Volume 7, Chapter 9 -- Early Voyages of the English to the East Indies, before the establishment of an exclusive Company: *section index*

Volume 7, Chapter 9, Section 8 -- The unfortunate Voyage of Captain Benjamin Wood, towards the East Indies, in 1596.[29]


In the year 1596, a squadron of three ships, the Bear, Bear's Whelp, and Benjamin, was fitted out, chiefly at the charges of Sir Robert Dudley, and the command given to Mr Benjamin Wood. The merchants employed in this voyage were, Mr Richard Allot and Mr Thomas Bromfield, both of the city of London. As they intended to have proceeded as far as China, they obtained the gracious letters of Queen Elizabeth, of famous memory, to the king or emperor of that country, recommending these two merchants, or factors, to his protection.

This their honourable expedition, and gracious recommendations from her majesty for the furtherance of their mercantile affairs, had no answerable effects, but suffered a double disaster: first, in the miserable perishing of the squadron; and next, in losing the history, or relation, of that tragedy. Some broken planks, however, as after a shipwreck, have yet been encountered from the West Indies, which gives us some notice of this East-Indian misadventure. Having the following intelligence by the intercepted letters of the licentiate Alcasar de Villa Senor, auditor in the royal audience of St. Domingo, judge of the commission in Porto Rico, and captain-general of the province of New Andalusia, written to the King of Spain and his royal council of the Indies; an extract of which, so far as concerns this business, here follows; wherein let not the imputation of robbery and piracy trouble the minds of the reader, being the words of a Spaniard concerning the deeds of Englishmen, done in the time of war between us and them.

So far we have exactly followed the introductory remarks of Purchas. In the sequel, however, we have thought it better to give only an abridgement of the letter from Alcasar de Villa Senor, which Purchas informs us, in a side note, he had found among the papers of Mr Richard Hakluyt. In this we have followed the example of the editor of Astley's Collection, because the extract given by Purchas is very tedious, and often hardly intelligible. This letter, dated from Porto Rico, 2d October, 1601, gives no light whatever into the voyage itself, nor by what accident the ships, which had set out for the East Indies, had come into the West Indies; neither what became of the ships, nor the nature of the sickness which had reduced their men to four, but wholly refers to what passed after these sailors had quitted their ship, and landed on the island of Utias, near Porto Rico. All these circumstances were probably communicated in a former letter, alluded to in the commencement of that which was intercepted, as it proceeds upon having received a commission from the royal audience, to punish certain offenders who had usurped a great quantity of property belonging to the King of Spain in the island of Utias; the plunder taken by the English, and with which these four men had landed in that island--E.

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It appears by this letter, that three English ships bound for the East Indies, belonging to Portugal, had captured three Portuguese ships, one of them from Goa, from the captain of which they took a large rich precious stone, which the captain had charge of for the King of Spain; the particulars of which had been communicated the year before in a letter from Alcasar to the king, together with a copy of the declaration of one Thomas, of the goods he and his three companions had in the said island of Utias. They had also many bags of ryals of eight and four, intended for the pay of the garrison in a frontier castle of India, and much more goods belonging to the Portuguese.

After this all the men died of some unexplained sickness, except four men, whose names were Richard, Daniel, Thomas, and George. These men, with all the jewels, money, and rich goods they could remove, put into a river or bay of the island of Utias,[30] three leagues from Porto Rico; where, after landing their goods, their boat sunk, and they remained on that island with only a small boat made of boards, which they had taken from some fishermen at Cape San Juan, the north-east headland of Porto Rico. With that small boat they crossed over to Porto Rico in search of water, and, on their return to Utias, left George behind them on Porto Rico. He, being found by Don Rodrigo de Fuentes and five others, gave information of all that had happened to them, and of the large stone, jewels, gold, plate, testoons, and other rich goods that were in the said island, and of the places where the other three Englishmen and their goods might be found.

Consulting together on this information, they agreed to pass over into the island, to take possession for their own benefit of these rich goods, and did so, carrying with them a letter from George the Englishman to his: comrades, advising them to submit to the Spaniards, and to deliver up to them their arms and riches. Coming near to where the three Englishmen dwelt, these Spaniards displayed a white flag in token of peace, and the Englishmen set up another; after which they held a friendly conference together, the Spaniards pledging their good faith and friendship. Upon which the Englishmen yielded themselves to Don Rodrigo and his companions, with their arms and all their goods, which they took possession of, and parted all the money among themselves. They hid and kept secret the great stone and other jewels, with a great quantity of gold, silver, and other rich goods; keeping out only a small quantity of silver in bars, and some silks, as a cover for the rest. And, that it might not be known what quantity of jewels, gold, silver, and other rich goods they had usurped, they agreed to murder the three Englishmen with whom they had eaten, drank, and slept in peace. They accordingly killed Richard and Daniel, and would have slain George, but he escaped from them to a mountain. They then returned to Porto Rico, where they put George to death by poison, and sent to Utias to seek out Thomas and put him to death; but he got over to this island in a wonderful manner by means of a piece of timber; which they hearing of, sought by all the means they could to kill him, but to no purpose.

Meanwhile Don Rodrigo, and two others of his accomplices, came to the city of San Juan, and informed the governor that they had found a small quantity of goods in the island of Utias, having slain three Englishmen in fight to get them; and their other accomplices presented themselves as witnesses, falsely declaring that they had found no more goods. But not agreeing in their story on farther investigation, and Thomas the Englishman being at length procured as evidence against them, they were all sent to prison; whence Don Rodrigo, though bolted and guarded by two soldiers, contrived to get out by filing off his irons in the night. After Don Rodrigo's escape, the rest confessed the whole affair; but either through favour or fear, no one would assist Alcasar to bring this rascally ringleader to justice. He pronounced sentence on all the rest, with a denunciation that they were to be put to death in five days, unless the goods were delivered up.

How this affair ended does not appear, as the letter was written before the expiry of the five days. Neither indeed is this letter of much importance, except to shew the miserable end of that unfortunate voyage, the villainy of Don Rodrigo and his comrades in murdering the poor Englishmen to conceal their plunder, and that Alcasar, in the prosecution, was solely intent upon recovering the treasure for the King of Spain, without any consideration of the murder of the three Englishmen; who, in his letter, are treated as robbers and thieves, though England was then at war with Spain, and they were consequently justifiable in taking the Portuguese ships as lawful prizes.

[Footnote 29: Purchas his Pilgrims, I. 110, Astl. I. 252.]
[Footnote 30: From the context, it would appear, that the island of Utias is to the east of Porto Rico, among or towards the group called the Virgin isles. The ships of Wood were probably suffering from scurvy and famine, like the Edward Bonadventure; and, endeavouring, like Lancaster, to seek relief in the West Indies, may have perished among the Virgin isles.--E.]


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