Hakluyt Society Essay Prize 2020 (DEADLINE: 30 November 2019)

Submissions are invited for the annual Hakluyt Society Essay Prize with an award (or more than one, if the judges so decide) up to a total of £1,000. The competition is open to any registered graduate student at a higher education institution (a university of equivalent) or to anyone who has been awarded a graduate degree in the past three years. The DEADLINE for submissions is 30 November 2019.

The prize or prizes for 2020 will be presented, if possible, at the Hakluyt Society’s Annual General Meeting in London in June 2020. Winners will also receive a one-year membership of the Hakluyt Society. The Society hopes that the winning essay will be published, either in the Society’s online journal or in a recognised academic journal.

Prizewinners will be invited to present a paper on the topic of their essay at a Hakluyt Society Symposium (in which case travel expenses within the UK will be reimbursed) and to contribute to the Hakluyt Society blog.

The winner of the 2019 Essay Prize was James Taylor. You can read about his winning essay here. Joint winners of the 2018 Essay Prize were Darren Smith (University of Sydney) and Whitney Robles (Harvard University). Previous winners include Owain Lawson (2015), Nailya Shamgunova (2016), and Annemarie Mclaren (2017). You can read about their winning essays herehere and here.


– Join the Hakluyt Society on www.hakluyt.com

Eligibility criteria

The competition is open to any registered graduate student at a higher education institution (a university or equivalent) or to anyone who has been awarded a graduate degree in the past three years. Proof of student status or of the date of a degree must accompany any submission. Allowance can be made for maternity leave.

Scope and subject matter

Before considering the submission of an essay, entrants should visit the Hakluyt Society’s web-site (www.hakluyt.com) to make themselves aware of the object of the Society and the scope and nature of its publications. Essays should be based on original research in any discipline in the humanities or social sciences, and on an aspect of the history of travel, exploration and cultural encounter or their effects, in the tradition of the work of the Society.

Essays should be in English (except for such citations in languages other than English as may appear in footnotes or endnotes) and between 6,000 and 8,000 words in length (including notes, excluding bibliography). Illustrations, diagrams and tables essential to the text fall outside the word count. Submissions should be unpublished, and not currently in press, in production or under review elsewhere.

Submission procedures and deadline

Essays should be submitted as email attachments in Word.doc format to The Administrator at office@hakluyt.com by 30 November 2019. The entrant’s name, address (including preferred email address), institutional affiliation (if any, with date of admission), and degrees (if any, with dates of conferment) should appear within the body of the email, together with a note of the title of the submitted essay. The subject line of the email should include the words ‘HAKLUYT SOCIETY ESSAY PRIZE’ and the author’s name. By submitting an essay, an entrant certifies that it is the entrant’s own original work.

Selection procedure

The Judging Panel encourages innovative submissions that make an important contribution to knowledge, or a critical or methodological contribution to scholarship. The panel and selected reviewers will pay attention to the analytical rigour, originality, wider significance, depth and scope of the work, as well as to style and presentation. The panel comprises selected academic faculty from among past and present members of the Hakluyt Society’s Council, including the editorial board of The Journal of the Hakluyt Society.

The Prize Committee reserves the right not to award a prize, if no submission is judged to be of sufficient merit. The Committee’s decision will be announced in April 2020.

NOTE: Prize winners agree to acknowledge the receipt of their award in any future publication of the prize essay. In addition, they will be expected to contribute to the Society’s public dissemination as appropriate. This may include, but is not limited to, presenting a paper at a Hakluyt Society symposium (in which case travel expenses within the UK will be reimbursed) and contributing to the Hakluyt Society blog.

@HakluytSociety – Become a member at www.hakluyt.com

Music-making, Hakluyt and Early Modern Travel Knowledge

Presenting a different perspective on early-modern knowledge of travel and trade, Dr Katie Bank highlights how descriptions of exploration, new lands, and luxury goods could be mediated to audiences through music and song. Her work sheds fascinating new light on the transfer of knowledge about far away lands, exotic explorations, and the use of Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations as a source for musical content.


Thomas Weelkes’s (1576-1623) anonymously-authored bipartite madrigal for six voices, “Thule, the period of cosmographie” (1600), paints a scene of strange spectacle complete with merchants from far off places, ‘flying fishes’, treasures and goods from abroad, foreign islands, exotic volcanoes and other wonders of exploration of the known world

Thule, the period of Cosmographie,
Doth vaunt of Hecla, whose sulphureous fire
Doth melt the frozen Clime, and thaw the Skie;
Trinacrian Ætna’s flames ascend not higher:
These things seem wondrous, yet more wondrous I,
Whose hart with feare doth freeze, with love doth fry.

