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

horePart Five. [Or start at the beginning.]

The Matthew of Bristol, a replica of the caravel in which John Cabot sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. (Photo from the BBC.)

The Matthew of Bristol, a replica of the caravel in which John Cabot sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. (Photo from the BBC.)

Despite the advertising and the high-profile gentlemen who signed on to accompany him, Richard Hore’s expedition reveals a marked lack of seriousness in its approach. As Giles Milton points out: “If Hore had given as much attention to the voyage as he had to publicizing the venture, he might have realized that he was placing himself and his companions in the gravest danger.”68 The notoriously top-heavy Tudor vessels were not especially suited for trans-Atlantic crossing.69 The ships were not adequately provisioned, a fact which would show up all too clearly later on. Furthermore, the vessels he hired were in poor condition, a fact which would heavily influence the coming voyage and limit their captains’ options. Hore paid Dolphyn ₤165 for the rent of the William for the duration of the voyage, providing the vessel was returned promptly upon its return. Contemporary Admiralty records do not list what the going price was for renting an oceangoing ship, so it is difficult to determine if Hore was attempting to cut corners or not.

Regardless of the price Hore was paying for the ships, he was clearly intending to make a profit from the voyage. Although Hakluyt does not mention it, the ships deliberately separated at some point after leaving Gravesend. David Beers Quinn asserts that Richard Hore stayed aboard the William and went fishing on the Grand Banks; Hakluyt’s narrative makes no mention of the ships separating at all, let alone who went on which craft. The subsequent lawsuits show that the Trinity continued up the coast of Newfoundland, probably up around Labrador. More than that is not known. Alan Moyne’s presence in the expedition would seem to indicate that Hore was attempting to follow Jacques Cartier’s route to the St. Lawrence via the Strait of Belle Isle, as David Beers Quinn has suggested. However, all accounts indicate that Moyne remained aboard the William and did not participate in the ill-fated northward venture. This itself is either an act of incredible carelessness or poor planning – the Newfoundland shores are notoriously dangerous, and it seems foolhardy to approach the shoals without an experienced pilot. If Moyne stayed aboard the William, then the Trinity had no pilot aboard at all. The William herself, plagued by persistent leaks, stayed near the coast of Newfoundland before returning to England on September 27, 1536, nearly a full month before those aboard the Trinity made it back.70

While the monetary objectives of Hore’s voyage may have been inspired by William Hawkins, the exploratory aspects were likely heavily influenced by earlier French expeditions. Indeed, the French continually reappear in both the fictionalized and factual accounts of the narrative. From a much-disliked French pilot to retracing French routes to being fortuitously saved by a French vessel, Hore’s party seems continually haunted by Gallic influence. This could be due to fact: the French shipping fleet was booming in the late 1530s and 1540s, and so it stands to reason that there was a proportionately increased amount of French influence in Newfoundland and the nearby waters.71 While it is not mentioned explicitly in “The Voyage of M. Hore,” the court documents reveal a distrust of the French in general in addition to the William’s French pilot. Furthermore, by the time Hakluyt was writing his version of the narrative, Elizabethan England was a period of heightened xenophobia.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert (c. 1539 – 9 September 1583)

Sir Humphrey Gilbert (c. 1539 – 9 September 1583)

As with the multigenerational links to New World exploration seen within the families of several of the Hore expedition members, so too does their story have interesting parallels in other tales. As previously mentioned, the elder Richard Hakluyt interviewed Oliver Dawbeney as part of his research for Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 voyage to Newfoundland. The tale which Dawbeney told Hakluyt is strikingly similar to the one Gilbert’s chronicler Edward Haies would later write. Both expeditions stopped over at the Island of Penguin. Both interacted with the French fishing fleet. These two aspects of the tales could simply be explained by the similarity of their routes and by the prevalence of the French and other nationalities in the abundant waters of the Grand Banks. However, there is one more coincidence which is too startling to be left to chance: During Gilbert’s trip, provisions started to run out. One of their ships, “very neere scanted of victual, and chiefly of apparell,” came across a “Newlander” ship returning home.72 They seized the hapless vessel and pirated it, looting the ship of “tackle, sails, cables, victuals, and the men of their apparel.”73 Not content with their haul, the Englishmen tortured the foreign crew, “winding cords about their heads, to draw out else what they thought good.”74 Whereas Hakluyt presented the Hore party’s capture of the French fishing vessel as an example of English cunning, Haies described the scene of looting with something akin to horror. His narrative tone is almost smug when he describes the deaths of the guilty crewmen in a storm later.

Why did Hakluyt present Hore’s (fictional) piracy as a justified act when Haies was horrified by his countrymen’s actions? Both were published in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, but in Hore’s case, Richard Hakluyt the younger wrote the account himself from the stories of two elderly witnesses. For one thing, Hakluyt tended to refrain from making editorial additions or subtractions to previously-written stories from other sources. Writing “The Voyage of M. Hore,” however, Hakluyt was not merely transcribing an already-recorded tale. He had acquired Oliver Dawbeney’s account from his elder cousin, but Dawbeney had died before the manuscript was assembled. Hakluyt was able to interview Buts, but he too passed away before the tale saw press. Hakluyt was thus free to write the story as he wished. As William Sherman points out, Hakluyt was promoting an agenda with the Principal Navigations. Several decades of other European countries’ explorations and colonization had left England behind, and Hakluyt used his manuscript to definitively prove that England too had produced explorers and men of great feats. Haies, on the other hand, was chronicling Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s personal expedition. The actions of the crewmen served as side-notes. Their looting was characterized as wicked, and their deaths were the actions of a just God. For Hakluyt, the Englishmen took priority. The French vessel acted as a convenient prop, and the English seizure of the vessel served as yet another example of English ingenuity. The reader is not meant to think less of Hore’s men for leaving the Frenchmen to presumably starve in Newfoundland – the story immediately travels across the horizon right along with the English party.

