loss of a ship that the raider plundered which was carrying a large sum in silver dispatched from this country to the kingdom of Tierra Firme. We have taken a great deal of trouble to capture this raider and have sent two armed ships in search of him...

Toledo's sending of Sarmiento de Gamboa to the Strait of Magellan is narrated in Argensola's Conquistas de las Islas Malucas , 1609, [33] pp. 108-110. Following this, Argensola continues with the narrative of the voyage of Sarmiento from Peru to Spain (pp. 110-126). This is the longest published contemporary account of that voyage.

Narrative of Sarmiento de Gamboa's west to east passage through the Strait of Magellan in Argensola's 

Conquista de las Islas Malucas

, 1609. [33]
Narrative of Sarmiento de Gamboa's west to east passage through the Strait of Magellan in Argensola's Conquista de las Islas Malucas , 1609. [33]


It appeared to the Viceroy of Peru that it was necessary for the protection of the Indies and for the preservation of their tranquillity and of the Faith to take up arms against this pirate [ i.e., Drake]. If he suffered retribution, then his punishment would place a bridle on all Northerners; a mobilization would tear up by the roots all obstacles to making an example of him by a memorable punishment, and, what was more important, it would put the people into a state of watchfulness (an excellent precept government both in things temporal and things spiritual). For this purpose the pirate's destruction had to be preceded by an exploration of the passages out of the Pacific, and by a still more careful survey of the routes he might use in order to return to his own country. The English ships (a part of their fleet) which at that time were raiding the coasts of Chile and Arica, provided the spur to action, for either they terrorized the people or they outraged their pride, obliging them to take up arms for fear that Drake had erected fortifications at strategic points within the Strait [of Magellan] so that the English could become interlopers in the trade in spices and precious stones, and could introduce the ministers of perversion armed with the poison of their heretical dogmas.

For so great an enterprise the Viceroy selected Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, a gentleman from Galicia, who had already twice encountered the pirate. The first time was in the harbor of Callao, by Lima, when he took back from the pirate a Spanish ship, laden with goods from Spain; the second time was a few days later, when pursuing him towards Panama. The Viceroy decided that Sarmiento ought to be sent out to explore the Strait of Magellan, an operation that was considered not to be feasible, if attempted from the Pacific side, because of the innumerable openings and channels which prevent ships from finding the mouth; many explorers sent out by the Governors of Peru and Chile have been lost there. Others have attempted the passage, entering it from the Atlantic, but none was successful [sic]. Some were cast away; others struggled back, torn apart by the storms. Everybody despaired and became profoundly convinced that the passage could never be found. But now that the terror which it inspired had been dissipated at one blow, navigators can run up to a known latitude, set a calculated course and by following a safe route can reach the Strait, which can be closed off before the enemy can fortify it. The Viceroy selected two ships; he saw that they were fitted out with guns, were supplied with rigging and sails, and victualled. Sarmiento named the larger of the two, Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza [Our Lady of Hope], and designated her the flagship...

The first page of Hernán Gallego's manuscript report on the expedition to the Strait of Magellan in 1553, the first authentic and detailed account. [1]
The first page of Hernán Gallego's manuscript report on the expedition to the Strait of Magellan in 1553, the first authentic and detailed account. [1]

The Spanish authorities had previously been interested in the exploration of the Strait of Magellan. This is seen from the hitherto totally unknown narrative of Hernán Lamero Gallego de Andrade, who went with three ships, in October, 1553, from La Concepción, Chile, through the Strait. This was the first west-to-east traversal.

The discovery of this narrative adds a most important new source to the literature of exploration. In it, Gallego states that the expedition arrived at the entrance to the Strait of Magellan 52° south; that they entered the Strait and passed through it in four days; that its total length was about one hundred leagues; and that he and his companions arrived safely at the Atlantic end of the Strait. The narrative is detailed and accurate and contains much information about the sailing directions followed, the landmarks and the Indian inhabitants of the region.


Notice of the Strait of Magellan In the month of October in the year 1553 we sailed in three ships from the city of Concepción in the province of Chile on orders of the Lord Governor Pedro de Valdivia to explore the Strait of Magellan. On leaving Concepción we ran close inshore along the coast to the south-west, until we fetched an island called Santa Maria, twelve leagues from Concepción, where we took on board quantities of meat and fish for our voyage. Leaving this island, we continued our voyage with course set to the south-west and reached an island which we decided to name St. Nicolas. This island has a large population of Indians; it is six leagues from the mainland, in latitude 38 degrees and a half south. Having left this island our voyage continued until we managed to make port in a place which is now settled, and called the city of Valdivia, which is in latitude 40 degrees. From this port we continued our voyage to the south-west until we brought abeam a headland that we discovered...

The following are the early passages through the Strait:

  1. Magellan. Oct. 21-Nov. 27, 1520. East-west.
  2. Garcia de Loyasa and Sebastian del Cano. April 8-May 26, 1526. East-west.
  3. Simon de Alcazava. January, 1535. East-west; unsuccessful.
  4. Francisco de Camargo. Entered Jan. 12, 1540, with three ships, one of which got through. East-west.
  5. Hernán Lamero Gallego de Andrade. 1553. West to east. This expedition is mentioned in a few early sources, but its results have hitherto been entirely unknown and unreported.
  6. Juan Ladrillero (with Gallego as pilot). January, 1558. An attempted west-east passage. Unsuccessful.
  7. Francis Drake. August-September, 1578. East-west.
  8. John Winter. November, 1578. West-east, returning from losing Drake at the Pacific end.
  9. Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. 1579. West-east.

On the navigation of the Strait of Magellan and the burning question of improving the Spanish defenses the Duke of Medina Sidonia gave his expert advice to Philip II, in reviewing a memorandum by the experienced mariner Diego Maldonado. (See pages 129-130.)

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  October 25, 2005
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