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SECTION X. Voyage to Guinea in 1563 by Robert Baker286

This relation, like the former, is written in verse, and only contains a description of two adventures that happened in the voyage, one of which proved extremely calamitous to those concerned in it, among whom was the author. From the title or preamble, we learn that the adventurers in this voyage were Sir William Gerard, Sir William Chester, Sir Thomas Lodge, Benjamin Gonson, William Winter, Lionel Ducket, Anthony Hickman, and Edward Castelin. There were two ships employed, one called the John Baptist, of which Lawrence Rondell was master, and the other the Merlin, Robert Revell master. The factors were Robert Baker, the author, Justinian Goodwine, James Gliedell, and George Gage. They set out on their voyage in November 1563, bound for Guinea and the river Sestos, but the port whence they fitted out is nowhere mentioned. After the unlucky disaster that befel him in Guinea in the year before, Baker had made a kind of poetical vow not to go near that country any more; but after his return to England, and recovery from his wounds, he soon forgot past sorrows; and being invited to undertake the voyage in quality of factor, he consented.-Astley.

After we had been at sea two days and a night, the man from the main-top descried a sail or two, the tallest of which they immediately made up to, judging her to be the most valuable; and, as captains are in use to do287, I hailed her to know whence she was. She answered from France, on which we waved her, but she nothing dismayed, waved us in return. I immediately ordered armed men aloft into the main and fore-tops, and caused powder to be laid on the poop to blow up the enemy if they should board us that way. At the sound of trumpets we began the fight, discharging both chain and bar-shot from our brazen artillery; while the Frenchmen, flourishing their swords from the main-yard, called out to us to board their ship. Willing to accept their invitation, we plied them warmly with our cannon, and poured in flights of arrows, while our arquebuses plied them from loop-holes, and we endeavoured to set their sails on fire by means of arrows and pikes carrying wildfire. I encouraged, the men to board, by handing spiced wine liberally among them, which they did with lime-pots, after breaking their nets with stones, while those of our men who were aloft entered the enemys tops, after killing those who defended them. Then cutting the ropes, they brought down the yard by the board, and those who entered the ship plied the enemy so well with their swords, that at length the remaining Frenchmen ran below deck and cried out for quarter. Having thus become masters of the ship, we carried her to the Groin in Spain, or Corunna, where we sold the ship and cargo for ready money.

After this we proceeded on our voyage and arrived in Guinea. One day about noon, I went with eight more in a boat towards the shore to trade, meaning to dispatch my business and be back before night. But when we had got near the shore, a furious tempest sprung up, accompanied with rain and thunder, which drove the ships from their anchors out to sea; while we in the boat were forced to run along the coast in search of some place for shelter from the storm, but meeting none, had to remain all night near the shore, exposed to the thunder, rain, and wind in great jeopardy. We learnt afterwards that the ships returned next day in search of us, while we rowed forward along the coast, supposing the ships were before us, and always anxiously looked out for them; but the mist was so great that we could never see them nor they us. The ships continued, as we were told afterwards, looking out for us for two or three days; after which, concluding that we had inevitably perished in the storm, they made the best of their way for England.

Having been three days in great distress for want of food, we at length landed on the coast and exchanged some of our wares with the negroes for roots and such other provisions as they had, and then put to sea again in search of the ships, which we still supposed were before us or to leeward, wherefore we went down the coast to the eastwards. We continued in this manner ranging along shore for twelve days, seeing nothing but thick woods and deserts, full of wild beasts, which often appeared and came in crowds at sunset to the sea shore, where they lay down or played on the sand, sometimes plunging into the water to cool themselves. At any other time it would have been diverting to see how archly the elephants would fill their trucks with water, which they spouted out upon the rest. Besides deer, wild boars, and antelopes, we saw many other wild beasts, such as I had never seen before.

We often saw a man or two on the shore, who on seeing us used to come off in their almadias or canoes; when casting anchor we offered such wares as we had in the boat for fish and fresh water, or provisions of their cooking, and in this way we procured from them roots and the fruit of the palm tree, and some of their wine, which is the juice of a tree and is of the colour of whey. Sometimes we got wild honeycombs; and by means of these and other things we relieved our hunger; but nothing could relieve our grief, fatigue and want of sleep, and we were so sore depressed by the dreadful situation in which we were placed, that we were ready to die, and were reduced to extreme weakness. Having lost all hope of rejoining the ships, which we now concluded were either lost or gone homewards, we knew not how to conduct ourselves. We were in a strange and distant country, inhabited by a people whose manners and customs were entirely different from ours; and to attempt getting home in an open boat destitute of every necessary was utterly impossible. By this time we found we had passed to leeward of Melegete or the grain coast, and had got to the Mina or gold coast of Guinea, as the negroes who now came on board spoke some Portuguese, and brought off their weights and scales for the purpose of trade, asking where were our ships. To this we answered, in hopes of being the better treated, that we had two ships at sea, which would be with them in a day or two.

