The Armada of the Strait: James P.R. Lyell and the Relación of Pedro de Rada

The publication of Carla Rahn Phillips’ The Struggle for the South Atlantic ensured that the Relación by the sixteenth-century Spanish clerk Pedro de Rada is now for the first time made available in print. Only acquired by a public institution in 1999, the Relación had a long and still little-known life in private hands. In this blog post, the independent specialist in antiquarian books and Hakluyt Society Council member Anthony Payne sheds light on this story by focusing on the manuscript’s twentieth-century owner, the British solicitor and bibliophile James P.R. Lyell.


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A source of great satisfaction for an antiquarian bookseller is to discover a rarity and to see a major work of scholarship result from its acquisition by a research library. One such instance for me was the Hakluyt Society’s publication in December 2016 of The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581–1584, splendidly translated and edited by Carla Rahn Phillips from the Spanish manuscript Relación of Pedro de Rada, now in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California (MS HM 59416).

The Huntington purchased this from the antiquarian booksellers Bernard Quaritch Ltd in 1999, when I was one of the company’s directors. We had bought the manuscript shortly beforehand from another book dealer in London and, as soon as I had catalogued it, we offered it for sale as item 167 in our Catalogue 1257. It was promptly ordered by Bill Frank, the Huntington’s Curator of Hispanic, Cartographic and Western Historical Manuscripts, and was delivered to the library as soon as we received an export licence.

Professor Phillips has identified the 1742 ownership inscription of one Pedro de Chópite (possibly from the Basque country) in the manuscript, but this apart, nothing is known of its history until the twentieth century when it was acquired by James P.R. Lyell (1871–1948), whose distinctive bookplate is affixed to the margin of the first leaf.

A solicitor by profession, Lyell was a distinguished book collector and bibliographer. He developed an especially close relationship with Oxford’s Bodleian Library, which is marked by the bequest of one hundred of his medieval manuscripts to the library and his endowment of the Lyell Readership in Bibliography at Oxford.

At a talk he gave in 1939 on ‘books and book collecting’, Lyell recalled that ‘I began collecting at school – nibs and postage stamps’. He sold his stamps to eke out his father’s allowance as an undergraduate at University College London, and next, while training to become a solicitor, began to collect books, attending his first auction, at Hodgson’s rooms, in 1891. ‘Book-hunting’, the Oxford historian David Ogg remarked, then became Lyell’s ‘absorbing hobby, and if he parted from time to time with some of his treasures he knew there were always others waiting to be tracked down by the discerning collector’.

Early printed books were Lyell’s first interest. In 1914 he chanced to buy at Hodgson’s a copy of the Complutensian Polyglot, the magnificent six-volume Bible printed in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic at Alcalá de Henares in 1514–17. When he got home from the sale, Lyell said, ‘I found that I had been fortunate enough to secure at a war-time price one of the most famous books in the world’, and it sparked a deep engagement in all books Spanish that led him to collect almost exclusively in that field for the next dozen or so years.

Not only did Lyell collect, but he learnt Spanish, travelled to Spain, and published a biography of the sponsor of the Complutensian Polyglot, Cardinal Ximenes, Statesman, Ecclesiastic, Soldier and Man of Letters with an Account of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible (London: Grafton, 1917), as well as a major study of Early Book Illustration in Spain (London: Grafton, 1926), which became the standard authority on the subject (in 1997 it appeared in a Spanish edition with updated notes). In time Lyell formed the largest private collection of Spanish books in Britain, but in 1927 he decided to move from London to Oxford and parted with most of its rarities, notably the works illustrated with woodcuts.

