Reprint from Sierra Leone Studies, New Series, no. 7

Edward Fenton's Visit to Sierra Leone, 1582


One spring day of fitful English wind and weather, in 1582, four ships hoisted sail and, according to official instructions, set forth to discover the North-West Passage to Cathay. But, because of contrary or failing winds and scares from Spanish ships in or off the Channel, it was not until 3rd June that the English coast-line dropped finally astern.
    The expedition consisted of the ships: Bear, 400 tons (afterwards called Leicester), Edward,Francis, 40 tons, and Elizabeth, of 60 tons. 300 tons (both contributed by the Queen), 1The Earl of Leicester had selected as Admiral, Edward Fenton, who, after public service in Ireland, had sailed in command of the Gabriel in 1577, in Frobisher's second expedition to discover the North-West Passage. Ostensibly, a voyage of discovery, but actually fitted out for trade, the expedition of 1582 proved a failue; nonetheless, it serves as an interesting link between Drake's circumnavigation 1577-80 and the voyage of Cavendish in 1586. Indeed, a number of Drake's officers sailed with Fenton, including William Hawkins, John Drake, and the foul-mouthed pilot, Thomas Hood.
Fenton was always jealous of Hawkins, who was unquestionably a better seaman and who sailed in the expedition as Liuetenant-General, so that the voyage was by no means an amicable one. Indeed, our source of information, Richard Madox, chaplain on board the Leicester, was forced to resort in his diary to Latin, Greek, and even cypher, to record the quarrels and intrigues.
    Leicester's orders were to proceed "by Cape de Bona Speranca, not passing by the Streight of Magellan, either going or returning".
3 This imposition was no doubt laid on as the result of information brought from Spain by one of Frobisher's former officers now in the expedition. Before joining Fenton, Chrisopher Hall had brought to England a dispatch from Roger Bodenham, the English spy, which

1 Commanded respectively by Fenton, Captain and General; Luke Ward, Captian and Vice-Admiral; John Drake, Captain; Thomas Skevington, Captain. Leicester carried 120 persons, including two merchants; Edward, some eighty persons, including two merchants.
2 The diary is in the British Museum. Cotton, MSS. App., xlvii and Titus B viii. Luke Ward's account, Captain of the Edward, and Vice-Admiral, is printed in Haklayt, vol iv, 1811.
3 Quoted from D.N.B. vi., p. 1185.

Richard Madox map

contained news of Sarmiento’s fleet having left Spain especially to fortify Magellan Straits.

            By the time they had reached a point south of the Canaries, the strangers to Africa amongst the crew had already begun to speculate upon what the future might hold for them. One, Ned Stocks, could not resist entertaining them with travellers’ tales. He told, says Madox, “how ye lions in Affryck kept 100 together in a schole and that they had first spoyled  and did now keepe 2 villages, and that yff a lyon be hedged about with thorns he wil rather be taken than prick his foote to come away...”1

            By 10th July they had run into the rains; the air was “thick and foggy and we saw now and then lyke purple bladders swym on ye sea which our men cawled carvels tellyng us that they wold sting sore...”

            On 20th, they were off Cape de Verga, but after that, their position was often uncertain. This is not surprising; Drake’s “rutters”, or sailing directions, five years previously, had been very scanty and often inaccurate, so that he had failed to pick up any landmark when running west of 40 degrees and was obliged to sail east for no less than twelve days before reaching Valdivia in Chile.2 Consequently, on 3rd August, Madox records: “at supper we espied

a rippling of ye water as we wended eastnortheast and anon on ye lyebord we saw a very high land which Mr. Hawkins pronounced absolutely to be Serra liona that is to say the mowntayn of lyons. But he was flatly withstood by pilote and herode, and Mr parker sayd he wold reason with ye best mariner in England and prove yt cold not be that, because the Seraliona lay in 8 and a terce but we were now in 6 and a terce. Notwithstanding he did not perceive ye current which setteth ful northeast for we ar fawln as far this way in 2 days as we ran ye other way in 5 days.”3

            On the following day, nearly all the rest agreed that it was indeed Sierra Leone which they had reached, and “about noone ye master went yn ye pynnysh...and goyng a land he gathered groyng beanes and fetches4 and thinks [sic] lyk almons and dryed lymes with sea and sun and orenges. John Lynsey browght herbs and fygtre bowes. They found a canow and 3 or 4 lytle howses made of

 Forward to PART 2

1 Cotton, MS. App., xlvii f.28r.

2 See Pacific Historical Review, I., p. 360 et seq., ed. E.R.G. Taylor

3 Cotton MS. App., xlvii f. 32 r.

4 i.e. vetches