Recently a group with the title Sir Francis Drake Exploration Society (SFDES), based in England
and represented by a Mr. Michael Turner, has surfaced on the World Wide Web (you can find it
via the search engine of your choice - I don't care to promote it by publishing its address). While
the group claims an aspiration to become the definitive repository of material relating to Francis
Drake, the site itself provides virtually no hard information; rather, it offers euphoric (and
sophomoric) homages to Drake clumsily presented as objective analyses, some of the same old
unsupported claims of discovery of Drake's California landing site, and, at a price, copies of
various photographs, maps and documents. It also touts one of the more bizarre and pointless
projects ever proposed in Drake's name - the location and possible retrieval of his coffin from its
burial place at sea.
One of the half-dozen stated "Aims of the Society" is:
"To represent Sir Francis Drake objectively as the personality that he was and that he be judged
within the moral context of his time."
This goal is reiterated with:
"We have a moral and serious obligation to represent Sir Francis Drake in his true guise and to
present an accurate and objective assessment of his personality and character."
Fair enough; but how does objectivity fare in the context of a group which on the same page
"... the society, want[s] to see Drake, "admired and eulogized eternally""
"... Drake deserves to be perpetually honoured"?
Objectivity, in fact, suffers severely. For example, Drake's brief involvement in the slave trade -
a very difficult issue to analyze objectively and one which was not at all simple in Drake's own
day - is dismissed with:
"Drake's participation in the slave trade was minimal. He was basically a marine logistician.
Within three years of his second and final slaving voyage, Drake was harmoniously working
with the escaped slaves in Panama and was the first White man to accord the Negro equal rights.
This relationship was acknowledged by some of Drake's contemporaries. Hence, no acts of
barbarity can be attached to Drake's name."
Ignoring the silliness about (and the syntax of) "White man" and "Negro equal rights," this
construction of course fails miserably from any logical or objective viewpoint: the concluding
sentence directly contradicts the beginning one (and the middle three are irrelevant), unless we
are being asked to quantify the morality of slave-trading: a little bit of slaving is not barbaric? (I
happen to think that Drake made a very serious, albeit youthful, mistake in becoming involved in
his then-mentor's sleazy and murderous enterprise (and notwithstanding Mr. Turner's repeated
whines about "political correctness" this is not at all just a modern view), and that he soon
recognized (and suffered personally) for that mistake. I further think that this realization helped
shape his character in a positive way, and influenced his later sometimes dramatically
humanitarian actions. But such a view cannot be held out as fact - it is an opinion. Another
opinion is that the sort of puerile foot-shuffling quoted above not only does not exonerate Drake,
but actually diminishes him by trivializing what was perhaps a defining period of his life.)
Moving on from philosophy to matters of fact (or perhaps politics), we find that another of the
headlined "Aims of the Society" is:
"To continue to work harmoniously with the long established Drake Navigators Guild in
The operator of this site appears to have swallowed the output of California's Drake Navigators
Guild hook, line and sinker (one wonders what the bait was). Thus is found the bland and
unequivocally harmonious caption of an (absent) photograph:
"Drakes Estero, California. Drake built a fort on the sand spit and careened the ship to the left of
This is, again, mere (and I use that word advisedly) opinion presented as fact, and as such it casts
a distinct shadow over this group, its web site and the rest of the information (such as it is)
therein. I need not discuss here the intense and ruthless media campaign waged by the Drake
Navigators Guild to promote its landing theories, ever since the State of California's Sir Francis
Drake Commission refused to endorse them - the subject is addressed elsewhere on these pages.
Why would the DNG now attach itself, remora-like, to this somewhat obscure group and its
flawed web site? Is it that the DNG is second only to Drake on the site in receiving gratuitous
accolades, and that in the process of this fawning Mr. Turner (without providing a shred of
evidence) shores up the carefully crafted (by a species of circular reasoning) DNG illusion that
the latitudes given for various landing sites in the narratives are uncannily accurate (and that
thus Drake must have visited so-called "Drake's Bay")? Or is it the publicity value of the
proposed plundering of Drake's coffin and body - the sort of sensational (and sensationally
pointless) project that the media (and thus the DNG) relish and upon which they thrive?
I will not discuss here the reasons for my negative opinion of the propriety of robbing Drake's
grave, or its moral implications; far be it from me to argue morals with someone who is able to
say, with an apparently straight face and as part of an "objective" analysis about Drake,
"We must praise his love for his God and his dedication towards the Christian faith."
However, I will comment on the justifications given on the SFDES site for this project, which
begin with a litany of personal obsession:
"I have followed Drake from the cradle to the grave ... I have developed a spiritual affinity with
Sir Francis. I have had to lead two mens' lives ... I desire to know the exact position on this
planet where Drake has come to rest ... to be the first person to pay respects near Drake's
Objections to the project (which are considerably more extensive than one would surmise from
the web site) are somewhat angrily addressed with comments including:
"People who promote this view are living in a world of double standards."
"Peoples' objections are superficial because they are founded on a very shallow knowledge base
of Drake's life."
The supplicant lists a series of recovered bodies and disturbed graves. Several of these involved
recoveries of persons lying where they died - in bogs or ice - where there was no burial involved.
In another instance - the raising of the Mary Rose - the body recoveries were incidental to the
work at hand. Mummies (with no cultural let alone temporal connection to the issue at hand) are
invoked more than once. Napoleon's re-burial from his ignominious prison island grave to Paris
(one presumes he would not have objected) is cited. The tyrannical oppressor Pizzarro is cited;
he is hardly a hero to anyone, and his grave is one that would not have fared well in awakened
and unshackled Central or South America. It apparently also either escapes, or does not
concern, the otherwise quick-to-moralize Mr. Turner that the mere fact of what he thinks are
similar acts having been carried out by others in the past does not bear on his ghoulish proposal,
let alone justify it.
The SFDES also presents a short piece on Drake genealogy which, without presenting any
evidence, asserts that the entire line of Drake's immediate family died out in the eighteenth century.
Whether or not this is demonstrable by the evidence, one must wonder if the motivation here is
to attempt to head off potential objections to the coffin-raising scheme by some of the
substantial number of persons who believe that they are in fact related to Sir Francis.
However, after all of this and with a finger held high to the wind, Mr. Turner states that he
would be content to merely locate, and not actually disturb, the sacred coffin. The objection that
once the location is known the grave would be vulnerable to plunder is brushed off with, among
other pearls of logic, the statement that the "equipment does not exist in Panama." Well, Mr.
Turner isn't in Panama either, and in this writer's view that is as it should remain.
Perhaps it is fitting that the Drake Navigators Guild, in its endless quest for publicity and
credibility, is now symbiotically associated with would-be grave robbers. It's a natural enough
progression to this, from the long-ongoing DNG practice of pointless plundering and scattering
of disembodied bits and pieces of the narratives of the circumnavigation into the already
conveniently muddy waters around Drake's yet-to-be-found Northwest American anchorage.
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