An allied bibliophilic pursuit of Lyell’s was his collection of books on the Spanish Armada (‘a very fine one’ he considered it). Research on this was the basis for the B.Litt. thesis awarded to him in 1932, aged sixty-one, as a member of New College, Oxford. He later sold the collection to Thomas W. Lamont, a partner in Pierpont Morgan & Co., who then presented it to Harvard.armada-straits

It can readily be appreciated, therefore, that Lyell’s acquisition of the manuscript of Pedro de Rada’s Relaciónreflected not only his interest in Spanish books but also in the naval history of the 1580s. I have not been able to discover when or where Lyell obtained it – it was perhaps on one of his visits to Spain, or maybe in the London trade, for example, from the leading booksellers, Maggs Brothers, who handled much high-quality Spanish material in the 1920s. Nor is it clear whether Lyell disposed of it during his lifetime or not. From the mid-1930s his focus turned to medieval manuscripts and these constituted the principal element in the collection dispersed after his death in 1948.

Items not bequeathed to the Bodleian, or bought from Lyell’s executors by the Bodleian (and a few by the National Library of Scotland), were acquired by Quaritch in 1951 and many, but not all, were included in Quaritch’s Catalogue 699, issued in 1952. Rada’s manuscript is not among those in the catalogue. It is possible that it was among Quaritch’s other, uncatalogued, purchases from Lyell’s collection, but this cannot be established from the firm’s surviving records for this period. It seems equally likely that Lyell sold it during the 1930s as his collecting interests developed in new directions.*


Anthony Payne is an antiquarian bookseller and past Vice-President of the Hakluyt Society. Besides his work in the antiquarian book market, Anthony Payne is engaged in historical research and has lectured at Princeton University, the University of York, the Warburg Institute, the National Maritime Museum, Gresham College and University College London. He is currently working on a major bibliographical study of Richard Hakluyt (1552–1616) and has previously published a short introductory survey, Richard Hakluyt: A Guide to His Books and to Those Associated with Him 1580–1625 (London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 2008).

* In compiling this blog I have referred to the biography of Lyell by Dennis E. Rhodes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which concludes that ‘he was a self-taught bibliophile and scholar of extraordinary enthusiasm and discrimination, and one who deserves to be remembered not only by Oxford but by the whole bibliographical world’. I have also drawn on Lyell’s posthumously published talk, ‘Books and Book Collecting’, Bodleian Library Record, vol. 3 (1951), pp. 278–81; R. W. Hunt, ‘The Lyell Bequest’, Bodleian Library Record, vol. 3 (1951), pp. 68–72; Maurice L. Ettinghausen, Rare Books and Royal Collectors: Memoirs of an Antiquarian Bookseller (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966), pp. 76–8; and Albinia de la Mare’s introduction to her Catalogue of the Collection of Medieval Manuscripts Bequeathed to the Bodleian Library Oxford by James P. R. Lyell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).

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The Armada of the Strait, 1581-1584: Disastrous beginnings of an ill-fated enterprise

The latest Hakluyt Society publication, The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581-84, edited by Professor Carla Rahn Phillips, documents the story of The Armada of the Strait which sailed under Don Diego Flores de Valdés in 1581–4. The armada set out from south-western Spain in the fall of 1581, with twenty-three ships and 3,500 people on board. During its three years’ voyage, hundreds of people would drown in shipwrecks and hundreds more perished from disease and privation.

The first of such shipwrecks occurred in October 1581, just a few days after the departure of the armada from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, bound for Brazil. In this post, Professor Rahn Phillips introduces us to one of the most thrilling passages of the Relación of chief scribe Pedro de RadaThe excerpt is a translation from fols 4r–5r of the original manuscript, now held in the Huntington Library [1].


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[f. 4r] … Tuesday, the 3rd of October [1581], the eve of San Francisco, when we had sailed about 35 leagues from San Lucar, there began to be such strong wind from the south and south-west, with much shifting of the cargo, and things looked bad, so that it was indispensable that the armada take down its sails and heave to, until Friday, the 6th of the aforesaid, when the weather had such force that the galeaza capitana had to jettison some things, which was done.

