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The Drake Exploration Society

Mary Newman's Cottage: A case of mistaken identity

Susan Jackson

My current Drake research is concerned with Sir Francis's Plymouth properties. I am finding this research both interesting and productive. However, I find contentions about Drake properties which are not founded upon supportive evidence, both annoying and misleading. Spurious claims of a Drake connection in order to deliberately promote tourism are equally vexing. A prime example of this is the property cited as the so-called 'Mary Newman's cottage' in Saltash.

The cottage

The cottage

Fellow society member and Saltash resident Brian Whipp gave me a copy of the booklet issued by the Tamar Protection Society. This puts forward the theory that Mary Newman once lived in the cottage. I read the booklet with interest and hope this article will explain why I think one of the West Country's vaunted Drake haunts has no connection whatsoever with Drake. Some of the claims are so ludicrous because it is so easy to disprove them.

The Tamar Protection Society have published the following claims, each is followed by my response.

1 Mary Newman was a Saltash girl because this contention can be traced back to 1820.

The Saltash claim can be traced no further back than about 1800. The St Budeaux claim goes back to the 16th century. Mary Newman could have been born in Saltash and lived there as a child but it is unlikely that the family moved from Saltash to St Budeaux. The St Budeaux registers do not record the births and or baptisms of anybody called Newman but they are conclusive with regard to marriage.

During the period 1562 - 1569, three girls all with the surname Newman, and all with a Christian name beginning with M, married at St Budeaux parish church. There is no proof that they were sisters but the same surname and Christian names beginning with the same letter is rather too coincidental. The three girls were Maude, who married Lyon Worth in November 1562, Margaret who married John Bodenham in April 1560 and Mary who married Francis Drake on 4 July 1569. There is an additional piece of evidence that links Margaret Newman / Bodenham to Mary Newman / Drake.

In the mid 1580s a young man appears on Drake's payroll as a type of steward-cum- secretary. This man who serves as Drake's officer and then as captain in the post 1588 voyages, is called Jonas Bodenham. Drake appears to have trusted Jonas with personal and family business. Concerning Jonas, Drake's brother Thomas said, "my brother hath trained him from his infancy in his own service, he having no other relief or maintenance". This indicates that Bodenham had been raised in the Drake household. He was not a Drake as Francis had no sisters. Drake had an aunt who married Robert Barratt, wherein lies a possible Drake connection for Saltash. Therefore, Jonas must have been related to Mary as I now explain.

We know that John and Margaret Bodenham died young, so what could be more logical than Margaret's childless sister bringing up their orphaned son. The picture of Mary as a lonely childless wife is somewhat untrue; at one point in her life she and Francis had three boys to raise. These were: Drake's brother Thomas and, cousin John and Mary's nephew Jonas Bodenham.

Looking across the River Tamar from 'Mary Newman's Cottage' at Saltash Passage in Devon

Looking across the River Tamar from "Mary Newman's Cottage" at Saltash Passage in Devon, where Mary lived.

2 Mary Newman was born in 1552

There is no evidence whatsoever that Mary was born in 1552. This is merely a guess, because we simply do not know.

3 She was the only daughter of Richard Newman a gentleman mariner, who raided ports in the new World.

A "gentleman mariner" implies that Richard Newman was a captain and, or a ship owner. Such a man would not have considered a junior officer a "suitable match" for his daughter. Francis and Mary must have been betrothed before the 1569 Battle at San Juan de Ulua. Betrothment could have been in 1567, which would set her date of birth prior to 1552. At this date Drake was a junior officer and after San Juan de Ulua was a penniless captain, saddled with malicious comments from John Hawkins. A dubious reputation would not have enhanced his status as a suitable husband for a ship owner and captain's daughter. A man of such standing, would have given his daughter a generous dowry and expect a marriage settlement that would have been currently beyond Drake's pocket.

It is more likely that Mary was the sister of Drake's shipmate Harry Newman of St Budeaux. Also an Elizabethan girl, whatever her social status, usually married in the church of the parish in which she was living.

4 Drake was born in 1545

Drake was not born in 1545 but in 1540. He was 42 when Nicholas Hilliard painted his portrait in 1581-2. When Drake was at Cartagena in 1586, he told the Spanish judge that he was 46. Drake was 56 when he died in 1595-6 depending to which calendar one refers. Therefore Drake must have been born in 1540.

5 Drake was John Hawkins's nephew

Drake was John Hawkins's second cousin: not his nephew. (Editorial note. Susan Jackson has been the only source that I have read, to correct the commonly printed notion that Hawkins was Drake's cousin, or just a kinsman.)

6 Drake joined John Hawkins on voyages, which raided the Caribbean during the course of which he met Richard Newman

John Hawkins made no raiding voyages to the Caribbean, rather slaving voyages. Drake only made one voyage under the personal command of Hawkins, which was in 1568-9. This culminated in the disaster at San Juan de Ulua.

