There are three prerequisites before an expedition for exploration or discovery can be launched—an Idea, a Man, and a Patron who accepts both. Christopher Columbus was neither the first nor the last to find out that the third—the moneyed backer—is the hardest to get hold of. For not only has he to be persuaded that the Idea is sound, but also that it is technically possible. And again, that it is worth pursuing in terms of the resources demanded. Over and above all this, he must be convinced that the Man is indeed the individual capable of carrying it through.
The Idea that one could reach the East by sailing west from Spain had been bandied about since the days of Aristotle. Very few became aware that the New Navigation, as developed by the Portuguese during the 15th century, had rendered it a practical possibility. Fewer still were ready .to believe that an unknown Ligurian of inferior birth was the Man able to carry out this Idea. Columbus hung about the Courts of Portugal and Spain for ten years or more before he found his Patron in Queen Isabella.
More than half a century later an Idea began to haunt the minds of Englishmen, the Idea of the Pacific Ocean. After all, what right had the Pope to part the whole world’s discoveries between the Spaniards and the Portuguese? No-one had yet been to Cathay, or to Locac, the Land of Gold, which were described by Marco Polo. Dr John Dee, the great mathematician, believed that Locac was Solomon’s Ophir, specially reserved by Providence for the British Queen Elizabeth (he would not say English, for he was a Welshman). The latest map from the Low Countries showed that the coast of the unknown Terra Australis ran from the farther exit of Magellan’s Strait all the way to Locac. Why not go and look for it?
Not only was this Idea abroad, but the Man was not far to seek. Francis Drake, bred to the sea from his youth, and an earl’s godson, had just made a lucky (if illegal) strike in the Spanish Indies. He would put down £1000 towards the exploration of Terra Australis. He would also lend his little Bark Francis, if the Queen would provide one of her naval vessels lying idle in the Medway. Drake’s old leader, John Hawkins, was ready with another £500, and he had the ear of the Navy Board through his elderly father-in-law, Gonson, for whom he deputized. Two officers of the Board, the brothers Sir William and Mr George Winter, promised to put up £750 and £500 respectively. The Lord High Admiral, Clinton, embraced the project, although without stating
This burnt corner of the draft plan of Drake’s voyage lists the proposers. First is the Lord High Admiral, Edward Clinton, Earl of Lincoln.
The list of articles necessary for a ship’s cook-room —from the spit and gridiron to lanterns and tinderbox—was signed in 1582 by Captain Fenton, William Hawkins, his young lieutenant, and Captain Luke Ward
his subscription. He was, of course, a Privy Councillor, and two other members of that august body joined the group—the Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the powerful Earl of Leicester. Besides these seven names, another appears on the proposal list—perhaps the most important of all. This was Master Christopher Hatton, then the favourite courtier of Queen Elizabeth. Her consent was indispensable.