And the weather worsened so much on this day that eight navios from the armada could not be seen. And the next day, Saturday the 7th, we found ourselves so off course that, though we were not ten leagues from the Baya de Cadiz, the pilots did not know where they were, and thus there were a thousand variations amongst them, until the capitana saw the land of Rotta downwind, and we found ourselves blown so far to leeward that, given the force of the weather, it was greatly feared that we would not be able to enter the Bayya de Cadiz.

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And thus we sailed toward it with great difficulty, close to the wind because the wind and sea were excessive, the galeaza capitana entering with another fifteen naos that were going with her. In sight of the city of Cadiz, the nao named Nuestra Senora de Guia whose captain was Martin de Quiros, went to the bottom in a trice, and all who were on her drowned, which was the greatest misfortune to see without being able to succour even a single man, although it was four in the afternoon; and 150 men and some women and children settlers were on this nao.

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[f. 4v] This day, the navio named Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza, on which Pero Estebanez de las Alas sailed as captain, was lost near Roctta, which it could not get round. The captain himself and one hundred other persons from this navio were drowned. This same day the navio named San Miguel was lost, whose Captain Hector Abarca was drowned with another eighty persons. This same day the nao named Sancti Yspiritu was lost near the Rio del Oro in El Picacho. The captain and owner was Juanes de Villaviciossa Lizarza, who had remained in San Lucar and did not go on the expedition, because he was given too little money as subsidy; and Captain Alvaro Romo sailed in her and was drowned with another 120 persons.

The nao almiranta, in which Diego de la Rivera sailed, entered into the bay the next day, Sunday the 8th of October, after nearly being lost next to Arenas Gordas. Another two naos entered San Lucar with great difficulty, one in which Don Alonso de Sotomayor sailed, and the other with Captain Gutiere de Solis. The latter was taken to the Cassa de la Contratacion in Seville under arrest, because he had left the nao before it entered into the port. Another nao entered Guelba, with its captain Jodar Alferez.

This incident and misfortune caused great pain and grief to all in the armada, and General Diego Florez felt it very much, because, besides the loss of so many people, provisions, artillery, and other munitions, many captains and [f. 5r] high-ranking dependents of his were drowned.

[1] Note that the spelling of place names, etc. follows the original manuscript. Spanish words that should have accents do not have them in the original text, so they are not added in the translation. Ship names and types are, however, placed in italics, for the sake of clarity if not consistency.

Carla Rahn Phillips, Union Pacific Professor  in Comparative Early Modern History (Emerita), retired from the University of Minnesota in 2013. She has  published numerous books, articles, and book chapters on the social and economic history of Spain and its maritime connections in the early modern world, including Six Galleons for the King of Spain (1986)The Treasure of the San Jose (2007), and (with William D. Phillips Jr.)The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (1993), and A Concise History of Spain (2010, 2nd ed. 2015).


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Personal conflict in the Armada of the Strait: Sarmiento versus Flores

In The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581-84, Professor Carla Rahn Phillips provides the first edition in any language of Pedro de Rada’s Relación, the hitherto unknown report written by the chief scribe of the Armada of the StraitThe Struggle for the South Atlantic contains a detailed eyewitness description of this ill-fated expedition, yet it contains more. In a recent interview, the Hakluyt Society Blog asked Professor Phillips about the troubled relationship between Don Diego Flores de Valdés, the Captain General of the Armada, and Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, governor-designate of the future colony at the Strait, as well as about the importance of the discovery of Rada’s manuscript.


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To start, could you say something about the personal conflict at the heart of the Armada of the Strait?

CRP: Like any large enterprise, the Armada of the Strait was bound to have a range of personalities and a certain amount of disagreement and friction among its participants. Nonetheless, one ongoing clash all but defined the Armada of the Strait: the enmity between Pedro Sarmiento, governor-designate of the colony to be planted at the Strait, and Don Diego Flores de Valdés, captain general of the armada as a whole. Their continual wrangles began during the planning stages of the armada in 1581 and continued after the expedition ended in 1584.

