Reprint from Sierra Leone Studies, New Series, no. 7
Edward Fenton's Visit to Sierra Leone, 1582
(PART 2)

Back to PART 1

reedes...but saw no people they gathered oliphants dung and espied a fayr yulet of water and a goodly fresh spryng fast by ye shore”.

            But there was still doubt about their position. They could see no exit to the north-west, which they had expected and so ran west all night whilst Madox piously wrote: “I pray God be our pilote our Master and our leader and al, than shal we not err.” As a result, on the 8th: “We descryed ye ylands and mayn of Sera Liona being very hyg[h]e land but as lyke the mownts as ye myddle temple is lyke mamsbury steeple and therfour surely our pylates had marked spitefully ye forme of yt before.”1

            It was noted: “ye poynt of ye road at a loe water 5 and a half fathoms,” before sadder duties claimed their attention. On that day Wil Burgesse died and was buried on shore with the doubtful solace of this epitaph composed by his chaplain:


Thi sowle to heaven whence yt fled

Thi bodi to yearth which fyrst ye bred

Thoe far fro cuntrey lytle wil

Yet in thi cuntrey Burgesse stil.”


The crews then continued their exploration; “they told that in this river was great daunger of ye alligator which is water crocadyle and that under his shoulders is perfect of them tooke Capteyne Hawkins trumpeter owt of his pynnce and did devour hym.”


On the 11th, some of them: “went up into ye wood...there a lemmons ga [destroyed] great store of wyld bay, wyld po [megranites?] fygs, dyvers strange frutes, dyvers strange great trees and we hard the nightingale syng sweetly and thrushes.”

            Two days later they found paths “beaten 2 foot broad I know not how far, so that I judge the negroes ether at ye tropique of Cancer or Capricorn or both come down either to fysh for hear is great store of mullet and others to gather ye frute and after depart again... We found oyster shells and cockles and 2 yerthen pottes very thin which [destroyed] sayd were of portingale.”2 The oyster they enjoyed with vinegar, pepper and salt. Three “turkey cocks” were flushed, and signs noted of elephants and monkeys; also they remarked:-

            2 larks with whyt fethers in ye tayl and hard them sying,


1 Op. cit. f. 34 r.

2 i.e. Portugal.



some grownd rock some cley al good for pasture...We fownd ye great whyte dragon tree whose sap floyed like mylk in ye wild spurg, is just as viscows as glew and after groeth to gume, ye frute is lyke a great yelo apricock. In ye nyght commonly yt thundereth and rayneth but ye after noone is fayr hote and drye but clowdy.”1

            The regular habits of the parrots, which came “fro ye north t ye hilly sowth to feed al day and at nyght returne”, attracted their attention. On  17th Autgust, some of the crew began to weave nets to catch mullet, whilst Madox whiled away the day by drawing a picture in his diary of the oyster tree. It was believed that the mangrove trees, to which the oyster clung were the parent trees and the oysters their fruit. Some species were supposed to hatch into Barnacle Geese.

            Two days later a diversion was created by the approach of a canoe, bearing, so Madox remarks insularly: “3sylly one a sage old man in a capuchio of black mocado2 and shipmen hose of a barbers apern. His name was Fraunces Freer born at Venyce dwelling at ye yl of St. Yago which had byn spoyled by a frenchman and his ship broken agenst a rock.”

            With the Portuguese came: “King Farma of ye negroes, his bad cote was noe more patcht than wer

his bare legs splotted, he had goodly lips...Francese Frere told me that...under King Farma al go naked nether is ye king knoen by any apparel but by a cap. He taketh as many wyves as he list which soe and reap his rise. The best rice which is ye least grayne is 5 moneths from ye seed to ye sycle and is gathered in May and October. Other for common service is gathered every 7 weeks. The K. riches is slaves and elephants teath. Ye first wife is queene, but ye first born boy is prince and ye oldest of kindred is ye protector to an orphan. They have legem talionis3 in slawghter or maym, in theft ye gylty is sold for ye King, for adultery ye man only is punyshed. They acknowledge god and mak sayntes mediators such as have been valiant men among them whose ymages they keepe and adore.”4

            In that apparently lush green hinterland the travelers were struck by the lack of game and wild life generally. Although they saw two beasts “of a brown color with short tayles and rownd flat horns as


1 Op. cit. f. 35 r.

2 Corruption of the Italian “mocaiardo”, mohair

3 i.e. an eye for an eye, etc.

4 Op. cit. f. 37 r. Bai Farima ruled from 1560-1606


byg as 3 yer-old bullocks very grosse and fat”, Madox records that there were few frogs, no snails and no tame beasts except “hens just as owrs, some partridges”. Later, fresh elephant droppings were seen in the South-West Bay.

            A map which he drew of the south side of the river marks only three points, where are to be found respectively: lemon trees, water, and oysters. However Tagurina on the north was also recognized and entered on the map. The watering place appears to be that which all mariners used and which was later made famous by the Reuter stone, although his was not the first memorial left at that spot, since Fenton had fixed to a stone at the watering place - perhaps to the same stone – “a square plate of copper with this inscription and forme.”1 Then follows a shield with a cross and a fleur-de-lis in each quarter. On either side are Fenton’s initials, “E.F.,” and the motto underneath: Rien sans dieu.” The inscription reads:-


Edwardus Fenton armiger pro

Elizabethan reginam Anglie, classi

praepositus ei quae regiones

Chinense et Cathaia discooperire

destinata est. Augst 26, 1582.”


According to another account of the voyage,2 after the Elizabeth had been sold to the Portuguese in exchange for certain commodities, the fleet, finding a north-east wind – it had blown between south and west for many days previously – hoisted sail at 4 a.m. on 2nd September. William Hawkins recalled that they returned thither on the 4th, and remained until October, because “the generall was determyned in St. Helena and to possess the same, and theare to be King, promysing great rewardes to all the well first to Capten Warde 10,000”.3 Warde, however, refused, and, because the design would be impossible without his connivance, Fenton dropped it and sailed westward as he had been ordered. At this time St. Helena had already been a Portuguese possession for 80 years; the first Englishman known to have visited it is Thomas Cavendish in 1588.


1 Op. cit. f. 30r. et seq. It is interesting that Madox’s map is drawn so that the south shore is at the top of the page. He was, to judge by results, an unskilled artist, and drew without forethought presumably, what attracted his attention first. There is no mention of the flat northern shore in his diary.

2 Cotton MS. Otho E.viii f. 200 r., Walker’s journal.

3 Cotton, MS. Otho E. viii f. 224 et seq., Ward was Captain of the Edward

            The rest of the voyage hardly concerns us at this time. Briefly, the remaining ships reached Brazil on 1st December. The Francis was wrecked in the River Plate, although the crew were saved. An unsuccessful engagement was sustained with three Spanish ships off the Brazil coast and the expedition returned home, unprofitably, in January 1583.1


1 Sir Richard Hawkins, (Hakluyt Soc. Hawkins’ Voyages, p212) mentions that his uncle William Hawkins commanded an expedition in 1582 to the West Indies. Nothing much was known of this voyage, but it is undoubtedly to this one which he referred.