Notes on a Manuscript...

Synopsis of Chapters with Brief Comments

The Foreword

Francis Herbert, Curator of Maps of the Royal Geographical Society, President of the Society for the History of Discoveries, Council Member of the Hakluyt Society, Research Editor of the Map Collector, &tc. has a longstanding interest in Drake's circumnavigation. The present writer has been most fortunate to have had him available as an advisor throughout the course of this project. He has now honored this work with a foreword, which reflects his expert view of the subjects covered and expresses his opinion of the validity and value of the effort (an excerpt is in these pages).

The Introduction

While this work assumes that the reader has a basic familiarity with the circumnavigation, a brief review of the voyage begins the author's introduction, followed by a quick look at what went on after the journey - including the chaos into which its story soon fell. Comments on why the search for Drake's lost Nova Albion harbor continues to be important conclude the introduction (an excerpt is in these pages).

Chapter I

The Literature of the Circumnavigation

This chapter, in two parts, provides a foundation for historians and for more casual students of Drake. Without an understanding of the literature of the circumnavigation, any approach to the unanswered questions about the journey is hopeless. This confusing topic has not been well dealt with in previous works, and there exists no coherent overview such as is presented here. It is for these reasons that it begins the book. This chapter has been reviewed by staff at the Bancroft Library, where it is considered a particularly valuable part of the work (specifics available on request).

Part I: The Early Literature

Part I deals with the early sources, manuscripts, and publications. The emphasis is not on the technical bibliographical history of the material, although some elements of this are discussed, but rather on its origins and evolution. The chapter also contains a fresh look at why some of the early literature is so contradictory, enigmatic and confusing.

Part II: The Modern Analysts

Part II reviews, from among the hundreds of works on Drake, thirty-six modern sources which have been applied (for better or worse) in tracking the Golden Hind's movements along the North American coast. It documents many of the sometimes spectacular and often unnoticed blunders of a number of prominent modern analysts - among them H. H. Bancroft, Henry Wagner, John Robertson, Dr. Alfred Kroeber, S. A. Barrett, and Warren Hanna. Modern corruptions of the early material, which have caused heretofore unrecognized problems, are discussed.

Chapter II

The Latitudes of Nova Albion: The Early Sources & A New Analysis

This chapter includes a comprehensive new analysis of the latitudes found in the narratives, with an eye cast towards evaluating their relative and absolute accuracy. The result is a picture quite different than the one promoted by boosters of various anchorage sites, especially Drakes Bay. The argument is made that there is no logical or mathematical reason to confine the search for the lost harbor to the immediate area of the latitudes given in the narratives.

Chapter III

The Latitudes of Nova Albion: Censorship & Obfuscation

Here the effects on the published latitudes of possible early censorship and suppression are discussed, especially in regard to the heavily promoted idea that there was a gradual and orderly relaxation of secrecy resulting in the eventual publication of an accurate harbor latitude. A number of blunders and misleading claims by modern analysts are exposed.

Chapter IV

Dr. Alfred L. Kroeber and The Word Encompassed

A look at how Dr. Kroeber came to make his often-quoted statements about the identity of the Indians described in the Word Encompassed focuses on the unfortunate and heretofore barely mentioned fact that Dr. Kroeber, unbeknownst to himself, based his analysis on a severely corrupted modern version of the primary narrative of the voyage. It also deals with the less than straightforward ways his words have been subsequently employed by others.

Chapter V

The Indians at Drake's Landing

The Indians of Nova Albion are discussed in terms of how the critical question of their identity has been, and should be, addressed. A specific site proposal is used to demonstrate (and only to demonstrate) how what is known about the native people Drake met with can be applied to the search for the lost harbor. Some recent archeological work which may be pertinent (within the context of this demonstration) is discussed, as are previous less than complete or straightforward efforts to place Drake with one or another native group. It is stressed that the inferences made in this chapter regarding both the anchorage location and the identification of the natives met are offered only as illustrations of the reasoned application of evidence and speculation, and most emphatically not as part of any site proposal.