Historians know quite a bit about their disagreements, and virtually everyone who has written about the voyage has taken the side of Sarmiento. The likely reason is that Sarmiento wrote much of the documentation published up to now, endlessly arguing his own side of the story; praising his own actions; and accusing Flores of numerous character flaws, mistaken judgment, evil intent, incompetence, and fraud. In the published historical accounts that mention the voyage and the attempt to plant a colony at the Strait, Sarmiento emerges as a hero — flawed, as all heroes are — but a hero nonetheless. Flores emerges as a villain — or at best, as an inept foil for Sarmiento’s heroic actions.

Yet until recently Pedro de Rada’s ‘Relación’ has remained unknown..

CRP: Exactly! As the expedition’s chief scribe, Pedro de Rada wrote thousands of pages of official documentation. Philip II requested all of these records shortly after Flores returned to Spain in July 1584. However, Rada had also written a Relación or report covering the entire voyage, with copies of various official documents appended. This detailed first-hand account remained in private hands until 1999, when it was acquired by the Huntington Library and made available to the research community. 

Rich in detail and human drama, Rada’s Relación provides a unique perspective on the events and personalities involved in the Armada of the Strait. Until it surfaced, the Armada  was known largely from the point of view of Sarmiento, whose version of events overwhelmed all other voices regarding the armada and influenced generations of historians. Important in this respect was that, in 1895, the Hakluyt Society published translated excerpts from Sarmiento’s voluminous writings, edited by Clements R. Markham. By contrast, Pedro de Rada’s Relación provides the reader with an official, dispassionate voice to contrast with the self-serving accounts by Sarmiento.

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Luís de Texeira, Map of the Captaincies of Brazil (c. 1574). Biblioteca de Ajuda, Lisbon

Reading Rada’s Relación against existing documentation, what new conclusions can be drawn about the Armada of the Strait?

CRP: Rada’s Relación clearly shows how the most meticulous plans for overseas ventures could be wrecked by the hazards inherent in sailing into largely unknown waters, yet also how those plans could  be jeopardized by personal conflicts that had entirely human causes. In modern histories of early exploration and colonization, mention of personal antagonisms is generally avoided as a petty distraction from the central, heroic narrative. Likewise, Rada’s laconic account only hints at the ongoing clash between Flores and Sarmiento. Nonetheless, by reading Rada’s journal in the light of the extensive Spanish documentation about the preparations for the voyage, we can understand the difficulties posed by the enmity between Sarmiento and Flores and appreciate what the expedition was able to accomplish despite that enmity.

The Relación chronicles an expedition that was launched with extraordinary effort at a critical period in Spanish exploration and colonization. Despite all the careful planning that preceded its departure, the armada suffered more calamities than many other expeditions, partly due to chance, but also due to the irrational schemes of Pedro Sarmiento, whom so many historians have praised as a visionary hero.

Pedro de Rada’s Relación, together with a selection of instructions and reports pertaining to the Armada of the Strait, are now made available for the first time, in English translation, by Professor Carla Rahn Phillips for the Hakluyt Society. Order your copy here.


Carla Rahn Phillips, Union Pacific Professor  in Comparative Early Modern History (Emerita), retired from the University of Minnesota in 2013. She has  published numerous books, articles, and book chapters on the social and economic history of Spain and its maritime connections in the early modern world, including Six Galleons for the King of Spain (1986)The Treasure of the San Jose (2007), and (with William D. Phillips Jr.)The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (1993), and A Concise History of Spain (2010, 2nd ed. 2015).


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New Hakluyt Society Publication: The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581-84

To start 2017 in great spirits, the Hakluyt Society has just released its latest publication: Carla Rahn Phillips (ed.), The Struggle for the South Atlantic: The Armada of the Strait, 1581-84, which has been distributed to Hakluyt Society members free of charge. The Struggle for the South Atlantic documents the story of that little-known ‘other Armada’, the Armada of the Strait, whose eventful journey was hardly less desastrous than that of the Armada of 1588. Professor Carla Rahn Phillips (University of Minnesota) presents us with the first edition ever to appear in print of the chronicle kept by Pedro de Rada, the official scribe of the armada. Her expert English translation is preceded by an extensive critical introduction. In this first of three blog posts, Professor Phillips introduces the new volume.