We now consulted together how they should best proceed. If we continued at sea in our boat, exposed by day to the burning heat of the sun which sensibly consumed us by copious perspiration, and to the frequent tornadoes or hurricanes by night, accompanied with thunder, lightning and rain; which deprived us of all rest, we could not possibly long hold out. We were often three days without a morsel of food; and having sat for twenty days continually in our boat, we were in danger of losing the use of our limbs for want of exercise, and our joints were so swollen by the scurvy, that we could hardly stand upright. It was not possible for us to remain much longer in the boat in our present condition, so that it was necessary to come to some resolution, and we had only three things to choose. The first was to repair to the castle of St George del Mina, which was not far off, and give ourselves up to the Portuguese who were Christians, if we durst trust them or expect the more humanity on that account. Even the worst that could happen to us from them was to be hanged out of our misery; yet possibly they might have some mercy on us, as nine young men such as we were might be serviceable in their gallies, and if made galley slaves for life we should have victuals enough to enable us to tug at the oar, whereas now we had both to row and starve.

The next alternative was to throw ourselves upon the mercy of the negroes, which I stated was very hopeless and discouraging, as I did not see what favour could be expected from a beastly savage people, whose condition was worse than that of slaves, and who possibly might be cannibals. It was likewise difficult for us to conform ourselves to their customs, so opposite to ours; and, we could not be expected, having always lived on animal food, to confine ourselves to roots and herbs like the negroes, which are the food of wild beasts. Besides, having been always accustomed to the use of clothes, we could not for shame go naked. Even if we could get the better of that prejudice, our bodies would be grievously tormented and emaciated by the scorching heat of the sun, for want of that covering and defence to which we had been accustomed. The only other course was to stay at sea in the boat, and die miserably. Being determined to run any risk at land, rather than to continue pent up in a narrow boat, exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather day and night, and liable to be famished for want of victuals, I gave it as my opinion that we had better place confidence in the Christian Portuguese than in the negroes who lived like so many brutes. We how determined to throw ourselves on the mercy of the Portuguese, and hoisting sail shaped our course for the castle of St George del Mina; which was not above 20 leagues distant. We went on all day without stopping till late at night, when we perceived a light on shore. Concluding that this might be a place of trade, our boatswain proposed to cast anchor at this place, in hopes that we might be able to procure provisions next morning in exchange for some of our wares. This was agreed upon, and on going next morning near the shore we saw a watchhouse upon a rock, in the place whence the light had proceeded during the night, and near the watchhouse a large black cross was erected. This made us doubtful whereabout we were, and on looking farther we perceived a castle which perplexed us still more288.

Our doubts were quickly solved by the appearance of some Portuguese, one of whom held a white flag in his hand which he waved as inviting us to come on shore. Though we were actually bound in quest of the Portuguese, yet our hearts now failed us, and we tacked about to make from the shore. On being seen from the castle, a gun was fired at us by a negro, the ball from which fell within a yard of our boat. At length we turned towards the shore to which we rowed, meaning to yield ourselves up; but to our great surprise, the nearer we came to the shore the more did the Portuguese fire at us; and though the bullets fell thick about us we continued to advance till we got close under the castle wall, when we were out of danger from their cannon. We now determined to land in order to try the courtesy of the Portuguese, but were presently assailed by showers of stones from the castle: wall, and saw a number of negroes marching down to the beach with their darts and targets, some of them having bows and poisoned arrows. Their attack was very furious, partly from heavy stones falling into the boat which threatened to break holes in her bottom, as well as from flights of arrows which came whizzing about our ears, and even wounded some of us: Therefore being in desperation, we pushed off from the shore to return to sea, setting four of our men to row, while the other five determined to repay some part of the civility we had received, and immediately handled our fire-arms and bows. We employed these at first against the negroes on the beach, some of whom soon dropped; and then against the Portuguese who stood on the walls dressed in long white-shirts and linstocks in their hands, many of which were dyed red by means of the English arrows. We thus maintained our ground a long while, fighting at our leisure, regardless of the threats of the enemy, as we saw they had no gallies to send out to make us prisoners. When we had sufficiently revenged their want of hospitality, we rowed off, and though we knew that we must pass through another storm of bullets from the castle, we escaped without damage.