The Andalusian Merchant, that returnes
Laden with cutchinele and China dishes,
Reports in Spaine how strangely Fogo burnes
Amidst an Ocean full of flying fishes:
These things seem wondrous, yet more wondrous I,
Whose hart with feare doth freeze, with love doth fry.

Thomas Weelkes, Madrigals of 5. And 6. Parts apt for viols and voices
(London, 1600), sig. D2r.
thule CANTUS
Fig.1 Weelkes’s “Thule, the period of cosmographie” (1600), Cantus

Music and music making were a daily part of life for early modern English people. One can imagine that in the household of Weelkes’s patron, Sir George Brooke (1586-1603), recreational music would have been played and sung alongside political chat, literary discussion, games, exchange about current events, wine drinking, and general banter. Brooke’s close social and familial circles included important courtly figures, like politician Robert Cecil (1563-1612) and Walter Raleigh (c.1562-1618), who may have been included in these types of evening entertainments.

I believe that the inspiration for Weelkes’s song text is Richard Hakluyt’s The Principal Navigations, as every image described in the text is accounted for in Hakluyt’s edition. Hecla and Ætna are mentioned dozens of times individually within Hakluyt’s greater work, but this passage makes a direct comparison between the two volcanoes: “[t]here is Hecla a mountaine in Island, which burneth like unto Ætna at certain seasons” (Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, 1598-1600, sig.Aaa6v). The equivalent section in Latin states that Ætna is in Sicily. Hecla is described as having a “frozen top, and the firie bottome” and the author remarks that it is “no marvelle that fire lurking so deep in the roots of a mountaine, and never breaking forth except it be very seldome, should not be able continually to melt the snow covering the toppe of the sayd mountayne” (Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, sig.Aaa3r). Another writer mentioned Hecla and described Icelanders as inhabiting “frozen clime” (Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, sig.Ccc3v).

Naturally, Hakluyt’s collection mentions “Andaluzia” many times as a busy port and discusses the activities of Spanish merchants thoroughly. Another of Hakluyt’s accounts describes the capture of a foreign ship that had recently returned from the New World: “[t]his ship was of some three or foure hundred tunnes, and had in her … sixe chests of Cochinell, every chest houlding one hundred pound weight, and every pound worth sixe and twentie shillings and eight pence, and certaine chests of Sugar and China dishes, with some plate and silver” (Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, sig.Ooo4v).

Similarly, in an account of volcano ‘Fogo, so called, because it casteth continually flames of fire and smoake out of the top thereof, all the whole island being one high mountaine’, the writer also describes nearby sea life on the same page:

Here we saw flying fishes in great abundance, some a foote long, some lesse. Their fynnes wherewith they flye be as long as their bodies. They be greatly pursued by the Dolphine and Bonitoes, whom as soone as the flying fishes espie, immediatly they mount out of the sea in great numbers, and fly as long as their fynnes continue moyst: and when they bee dry, they fall downe into the sea againe.

Hakluyt, Principal Navigations (1599-1600), sig.Rrr2v.

In both Fogo/flying fish and with cochineal/China dishes, it is the proximity of the images on the page that make Hakluyt a convincing possible source for the poem’s imagery.

In his dedication to Robert Cecil, Hakluyt wrote that the “sweet studie of the historie of Cosmographie,” was the current limit of the mappable universe. Yet as Seneca predicted, one day the known world would expand, and the “yle of Thule would no more be the uttermost limite of the earth” (Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, sig.A2r-A3v). In a sense, this madrigal’s text and setting fulfils Seneca’s prediction by redirecting wondrous exploration of the external world towards the mysterious frontier of selfhood with the repeated couplet at the end of each stanza. By exploring the reaches of the earth, we are forced to explore ourselves and our place in it.


Dr. Katie Bank is a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar at the Newberry Library and early career researcher in musicology.

Gift-giving in early modern European encounters with Southeast Asia

James Taylor, winner of the 2019 Hakluyt Society Essay Prize, gives us an insight into the nuances of gift-giving in encounters between early modern Europeans and Southeast Asians, with a extract from his prize-winning essay.


From the earliest European contact with Southeast Asia through to the era of ‘high imperialism’, the process of gift-giving sits at the fulcrum of a dynamic relationship; it is an instance of continuity apparent through several centuries of dramatic change over the course of which rough-and-ready trade deals came to be replaced by fully functioning imperial hegemony.

My research has addressed two broad questions: what role did the gift play in this context and what can be learnt from examining this area of history through the lens of reciprocal gift exchange rather than within the conceptual framework of an ‘age of commerce’?

