Mariners on board the vessel The Ascension in 1603 saw English soil for the first time in two years. A description of the voyage is documented by an unnamed individual who was on board the vessel, in a booklet, entitled A True and Large Discourse, and was published shortly after the vessel returned to shore.
The booklet, which is available online, is a mixture of a travel guide, phrase book, diary and an incomplete log of the journey. In addition, a copy of the book is available at the British Library on film, as well as, at the libraries of the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Edinburgh.
The Ascension did not sail alone, it was one of 20 boats, which included The Red Dragon, The Hector and The Susan. The voyage commenced on 20 April 1601, just four months after the formation of The Honourable East Indies Company.
It was hoped that the ships would return with black pepper from the Spice Islands, which is now known as Indonesia. The ships arrived in South Africa on 9 September and remained there until 29 October, rounding the Cape of Good Hope on 1 November, and reached the island of Madagascar on 16 December.
The ships compliment was of 478 mariners, of which the vast majority were likely of English or Welsh origin, although there was at least one Dutchman, Martine Cornelison. Upon it’s return, there was 371 survivors, those that did not make the journey back to England are listed at the at the end of the booklet,
The ships returned with Nutmeg from the Banda Islands and 1,000,000 pounds of pepper which sold for around 6 shillings a pound.
For those interested in exploring further, here is a small selection:
- Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, an account of the struggle between the English and Dutch, in the 17th Century, to gain the control in the supply of Nutmeg.
- East India Company Ships – https://eicships.threedecks.org/
- Three Decks website – https://threedecks.org/index.php
- Families in British India Society (FIBIS) – https://www.fibis.org/
- Maps of the Spice Islands 1521-1771 – https://lib-dbserver.princeton.edu/visual_materials/maps/websites/pacific/spice-islands/spice-islands-maps.html