Top of page

Collection Sir Francis Drake (Kraus Collection)

Drake's First Success: Panama 1572-1573

Following the defeat at San Juan de Ulúa, Drake made two minor voyages to the West Indies, in 1570 and 1571, of which little is known. It was in 1572 that he embarked on his first major independent enterprise. He planned an attack on the Panama isthmus, the point at which the silver and gold treasure of Peru had to be landed and sent overland to the Caribbean sea, where ships from Spain would pick it up at Nombre de Dios. He left Plymouth on May 24, 1572, in two small vessels, the Pascha (70 tons) and Swan (25 tons), and with a crew of 73 men. With this force Drake proposed to capture the important town of Nombre de Dios. In fact, his raid there late in July, 1572, came close to success, but finally failed when he was wounded and put out of action. He remained in the vicinity of the isthmus for almost a year, raiding Spanish shipping and attempting to capture a treasure shipment. In 1573, he joined up with a French buccaneer, Guillaume Le Testu, in an attack on a richly laden mule train and succeeded in making off with the huge sum of £20,000 in gold and silver. By August 9th, 1573, he was back in Plymouth.