The role of the gift

Initial encounters between European traders and Southeast Asians relied on gift exchange as a means of establishing basic mutual goodwill. During a brief stop at a supposedly uninhabited island in the Philippines in March 1521, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew were approached by a group of ten Filipinos in a boat, curious to discover the identity of their foreign visitors. Neither party could know the others’ intentions, whether they were friendly or hostile, stronger or weaker, nor could they vocally communicate these things to one another without chancing potentially serious misunderstanding. In the event, Antonio Pigafetta’s account tells us, ‘the captain … seeing that these people were reasonable’ gave them an assortment of small goods, and in return, ‘when these people saw the politeness of the captain … presented some fish, and a vessel of palm wine’.

First contact between parties that were largely if not entirely ignorant of one another’s social customs and backgrounds would often unfold like this. The exchange of gifts, however makeshift, served to establish a working equality between unfamiliar parties and created a platform of communication that defied language barriers. The gifts given in such situations were typically improvised and unceremonious; moments of on-the-spot reciprocity that conveyed basic but crucial messages of mutual respect and a willingness to cooperate.

Gift-giving took on additional meaning as relationships between Europeans and Southeast Asians became more established. Against the backdrop of growing European influence in the region during the seventeenth century, Southeast Asian rulers’ gifting became more noticeably orientated around those rulers asserting their dominance.

In a rather gruesome account, the English trader Thomas Bowrey describes watching the baiting and capturing of what was probably a black panther. The Raja of Janselone, noticing that Bowrey was impressed by the animal’s teeth, ordered his soldiers to knock them out and gave one to Bowrey as a gift. This presentation can be seen as the final act of an elaborate and highly symbolic spectacle, intended to demonstrate to foreigners the Raja’s mastery over the predators and threats of his world. The final, impulsive order given by the Raja to have the panther’s teeth put out and for one to be presented to Bowrey seems intended to shock him with the Raja’s readiness and freedom to manipulate the wild world according to his will.

Ambonese chiefs James Taylor
‘Tokens for Ambonese chiefs’, Zandvliet, The Dutch encounter with Asia, 1500-1950, plate 59, p. 117

As the imperial presence of the Dutch and English became more firmly established in the region through the expanding operations of their trading companies, the gift remained important, but its usage became more sophisticated. In 1620, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) presented medals (above) to Ambonese orangkayas (wealthy merchants or gentlemen) and princes whose design – engraved with a fleet of cora-cora on one side and the Dutch lion on the other – epitomised the Dutch effort to adopt Southeast Asian cultural symbolism in order to acquire legitimacy for their growing political and commercial influence.

At the end of the seventeenth century, moreover, these objects were still owned by the descendants of their original recipients. They were meant as lasting physical embodiments of the pact of friendship the Ambonese orangkayas had made with the VOC, and in this sense they reflect the Company’s impressive recognition of the significance of diplomatic gifts to Southeast Asians – symbols of the personal and of intangible bonds of loyalty rather than utilitarian or saleable objects.


As late as the mid-nineteenth century, Munshi Abdullah describes an elaborate presentation of a state sword (above) to the Temenggong of Johor in 1846 for help given to the colonial government. At the ceremony, the British Governor William Butterworth delivered a speech heavily laden with warnings to Asian peoples who might oppose the will of the British Company.

After receiving the sword, Abdullah tells us, the Temenggong ‘became all the more devoted and loyal.’ His loyalty became so great that he apparently ‘submitted entirely to the governor’s wishes and obeyed the directions of the government in all matters.’ Gift-giving seems to have served Europeans as a tool to socially elevate those who were compliant with their wishes; a strategy of divide and rule masked by a discourse of diplomacy that was reassuringly familiar to Southeast Asian subjects. Indeed, although the presentation of the sword to the Temenggong was organised by the British colonial administration, they allowed the ceremonial trappings of Southeast Asian gift-giving (quite literally) to surround the event – music played as girls danced in the Malay fashion ‘and in the style of Kelatan’ before the gathered crowd.

Gift-giving as a lens

Examining moments of gift-giving is important because it reveals significant differences between European and Southeast Asian aims, interests and discourses of diplomacy in the early modern period. Most apparent from my research has been the contrast between the personal and impersonal diplomatic approaches of Southeast Asians and Europeans respectively.

Many Europeans’ predominantly commercial interests in the region were not shared with such gusto by Southeast Asians, whose priorities were more concerned with forging political alliances that were often contingent on a personal bond with the particular explorer or trader who appeared before them.

Rather than a uniform ‘age of commerce’, then, the themes of engagement on which inter-cultural relationships were predicated in this era are highly nuanced. Accordingly, gift-giving proved to be an indispensable tool in mollifying potentially obstructive differences and enabling cooperation.

