The voyage of Captain John Narbrough to the Strait of Magellan and the South Sea in his Majesty’s Ship Sweepstakes 1669-1671

The Hakluyt Society is pleased to present its newest publication: The Voyage of Captain John Narbrough to the Strait of Magellan and the South Sea in his Majesty’s Ship Sweepstakes, 1669-1671, edited by Richard J. Campbell, Peter T. Bradley, and Joyce Lorimer. Purchased in 2009 by the British Library, John Narbrough’s fair copy of the journal of his voyage through the Strait of Magellan and north to Valdivia in the Sweepstakes (1669-1671) is now published for the first time, together with an incomplete and somewhat different copy of the journal, held in the Bodleian Library. The Hakluyt Society publication furthermore contains previously unpublished records made by members of Narbrough’s company, as well as reproductions of the charts on which he relied and those he produced. In this blog post, Captain Richard Campbell explains the circumstances of Narbrough’s voyage and the scholarly significance of the new edition.


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In May 1669 Captain John Narbrough was appointed to command HMS Sweepstakes for a voyage to the West Indies, Shortly thereafter an adventurer who has gone down in history as Don Carlos (he gave different versions of his name, nationality and accounts of his life to virtually everyone with whom he came in contact) submitted a proposal to King Charles II for a voyage to South America with an apparent view to establishing trading relation with the native inhabitants and stirring up a rebellion against the Spanish authorities. The King, having had this proposal investigated, agreed to sending a frigate with a pink in company on a voyage of discovery with a view to investigating the prospects of trade.

Cover Narbrough

Narbrough, whose ship was by this time anchored in the Downs, was recalled to London where he was personally instructed by the King and the Lord High Admiral, James, Duke of York to embark Don Carlos and sail for South America, south of the Río de la Plata and discover the coast round through the Strait of Magellan as far north as Valdivia, making contact with the native inhabitants and ascertaining what the prospects were for trade, with the evident unwritten aim of trying to encroach on the Spanish access to the gold in the area. It is quite clear in Narbrough’s instructions that the King did not trust Don Carlos, but Narbrough was ordered to take his advice if he found him to have any knowledge of the area they were to visit.

An account of this voyage was published in 1669 with a second edition in 1711. This is an abbreviated version of a manuscript in the Bodleian Museum, augmented by the journal kept by Lieutenant Peckett, one of Narbrough’s officers.

The voyage resulted in a series of charts of the harbours visited and of the Strait of Magellan, which became the basic standard of all subsequent charts of the Strait for the next hundred years, together with the knowledge that trade in that area would be impracticable. While in Valdivia, a Lieutenant and three members of Narbrough’s company were detained by the Spanish Governor who refused all requests for their release. Narbrough, whose company by this time was reduced to about 70 people, with a garrison of over 600 Spaniards ashore, and having been expressly forbidden by the King from taking any military action against the Spanish, was forced to leave them there (together with Don Carlos who had been secretly landed at his own request and subsequently surrendered to the Spanish).

On his return to England, Narbrough was well received by the King and immediately re-employed. He went on to have a very distinguished career, being knighted and serving as Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean and a Commissioner of the Navy.

Narbrough map
‘A Draught of Porte San Julyan’ (British Library, BL, Add MSS 88980C)

In the nineteenth century, largely as a result of Admiral Burney’s very unfavourable account of the voyage, it came to be considered a complete disaster – he wrote “It might ironically have been said, that the business of Narbrough’s voyage was to set four men ashore at Baldivia. The persons landed were left to their fate without interference being made on their behalf by the British Government.”[1] This view of the voyage has largely persisted until the present day.

In 2009, the British Library launched a successful appeal to purchase Narbrough’s own manuscript of this voyage, which in the current Hakluyt Society edition is now published in full for the first time, together with the complete Bodleian manuscript; the journal of Lieutenant Peckett; the “short accompt” of Richard Williams, and the journal of William Chambers, who was mate of the pink which accompanied the Sweepstakes for the first part of the voyage. There are also extracts from John Woods’ account and sailing directions, which were abbreviated, combined and published by William Hack in 1699 (of which there are modern reproductions available).  It has also been possible to locate Don Carlos’ original proposals in The National Archives and make use of various other Spanish archives to fill out the picture of his activities.

The new Hakluyt Society edition presents a much fuller account of the voyage than that published in 1694, together with detail of its advent, and seeks to demonstrate that Narbrough carried out his instructions to the letter, and that despite the loss of his men in Valdivia the voyage fulfilled the Kings orders. It also aims to reinstate Narbrough as the exceedingly competent and courageous naval officer he undoubtedly was, and give the voyage its proper place in the hydrographic history of the Strait of Magellan.


Captain Richard J. Campbell, OBE., Royal Navy, joined BRNC Dartmouth as a Cadet in 1946. After service in submarines he specialised in Hydrograhic Surveying. He worked in various regions round the world including Antarctica and the Falkland Islands when he visited the Strait of Magellan. His last command was HMS Hydra serving as a Hospital Ship in the Falkland War in 1982, after which he served in the UK Hydrographic Office until his retirement in 1994. His previous publications for the Hakluyt Society include: The Discovery of the South Shetland Islands / The Voyage of the Brig Williams, 1819-1820 and The Journal of Midshipman C.W. Poynter (3rd series, no. 4); and ‘The Journal of HMS Beagle in the Strait of Magellan, by Pringle Stokes, Commander RN 1827′, in: Four Travel Journals / The Americas, Antarctica and Africa / 1775-1874 (3rd series, no. 18).

[1] Burney, James, A Chronological History of the Voyages and Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean (5 vols, London 1803-17), Vol III, p. 375.


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