Sir John Hawkins
Sir John Hawkins
(1532 - 1595)
Sir John Hawkins (also spelled as Hawkyns) (Plymouth 1532 – 12 November 1595) was an English shipbuilder, naval administrator and commander, merchant, navigator, and slave trader. As treasurer (1577) and controller (1589) of the Royal Navy, he rebuilt older ships and helped design the faster ships that withstood the Spanish Armada in 1588. He later devised the naval blockade to intercept Spanish treasure ships.
One of the foremost seamen of 16th-century England, he was the chief architect of the Elizabethan navy. In the battle in which the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588, Hawkins served as a vice admiral. He was knighted for gallantry.
First voyages (1555–1563): John Hawkins formed a syndicate of wealthy merchants to invest in trade, including that of slaves. In 1555, he set sail with three ships for the Caribbean via Sierra Leone. They hijacked a Portuguese slave ship and traded the 301 slaves in the Caribbean. Despite having two ships seized by the Spanish authorities, he sold the slaves in Santo Domingo and thus augmented the profit made by his London investors. His voyage caused the Spanish to ban all English ships from trading in their West Indies colonies.
Second voyages (1564–1565): In 1564, Queen Elizabeth I partnered with him by renting him the huge old 700-ton ship Jesus of Lubeck, on which he set forth on a more extensive voyage, along with three small ships. Hawkins sailed to Borburata in Venezuelan coast, privateering along the way. By the time he reached Borburata, he had captured around 400 Africans. Diego Ruiz de Vallejo, public accountant, allowed him to trade slaves on the condition he pay only 7.5% of the Almojarifazgo tax. Alonzo Bernaldez, Borburata governor, submitted a report in which it was recorded as a legitimate transaction. After Hawkins routed all Venezuelan ports and Rio de la Hacha yielding advantageous returns, he was awarded a certificate of good behavior.
Third voyage (1567–1569): His third voyage began in 1567. Hawkins obtained many more slaves, and also augmented his cargo by capturing the Portuguese slave ship Madre de Deus (Mother of God) and its human cargo. He took about 400 slaves across the Atlantic on the third trip to merchandise in Dominica, Margarita island and Borburata. At San Juan de Ulúa (in modern Vera Cruz) he was chanced upon by a strong Spanish force. The General Commander of the Fleet was the newly appointed governor of Cuba Pedro Menéndez de Avilés (founder of the City of San Agustin, Florida), assisted by the capable seafarer Sancho Pardo Donlebún, who was later to be a powerful adversary of both Hawkins and Drake.
In the ensuing Battle of San Juan de Ulúa only two of the English ships escaped destruction, and Hawkins' voyage home was a miserable one. That of Hawkins' gunner, Job Hartop was equally so and took many years.
Although his first three voyages were semi-piratical enterprises, Queen Elizabeth I was in need of money and saw pirates as fighting her battles at their own cost and risk.
1570-1587: As part of the English government's web of counter-espionage, Hawkins pretended to be part of the Ridolfi plot to betray Queen Elizabeth in 1571. By gaining the confidence of Spain's ambassador to England, he learned the details of the conspiracy, and notified the government so to arrest the plotters. He offered his services to the Spanish, in order to obtain the release of prisoners of war, and to discover plans for the proposed Spanish invasion of England.
His help in foiling the plot was rewarded, and in 1571 Hawkins entered Parliament as MP for Plymouth. He became Treasurer of the Royal Navy on 1 January 1578, following the death of his predecessor Benjamin Gonson (who was also his father-in-law, Hawkins having married Katherine Gonson in 1567).
Hawkins' financial reforms of the Navy upset many who had vested interests, and in 1582 his rival Sir William Wynter accused him of administrative malfeasance, instigating a royal commission on fraud against him. The commission, under William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, Francis Walsingham, and Drake, concluded that there was no undue corruption, and that the Queen's Navy was in first-rate condition.
Hawkins was determined that his navy, as well as having the best fleet of ships in the world, would also have the best quality of seamen, and so petitioned and won a pay increase for sailors, arguing that a smaller number of well-motivated and better-paid men would be more effective than a larger group of uninterested men.
Hawkins made important improvements in ship construction and rigging; he is less well known for his inventiveness as a shipwright, but it was his idea to add to the caulker's work by the finishing touch of sheathing the underside of his ships with a skin of nailed elm planks sealed with a combination of pitch and hair smeared over the bottom timbers, as a protection against the worms which would attack a ship in tropical seas. Hawkins also introduced detachable topmasts that could be hoisted and used in good weather and stowed in heavy seas. Masts were stepped further forward, and sails were cut flatter. His ships were "race-built", being longer and with forecastle and aftcastle (or poop) greatly reduced in size.
The Spanish Armada: In 1588, Hawkins was the Rear Admiral, one of three main commanders of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada, alongside Francis Drake and Martin Frobisher. Hawkins' flagship was Victory. It is possible that Hawkins organised the fire-ship attacks at Calais. For his role in the great sea battle, Hawkins was knighted.
After the defeat of the Armada, Hawkins urged the seizure of Philip II's colonial treasure, in order to stop Spain re-arming. In 1589, Hawkins sailed with former apprentice Francis Drake in a massive military operation (the Drake–Norris Expedition) with one of its goals being to try to intercept the Spanish treasure fleet. The voyage failed, but the idea led many other English pirates to make similar attempts.
In 1590 Drake and Hawkins founded a charity for the relief of sick and elderly mariners. This was followed by a hospital in 1592 and another in 1594, the Hospital of Sir John Hawkins, Knight, in Chatham. The charity continues today.
In 1595 he accompanied his second cousin Sir Francis Drake, on a treasure-hunting voyage to the West Indies, involving two unsuccessful attacks on San Juan in Puerto Rico. During the voyage they both fell sick. Hawkins died at sea off Puerto Rico. Drake succumbed to disease as well shortly thereafter off the coast of Porto Belo.
Sir John Hawkins was succeeded by his son Sir Richard Hawkins.