James Taylor is a graduate student at City, University of London and winner of the Hakluyt Society Essay Prize 2019. His essay, ‘Gift-giving, Reciprocity and the Negotiation of Power, c.1500-1824’, considers the role of gift-giving as an indispensable and ongoing process that facilitated inter-cultural interactions between European traders and Southeast Asian rulers throughout the early modern period. He will present his research in more detail at the Society’s Annual Symposium in Leiden this September.

Hakluyt Society Symposium 2019: Registration now open!

Registration for the upcoming Hakluyt Society Symposium: ‘Rethinking Power in Maritime Encounters, 1400-1900’ is now open!

Date: 5-6 September 2019

LocationP.J. Veth, Nonnensteeg 1-3, 2311 VJ Leiden. Room 1.01.

Please register via this link before 1 September 2019. The full registration fee is €50. The fee for Hakluyt Society Members and Linschoten-Vereeniging members is €25. Lunch and tea/coffee will be provided on both days. Hakluyt Society Student Members attend the symposium for free, and should register by emailing hakluytleiden2019@gmail.com (please include your membership number in your email). To become a Hakluyt Society (student) member, follow the instructions here.

Practical information

If you need accommodation in Leiden during the symposium, we can offer a special conference rate of 85 euros per night, including WIFI and breakfast, at the IBIS hotel. This hotel is located close to the railway station and is a 10-15 minute walk from the symposium venue. For those who want to go local, the hotel also rents out bikes for the duration of your stay! We advise contacting the hotel early with your travel plans. Please book by email (h8087@accor.com) with “Universiteit Leiden” in the subject line, stating that you are booking for the symposium.

The conference will be held in the University’s recently restored P.J. Veth building overlooking the Botanical Gardens. The botanical gardens are the oldest in The Netherlands (1590) and we do encourage attendees to take a quick tour over one of the lunch breaks. All breaks will be on site; the drinks receptions and the conference dinner will be within easy walking distance from the venue. If you have any mobility or dietary concerns, or any other questions, please  do get in touch via hakluytleiden@gmail.com.


Find the full programme here.

We look forward to welcoming you in Leiden!

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CALL FOR PAPERS: Captain Cook After 250 Years

‘Captain Cook after 250 years: Re-exploring The Voyages of James Cook’

An International Conference on Captain James Cook’s voyages (1768-1779)
Organised by the SELVA, the Hakluyt Society, HDEA and VALE, supported by LARCA
7-8 February 2020
Sorbonne Université


Call for papers

Welcoming the presence of Captain James Cook’s voyages (1768-1779) on the syllabus for the French competitive exam of the agrégation in 2020, the SELVA (Society for the study of Anglophone travel literature), the Hakluyt Society (editor of primary records of historic voyages, travels and other geographical material), HDEA (Histoire et Dynamique des Espaces Anglophones, EA 4086), and VALE (Voix Anglophones: Littérature et Esthétique, EA 4085) will be organising, with the support of LARCA (UMR 8225, CNRS, University of Paris Dideerot) an international conference to be held at Sorbonne Université on Friday 7 February (all day) and Saturday 8 February (in the morning) 2020, Amphithéâtre Georges Molinié, Maison de la Recherche, rue Serpente, Paris.

The Penguin edition that provides the textbook for the students (James Cook, The Journals, ed. Philip Edwards [1999], Penguin Classics, 2003, 646 p) is based on the four-volume edition of Cook’s Journals published by the Hakluyt Society.

Paper proposals may be on (but are not limited to):

  • the link between Cook’s voyages, the discovery of new territories and cartography
  • the historical impact of his discoveries; the role and impact of voyages in the construction of the British Empire;
  • other exploration travels that took place in the 1770s, such as Joseph Banks’ travels to Iceland through the Hebrides in 1772 or Phipps’ in the Arctic Ocean in 1773. In France, Bougainville went on his world tour in 1766 and published his Voyage autour du monde in 1771.
  • the influence of colonial discourses and the economic aims of sea expeditions; the profit-motivated voyages of privateers like Woodes Rogers earlier on in the century (A Cruising Voyage round the World, 1712); the realization that capitalism and mercantilism were only possible by seizing the wealth overseas; the development of overseas commerce;
  • the status of voyagers (geographers? scientists? ethnographers? writers?);
  • the technological and scientific dimensions of Cook’s expeditions;
  • the different kinds of people on board: botanists, naturalists, scientists, artists etc.
  • the aesthetic and literary dimensions of Cook’s Journals: for example, William Hodges, an artist on board with James Cook during his second voyage, was the author of a number of drawings and paintings such as A View taken in the Bay of Oaite Peha Otaheite (1773). His productions had to be very accurate as geographical documents, but they also had an aesthetic dimension;
  • philosophical developments on the “bon sauvage” in Britain and France (Diderot);
  • the reception, translation and edition of Cook’s writings.

