Abstract: The 1536 voyage of “M. Hore and divers other gentlemen” is a fascinating anecdote in Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of The English Nation. At first glance, it is an unsettling tale of would-be sightseers reduced to cannibalism, seizing a French vessel in an act of desperation and making their way home across the Atlantic. Subsequent investigation reveals a number of inconsistencies, raising questions relating to the structure of the travel narrative, the reliability of the witnesses, and the dawn of tourism in the early modern age.
According to historian Richard Hakluyt, a group of Frenchmen presented themselves before King Henry VIII in 1537 and requested to be compensated for their financial losses. They claimed a group of stranded and starving English gentlemen had stolen their vessel and abandoned them in Newfoundland during the previous summer. Before making his decision, King Henry determined to inquire into the truth of the Frenchmen’s story. The inquiry uncovered the misfortunes which had befallen a small English expedition under Richard Hore made the previous year. The surviving Englishmen told a horrifying tale of leaking ships, “mighty Islands of yce in the sommer season,1” and cannibalism. Moved by this pathetic tale, Henry not only refrained from punishing his wayward subjects, but rather recompensed the French from his own purse.
Some of this story is likely true. Other parts do not stand up to the light of modern inquiry. What really happened during that summer and fall of 1536?
To obtain this tale, the younger Hakluyt interviewed a man named Thomas Buts, who provided the beginning and end parts of the subsequently published story. Oliver Dawbeney, a friend of Hakluyt’s older cousin, recounted the sensational middle portion. The basics of Hakluyt’s tale are as follows: In 1536, a gentleman listed only as “M. Hore” (subsequent related sources reveal his Christian name as Richard, not Robert as is occasionally claimed) persuaded approximately thirty other gentlemen to accompany him “in a voyage of discouerie vpon the Northwest parts of America.”3 The goal of these gentlemen, as related by the two witnesses the Hakluyts interviewed some fifty years later, was to see “the strange things of the world.”4 Together with some ninety seamen, the expedition departed in two vessels from Gravesend, England, in late April 1536.
The party crossed the Atlantic uneventfully, making landfall at the “Island of Penguin” after two months at sea. The “penguins” were probably great auks, according to Giles Milton and other writers who have analyzed or attempted to reconstruct the voyage.5 After gorging themselves on auks and auk eggs (an incident which probably did not contribute to the species’ long-term survival), as well as shooting at a number of bears “both blacke and white,” the ship moved on.6
At that point of the narrative, Master Oliver Dawbeney took over as Hakluyt’s primary witness, stating that the ships laid at anchor in Newfoundland for an unspecified length of time.7 While stationary, the English ships attracted the attention of the native tribes. A small craft, filled with “Sauages of those parts,” was observed “rowing down the Bay toward them, to gaze vpon the ship, and our people.”8 Ironically, the natives seem to have been just as curious about the newcomers as the English were to see the native inhabitants. The English quickly moved into action, negating the possibility of a peaceful encounter. Perhaps remembering William Hawkins’ much-publicized capture of a “savage [king] of the countrey of Brasill”9 that same year, expedition members rapidly “manned out a ship-boat to meet them and to take them.” The Native Americans promptly reversed direction and “fled into an Island that lay vp in the Bay or riuer there.”10 The pursuing English found evidence of a campsite abandoned in haste: a cooking fire was still burning, with “the side of a beare on a wooden spit” still roasting. Upon further investigation, the shore party discovered items of clothing dropped by the retreating Indians. However, they failed to capture or even see another “savage,” and disappointedly returned to their vessel.
1 All quotes from “The Voyage of M. Hore” come from Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of The English Nation, Vol. XII., America, Part I (London: 1600, reprinted in 12 volumes by the Hakluyt Society, 1903) Project Gutenberg, 2 December 2005. http://ftp.ggi-project.org/pub/docs/books/gutenberg/1/3/6/0/13605/13605.txt No pagination.
2 As found in High Court of the Admiralty records of the lawsuits filed against him upon his return. (HCA 24/2:13,15, HCA 30/564, among others)
3 Hakluyt, “The Voyage of M. Hore,” Principal Navigations.
5 Milton, Giles. Big Chief Elizabeth: the adventures and fate of the first English colonists in America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. Page 10.
6 Although Hakluyt’s narrative does not mention it, according to other sources (including British Court of Admiralty records), the two vessels separated on the Grand Banks, with one ship staying to fish and the other, full of gentlemen, setting a northerly course and heading for Newfoundland itself.
7 His description of the landscape, however, is more in keeping with a newcomer’s impressions of contemporary Labrador, not Newfoundland. This inconsistency will be addressed further down in this paper.
8 Hakluyt, “The Voyage of M. Hore,” Principal Navigations.
9 Richard Hakluyt, “A brief relation of two sundry voyages made by the worshipful M. William Haukins of Plimmouth, father to Sir John Haukins knight, late Treasurer of her Majesties Navie, in the yeere 1530 and 1532,” Principal Navigations.
10 Hakluyt, “The Voyage of M. Hore,” Principal Navigations.