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The Armada of the Strait under Don Diego Flores de Valdés in 1581–4 came at a crucial juncture in global politics. Philip II of Spain had assumed the crown of Portugal and its overseas empire, and Francis Drake’s daring peacetime raids had challenged the dominance of Spain and Portugal in the Americas. Drake’s attacks had demonstrated the vulnerability of both Spanish and Portuguese colonies, and intelligence reports indicated that other English adventurers hoped to replicate Drake’s successful melding of trade and plunder.

It was clear to Philip and his councillors that something had to be done quickly to safeguard the Americas. The armada was intended to ensure the loyalty of Portuguese Brazil; bolster its defences against hostile native peoples as well as English and French pirates and interlopers; and fortify and settle the Strait of Magellan to prevent further incursions into the Pacific.

The Armada of the Strait under set out from south-western Spain in the fall of 1581, with twenty-three ships and 3,500 people, including officers, royal officials, sailors, soldiers, and settlers with their families. Despite careful planning, the expedition suffered terrible losses from the very beginning and hardships throughout. Hundreds of people drowned in shipwrecks and hundreds more perished from disease and privation.

Several ships were lost or so damaged by storms that they could not continue. A contingent of the armada finally was able to establish 338 persons at the Strait, following two earlier failed attempts.  Other contingents from the armada skirmished with an English expedition under Edward Fenton, expelled French interlopers from north-eastern Brazil, and improved the defences of several coastal regions. The armada officially ended when Flores arrived back in Spain with five ships and some 600 men in July of 1584. In September of that year, another three ships and 200 men arrived with the armada’s second in command, Almirante Diego de la Rivera, who had carried the colonizers to the Strait.

Pedro de Rada, the official scribe of the armada, kept a detailed, neutral chronicle of the venture which remained in private hands until 1999 but is now held in the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California. It is now published for the first time, as the latest Hakluyt Society publication (Third Series, Vol. 31). Previous historical assessments of the expedition have largely reflected the writings of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, governor-designate for the planned colony at the Strait, who blamed all the misfortunes of the enterprise on Diego Flores de Valdés. Rada’s Relación is presented here in conjunction with other documentation and compared with Sarmiento de Gamboa’s accusations.

The results will force scholars to revise long-standing conclusions regarding the place of Sarmiento and Flores in Spanish history and the accomplishments of a long-forgotten armada sent into the terrifying waters of the South Atlantic.

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Carla Rahn Phillips, Union Pacific Professor  in Comparative Early Modern History (Emerita), retired from the University of Minnesota in 2013. She has  published numerous books, articles, and book chapters on the social and economic history of Spain and its maritime connections in the early modern world, including Six Galleons for the King of Spain (1986)The Treasure of the San Jose (2007), and (with William D. Phillips Jr.)The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (1993), and A Concise History of Spain (2010, 2nd ed. 2015).


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Author’s View: The ‘Joys’ of editing the Banks Iceland and North Atlantic papers

The recent publication of Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820. Journals, Letters and Documents (Hakluyt Society Third Series No. 30) is the result of more than two decades of researching, translating, annotating and editing. In this longread, editor Anna Agnarsdóttir goes back to her days as a graduate student at the LSE to trace the long and winded road she traveled over the many years that led to this edition, taking her from Britain to Iceland, Canada, the United States, and back. After a series of reflections that will strike many readers as familiar – “Research means travel”; “Transcribing is much like learning a foreign language”; “Primary sources live forever” – she reminds us also of the prosaic limitations to spending one’s summers following in the footsteps of one’s subject, namely having family members who prefer sunnier climes.


