direct to content


stepping stones of maritime history



During the Anglo-Spanish War, Francis Drake was sent on an expedition by Queen Elizabeth I. John Hawkins was second in command and the aim was to attack the Spanish Main to do damage to the influx of gold an silver to Spain from there and thus hampering Spain's war effort. They departed from Plymouth on 28 August 1595 with a fleet of 27 ships and 2500 men.

Attack on San Juan

The expedition did not turn out very well. The Spanish admiral Pedro Tello de Guzmán captured one of Drake's ships and learned of the plans to attack San Juan in Puerto Rico. He hastened there to aid in its defence. Two ships were sunk in the entrance of the port, the city's defences were reinforced and the admiral took care of the naval side of things.

The English fleet attacked San Juan on 23 November 1595 with a large force but was repelled by the strong Spanish defenses. They managed to set fire to a few Spanish ships but were repelled by boats and onshore batteries in the end. The decision was made to sail south to try and find less defended settlements to attack. Disease was however effecting the the British force. John Hopkins died and Thomas Baskerville took his place.

Spanish fort at Portobelo

Wikimedia Commons

Spanish fort at Portobelo.

Death of Drake and demise of the Elizabeth

The fleet had a few smaller successes attacking towns and fortresses such as Rio de la Hacha and Santa Marta, but the number of crew had been severely reduced due to diseases. They decided to attack Nombre de Dios at the Isthmus of Panama. Some success was made and Baskerville undertook an expedition inland. He was repelled and fatigue and loss of life, mainly due to disease, was taking its toll on the English troops, whose morale was dropping. They decided to leave Nombre de Dios.

They anchored near Escudo de Veraguas Island. The fittest men, numbering only 37, tried to resupply the fleet, but were attacked by the Spanish residents. In the night of January 28-29 1596, Drake died of dysentery aboard his flagship Defiance. He was buried at sea in full armor in a lead-lined coffin. After this, Baskerville decided to return to England. In the preparations of returning home, the Elizabeth and the Delight - being deemed too damaged for the return trip and because of the lack of crew - were scuttled and possibly burned.

Burial of Admiral Drake, Thomas Davidson, 1899. Plymouth City Council: Museum and Art Gallery.

Wikimedia Commons

Burial of Admiral Drake, Thomas Davidson, 1899. Plymouth City Council: Museum and Art Gallery.


Tonnage195 ton (98 last)


In 2011 remains of two ships were found by American divers near Portobelo believed to be the Elizabeth and the Delight. The remains found seem to have been run on a sandbank and burned.

The research on the wrecks has been conducted by the St Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum in Florida and no co-operation with the British government has been sought, causing dismay amongst archaeologists in the UK.


Down on 23 July

New in MaSS

Wrecks of Flevoland

Burgzand Noord

13 Provinces