Chapter VI

The Defense and Overhaul of the Golden Hind in Nova Albion

These interwoven topics have received less attention from previous analysts than they deserve, notwithstanding this author's article "Study of Ordnance May Help to Determine Drake's California Harbor" (The Artilleryman, vol. XI no. 2, 1990). The chapter includes discussion of the problems presented by the Golden Hind's ordnance in regard to Drake's choice of a harbor, the Spanish pursuit, careening, the fortification at the Nova Albion anchorage and the presence or absence of an accompanying vessel ("Tello's Bark"). Elements of this chapter were reviewed by Adrian Carruana, Keeper of Arms at Chatham Historic Dockyard (Kent).

Chapter VII

The Weather Reports of the Narratives in the Secondary Literature

The unbelievable weather reports of the narratives - especially of the World Encompassed - have been almost universally regarded as lies, and thus have cast a pall over the rest of the accounts. This chapter deals with the ways the detailed descriptions of freezing conditions along the coast of Nova Albion during early summer have blinded analysts to critical information embedded within them.

Chapter VIII

The Climate of Nova Albion in the Summer of 1579

What began as a casual attempt to see if there is any new paleoclimatic information available turned into a major investigation of the weather of Northern California during the summer of 1579. This yielded strong evidence, developed by this investigator with the help of professional dendroclimatologists, that the seemingly bizarre reports of extreme summer cold were accurate; it now appears that a brief and severe climatic anomaly occurred during the time of Drake's visit. A secondary investigation revealed a possible cause for the phenomena. This work affects the search for Drake's former whereabouts by sharply raising the level of credibility of the primary and most detailed narrative. It also is of considerable interest to those concerned more with climate than with Drake.

A seminar on this subject was conducted by the author at the invitation of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona at Tucson, in November of 1995. Subsequently, a paper on the same subject was presented, again by this investigator, at the invitation of the Society for the History of Discoveries, at the University of Texas at Arlington, also in November of 1995.

This chapter has been reviewed by Dr. Harold C. Fritts, Professor Emeritus, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona at Tucson.

Chapter IX

A Wooden Treasure in a Golden Chest

The claims in the early accounts of silver and gold in Nova Albion, as well as similar but more veiled references to some other sort of riches and treasure, have been dismissed by past analysts as either meaningless stock phrases added to the narratives after the journey, or as evidence of the unreliability of the original accounts. There being no apparent basis in the San Francisco Bay region for these claims of riches, such attitudes seem reasonable. On close examination, however, the narratives can be shown to be less compromised by these statements than might be thought; furthermore, it can be speculated that there was indeed something of great potential value found in Nova Albion - timber. Such a line of reasoning tends to lead the search for Drake's haven away from the immediate Bay Area.

Chapter X

The Plate of Brass

While the fraudulent "plate of brass" today stands exposed, its effects were strong and still linger. Thus in this housecleaning the topic is fully aired. The chapter begins with the history of the plate, with emphasis on the mismanagement of the episode in various quarters. It ends with a circumstantial (and entertaining) case supposing that the perpetrators of the hoax were members of the notoriously mischievous California "historical drinking society," E Clampus Vitus, who were (perhaps) playing a prank - that got out of hand - on one of their own, the original authenticator of the plate, University of California professor Dr. Herbert Bolton.

Chapter XI

A Harbor at Bay

The idea that the early narratives describe two separate bodies of water, a bay and a harbor, at the Golden Hind's anchorage shows signs of becoming embedded in the mythology of Drake's visit. It was crafted by proponents of the theory that the lost harbor was Drakes Estero, itself within Drakes Bay. This cunning misuse of the narratives, which involves the grafting of the language of one account into another, is classic in its superficial simplicity and in the difficulty a refutation presents. Earlier attempts at countering this concept relied on external linguistic indicators and were weak, but a careful new analysis of the use of the words "bay" and "harbor" within the narratives yields powerful evidence against it. The analysis also illuminates several other less than sound tactics found in related misleading arguments.

Chapter XII

Cartography and the Search for Drake in Nova Albion

Part I: The Essential Maps and Their Treatment

While there is not a great deal to be learned from the maps of the circumnavigation, they have often been used - and misused - to bolster this or that theory. This chapter discusses such applications. It also provides a convenient and concise overview of the more important maps - something that has been lacking in prior works - to help end the confusion often found around this topic.