An on-line peer-reviewed publication will follow and the articles will have to be submitted very shortly after the conference.
Please send your proposals (title + 15-line summary, preferably in English), along with a short bio-bibliographical note, to Emmanuelle Peraldo (Emmanuelle.PERALDO@univ-cotedazur.fr), Pierre Lurbe (pierrelurbe@gmail.com), and Ladan Niayesh (niayesh@univ-paris-diderot.fr) before Monday 30 September 2019.

Members of the organising and scientific committee:
Jim Bennett, President of the Hakluyt Society;
Emmanuelle Peraldo, Université de Nice, CTEL (EA 6307), President of the SELVA;
Pierre Lurbe, Faculté des Lettres, Sorbonne Université, HDEA (EA 4086), International Representative of the Hakluyt Society for France;
Ladan Niayesh, Université Paris, Diderot LARCA (UMR 5882, CNRS), Hakluyt Society Council Member;
Anne-Florence Quaireau, Faculté des Lettres, Sorbonne Université, VALE (EA 4085), Secretary of the SELVA.

Programme: Hakluyt Society Symposium 2019 – Rethinking Maritime Encounters

Hakluyt Society Symposium 2019: “Rethinking Power in Maritime Encounters”, Leiden, 5-6 September 2019

Organised by the Hakluyt Society in collaboration with Leiden University’s Institute of History, the Linschoten-Vereeniging, and Itinerario

image brazil michiel

Thursday 5 September

08:00 – 8:30 registration / welcome

08:30 – 10:20 panel 1 [Labour Relations]

  1. Pepijn Brandon – ‘Varieties of Force: Experiments in Coerced Labour on Naval Shipyards During the Industrial Revolution’
  2. Maria Vann – ‘“The Bloomer Controlled the Whole of Us:” The Dichotomy of Female Slave Ship Owners and Maritime Women as Agents of Power’
  3. Richard Blakemore – ‘The Meanings of Mutiny in Early Modern Seafaring’
  4. Leonardo Moreno Alvarez – ‘Fraudsters, Grifters, and Divers: The Logistics of Labor and Silver Transportation in the Spanish Caribbean, late 1650s’

10:20 – 10:50 coffee/tea break

10:50 – 12:40 panel 2 [Emancipation and Mobility]

  1. Kevin Dawson – ‘Free and Enslaved Ship Pilots in the Age of Revolutions’
  2. Gina G. Bennett – ‘“Service for Me and Mine in Another Land”: Scotland’s Women and Maritime Strategies of the Seventeenth-Century Atlantic World’
  3. Rafaël Thiébaut – ‘The Role of Pirates, Women and the Slave Trade in the Creation of the Betsimisaraka Kingdom (1685-1809)’
  4. Timothy D. Walker – ‘Sailing to Freedom in the Antebellum USA: Enslaved Seaport/ Coastal Laborers, the Whaling Industry, and Rethinking the Maritime Dimensions of the Underground Railroad’

12:40 – 13:40 lunch

13:40 – 15:30 panel 3 [Indigenous Knowledge and Agency]

  1. Mariana Françozo – ‘Negotiating Power and Knowledge: Natural History Practices in Dutch Brazil’
  2. Nathaniel Holly – ‘The Power of “Patrick Cherryman”: Cherokees on the Waves of the Atlantic’
  3. Esther Baakman – ‘Formidable Allies, Dangerous Foes: Native Americans in the European Press’
  4. Sebastian Hepburn-Roper – ‘Taonga Trading Posts: Coastal Settlements and Firearms Trade in early Nineteenth-Century New Zealand’

15:30 – 15:50 coffee/tea break

15:50-16:00 Hakluyt Society Essay Prize presentation – James Taylor

16:00 – 17:00 keynote: Josh Reid – ‘Indigenous Explorers & the Making of Pacific Worlds, 1786-1890’

17:00 drinks (sponsored by Itinerario)

19:00 dinner (speakers; registered participants at own expense)

Friday 6 September

08:30 – 10:20 panel 4 [Global Empires and Trans-Oceanic Connections]