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Editing the Banks Iceland correspondence was a joy – now that it is finished and I look back on the experience. It all began last century when I was at the London School of Economics working on my doctoral thesis on Anglo-Icelandic relations 1800–1820. I was in the Botany Library of the Natural History Museum looking at the Banks Iceland correspondence preserved there. The curator said I must meet Harold B. Carter. Harold was an Australian research scientist who had become interested in Banks – after all Banks is very well-known as “the Father of Australia”; he adorned the $5 bill at the time – and before leaving Sydney for England Carter had published two hefty volumes of Banks Correspondence dealing with wool and Merino sheep, a joint interest of Banks and George III.

Harold was in the process of founding The Banks Archive Project, under the joint auspices of the Royal Society and the Natural History Museum in London. He had been mapping out how Banks’s role was reflected in his correspondence and had identified 21 main themes, one of them being the Iceland correspondence. On the completion of my thesis Harold suggested I take on the editing of these documents. I was of course delighted to be immediately involved in a new project, and a prestigious one for a young Icelandic historian. However, at more or less the same time I was lucky enough to be appointed to a tenured position as a lecturer at the University of Iceland and thus entered academic life full-time with all that that entails. The expectation of publishing at least the equivalent of one article a year and giving a few public lectures put this huge project on the back burner, as it was obviously going to take a long time to complete.

Thus I have spent most of my professional life with Banks when I had some spare time and during sabbaticals. He has always been lurking in the background. Editing primary sources and actually writing history are quite different processes. Apart from my thesis I regard this volume as a great achievement. Why? Because this is first and foremost a collection of primary sources – and primary sources do not have a sell-buy date. They – unlike us – live forever, waiting for future generations to interpret them. Almost everything else I have written will become obsolete with the passing of time and new research.

The editing of this volume has thrown up a lot of challenges. As Banks had no direct heirs, his papers were sold at auction to collectors and archives all over the world; what Banks scholars call ‘the great dispersal’. For example the journal he wrote while in Iceland can be pieced together by going to the archives in Maidstone, Kent, and in Montreal, with additional memoranda in the Natural History Museum. The repositories with the actual Iceland correspondence are about twenty. This meant travel. It is simply not enough to work from a photocopy, you have to see and feel the original document. I am happy to say that I managed to visit all the repositories housing Icelandic Banks material, except for Canberra and Adelaide in Australia, and even went twice to San Francisco, which has an exceptionally large collection of Banks material. But repositories containing sources necessary for background for the annotations added many more archives to the list and I have no idea how many times I visited the Rare Book Room in the British Library (my favourite place to work) to trace elusive information for the notes. All great fun of course.

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Anna Agnarsdóttir (ed.), Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820: Journals, Leters and Documents (London: Hakluyt Society, 2016). #BanksIceland

Thankfully the groundwork for the rules of editing had been laid by Harold Carter, supplemented by Hakluyt Society conventions. In 1990 Carter had stated that ‘the arrangement of the text’ should be as ‘near as possible to the original letter even in the matter of paragraphs and identations.’ This I followed faithfully. Carter had also sorted all the Banks letters and listed what he considered to be Iceland letters. Later I decided to take on the Greenland, Faroese and Norwegian ones – as they did not seem to fit anywhere else and the idea of the Banks Archive Project is to publish the Banks correspondence in toto (18 volumes so far published and more in the pipeline).

During these two decades the PRO became the TNA, the Danish and Icelandic archives decided to change their filing system and full stops in abbreviations quietly disappeared. A project taking more than two decades invariably means it will be chock- a-block with inconsistencies. This is where my invaluable Hakluyt Society editor, Gloria Clifton, came in (how many e-mails we have exchanged is a matter of research in itself) whose eagle eye and meticulous work spotted a lot of discrepancies, rectified in time for publication. She also queried some notes, thus saving me from embarrassing mistakes, helped me with the index, did all the formatting, put everything in order etc.

Eighteenth and early nineteenth century handwriting can be difficult to decipher: in Iceland Gothic script was the favoured norm, preferably in Danish, while Banks’s handwriting, spelling etc., steadily worsening as the gout spread, and can charitably be said to be a challenge. In fact deciphering a letter is a lot like learning a foreign language – suddenly it makes sense. Though not surprisingly a word here or there proved to be indecipherable or illegible due to the paper having faded or been torn.

