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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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War Memorials


by Geoff Ledden


Richard  Hawkins was born in 1560, the only child of John and Katherine, the year after they had moved to London. It is not known whether he was born in London, or Plymouth.


Little is known of his early life, but at the age of 22 he sailed with his uncle William for San Thome on the African Coast and then Brazil. The expedition comprised seven ships under William’s command. Richard captained one of the ships and was second-in-command of the squadron. It arrived back in Plymouth in November 1582 with great booty, estimated by a Dutchman in London at 800,000 crowns, of which money and pearls had already reached John Hawkins in London. There is no record of how this was obtained, but the flagship of the Spanish fleet from Santo Domingo went missing about this time.


The next we know of Richard is when he captains the Duck, 20 tons, in a fleet commanded by Francis Drake in 1585-6. They sacked and disarmed Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands, Santo Domingo and Cartagena in the Caribbean, and St. Augustine in Florida, before sailing for Sir Walter Raleigh’s new colony in Virginia. The booty did not cover the costs of the expedition, but they carried off 240 guns and forced Spain to spend time and money on fortifying its colonies.



Two years later he captained the Queen’s ship, Swallow, against the Armada. He was a private shipowner by this time and records that two of his vessels were used as fireships against the Spaniards at Calais.

Believed to be The Swallow during the  Armada

Believed to be The Swallow depicted in action during the Armada battle


Richard Hawkins sailed with his father in 1590 when Sir John commanded a naval squadron of 6 ships that sailed along the Spanish coast and took some prizes. They were at sea for five months with little mortality, demonstrating the effectiveness of Sir John’s measures to improve supplies.


Meanwhile at the end of 1588 he had laid down a 350-ton galleon of his own with the intention of raiding Spanish treasure in Peru to finance the main purpose, a thorough exploration of East Asia with a view to establishing English trade and empire. His mother named the ship Repentance, but the Queen commanded that it be renamed Daintie when she saw it. In April 1593, he sailed the ship from the Thames to Plymouth where he added a pinnace and a storeship.  He records their leave-taking of Plymouth:


‘I set sail … about three of the clock in the afternoon, and made a board or two off and in, waiting the return of my boat, which I had sent ashore for dispatch of some business; which being come aboard and all put in order, I luffed near the shore to give my farewell to all the inhabitants of the town, whereof the most part were gathered together on the Hoe to show their grateful correspondency to the love and zeal which I, my father, and predecessors have ever borne to that place, as to our natural and mother town. And first with my noise of trumpets, after with my waits, and then with my other music, and lastly with the artillery of my ships, I made the best signification I could of a kind farewell.


This they answered with the waits of the town and ordnance on the shore, and with the shouting of voices; which with the fair evening and silence of the night were heard a great distance off.’


Richard was to be away for ten years and never saw his father again, having taken leave of him in London.


He refreshed the crew on the southern shores of Brazil where he emptied the storeship and destroyed her. Soon after, he was deserted without cause by the pinnace, which returned to England leaving him alone and without a shallow-draught boat. Approaching the Straits of Magellan, he sighted land and, thinking that he was the discoverer, named it Hawkins Maidenland. In fact it had been discovered 8 months earlier and is now known as the Falkland Islands, unless you happen to be Argentinean. Hawkins was less of a man-manager than his father and his men were hungry for treasure and insubordinate. He attacked Spanish shipping at Valparaiso and took some gold, but became the quarry of a force much stronger than when Drake had raided Peru. He was caught by two large ships and 1300 men, against his 75, as he was about to leave Peru. The fight lasted three days, 19 of the men were killed and 40 wounded including Hawkins, who was carried below. The ship was sinking and he had no choice but to surrender on 22 June 1594. He was held prisoner in Peru for 3 years before being sent to Madrid where he attempted to escape.


Obviously the Spaniards would not have been in a hurry to free the son of one of the main architects of their humiliation in the Armada nine years earlier and a man who had continued to attack them subsequently, but they did eventually agree to ransom him. The ransom was set at £3000, the sum left for this purpose in his father’s Will. His father was dead and, in the words of Williamson ‘Here his stepmother played a sinister part, for she had in her hands money of his which would have covered the liability, and she would not let go. Richard Hawkins got a letter through to Sir Robert Cecil, begging his intervention. It was evidently successful, for the money was paid and Hawkins set free at the close of 1602. He was home before Christmas…’


He returned to his wife Judith (Heale). Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and James I, who also made him Vice-Admiral of Plymouth, knighted Richard that summer. In 1603-4 he was Mayor of Plymouth and its MP in the Parliament that Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up.


He purchased the house and manor of Poole and Slapton from the Amerideths. The estate was situated between Dartmouth and Start Point and the residence was surrounded by many fine trees. It was about ¾ mile from the church and Mary Hawkins recalls that in 1888 village tradition still held that Lady Judith Hawkins used to walk from the old house to the church on a red velvet carpet, which a servant unrolled before her. The original house was demolished about 1880 and replaced by a farmhouse.


Richard died of a fit on 16 or 17 April 1622 in the chamber of the Privy Council. Richard and Judith had 6 children: Judith born in Deptford in 1592 before he was taken prisoner; Margaret (1603); John (1604); Richard; Johan (1607); and Mary.


The surrender of Da Valdes in the Armada

The surrender of Da Valdes on board The Revenge during the Spanish Armada

by John Seymour Lucas

Courtesy Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery





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