Coconuts

Sir Fancis Drake – whose lucre profits helped Queen Elizabeth get out of debt and invest in the Levant and then the East India Company, from which in turn the plunder of Bengal feulled the industrial revolution… – here is the old slave-trading pirate doing a bit of coconut appreciation:

‘Amongst other things we found here a kind of fruit called cocos, which because it is not commonly known with us in England, I thought good to make some description of it.The tree beareth no leaves nor branches, but at the very top the fruit groweth in clusters, hard at the top of the stem of the tree, as big every several fruit as a man’s head: but having taken off the uttermost bark, which you shall find to be very full of strings or sinews, as I may term them, you shall come to a hard shell which may hold of quantity in liquor a pint commonly, or some a quart, and some less : within that shell of the thickness of half an inch good, you shall have a kind of hard substance and very white, no less good and sweet than almonds: within that again a certain clear liquor, which being drunk, you shall not only find it very delicate and sweet, but most comfortable and cordial.’ {From The famous voyage of Sir Francis Drake, 1577, in Hakyult 1972: 172).

Am intrigued how the coconut got to interest them as an innocent distraction amidst, basically, mutniny, piracy and plunder. More so perhaps than the mango with Dampier 100 years later (see here).

A replica of Drake’s Golden Hinde is tucked away in a corner of Southwark near the Borough Market as a fun pirate thing for kids, but its a dirty public secret that the man is a symbol of English connivance. The original Golden Hinde had been quartered at Deptford until it rotted away, significantly, appropriately, for a site that today is owned by the corporate Hutchinson Whampoa, themselves descendent from the Kowloon and Whampoa Dock trading company that provided dock facilities to those lovely opium traders, like Jardine-Matheson Co., among the founders of P&O, unloading their EIC-grown opium as they could not carry it directly up to Canton to flog to the Chinese except in smaller chop boats….

Drake rounds the globe, wia Magllelan’s straights and onto visit Southeast Asia, loaded up on plundered jewels, gold and silver from the Spanish, he then adds cloves and spices from the Moluccas before heading round the African cape and back to Blighty – with 6 tonnes of cloves, worth its weight in gold, much other treasure, bars of silver lifted from sleeping sailors, gold plate removed from Spanish churches in Chile, and jewels ripped – under royal license – from the hands of various poor suckers who happened to be on lesser well-armed boats. Elizabeth cashes her debts and funds the Levant, and then the EIC, and the rest, as old beardo says, is written in history’s annals in letters of blood and fire. Indeed, these are the letters of blood and fire – Drake in Hakyult, you don’t even really have to read between the lines to smell the sulpher.

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