When we got out to sea, we saw three negroes rowing after us in an almadia, who came to inquire to what country we belonged, speaking good Portuguese. We told them we were Englishmen, and said we had brought wares to trade with them if they had not used us so ill. As the negroes inquired where our ship was, we said we had two at sea well equipped, which would soon come to the coast to trade for gold, and that we only waited their return. The negroes then pretended to be sorry for what had happened, and intreated us to remain where we were for that day, and promised to bring us whatever we were in want of. But placing no confidence in their words, we asked what place that was, and being answered that it was a Portuguese castle at the western head-land of Cape Three-points, we hoisted sail and put to sea, to look out for some more friendly place.

We now resolved to have no more reliance on the kindness of the Portuguese, of which we had thus sufficient experience, and to make trial of the hospitality of the negroes; for which purpose we sailed back about 30 leagues along the coast, and coming to anchor, some natives came off to the boat, to all of whom we gave presents. By this we won their hearts, and the news of such generous strangers being on the coast soon brought the kings son to our boat. On his arrival, I explained our sad case to him as well as I could by signs, endeavouring to make him understand that we were quite forlorn, having been abandoned by our ships, and being almost famished for want of food, offering him all the goods in our boat if he would take us under his protection and relieve our great distress. The negro chief was moved even to tears, and bid us be comforted. He went then on shore to know his fathers pleasure regarding us, and returning presently invited us to land. This was joyful news to us all, and we considered him as a bountiful benefactor raised up to us by the goodness of Providence. We accordingly fell to our oars in all haste to pull on shore, where at least 500 negroes were waiting our arrival; but on coming near shore the surf ran so high that the boat overset, on which the negroes plunged immediately into the water and brought us all safe on shore. They even preserved the boat and all that was in her, some swimming after the oars, and others diving for the goods that had sunk. After this they hauled the boat on shore and brought every thing that belonged to us, not daring to detain the most trifling article, so much were they in awe of the kings son, who was a stout and valiant man, and having many excellent endowments.

They now brought us such provisions as they used themselves, and being very hungry we fed heartily, the negroes all the while staring at us with much astonishment, as the common people are used to do in England at strange outlandish creatures. Notwithstanding all this apparent humanity and kindness, we were still under great apprehensions of the negroes, all of whom were armed with darts. That night we lay upon the ground among the negroes, but never once closed our eyes, tearing they might kill us while asleep. Yet we received no hurt from them, and for two days fared well; but finding the ships did not come for us, as they expected would soon have been the case, when likewise they looked to have had a large quantity of goods distributed among them in reward for their hospitality, they soon became weary of us; and after lessening our allowance from day to day, they at length left us to shift for ourselves. In this forlorn state, we had to range about the woods in search of fruits and roots, which last we had to dig from the ground with our fingers for want of any instruments. Hunger had quite abated the nicety of our palates, and we were glad to feed on every thing we could find that was eatable. Necessity soon reconciled us to going naked, for our clothes becoming rotten with our sweat fell from our backs by degrees, so that at length we had scarcely rags left to cover our nakedness. We were not only forced to provide ourselves in food, but had to find fuel and utensils to dress it. We made a pot of clay dried in the sun, in which we boiled our roots, and roasted the berries in the embers, feasting every evening on these varieties. At night we slept on the bare ground, making a great fire round us to scare away the wild beasts.

What with the entire change in our manner of living, and the heat and unhealthiness of the climate, our people sickened apace; and in a short time our original number of nine was reduced to three. To those who died it was a release from misery, but we who remained were rendered more forlorn and helpless than before. At length, when we had abandoned all hopes of relief, a French ship arrived on the coast, which took us on board and carried us to France, which was then at war with England, where we were detained prisoners.

A prisner therefore I remaine,

And hence I cannot slip

Till that my ransome be

Agreed upon and paid:

Which being levied yet so hie,

No agreement can be made.

And such is lo my chance,

The meane time to abide;

A prisner for ransome in France,

Till God send time and tide.

From whence this idle rime

To England I do send:

And thus, till I have further time,

This tragedie I end.

SECTION IX. Supplementary Account of the foregoing Voyage 285 | A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels, Vol.VII | SECTION XI. A Voyage to Guinea, in 1564:, by Captain David Carlet 289