John Hawkins
History's John Hawkins
Biographical Information
Real Name: John Hawkins
Title: Sir John Hawkins

Treasurer of the Royal Navy
Captain General
Captain Hawkins
Naval Commander

Born: 1532
Death: 12 November 1595
Age: 63
Gender: Male
Originally From: Plymouth, England
Parents: William Hawkins (Father)

Joan Trelawny (Mother)

Wife: Katherine Gonson
Family: William Hawkins (Brother)

Francis Drake (2nd Couisin)

Children: Richard Hawkins
Affiliations: Kingdom of England

Queen Elizabeth

COD: Disease
Burial: Buried at Sea
TV Character Information
First appearance: Unchartered Waters
Portrays: John Hawkins
Portrayed by: Max Llyod-Jones

Admiral Sir John Hawkins was an English naval commander and administrator, merchant, navigator, shipbuilder, privateer and slave trader. His elder brother and trading partner was William Hawkins. He was considered the first English trader to profit from the Triangle Trade, based on selling supplies to colonies ill-supplied by their home countries, and their demand for African slaves in the Spanish colonies in the late 16th century. He styled himself "Captain General" of the English Royal Navy and to distinguish himself from those Admirals that served only in the administrative sense and were not military in nature. His deat, heralded the decline of the Royal Navy for decades before its recovery.

As treasurer and comptroller of the Royal Navy, Hawkins rebuilt older ships and helped design the faster ships that withstood the Spanish Armada. One of the foremost seamen of 16th-century England, Hawkins was the chief architect of the Elizabethan navy.

Early LifeEdit

John Hawkins was born to a prominent family in Plymouth in the county of Devon. He was the second son of William Hawkins and Joan Trelawny. William Hawkins was a merchant, shipowner and sea Captain who successfully avoided permanent entanglement with either of the religious factions in the English Reformation, serving in Parliament under both King Henry VIII and Queen Mary. William was especially well known in the court of Henry VIII as one of the principal sea captains, dating from his voyage to The New World in about 1527, a first for an Englishman. The young John and his older brother grew up following their father's trade.

John Hawkins's letters and memoranda suggest that he was not well educated. Before he reached the age of twenty, he had slain a man named White from Plymouth in a tavern fight but secured a royal pardon as it was determined it was in self-defense. White was adjudged the aggressor by a coroner's inquest.

Hawkins is thought to have done some services as a young man for the ambassadors from Spain, who negotiated the marriage of Queen Mary of England and King Philip II of Spain. The Spanish claim that Hawkins was personally knighted by the King for this service. (Unconfirmed). Hawkins was known to have referred frequently to King Philip as "my old master".

In 1555 John Lok brought five men from present-day Ghana back to England from a trading voyage to Guinea. William Towerson was a second London trader who brought Africans to England at that time, landing at Plymouth following his 1557 and 1569 voyages to Africa. However, Hawkins is considered to be the pioneer of the British slave trade, as in 1562 he was the first to run the Triangular trade to the Spanish colonies in the Americas, and making a profit at every stop. Hawkins married Katherine Gonson, daughter of the Navy Treasurer, Capt. Benjamin Gonson.


First Voyages - 1562–1563
Hawkins formed a syndicate of wealthy merchants to invest in trade. In 1562, he set sail with three ships for the Caribbean via Sierra Leone. They hijacked a Portuguese slave ship and traded the 301 slaves in the Caribbean islands. Despite having two ships seized by the Spanish authorities, he sold the slaves in Santo Domingo and gained a profit for his London investors. His voyage caused the Spanish to ban all English ships from trading in their West Indies colonies.

Second Voyage - 1564–1565
In 1564, Queen Elizabeth I invested in Hawkins by leasing the old 700-ton ship Jesus of Lübeck, on which he set forth on a more extensive voyage, along with three small ships. Hawkins sailed with his second cousin, Sir Francis Drake, to the west African coast, privateering along the way. By the time he left, he carried African slaves; 400 survived when he reached Borburata on the western Venezuelan coast to trade as slaves.

The Spanish liked to keep a monopoly on trade, but Hawkins was allowed to trade slaves on the condition he pay 7.5% of the The Borburata governor, submitted a report in which the transaction was recorded as legitimate. After Hawkins traded at all Venezuelan ports and Rio de la Hacha, with advantageous returns, he was awarded a certificate of good behavior.

After trading at Borburata, Hawkins sailed to Riohacha. The officials tried to prevent Hawkins from selling the slaves by imposing taxes. Captain Hawkins refused to pay the taxes and threatened to burn the towns.

After completing his business, Captain Hawkins prepared to return to England. Needing water, he sailed to the French colony in Florida. Finding them in need, he traded his smallest ship and a quantity of provisions to them for cannon, powder, and shot that they no longer needed as they were preparing to return to France. The provisions gained from Hawkins enabled the French to survive and prepare to move back home as soon as possible. Captain Hawkins returned to England in September 1566; his expedition was considered a total success as his financiers made a 60% profit.

Third voyages - 1567–1569
His third voyage began in 1567. Hawkins and Drake obtained more slaves from traders in Africa, and augmented the cargo by capturing the Portuguese slave ship and its human cargo. He took about 400 slaves across the Atlantic on the third trip to sell in Santo Domingo, Margarita island and Borburata.

At San Juan de Ulúa, he encountered a strong Spanish force, which had arrived to potentially put down a Mexican independence movement. By edict of 16 June 1567, King Philip II of Spain had ordered an investigative commission to study rumors of a Mexican movement to gain independence from the Spanish Crown.