Part II:The Portus Plan of Joducus Hondius

This famous little vignette from the corner of a map is, perhaps, a sketch of the lost harbor; it has been the center of much attention for nearly a century and a half, with various authorities stretching it and turning it this way and that in fitting it to their favorite spots. The straining and squinting is examined here, and some of the features of the portus plan are discussed. The widespread and heretofore unmentioned circulation of significantly corrupt copies of the plan - unwittingly published by the University of California (among others) as lately as the 1970's - is brought to light.

Chapter XIII

The Farallon Islands

The principal narrative implies that the voyage from the lost harbor to what are generally acknowledged to be the Farallon Islands involved an overnight sail. A date is given for departure and another, a day later, for arrival. The narrative also indicates that Drake began this short hop in daylight and with a good wind. This presents a major problem for patriots of Drakes Bay, from which these islands lie in sight; the time spent getting to them seems inexplicably long. The dilemma is cleverly addressed by the Drake Navigators Guild through the claim that dates aboard the Golden Hind were changed at noon, not midnight. Thus a date change could occur during a short daytime hop. Until now no effective rebuttal to this argument has been made, in spite of several attempts. Here, however, rock-solid new evidence is applied that strongly refutes this crafty concept. This argues strongly for a more distant harbor.


The Case For and Against Albion Bay as the lost Harbor

The epilogue uses the vehicle of a specific site proposal to illustrate how evidence and reasonable conjecture for and against any theory can be applied properly. It also provides a forum for discussion of some factors not discussed elsewhere, such as the white cliffs and the rodents reported in the narratives. It is emphasized strongly that while Albion Bay is on the list of possible locations of the lost harbor - first having been considered in the 1920's and again more recently - no claim for its status is made here. The point here (as in the chapter on the native people met) is to examine the mechanisms of proper and logical application of evidence and speculation. While in some ways a hypothetical or perhaps a previously completely ignored location might serve this purpose without certain hazards, such an effort would be strained and probably boring.

Albion Bay is also used in some of the earlier chapters in a similar way - always with the proviso that it is merely a possible site among many which is being used only for illustrative purposes, and always with the presentation of both positive and negative arguments.

Appendix I

Nova Albion in The World Encompassed: A New Transcription

There is presently no accurate transcription of The World Encompassed - the most detailed and most often referred-to of the contemporary chronicles of the circumnavigation - in print; nor are the great majority of previous transcriptions true to the original. The errors and changes in many published editions are significant both in their numbers and in their possible misleading effects. Therefore, a new transcription, by this writer, is included here. It is presently limited to that portion of the text, twenty pages, dealing with Nova Albion. (Should the resources be available, it would be most worthwhile to include not only a new transcription of the entire World Encompassed, but also of the shorter Hakluyt narratives and related documents.)


There are 782 endnotes in this work (because of the controversial and complex nature of the subject, thorough documentation is critical). In order to relieve the reader from constantly turning pages only to encounter a citation, the reference numbers in the text that point to endnotes containing comments are marked with a special symbol. Also, all of the endnotes are together and numbered consecutively; this again minimizes needless page-turning.

List of Cited Works

Chapter I is, after a fashion, a bibliography, and there are a number of extensive Drake bibliographies available elsewhere; thus what is presented here is confined to a list of the 100 or so works cited in the text.

List of Illustrations

The 72 illustrations in the manuscript are for preliminary reference purposes, and compilation of a final list awaits further discussion. There is considerable flexibility in this regard; of the illustrations in the manuscript, perhaps one third are necessary in terms of the text (for example map details); the rest have a primarily decorative function. Some seldom-seen and previously unpublished 19th century photographs of coastal Northern California are included, including a previously unknown one by Carlton Watkins.


Compilation of the index awaits final formatting of the book. It is this writer's intention to compile the index himself (although assistance would certainly be useful).

Author's Note: Some of this material is adapted from or relates to my yet-unpublished book Francis Drake in Nova Albion - The Mystery Restored, in which these and neighboring thickets are explored much more deeply than on these few web pages. Thus there may be references here not fully explained, or answers missing their questions. Also lacking here is documentation, provided in the book by 782 endnotes. - Oliver Seeler

Nova Albion Research
Copyright 1996-97 by Oliver Seeler
Please feel free to send your comments to
Return to the main "Notes on a Manuscript" page...
Return to the main Drake page...