The problem with the conclusion to the story as published in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations is that it does not fit with the established facts as shown in the British High Court of Admiralty records. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any examples of the contemporary public response to the Hore expedition. The Hakluyts interviewed their witnesses approximately fifty years after the fact, thus further confusing the matter with the issues of witness reliability. E. G. R. Taylor mentions that both Thomas Buts (who was in his seventies at the time of the interview) and Hakluyt’s friend Oliver Dawbeney went on to hold low-ranking civil servant careers. In her analysis, one or both of them may have desired to spice their tale up for the listeners. Her conclusion is that these pampered Tudor gentlemen simply had not been expecting the rigors of a long sea voyage, and thus were horrified at the perceived deprivations. Going back to Jean de Léry’s earlier statement about “messieurs les delicats,” in light of that dismissive phrase, it would be interesting to know if Dawbeney had read Léry’s works by the time he talked to Hakluyt the elder. As an old man, Dawbeney may have wanted to make his life appear more meaningful. He had met the challenge of the New World, but by the 1570s, travel to the New World had almost become commonplace. Perhaps Dawbeney desired to make his experience seem that much more significant in comparison to the rest.

Regarding the cannibalism allegations, unfortunately, none of the records provided a tally of how many of the 120 seamen and gentlemen returned, and so it is impossible to determine if anyone went “missing” or not. The cannibalism allegations are the most sensational aspect of the narrative. Because it seems unlikely that the situation aboard the Trinity was as bad as Dawbeney stated, it is difficult to determine his reasons for fabricating this portion of the story. One of the major possibilities (and one which E. G. R. Taylor suggests as an option) is that Dawbeney was simply embellishing his story so as to make it more appealing and interesting. Dawbeney told Hakluyt that he was the first person to see the approaching Indians; while it is both impossible and irrelevant to prove if this is true or not, it is worth noting. Dawbeney may have been attempting to play up his own role in the adventure as well as making it seem more sensational.

A sixteenth century depiction of Native American cannibalism.

A sixteenth century depiction of Native American cannibalism.

Cannibalism is a recurring theme in narratives of contact with the New World, although usually, it is the native inhabitants of that world who are doing the eating. In this case, the situation is reversed. The Englishmen, of their own volition, are eating their own kind. William Arens points out in his book The Man-Eating ­Myth that cannibalism often serves as a metaphor for the distinctions between a savage, alien enemy and the “civilized” non-cannibal narrator or for the distinctions between the narrator and his or her own, “uncivilized” past.75 SueEllen Campbell adds to this that cannibalism also represents the “fearful power of the wilderness.”76 In this context, the explanation for the cannibalism is likely a combination of factors. Campbell also calls food the “armor of civilization” – man is able to civilize anything he encounters if he is able to cook it in a manner to which he is accustomed.77 The piece of “broyled meate” which the crewman is discovered to be eating is the only piece of food specifically mentioned in the narrative. Even then, it has been “civilized” by being cooked over the fire.

The entire narrative reads almost like a conversion story, where the party commits sinful behavior and then is saved through the grace of God. Hore’s wayward adventurers did seem to repent for a short while after the captain’s moving sermon, but did not totally renounce their ways – they were about to draw lots when the French vessel appeared. Janet Whatley, in her article “Food and the Limits of Civility: The Testimony of Jean de Léry,” points out that in Léry’s writings of two stories of cannibalism and hardship published in the 1570s, “the account of a voyage is also a reflection on the costs and conditions of human experience itself.”78 In this sense, perhaps Dawbeney was not exaggerating so much after all. Clearly, both he and Buts were significantly affected by their experiences. To mention another of Whatley’s points: “The New World is not merely America: it is the ordeal… of getting there and back; it is the experience of survival amid the strange.” 79

E. G. R. Taylor does give the members of the Hore expedition credit for being among the first Europeans to travel to the New World for pleasure. Returning for a moment to Paul Zumthor’s analysis of the medieval travel narrative, he states that there is a tension between the “history (the voyage as it was, untellable)[sic]” and the subsequent narration, and thus producing “indifference of the author and of his public towards the criterion of credibility.”80 In this sense, the truth does not matter; it is the story itself that is important. Stories can make something true that is not actually true, at least to the listener. It is difficult to say for certain what exactly happened in that summer and fall of 1536, but it is certain that these “gentlemen of the voyage” experienced more than they had signed up for.

68 Milton 9.
69 Milton 8.
70 National Archives, HCA 24/3.
71 Turgeon, Laurier. “French Fishers, Fur Traders, and Amerindians during the Sixteenth Century: History and Archaeology,” in The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct. 1998), 585-610. Page 593.
72 Burrage, Henry A. Original Narratives of Early American History: Early English and French Voyages. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1906. Pages 195-196.
73 Burrage 196.
74 Burrage 196.
75 Arens, William. The Man-Eating Myth­. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
76 Campbell, SueEllen. “Feasting in the Wilderness: The Language of Food in American Wilderness Narratives,” American Literary History, Vol. 6, No. 1. (Spring, 1994), pp. 1-23. Page 8.
77 Campbell 2
78 Whatley 388.
79 Whatley 394
80 Zumthor 813

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