  1. Sujit Sivasundaram – ‘Explorers, Monarchs and Empire in the Pacific’s Age of Revolutions’
  2. Kevin P. McDonald – ‘Babbo and the Breadfruit: Pacific Islanders and the Anglo-Imperial Imaginary, ca. 1789’
  3. Marília Arantes Silva Moreira – ‘Antoine Larcher’s ‘Project of Expedition to Salvador (Brazil) 1797’ and the Global Competition for the South Atlantic during the Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802)’
  4. Amarendra Kumar – ‘Negotiating ‘Territoriality of the Sea’: The Maratha Navy in the Era of Global Maritime Empires’

10:20 – 10:40 coffee/tea break

10:40 – 12:30 panel 5 [Piracy in the Atlantic World]

  1. Claire Jowitt – ‘Pirate Marts: Economic Warfare, Price Cuts, and Popular Politics’
  2. Tim Soriano – ‘Buccaneers into Baymen: British Rule in British Honduras 1570–1765’
  3. Elizabeth Montañez Sanabria – ‘Privateers, Pirates, and Local Alliances in the Opening of the South Sea (1570-1700)’
  4. David Wilson – ‘A War Against Piracy? Local Agency and the Limits of Imperial Authority in Oceanic Spaces throughout the British Atlantic, 1716-1726’

12:40 – 13:30 lunch

13:30 – 15:20 panel 6 [Material Culture and Epistemology]

  1. Elsje van Kessel – ‘Power and Privateering: On the Illicit Movement of Asian Material Culture to Europe, circa 1600’
  2. Djoeke van Netten – ‘Borderlines: Straddling Land and Sea in Early Modern Atlases’
  3. Subah Dayal – ‘Elegies to the Port: Surat and Vengurla in the Persianate Imaginary’ (Skype)

15:20 – 15:40 coffee/tea break

15:40 – 17:00 panel 7 [Maritime Actors and Environments]

  1. John McAleer – ‘Crossing the Line? Ceremonies, Rituals, and Rites of Passage on Atlantic Voyages in the Age of Sail’
  2. Nathalia Brichet – ‘In the Wake – Liveability and Colonial Ecologies around the Harbour of St Thomas’
  3. Simon Mølholm Olesen – ‘They tricked the Dutch: Inuit Management of the Colonial Encounter in West Greenland, ca. 1720-50’
  4. Eva Johanna Holmberg – ‘Youth at Sea: a Mobile and Fragile Seafaring Youth in Richard Norwood’s Journal (1639-40)’

17:00 closing drinks

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Oxford, Richard Hakluyt and the Hakluyt Society

Professor Jim Bennett, current President of the Hakluyt Society, shares some enlightening thoughts on the connections between Oxford, Richard Hakluyt and the Hakluyt Society. From 16th-century ‘clubbing’ to Charles Darwin and beyond, we learn about some of the influences that informed the life and works of Richard Hakluyt and the ideas (and people) that shaped the establishment of the Hakluyt Society and the culture of the society today. This post was originally written for the Oxford University Pensioners’ Association Newsletter, which explains its focus on Oxford, and is reproduced from the current issue with permission.


Academics today are encouraged to strive for ‘impact’: they are told they should communicate with a broader public than their specialist communities and demonstrate the value of their research to society at large. Richard Hakluyt was an Oxford scholar of the Elizabethan era, who made it his business to carry his scholarship into the wider world of literature, publication, commerce and politics. He worked hard all his life in pursuit of a very particular (and, as it turned out, prescient) thesis that he believed would transform the role of England in the world. He was passionately convinced that his countrymen could rival the Spanish and Portuguese in maritime exploration and that England could be the centre of a new seaborne empire. This was a moral vision as well as a commercial imperative: the trading empire would also carry the reformed faith across the globe. Where was scholarship in this plan? The largest of Hakluyt’s many publications was The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation of 1589, with a much expanded second edition in three volumes published in 1598-1600. Hakluyt worked as collector, translator and editor of first-hand accounts of these voyages. His case for the future of English navigation was that it already had a distinguished past.

AOUP Newsletter fig 1
Title-page to the first edition of Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations, 1589.

Even before entering Oxford, Hakluyt was linking his academic ambition with his public vocation for geography. A brief introduction to the subject as a boy by his cousin, ‘… took in me so deepe an impression, that I constantly resolved, if ever I were preferred to the University, where better time and more convenient place might be ministered for these studies, I would by Gods assistance prosecute that knowledge and kinde of literature’. Hakluyt achieved his goal – ‘the doores’, as he put it, ‘were so happily opened before me’ – when he entered Christ Church as a Queen’s Scholar, taking his BA in 1574 and MA in 1577, and staying there as a scholar (meaning a fellow) until 1586.

During this period he gave university lectures in geography. It is characteristic of Hakluyt that his lectures were offered ‘in the common schooles’, this is, to the University rather than in his college, and so in the most public forum available to him. These were the first lectures in geography given to the University. This was long before students were invited to record their satisfaction with their lecturers but Hakluyt himself reported that his lectures were delivered ‘to the singular pleasure, and generall contentment of my auditory’.