Most of the fun proved to be in the annotation. I certainly learnt a lot. A book like this needs more expertise than any one person can be expected to have. Despite having learnt Latin extensively at my Reykjavík grammar school my Latin was not up to translating these letters – almost all the Latin letters being written by learned eighteenth-century Icelanders – English not being in use in Iceland at the time. The great expert Professor Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute) translated the Latin letters into elegant English while I attempted the other languages and then got specialists to look them over. Unlike Banks geology and botany were not my favourite subjects at school, but thanks to Professor Leifur Símonarson and Dr David Hibberd I am pretty confident that these notes will not disappoint.

Names are notoriously the most difficult to decipher. Banks, a poor speller, mentioned one ‘Juin’. Who was he? Well, the name of course was misspelled. Probably a man called Nicolas Jouin, a Jansenist pamphleteer found in French records. Former Hakluyt Society President Will Ryan found another headache, a man Banks called Wheatley who turned out to be Whately, such identification was not an easy task. What I personally found most difficult to annotate was Banks’ journey up the Western Isles to Scotland, where I have never been. I have berated myself since in not taking a summer holiday there during the past two decades and following in Banks’s footsteps, but my daughters preferred sunnier climes.annaa

Decisions have to be taken as to what words the general reader will not understand and thus need a note. The nature of editing is that you can go on and on. Finally, I said that’s it! And here is it, all 707 pages of it.

Anna Agnarsdóttir


Anna Agnarsdóttir is Professor of History in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Iceland, Reykjavik. She has published on Icelandic history, exploratory voyages in the North Atlantic, and global encounters more widely. She is the editor of Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820: Journals, Letters and Documents (London: Routledge for the Hakluyt Society, 2016).


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The Series Editor’s View: Or, What Hakluyt Society Series Editors Do

What do Hakluyt Society Series Editors do? On this blog, editors of individual volumes regularly speak about the books published in the Publications of the Hakluyt Society series. Less well-known are the sustained efforts made by the Society’s series editors during the long gestation process of a volume from the proposal stage to being guided into print. The Society currently benefits from the excellent, voluntary labour of two Honorary Joint Series Editors, Professor Joyce Lorimer and Dr Gloria Clifton. In this post, the latter shines her light on her work as a series editor and in particular the experience of overseeing the recent publication of Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic, 1772-1820.


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When and how did you become Hakluyt Society Series Editor?

I first became a series editor in 2008, after about a year’s apprenticeship as an assistant editor, in which I took on the role of preparing the report for Council on progress with volumes. I already had some experience as an editor of some of the catalogues published by the National Maritime Museum, where I was a curator. Since then I have edited the Society’s annual lectures and worked closely with volume editors in preparing travel accounts for publication. I focus on the 18th to 20th centuries, while my fellow series editor, Professor Joyce Lorimer, concentrates on earlier periods. So far the published volumes for which I have been solely responsible are the two volumes of Australia Circumnavigated edited by Kenneth Morgan (2015) and Anna Agnarsdottir ‘s Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic, 1772-1820 (2016).

What does the Hakluyt Society Series Editor do? 

The role of Hakluyt Society series editors may seem a bit of a mystery. Why are they needed in addition to the editors of individual volumes? Briefly, series editors try to put themselves in the place of readers. They read the final draft text and ask questions of the volume editor if they find anything they think is not clear, or if they notice any inconsistencies. They check that text, notes and references are presented in a standard format, as well as that all the maps and illustrations are of reasonable quality and are listed at the start of the book. If a work has been translated into English, they try to ensure that the translation reflects the flavour of the original, while securing a readable text. Beyond their responsibility to readers the series editors also check that copyright permissions have been secured.

Did the Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic raise any particular problems?