In the ensuing Battle of San Juan de Ulúa, the Spanish destroyed all but two of the English ships. Hawkins' voyage home was a miserable one. Hawkins' gunner, Job Hartop, had an equally difficult time returning to England and did not succeed for many years.

Although his first three voyages were semi-piratical enterprises, Queen Elizabeth I needed their revenues. She considered the pirates to be fighting her battles with Spain and Portugal at their own cost and risk.

Hawkins wrote about his third voyage in detail in A True Declaration of the Troublesome Voyadge of M. John Haukins He noted that trading and raiding were closely related in the English slave trade, and European success in the trade directly depended on African allies. He also commented on the amount of violence he and his men used to secure the captives and force their submission.

Later in LifeEdit

As part of the English government's web of counter-espionage, Hawkins pretended to be part of The Ridolfi Plot to betray Queen Elizabeth I in 1571. By gaining the confidence of Spain's ambassador to England, he learned the details of the conspiracy and notified the government to arrest the plotters. He offered his services to the Spanish, in order to obtain the release of prisoners of war and to discover plans for the proposed Spanish invasion of England.

His help in foiling the plot was rewarded. In 1571 Hawkins entered Parliament as MP for Plymouth. He was appointed as Treasurer of the Royal Navy on 1 January 1578, following the death of his predecessor, his own father-in-law Benjamin Gonson.

Hawkins' financial reforms of the Navy upset many who had vested interests. In 1582 his rival Sir William Wynter accused him of administrative malfeasance, instigating a royal commission on fraud against him. The commission, under William Cecil, concluded that there was no undue corruption and that the Queen's Navy was in first-rate condition.

Hawkins was determined that his navy, as well as having the best fleet of ships in the world, would also have the best quality of seamen. He petitioned and won a pay increase for sailors, arguing that a smaller number of well-motivated and better-paid men would be more effective than a larger group of uninterested men.

Hawkins made important improvements in ship construction and rigging. He is less well known for his inventiveness as a shipwright than for his management. His innovations included sheathing the underside of his ships with a skin of nailed elm planks sealed with a combination of pitch and hair smeared over the bottom timbers, as a protection against the worms which attacked the wooden hulls in tropical seas. Hawkins also introduced detachable topmasts; they could be hoisted and used in good weather and stored in heavy seas. Masts were stepped further forward, and sails were cut flatter. His ships were "race-built", being longer and with forecastle and aftcastle greatly reduced in size.

The Spanish Armada in 1588
John Hawkins' innovative measures made the new England ships fast and highly maneuverable. In 1588 they were tested against the Spanish Armada. Hawkins was the Rear Admiral, one of three main commanders of the English fleet against the Armada. Hawkins’ flagship was Victory, and received a battlefield knighthood on behalf of Queen Elizabeth.

After the defeat of the Armada, Hawkins urged the seizure of King Philip II's colonial treasure, in order to stop Spain re-arming. In 1589, Hawkins sailed with Sir Francis Drake in a massive military operation. One of its goals was to try to intercept the Spanish treasure ships departing from Mexico. One decisive action might have forced Philip II to the negotiating table and avoided fourteen years of continuing warfare. Instead, the voyage failed and the King was able to use the brief respite to rebuild his naval forces and by the end of 1589 Spain once again had an Atlantic fleet strong enough to escort the American treasure ships home. Despite this failure, the idea led many other English pirates to make similar attempts and others were successful.

In 1590 Drake and Hawkins founded a charity for the relief of sick and elderly mariners. In 1592, they founded a hospital to care for mariners, and a second in 1594 in Chatham; the hospital was named for Hawkins. The charity continues today, and the terms of the Elizabethan Charter have been broadened. Rochester may be granted by the Governors to a needy or disabled man or woman who has served in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, WRNS, Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, or who has been employed in the Royal Dockyards of RN vessels. Under the broader charter, persons who served in the Merchant Navy, the Army, or the Royal Air Force, or who saw active service in the Reserve Forces, may apply. The spouses or dependents of those named above may also be considered.

Historians have noted that Hawkins his crew were some of the first travelers from Europe to observe tobacco use in the Americas during their voyages in 1562. He and his men brought back both the leaves and the practice of smoking to England in 1565, though the practice did not gain in popularity until years after.


In 1595 Hawkins accompanied his second cousin Sir Francis Drake on a treasure-hunting voyage to the West Indies. They twice attacked in Puerto Rico, but could not defeat its defenses. During the voyage, they both fell sick. Hawkins died at sea off Puerto Rico. Drake succumbed to disease, on 27 January. He was buried at sea somewhere off the coast of Portobelo in Panama. Hawkins was succeeded by his son Sir Richard Hawkins.


  • His father was a ship owner and sea Captain, serving in Parliament under King Henry VIII and Queen Mary.
  • John Hawkins is believed to have been an ambassador for Spain, who negotiated the marriage between Queen Mary of England and King Philip II of Spain.
  • Personally knighted by King Philip II for that service. He'd often refer to King Philip as "my old master".
  • John Hawkins and his crew were some of the first travelers from Europe to observe tobacco use in the Americas during their voyages in 1562
  • His first voyages was from 1562–1563 to the Caribbean.
  • His second voyage was from 1564–1565 to the west African coast.
  • His third voyages was from 1567–1569 to Africa
  • Saved Queen Elizabeth life by pretended to be part of the Ridolfi Plot in 1571.
  • In 1590 Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins founded a charity for the relief of sick and elderly mariners.

Historical Figure

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