« EelmineJätka »
1573 to 1575.
This adventurous person was one of the most confidential men on Drake's voyage to the Spanish main in 1572–3, and was employed by him on a variety of services. Among others, the brother of Drake and he were the two persons selected by the Commander to proceed, under his instructions, to break open the King's treasure-house of Nombre de Dios, which was known to contain an immense quantity of gold, silver, and pearls. He had served Drake in the former voyage as a soldier, sailor, and cook, and was so much attached to his master, that when, on this voyage, Drake first saw the South Sea from the Isthmus of Panama, and made a solemn vow that, if it pleased God, he would one day sail upon it, Oxenham was so delighted, that he there and then protested he would be the first on such an occasion to offer him his services ; and so attached was he to Drake that he declared his readiness to go with him on any future voyage, and to any part of the world. Having waited patiently two years, and gaining no intelligence of Drake's intended proceed
ings, he being absent for some time in Ireland, Oxenham's patience was at length exhausted; he talked of nothing but the South Sea, and its vast stores of wealth, and so inflamed the minds of his oid companions on the last voyage, that they were ready to a man to volunteer their services. His family was respectable, and a few of his Devonshire friends readily came forward to his assistance, and enabled him to fit out a ship of 140 tons burden, which he manned immediately with seventy seamen, and set sail in the year 1575 for the eastern shore of the Isthmus of Darien, thus anticipating, but not forestalling, nor does it appear injuring, as it might have done, the most splendid and important of all Drake's voyages,
which was undertaken two years afterwards.
On his arrival at Porto Bello, Oxenham learned from some Indians that a convoy of muleteers with treasure was expected to come thither across the isthmus from Panama. He accordingly at once made up his mind to march with a company to meet this convoy, leaving the rest to take care of his ship. He took with him only two small guns and some muskets, with six Indians as guides, and proceeded about twelve leagues over the rugged isthmus to a small river that falls into the South Sea near Panama. Here he built a pinnace, and in her dropped down to the Bay of Panama, from whence he crossed over to
the Pearl Islands, about five and twenty leagues from that place, to wait the arrival of the Peru ships, which generally passed close to these islands. Here he lay about ten days without seeing a single person, when a small bark from Quito came in, of which he took possession, and found in her sixty thousand pezzoes, or pieces of gold, or, according to Camden, sixty pounds weight of gold, and a large supply of provisions. Not content with this booty, he staid there in expectation of more, without sending away his prize, or any of the men ; and at the end of six days he took another bark from Lima, in which he found a hundred thousand pezzoes of silver; and now he intended to depart with his prizes, and take them up the river across the isthmus. Unfortunately, however, not satisfied with gold and silver, his avarice prompted him to go to the island where pearls are mostly found; and having collected a small quantity, he set off with his pinnace and his prizes to the mouth of the river, and there, having dismissed the two captured vessels, began the ascent of the river with the pinnace alone.
The delay of fifteen days on the Pearl Island was the cause of all his misfortunes. The negroes of that island, where he got the pearls, set off the very same night that he left them in their canoes for Panama, to give intelligence of what had happened. The governor immediately sent four barks, each with twenty-five armed men, besides negroes to row them, under the command of Captain John de Ortega, in search of Oxenham. He fell in with the two prizes which Oxenham had so indiscreetly dismissed, and learned from them that he was gone up the river. He followed till he came to a place where two smaller streams fell into it. Ortega was here in doubt which of the rivers he should take: the largest appeared to be the most likely; but it was observed incidentally that a quantity of fowl-feathers were floating down one of the streams, and that these had, in all probability, been plucked by the English, from fowls to be dressed and eaten. The hint was immediately taken, and so was the route up that branch of the river.
After rowing four days against the stream, the pinnace of Oxenham was found upon the sand, with only six men in her, one of whom Ortega slew, but the other five escaped, leaving the pinnace in possession of the Spaniards, who however found only a small quantity of provisions in her. This booty of course did not satisfy the Spanish commander; he therefore left twenty of his men to guard the pinnace and his own barks, and with the other eighty marched up the country in search of Oxenham and his party. He had not gone above a league when' a hut made of boughs was discovered, in which were found the various articles belonging to Oxenham and his party, together with
the gold and silver, which they were in the act of conveying across the isthmus. Satisfied with having recovered the treasure, and supposing the Englishmen to have suddenly abandoned it through fear, Ortega was preparing to depart with his booty, when suddenly Oxenham came down upon him with his men and about two hundred negroes, or persons generally called Symerons, and attacked Ortega and his party with great fury. The Spaniards, however, got the better of the English, killed eleven, together with five of the Symerons, and took seven prisoners, having only two of their men killed and five wounded. Oxenham escaped, and made the best of his way to his ship.
The Spaniards were curious to know from their prisoners what could have been the object of their delay on the journey. They were told that a difference had arisen between their captain and themselves : they were to have carried the booty down to the ship for a certain reward beyond their wages, but they required immediate payment; he was enraged at this demand, as implying a distrust of him, said they should not carry it at all, and went out in search of negroes to transport it overland to Porto Bello. The five men who had escaped from the Spaniards at the pinnace, had fallen in with Oxenham, and from them he learned what had happened. Supposing that Ortega would be satisfied with the capture of the pinnace, he determined