Preserving History at The Golden Hinde

11th February 2019
Preserving History at The Golden Hinde

 As she approaches her 50th birthday, the reconstruction of The Golden Hinde is almost old enough to be considered a historic ship in her own right. Representing a milestone in naval architecture and with over 100,000 miles under her belt, her past is very nearly as rich and filled with adventure as that of Francis Drake's ship which circumnavigated the world over four hundred years ago.

Much like the reconstruction, the original ship became a museum once her life at sea was over. In fact, Drake's Golden Hinde was potentially the first museum ship in the world. She attracted visitors from all over the country who were excited to see the remarkable vessel which had not only sailed the circumference of the Earth, but also taken on the Spanish Empire in the New World and returned with unimaginable riches.

Yet, whilst the voyage of the Golden Hinde clearly captured the imagination of the Elizabethans, little was done to ensure her upkeep. By the mid-1600s, just over half a century after she sailed down the Thames laden with Spanish silver, the Hinde had largely succumbed to rot and was broken up. Some of her best timbers were made into a chair which is now in the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, and it is reputed that a table in Middle Temple Hall is also made out of wood from Drake's cabin. Apart from these small pieces of furniture, nothing of the ship survives.

It is easy to be frustrated that such a valuable piece of maritime history was not preserved. Surprisingly little is known about the ship, not least due to the high level of secrecy which surrounded Drake's mission which resulted in so many of the documents surrounding her voyage being hidden away, conveniently lost or destroyed. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in Elizabethan and Stuart England, as now, preservation was expensive and time consuming. Perhaps it was argued that funds and expertise were better directed towards preparing ships for the future, rather than maintaining a relic from the past.

Those people involved in the reconstruction of The Golden Hinde in the early 1970s felt differently, and were driven by a desire to capture something of the lost ship. But now, as the quinquagenary of her launch approaches and the effects of a life at sea begin to show, it is important that we turn an eye to her preservation so that she doesn't suffer a similar fate to the ship that inspired her.

Anyone who has visited the reconstructed Golden Hinde over the past year will have noticed the major restoration project currently underway. Wooden ships need regular maintenance and care to counter-act the effects of rot, and therefore much of the hull, rigging and deck of The Golden Hinde needs to be replaced or restored. It's a massive project, but one that ensures that she will continue to delight visitors for another 50 years.

However, the history of the reconstructed Golden Hinde is not only contained in the wood, rope and sailcloth of the ship herself, but in the experiences of the people who sailed her throughout the 1970s and 1980s. A vital part of our work at The Golden Hinde is collecting, collating and eventually sharing both the accounts of the shipwrights who built her and the stories of those sailors who stepped back in time to circumnavigate the world.

Learning about their experiences is not only fascinating in its own right, but it also helps us colour our understanding of what life might have been like for Drake and his crew during their circumnavigation in the 1570s. From our dry-dock in London, we can only imagine what it was like to battle a storm in the Pacific Ocean in an Elizabethan Galleon, whereas the crew of the reconstruction have first hand experience. We can understand in theory how an Elizabethan sailor navigated by the sun and stars with a cross-staff on a rocking half-deck, but there is so much to discover in talking to someone who has attempted it themselves. Preserving this knowledge in an archive is just as important as the upkeep of the physical ship.

The reconstructed Golden Hinde is a museum of two histories, four hundred years apart. The history of Drake's ship and the 1577-80 circumnavigation, but also its own history and the voyages of the 1970s and 80s. The ongoing preservation work will allow her to tell both stories for many years to come.

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