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Thomas Cavendish

Updated on December 01, 2016

Thomas Cavendish (1560-1592) was an English buccaneer and the third circumnavigator of the globe. He was born near Harwich, in southeastern England. Having squandered his inheritance at court, Cavendish hoped to recoup his losses by highjacking the treasure ships streaming from America to Spain. In 1585 he joined Sir Richard Grenville's expedition to establish a colony in North America. But Cavendish did not remain with the unlucky men who settled on Roanoke Island. Instead, he returned to England, where he made preparations for a voyage around the world.

On July 21, 1586, his fleet of three ships put out from Plymouth. Generally following Sir Francis Drake's route of 1577-1580, the fleet dropped down to the Cape Verde Islands before heading west. For almost six weeks the ships battled the wild seas of the South Atlantic before they passed into the Pacific. Here the English managed to destroy six Spanish vessels, including one with cargo worth £,20,000. Then, on November 4, 1587, they captured the Great St. Anne with an enormous treasure. When they had taken what they could, the captors anxiously set out for home. They arrived on September 10, 1588, having taken some seven months less time than either Magellan or Drake.

Although the trip reestablished Cavendish's fortunes, the cost of life at court soon dissipated them. In 1591 he sailed with five vessels for China. But bad luck haunted the voyage from the start, the crew refused to go on, and Cavendish died at sea in June 1592.

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