The Mystery of Sir Francis Drake’s Drum


Sir Francis Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.  But, he wasn’t exactly an explorer as we understand it like Christopher Columbus.  He was instead a bit of a rascal and a pirate. One his way back from his most famous expedition in 1577 sailing around the world, he spent his free time looting Spanish ships.  He recovered thirteen chests full of gold, twenty-six tons of silver and countless chests of jewels and treasure.

His piratical antics caused him to be knighted by the Queen of England in 1581. He was declared a national hero, elected mayor of Plymouth and made a Member of Parliament.  Drake’s unorthadox methods helped the English become major players in the race for colonization and trade in the New World. Drake made a specialty of harrassing Spanish shipping and ports, and he was vice admiral of the English fleet when it defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The most intriguing anecdote about Drake relates that, prior to a battle against the Spaniards, he was playing a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe.  On being warned of the approach of the Spanish fleet, Drake is said to have remarked that “there was plenty of time to finish the game and still beat the Spaniards.”

After capturing the fort of Nombre de Dios, Drake sailed West and during the voyage became ill with fever.  He died before dawn the next day. His body was placed in a lead coffin and given to the sea off Portobello. 

Drake’s Drum

Drake’s Drum is a snare drum decorated with his coat of arms. He took it when he circumnavigated the world.  The most famous Drake legend is a modern one concerning this drum, now kept at Buckland Abbey. The legend says that when Drake lay dying he ordered that his drum should be taken home to England, and promised that if England was ever in danger, someone was to beat the drum and he would return to defend England.  This legend was exploited as patriotic propaganda in both world wars, and it is claimed that drum-beats have indeed been heard many times.  It is said that while Napoleon, was being held a prisoner in Plymouth after the battle of Waterloo the drum was heard to give a low `growl’.

People have claimed they have heard the drum being played throughout recent history including four within the 1900s.  First in 1914 when World War I first began, second in 1918 on the battleship Royal Oak and then again in the retreat from Dunkirk during World War II.  Reportedly, on the Royal Oak, a victory drum roll from a drum was heard when the German navy surrendered. The ship was then searched twice by the officers and then again by the captain and neither a drum nor a drummer were found on board.  The most recent time was during the battle in the Fawkland Islands.

Will Drake’s drum be heard again?