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Document Number: AJ-030
Author: Sparke, John
Title: The Voyage Made by M. John Hawkins Esquire, 1565
Source: Burrage, Henry S. (editor). Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). Pages 113-132.
Pages/Illustrations: 22 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

John Sparke came from a genteel family in Plymouth, England, but we know little of his life beyond the information included in his account of John Hawkins’ second voyage to the Spanish colonies. Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) started his career in the slave trade in the early 1560s, when he became the first Englishman to kidnap Africans and carry them to the West Indies.

Hawkins’s Expedition of 1584-1585

Hawkins left England October 18, 1564, and returned September 20, 1565. This was his second voyage seeking to earn a profit by selling African slaves to the Spanish settlements of the New World. Supported in his efforts by Queen Elizabeth I, Hawkins wished to challenge Spain’s monopoly on the North Atlantic slave trade. Like his first trip, this voyage was extremely profitable, and led to the permanent establishment of the English slave trade between Africa and the West Indies.

Sparke reported on both social events and the environment he encountered. His account of the expedition provided English readers with their first knowledge of Florida’s inhabitants, flora, and fauna. Sparke filled his narrative with exciting and sometimes fabulous accounts, including descriptions of rattlesnakes, unicorn horns, man-eating crocodiles, and Spaniards flayed by Indians. His florid accounts, combined with news of gold, silver, and other valuable commodities the Hawkins voyage brought home, encouraged more English commercial expeditions to the Spanish colonies. Historians continue to value this text not only for its detailed descriptions but also for the way Sparke’s approach influenced later reporting of voyages.

While we do not know Sparke’s fate after the voyage, John Hawkins became an influential member of the British House of Commons in the 1570s and financed many later expeditions, including those of Sir Francis Drake. He aided in the reform of the English navy by replacing traditional galleons with speedier ships that could out-maneuver the Spanish fleet. In 1595, aged sixty-three, he sailed to South America with Drake and died on board.

Document Note

The edition presented here comes from Burrage’s Early English and French Voyages (1906), which, in turn, was taken from an 1878 Hakluyt Society reprint of an earlier edition of unknown date and origin.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

See the National Maritime Museum web site for portraits of Hawkins at ic0103z&flash=true&dev=

Britain’s Channel 4 history web site on pirates contains a useful biography of Hawkins at pirates1.html

We have included here accounts of Hawkins’ second and third voyages. For an excerpt from a report on Hawkins’ first voyage (from Donnan, Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade, vol. 1, pp. 44-47; originally published as The First Voyage of John Hawkins, 1562-1563), see

Harry Kelsey's Sir John Hawkins: Queen Elizabeth’s Slave Trader (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) is the standard modern biography.

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