Desirous to See the Strange Things of the World: Part Four

horePart Four. [Or start at the beginning.]

An Indian Werowance, or Chief, John White, watercolour, c. 1585. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

An Indian Werowance, or Chief, John White, watercolour, c. 1585.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

With the background of the major players established, it is now possible to take a look at the facts behind the narrative and attempt a reconstruction of the actual events of 1536. This ill-fated expedition began in 1535, when Richard Hore, a gentleman described as being “giuen to the studie of Cosmographie” (cosmography being the branch of science that deals with mapping the general features of the universe) began negotiating for a vessel. William Hawkins had just returned in that year from a voyage to Brazil with a “savage King” for his efforts, who was “brought up to London and presented to K. Henry the 8… at the sight of whom the King and all the Nobilitie did not a litle marvaile.”47 Giles Milton, in his book Big Chief Elizabeth, suggests that Hawkins’ subsequent popularity and profit may have been part of Hore’s motivation, and it is true that on the one occasion where Hore’s expedition encountered a native, they did attempt to capture him.

By March 1536, Hore had raised enough funds to acquire two vessels, the William of London, and the Trinity.48 Both vessels would cross the Atlantic together, departing Gravesend at the end of April, 1536. Once near the Grand Banks, off Newfoundland, the William would stay on the Banks for an ordinary cod-fishing venture. This is where his expedition deviates from the usual path. The Trinity, carrying these well-do-do adventurers, would loop north and skirt the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. The gentlemen would get a chance to see “the strange things of the world,” and, if they were lucky, capture one of its inhabitants.49

Hore was a shrewd businessman, if somewhat unscrupulous. The New World venture was very carefully calculated to turn a profit. By combining an ordinary fishing voyage with a sight-seeing passage by taking paying passengers aboard, he was ensuring himself a tidy profit even if the catch was not sufficient. To sweeten the pot, if they did in fact capture a Native or Indian-made artifacts, Hore could ensure revenue from the curiosities trade at home.

The curiosities trade in England was thriving at this point in time. Although the English were slow to get involved in colonial expeditions, there was a great deal of interest in the New World itself. As Steven Mullaney points out in his article, “Strange Things, Gross Terms, Curious Customs: The Rehearsal of Cultures in the Late Renaissance,” the decontextualized Other (as seen in the forms of items and people wrenched from their original cultures and exhibited in England) was used as a form of entertainment.50 Although the cabinets of wonder had not yet come around by this point (the first Wunderkammer was installed in Vienna in 1550), it was not uncommon for noblemen to acquire collections of exotic items.

For those who could not afford their own exotica, various charlatans and entrepreneurs frequently exhibited their unusual items or personages… for a cost. Enterprises such as these were profitable, as seen by William Hawkins’ success. As Shakespeare noted through the character of Trinculo in The Tempest some eighty years later: “Any strange beast there makes a man: when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.”51 Mullaney argues that these collections and exhibitions served as places where inquiry was suspended; items were allowed to be viewed as Other without attempting to assimilate them into the accepted worldview. This fits in with Michael T. Ryan’s discussion of the slow, percolative assimilation of new cultures.52 Richard Hore sought to capitalize on this curiosities trade, both in the physical sense of capturing a Native American or native-made items and also through appealing to his countrymen’s sense of intellectual curiosity.

The “Other as entertainment” is feasible only through a sanitized, controlled version of the unfamiliar – a spearhead in a glass case, for example, or the Native American in his tribal dress speaking broken English and bowing on command. The dark parallel to this is the Other as a thing of which to be frightened, which Hore’s narrative as published by Hakluyt certainly ends up promoting. Most contemporary travel literature to the New World reveals the authors’ simultaneous sense of awe and wonder dueling with their fear and repugnance for the unfamiliar. The American continent was vastly different from anything ever seen in Europe. The old-growth woods, with unfamiliar species of plants and animals, not to mention the threat of hostile natives (who were very familiar with the area) was enough to fuel a thousand nightmares for people used to the tamed and domesticated nature of the English countryside. The majority of first-hand accounts are heavily tinged with amazement at the “pristine” – at least to the eyes of a visitor from a continent that had been heavily farmed for the last thousand years – state of the American “wilderness.”53 Early accounts go into ecstatic detail of this land of milk and honey that seemingly had been dropped into their laps. It was not until the seventeenth century that the New World seems to have lost some of its novelty in the English mindset. When it became apparent that this land was not exempt from the need to work the soil, the prose became a little more restrained in its praise.