After Oxford, Hakluyt pursued a modest career as a clergyman, while devoting his energies to his publications, which included over 25 travel books. He was almost exclusively a traveller of the ‘armchair’ variety, his only period abroad being as chaplain to the English ambassador in Paris, 1583-8. His interests, however, were global and he searched for sources as widely and energetically as he could. His records of voyages ranged from the 4th century to the adventures of Elizabethan seamen such as Drake and Cavendish. He was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1616, while his Principal Navigations have reappeared in a variety of editions down the years. Certainly the most ambitious of these is the 14-volume critical edition currently in preparation for Oxford University Press. At a much more modest level, an abridged version appeared in Penguin Classics in 1972 and is still in print.

Like Richard Hakluyt himself, the society founded in his name in 1846 has had strong Oxford connections. It is named after Hakluyt, not because it is devoted to his life and work, but because it follows his example by publishing original accounts of voyages and travels. It too publishes in English, translated where necessary, but an important difference from Hakluyt is that its texts are not confined to English travellers; instead it sees it as a virtue that its sources are completely international. The founding meeting at the London Library resolved on a society ‘for the purpose of printing, for distribution among its Members, the most rare and valuable Voyages, Travels, and Geographical Records’. For an annual subscription of one guinea, members would receive ‘without further charge, a Copy of every Work produced by the Society within the Year subscribed for.’ The model has not altered in its essentials, in spite of all the changes in publication and printing since then. The original emblem, a representation of Magellan’s ship, Victoria, has also been maintained.

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The Hakluyt Society logo, Magellan’s ship Victoria.

One change is the subscription, but at £60, as currently, it is just over half today’s equivalent of the original guinea.

The Society’s output has become more academic over the years, with the scholarship vested in the editorial work becoming more rigorous, while the production quality of the volumes has been upheld. The profile of the ‘provisional’ Council appointed in 1846 was also less academically oriented, with a greater proportion of what were known as ‘men of affairs’ – a concept that survives in living memory on Council, even though it has long disappeared from word and deed in the operation of the Society, where women outnumber men among the officers.

Thus the provisional Council contained military officers, including a Rear-Admiral and a Major General, along with merchants, travellers and scientists. The first President was the famous geologist Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, who went from school to military college and on to service in the army. Distinguished Oxonians were the historian Henry Hart Milman, author of a memorable winning entry for the Newdigate Prize for Poetry, who later became dean of St Paul’s, and Sir Henry Ellis, who began his career at the Bodleian and rose to be Principal Librarian at the British Museum. Charles Darwin (no Oxonian he) was also on the Council but apparently never attended, while an early member of the Society was Charles Dickens (nor he), who maintained his subscription for many years.

The second President was the lawyer and politician Sir David Dundas, who had gone to Christ Church and been elected a student there in 1820. With J.N.L. Baker (generally referred to by his initials), President 1955-60, we can bring the City of Oxford into the story. He spent the great bulk of his working life in Oxford, interrupted by war, when he was wounded at the Somme and in WW2 worked in intelligence. His institutional affiliations were with the Department of Geography and with Jesus College (where a prize in Geography is still awarded in his name), but he also became an alderman of the city and in 1964 the first University member of the City Council to become Lord Mayor of Oxford.

Sir Gilbert Laithwaite, the distinguished civil servant and diplomat, had come from school in Ireland to a scholarship and then a fellowship at Trinity College. He presided over the Society from 1964 to 69. One of more memorable presidents was certainly the editor and bibliophile Esmond Samuel de Beer. Born in New Zealand and benefitting from the wealth of the family clothing business, he read history at New College from 1914, his studies also being interrupted by war service. He worked as an editor for the Clarendon Press and many scholars have consulted his multi-volume editions of the diary of John Evelyn and of the correspondence of Thomas Hobbes. The Library of the University of Otago in New Zealand mounted an exhibition in 2017 of Hakluyt Society volumes presented by de Beer. The online version, Intrepid Journeys, is an excellent introduction to the Society.

A story about de Beer survives in the Hakluyt Society today. One of the responsibilities of the president is to receive an advance copy of each volume, a sample from the entire print-run waiting in the warehouse for his or her approval, which will trigger distribution to members throughout the world. It is a daunting moment. The story is that during de Beer’s presidency, his standards were so exacting that no volume was ever published. In preparing this article, I checked the relevant period, 1972-78, and there was indeed a significant gap, which the Society had to resolve by distributing the volumes once he had retired.

