John Hawkins

From Academic Kids

Sir John Hawkins , also spelled as John Hawkyns, (1532November 12, 1595) was an English merchant, navigator and slave trader.

Hawkins was born in Plymouth, the son of William Hawkins (a confidant of Henry VIII of England). He led extremely profitable expeditions on the west African coast to capture slaves. Hawkins was actually the first English slave trader. He led the first expedition to acquire African slaves in 1562. The trade went on for 245 years until abolished by Parliament in 1807.

Hawkins made good profit out of removing the natives from Africa to the Spanish ports in the West Indies. He argued that by removing them from Africa, they were safe from the ravages of Pagan sacrifice, to which they might have otherwise been offered up, as was common in those times.

"We know to what the slave trade grew. We have all learnt to repent of the share, which England had in it, and to abhor everyone whose hands were stained by contact with so accursed a business. ~ I do not suppose Hawkins thought much of saving (his captors) souls, he saw an opportunity of extending his business among a people with whom he was already largely connected. The traffic was established (and) it had the sanction of the Church. No objection had (yet) been raised to it anywhere on the score of morality". ~(Froude)

His involvement with this trade almost ruined him, but as Froude points out: "we have no right to heap violent censures upon him, because he was no more enlightened than the wisest of his contemporaries."

From amongst the leading citizens of London, Hawkins then formed an African company for this undertaking. The three vessels he had fitted out as Commander and part owner were named the 'Solomon', the 'Swallow' and the 'Jonas.' The expedition set sail in October of 1562. Although Cecil disliked such semi-piratical enterprises, Queen Elizabeth I, in need of money saw matters in a different light, encouraging the adventurous disposition of her subjects, whom she saw as fighting the States battles at their own cost and risk.

Hawkins pretended to betray Elizabeth in 1571 by offering his services to the Spanish, in order to obtain the release of prisoners and to discover plans for the proposed Spanish invasion of England.

He was to abandon seafaring around 1569 after a final and abortive mission for the slave trade, when the year before, whilst on what was then a floating antique, still retained by the Queen; the 'Jesus of Lubeck,' he had been captured, with the carrack, a sitting target for the Spaniards at San Juan de Ulloa.

It has been said that this event set him upon his urgent reforms of Naval administration and architecture.

Hawkins made important improvements in ship construction and rigging, he is less well known for his inventiveness as a shipwright, but it was his idea to add to the caulker's work by the finishing touch of 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 would attack a ship in tropical seas. Hawkins also introduced detachable topmasts that could be housed in good weather and hoisted in heavy seas.

In 1571 Hawkins entered Parliament and became treasurer (1573 - 1589) and controller of the navy.

In the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), Hawkins commanded the HMS Victory and was knighted for his services.

In 1595 he accompanied his cousin and former apprentice Francis Drake on a treasure-hunting voyage to the West Indies, during which he died at sea off Puerto Rico.

Hawkins's Navy.

So run down and out of date had the navy become during the latter years of the reign of Elizabeth, that when Hawkins assumed control over the Naval Board, so far reaching were the consequences of his renovations, that those who thought themselves his betters, and who had been put out of pocket by his careful regulation of the 'Pipe Office' accounts, (funds intended for the renovation and refitting of naval vessels, but that were finding their way into private purses), sought a voice to air there grievances.

It was the then ageing Sir William Wynter, who had previously sent Hawkins on a voyage to the other side of the globe in the 'Jesus of Lubeck', even then an ancient ship, who wrote in a letter to Lord Burghley; 'He careth not to whom he speaketh, nor what he sayeth, blushe he will not' protesting that the ships in Hawkins charge were rotten and un~seaworthy. It was finally in 1583 that a Royal Commission was assembled to deal with the situation, composed of men like Raleigh, Frobisher and Drake, Hawkins was vindicated, and the allegations against him dismissed.

Hawkins is reported as a man who stuck to his business, and by avoiding politics, he was able to trade with Spanish ports without offending the Holy Office and thus formed intimacies and connections with the Canary Islands especially, where it is said "he grew much in love and favour with the people".

Despite the ongoing feuds between prominent families engaged in boat building, principally (Baker and Pett) John 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, and so petitioned and won a pay increase for his sailors, arguing that a smaller number of well motivated better paid men would achieve substantially more than a larger group of disinterested men.


  • Hazlewood, Nick. "The Queen's Slave Trader: John Hawkyns, Elizabeth I, and the Trafficking in Human Souls." HarperCollins Books, New York, 2004. ISBN 0-06-621089-5.

Preceded by:
Benjamin Gonson
Treasurer of the Navy
(jointly with Benjamin Gonson, 1577)
Succeeded by:
Fulk Greville

Template:End boxde:John Hawkins zh:约翰霍金斯


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