Most of the problems with presenting this material had to be faced by the volume editor, such as the difficulty of reading Banks’s handwriting – especially as he grew older – and translating the letters he received from a number of other languages into English. Help had to be found for some of these. As the foreign language letters were in a minority the series editor agreed that the original text as well as the translation should be given, so that readers with a knowledge of other languages could check for themselves. The series editor was also involved in deciding how best to present Banks’s statistical material. One difficulty for which there was no easy answer was the size of the volume, at around 700 pages in all. The material could not easily be divided logically into two similar-sized volumes and it really did belong together. We trust that our members, who have been sent the Banks volume last month, will agree.

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Gloria Clifton is Honorary Joint Series Editor of the Hakluyt Society, Emeritus Curator of the National Maritime Museum, and former head of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. She is an Individual Member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and editor of Directory of British Scientific Instrument Makers 1550-1851 (1995), and Treasures of the National Maritime Museum (2009, with Nigel Rigby). She is also the author of Professionalism, patronage, and public service in Victorian London: the staff of the Metropolitan Board of Works, 1856-1889 (1992).


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Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820: Journals, Letters and Documents

The Hakluyt Society proudly announces the upcoming publication of Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820: Journals, Letters and Documents, edited by Professor Anna Agnarsdóttir. This long-anticipated volume, which is about to appear as part of the Hakluyt Society’s Third Series, will be distributed for free to all members of the Hakluyt Society. In this post, Professor Agnarsdóttir discusses the significance of Banks’ scientific expedition to Iceland and its aftermath. You can hear her speak at two launch events later this month, hosted by the Royal Society, and Lincoln Cathedral, respectively.


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After the successful Endeavour voyage [Hakluyt Society Extra Series 34], Sir Joseph Banks was due to sail on James Cook’s second voyage to the South Seas. Unhappy with the accommodation, Banks withdrew and sailed with his twenty-strong party to Iceland, thus leading the first British scientific expedition to this remote island in 1772. Thus began Banks’s association with Iceland.

This volume contains the Iceland journals of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) – including an account of his ascent of the volcano Hekla – and his servant James Roberts. Secondly, all extant documents regarding Banks and the North Atlantic (concerning the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Norway) from preparations for his expedition to his death in 1820 have been collected from repositories worldwide.

The bulk of the documents falls into two categories: the 1772 Iceland expedition and the Napoleonic Wars period 1807-1814. The latter illuminate how Banks acted as a powerful protector of the Icelanders, with his detailed plans for annexing Iceland to the British Empire. This, he believed, would be a humanitarian solution to the plight of the Icelanders, cut off by the Royal Navy from their mother country, Denmark. A great many documents deal with “The Icelandic Revolution” of 1809, when a British trading expedition, granted a license to trade in Iceland by the Privy Council, seized power. Iceland was proclaimed an independent country, under the protection of Great Britain.

Although this was ended by the intervention of a British sloop-of-war, the following year George III placed the Danish dependencies in the North Atlantic in a state of neutrality and amity with England and free trade was established between them and Britain. Iceland was thus placed under the protection of Britain, the Iceland trade being regulated by the Board of Trade, and a British consul was appointed to the island. A great many letters relate to trade and the difficulties experienced both by British and Iceland merchants during the Napoleonic Wars, for instance the question of neutral trade, the British licensing system, and the capture of merchant vessels. These documents are important sources not only for Icelandic history but also for Georgian Britain during the Napoleonic Wars.

Anna Agnarsdóttir is Professor of History in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Iceland, Reykjavik. She has published on Icelandic history, exploratory voyages in the North Atlantic, and global encounters more widely. She will participate in a panel discussion entitled Banks in the Land of Ice and Fire hosted by the Royal Society on 26 April 2016, which the public is free to attend. On 28 April, she will give a free lecture entitled Sir Joseph Banks in Iceland and the North Atlantic in the Wren Library at Lincoln Cathedral. Both events are sponsored by the Hakluyt Society.

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Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820). Source: http://visitlincoln.com/whats-on/sir-joseph-banks-in-icland-and-the-north-atlantic

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