Hore was clearly only focusing on the good aspects of the New World when he began planning his voyage. Seemingly oblivious to the potentially negative outcomes of his voyage, he made his intentions known. King Henry himself publicly approved of the venture, and within a short span, “many gentlemen of the Innes of court, and of the Chancerie, and diuers others of good worship, desirous to see the strange things of the world, very willingly entered into the action.54” “Desirous to see the strange things of the world” is a very interesting phrase. It does not allude to any commercial aims, merely curiosity, though records indicate that Hore was in fact combining it with a fishing venture. Unfortunately, by the time this paper was due, a search for records indicating how much these gentlemen paid to come along (for undoubtedly they did) had still produced nothing of use.

But why would these gentlemen go to the New World at all, except for profit? As Justin Stagl points out in his book A History of Curiosity, by the middle of the 16th century, pilgrimage had ceased to be an acceptable motivation for travel. The new excuse was education. 55 And much as the medieval pilgrimage narratives had served as a means of allowing the reader to travel along vicariously, travel narratives such as those found in Hakluyt’s collections often served a similar purpose.56 As Paul Zumthor says in his analysis of the medieval travel narrative, pilgrimage sagas also provided incitement for others to follow, and provided the information to do so. It can be safely assumed that the nightmarish voyage of the Trinity is not one to repeat, however, where available, Hakluyt did insert the locations of the places the party visited. Ultimately, thirty gentlemen signed up to come on this tour of the New World. Education was the new mark of gentility, and travel itself was a form of education, according to Ann Wagner’s analysis of the ideal of the gentleman. Hore’s “voyage of discouerie” was just the thing.

William H. Sherman, in an essay on travel writing during the 16th-18th centuries, suggests that the travel literature of this time period has frequently been described as the era when the pilgrim was replaced by the merchant, the explorer, and the philosopher, although he argues that the distinctions in actuality were not so cut and dried.57 Hore’s voyage definitely encompassed the first two categories, and if the witnesses’ tale was to be believed, it certainly would have raised a number of questions for the philosophers! Travel writing during the Tudor and Stuart period also occasionally bore evidence of the other major medieval paradigm for interpreting long journeys, that of the knight errant. The later cult of Gloriana particularly lent itself to this interpretation, as voyagers and courtiers alike portrayed themselves as being in the personal service of the Queen for love’s sake. As Sherman points out, this isn’t so far fetched an interpretation when one realizes that a number of explorers were granted knighthood or similar honors for their efforts.58 William Hawkins, whose expedition may have inspired Hore, certainly made a profit off of the fruits of his voyages, although this voyage took place under Henry VIII and thus does not fit into the paradigm of the cult of the Queen.

In the early 1500s, the English worldview figured the New World more in terms of its political goals: staging points for privateering and leading raids against Spanish holdings in the Caribbean. It was not yet seen as a destination in and of itself, at least in any terms of permanent settlements. It was not until the later half of the 16th century that England began to perceive the New World less of a staging area for other activities and more of a viable location in its own right, offering raw materials (and a market for finished goods in return) and serving as a dumping ground for both social dissidents and the rising numbers of the poor.

Detail of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia from Hieronymus Verrazano's 1529 map.  From Justin Winsor, Narrrative and Critical History of America (vol. 4) (Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1884)

Detail of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia from Hieronymus Verrazano’s 1529 map. From Justin Winsor, Narrrative and Critical History of America (vol. 4) (Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1884)

Possibly as a result of this worldview, English exploration of the New World lagged far behind their Continental counterparts. The English were latecomers to the field; by 1540, the Spanish already had conquered a good portion of South America and the American Southwest, and the French were in possession of much of what is now Canada and parts of New England. The “fact” that Hore’s party happened to be saved by the fortuitous arrival of a French fishing vessel can be interpreted as a sign of just how frequently vessels from other European countries were coming and going from the Americas by that time. A map designed by Hieronimo da Verrazano and printed by the Florentine publisher Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1529 already lists “R[io] do Baccalaos”59 in the vicinity of Newfoundland and Labrador.60 Edward Haies, author of the chronicle of Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s last voyage in 1583, mentions that the French cod fishery in Newfoundland was typically done by July. If the story of the captured French vessel is true, that ship must have been seriously delayed to still be in Newfoundland in September with a month’s voyage still ahead of them. The North Atlantic in the fall is a hard time for ships and men alike.

Despite the difficulties in trans-Atlantic travel, there was a great deal of interest in voyages of exploration and later, colonization. Carole Shammas argues in The Creation of the British Atlantic World that the Crown did little to discourage adventuring parties (such as Hore’s group) or colonial efforts (like John Rastell’s failed attempt) even when they seemed inconvenient to official foreign policy, as the backers usually were men of influence and provided important political and economic support.61 These ventures were not simply the result of a few wealthy nobles, though, as the names listed in Hakluyt’s narrative can attest. Although fourteen of the nobles’ names are known, most were not wealthy or famous enough for detailed information about their lives to have survived. Theodore Rabb argues that although it is the names of the elite that have survived the best, these venturing companies were primarily supported by hundreds of smaller investors from all levels of society.62 From this it can be inferred that there was something about the New World that appealed to a large portion of the English culture.