So, if we look only at the presidents of the Society (I will spare readers an analysis of the other officers) it is clear already that Oxford has made a major contribution to the story of the Hakluyt Society. For a three-in-a-row hat trick, however, we have to come up to the present. Professor Will Ryan, the distinguished Russianist of the Warburg Institute, was an undergraduate and D.Phil student at Oriel and also served as Assistant Curator at the Museum of the History of Science. He was Hakluyt Society President, 2008-11, to be followed by Captain Michael Barritt RN, former Hydrographer of the Navy, who was President until 2016, when I took over from him. Captain Barritt had read Modern History at Pembroke.

The year 2016 was a significant one for quite different reasons. It was the 400th anniversary of the death of Richard Hakluyt and the occasion was marked mainly, and appropriately, in Oxford. There were two exhibitions – at Christ Church and at the Bodleian – as well as seminars, public lectures and a two-day international conference. A small book based on some of these events, Hakluyt & Oxford, was edited by Anthony Payne and published by the Society.

Hakluyt and Oxford
Cover of Hakluyt & Oxford, 2017.

Another way to encounter Oxonians – historical examples – in the orbit of the Hakluyt Society is to consult the published volumes, now numbering some 370. Here we find the lives and records of Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Robert Dudley, Robert Harcourt, Edmond Halley, the merchant Robert Bargrave, Sir Thomas Roe, Sir Joseph Banks, James Rochfort Maguire and doubtless others I have failed to note.

We might not expect to find Oxford itself figuring in any of the voyages and travels, but the diary of Richard Madox, Fellow of All Souls (published by the Hakluyt Society ‘for 1974’, presumably having been delayed by de Beer’s scruples) is an account of a voyage that begins with his winding up his affairs in Oxford, where he had become University Proctor. Recommended for the task by the Chancellor of the University, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Madox was to sail as chaplain on Edward Fenton’s expedition headed for the Moluccas in 1582. This attempt to establish a spice trade would fail and Madox himself would not return.

Madox cover page
Cover of the Hakluyt Society edition of the diary of Richard Madox.

The diary opens on Monday 1 January 1582 with Madox in Wolverhampton, where his niece is born at 3 a.m. and he christens her ‘Katherin’ at evensong the same day. By Friday he has ridden to Oxford, where he begins a round of dining and supping with friends at different colleges and hostelries, and where he marks Epiphany on 6th with wassailing (carol singing) after supper. On the following evening he is having supper with friends at Lincoln College and they decide to go ‘clubbing’ on Monday 8th.

What took place was clearly well understood by those involved, but it seems that Madox’s diary is the only surviving record of this lively tradition: ‘we went a clubbyng owt of al howses in the town, some, abowt 400, with drome, bagpipe and other melody.’ This was followed at night by a torchlit assembly at University College and the exchange of orations and garlands, and a march to Carfax, where a representative of Baliol gave an oration with the exchange of ‘clubs’ of holly and ivy. Then on to the gate of Trinity and further exchanges of orations, followed by supper in the President’s lodge and a performance of Ariosto’s play I Suppositi in hall – ‘indifferently’, thought Madox. The following day he was again dining and supping at Lincoln. The account surely reads as oddly to today’s Hakluyt Society members as would some ceremony Madox might have witnessed in the Moluccas, had he made it there.

There followed a fortnight in London and business in preparation for the voyage. He stayed with some friends at the Crown in Uxbridge on the way back – ‘We wer myrry together’ – and in Oxford took up his convivial habits of eating at different colleges for a few more weeks, interspersed with other treats: ‘I went to Tytimans and eat fresh sprats and muskels’ … ‘Slater, Davis and I walked to Wolvercot and had cyder at Besse Jenyns.’ There was even some more clubbing one Sunday: ‘We had musycians and went up with them and 20 clubs to Carfox’. Such, we may surmise, are the obligations of the University Proctor.

We may end with a moment from that fortnight in London. Madox was interviewed by Sir Francis Drake and by Alderman Barne, Governor of the Muscovy Company, who wanted to know how much he would expect to be paid for his services on the expedition: ‘my Lord demaunded what I wold aske.’ I believe such negotiations can happen nowadays with Oxford appointments, though no such question was asked of me. The response from Madox was delightful:

I answered that I sowght not gayn but was glad to serve my cuntrey or ther hororable howse or my Lord and therfor wold refer my self to them which knew better than my self what was fit for me.

Potential appointees to positions in Oxford today might care to note that this went down very well with the panel and they made him an exceptionally generous allowance.


Professor Jim Bennett is President of the Hakluyt Society and former Director of the History of Science Museum, University of Oxford, a position which he held for 18 years.