It was Drake who was the first English privateer to roam the Caribbean. This was after he was married. Therefore, Drake could not have met his future father-in-law whilst raiding the Caribbean. Also there is no evidence of a Richard Newman participating and / or investing in any of Drake's subsequent voyages, as one would expect from a father-in-law.

7 Drake went "a courtin'" by water because he was on and off various ships in the Hamoaze

Naturally, at this stage in his life, hiring or borrowing a boat and then walking the rest of the way, was probably cheaper than hiring a horse. Drake was not yet rich and St Budeaux, as with Saltash, was accessible by water. Drake would have been adept at handling a boat.

8 The ceremony was recorded for St Budeaux Church

The fact that the ceremony was recorded for St Budeaux, proves that Mary was living in that parish. An Elizabethan girl married in her own parish.

St Budeaux Church

Mary Newman married Francis Drake in St Budeaux Church

9 Mary was happy to stay in the family cottage at Saltash, while her husband ventured overseas and still remained at Saltash even though Drake owned seventeen properties in Plymouth

This statement is rubbish! Drake was recorded on the town subsidiary rolls as living in Plymouth as early as 1570. He would hardly be living in Plymouth and his wife living in Saltash. The Drakes probably lived in a substantial house in Looe Street. Drake leased out a house and garden in this location, when he and Mary moved to Buckland Abbey. Also the Drakes, plus black servant Diego from Panama, would hardly fit into a cottage already occupied by the in-laws. Drake did own properties in Plymouth but he owned more then seventeen and they were not purchased until after 1580, when he returned from the circumnavigation.

Cottage interior

Cottage interior

10 Rumour had it that Mary disembarked with a quantity of jewels concealed under her skirts: which was later refuted

It was no rumour and they were not concealed, they were personal presents. What man would be brave enough to circumnavigate the world, be away for nearly three years and not bring back a present for his wife?

11 Edmund Tremayne was presumed to have made an inventory of the treasure

No presumed about it! The treasure was landed at Tremeton Castle. Owner Edmund Tremayne took an inventory and sent it, with a covering letter to London. The letter is still in the PRO.

12 The Queen rewarded Drake £10,000 for his world voyage

Edmund Tremayne was told to leave Drake alone with the treasure to extract £10,000 for himself and the same amount for his crew. Tremayne wrote that this was the exact amount that Drake took. However Tremayne seems to have liked Drake and may have been "not saying" if Drake took more. This sum does not of course include: any personal souvenirs, gifts from Spanish prisoners and gifts for Mary. The Queen then gave Drake a further £10,000 for his services, plus personal gifts. Drake being an investor also received £47 for every £1 invested. We do not know how much Drake gained from his circumnavigation. However, he was now one of the richest men in England.

13 Christopher Harris and John Hale bought Buckland Abbey for Drake

Christopher Harris and John Hele did not buy Buckland Abbey for Drake. Richard Grenville was well aware who the purchaser was, since Grenville had a land-lease arrangement with Drake. If Drake decided that Buckland was not for him, then Grenville could buy it back for the original purchase price after three years. Hele and Harris merely executed the conveyencing and the legal affairs.

14 Mary moved from a cottage in Saltash to Buckland Abbey

Mary moved from her home in Looe Street to Buckland Abbey.

15 In 1583 Lady Mary Drake died of smallpox at Buckland Abbey

It is unlikely that Mary died of smallpox. Such a virulent disease would have infected the entire household: including Drake. Smallpox would have caused sufficient local comment to ensure the event to be recorded.

16 The idea of a curse laid, by the monks of Buckland, on the Grenvilles and the Drakes saying that none of them would die in their beds which entailed a midnight mass, held by Lady Seaton to allay it

This idea of a curse is rather silly, in light of the fact that the dissolved abbey passed straight to the crown in 1539 and Richard Grenville's grandfather did not purchase it until 1541. The monks could have hardly cursed Drake in 1539 before his birth, nor Richard Grenville who would have been an infant. Also if there was a curse, how does it circumvent the fact, that Sir Richard Grenville senior and Thomas Drake and his descendants all died peacefully in their beds?

Anna Drake married Robert Barrett of Saltash. They had a son also named Robert, who was one of John Hawkins's most trusted and senior captains. Robert Barrett was captured at San Juan de Ulua and then tortured and burned at the stake. I think it was Barrett's death which made Drake harbour bitterness towards Spain. Drake's navigational skills were supreme: he was always his own best pilot. We know that the man who bequeathed him the bark, taught Drake his basic pilotage skills. There is no evidence that Hawkins could navigate. Consequently, I think Drake's next mentor and teacher was Barrett. I think that this cousin and Drake, had a good relationship, ensuring that his death greatly affected Drake. Drake must have visited Saltash but rather to see Robert Barrett: not Mary Newman. Could the cottage be that of Robert Barrett? Therefore, if Saltash want a Drake connection, perhaps they should look to a cousin rather than a wife.

Meanwhile, there is one hard fact that is directly Drake related: the San Felipe, that Drake seized off the Azores in 1587, had her inventory compiled at Saltash. This confirmed that Drake had hitherto, captured the richest prize of all time.

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