Although we have determined that Hore’s gentlemen were traveling for reasons of intellectual pleasure, is it fair to invoke the concept of tourism in reference to their expedition? Dennison Nash, in his article “Tourism as an Anthropological Subject,” attempts to create a working definition of tourism.63 The primary result is a definition of tourism as “the activities [people at leisure] engage in while in this state,” with the additional requirement of travel in one form or another.64 Nash acknowledges that tourism as such has traditionally been viewed as having started in the 18th century with the “Grand Tour,” but does not feel that that is an entirely accurate analysis of the situation. Rather, Nash argues that aspects of tourism are visible in nearly every culture in recorded history. An example which is pertinent to this paper is the role of pilgrimages and fairs in medieval England. Usually, an individual on a pilgrimage is not also working (at least in the sense of a regular economic job), and they are traveling. Tourism also had its basis in socioeconomic status – a wealthy noble had the ability to “engage in international travel to attend tournaments because he had the great wealth, extensive leisure, freedom to travel, and access to transport that this required.”65 Lower-ranking people had to content themselves with less frequent, more localized trips. On page 463 of his article, Nash is able to specify the category of tourist even further: According to his argument, “people of higher rank are more likely to engage in long-range, luxurious, protracted forms of tourism, men have greater freedom to travel than women, and city-dwellers (especially those of the upper ranks) are more likely to tour than people from the country.”66 With the notable exception of “luxurious,” the members of the Hore expedition certainly fit Nash’s criteria for tourists.

Furthermore, there was a rhetoric of challenge and masculinity at stake. Jean de Léry, a Frenchman who wrote about his experiences in Brazil in the 1570s, used the imagery of “messieurs les délicats” (the delicate men) as a rhetorical foil to his tales. He specifically addressed these men with contempt in his narrative, saying that (as paraphrased by Janet Whatley) “the marvelous and harrowing experience is what lies beyond the limitations of the finicky gentlemen who will never choose such risks, who require fresh shirts, snowy napkins, beverages… These are the ones who should stay at home, read about voyages in books [such as Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations?], and leave the authoritative discussion of these things” to those who had actually been there.67 Although this statement was written after Hore’s voyage, similar sentiments can be encountered in the literature of this time period. The New World was a challenge to be met, and the gentlemen who signed on for the expedition were eager to meet that challenge.

47 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.
48 National Archives, HCA 24/3.
49 Hakluyt, “Voyage of M. Hore,” Principal Navigations.
50 Mullaney, Steven. “Strange Things, Gross Terms, Curious Customs: The Rehearsal of Cultures in the Late Renaissance,” Representations, No. 3 (Summer, 1983), 40-67.
51 William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act II.ii.
52 Michael T. Ryan. “Assimilating New Worlds in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Oct., 1981), 519-538.
53 These terms are not exactly accurate, for the landscape was neither pristine nor a wilderness. It too had been inhabited and utilized by Native Americans for millennia; however, the Native Americans appear often as minor players in the stage drama of colonial expansion: They appear to prove a point or when necessary, but for the most part are ignored or overlooked.
54 Hakluyt, “Voyage of M. Hore,” Principal Navigations.
55 Stagl, Justin. A History of Curiosity: The Theory of Travel, 1550-1800. United States: Harwood Academic Publishers GmbH. Page 47.
56 Zumthor, Paul; Peebles, Catherine. “The Medieval Travel Narrative,” New Literary History, Vol. 25 No. 4, 25th Anniversary Issue (part 2) (Autumn, 1994), 809-824. Page 809.
57 Sherman, William H. “Stirrings and Searchings, 1500-1700,” in The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing, ed. Peter Hulme and Tim Young (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 21.
58 Sherman 24-25.
59 Baccalao was originally the Portuguese word for salt cod, but has since become a common word for codfish or salt cod in French, Spanish, and Italian; thus “Rio do Baccalaos” is the River of Codfish.
60 Lehner, Ernst. How They Saw the New World. New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1966. Page 46.
61 Manche, Elizabeth, and Shammas, Carole, ed. The Creation of the British Atlantic World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Page 6.
62 Rabb, Theodore K., “Investment in English Overseas Enterprise, 1575-1630,” in The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 19, No. 1 (1966), 70-81.
63 Nash, Dennison. “Tourism as an Anthropological Subject,” in Current Anthropology, Vol. 22, No. 5. (Oct., 1981), pp. 461-481.
64 Nash 462.
65 Nash 464.
66 Nash 464.
67 Janet Whatley, “Food and the Limits of Civility: The Testimony of Jean de Léry.” Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 15, No. 4. (Winter, 1984), pp. 387-400. Page 388.

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