Voyage of Richard Hore|
In the 1500's the British were lagging far behind in the race to wealth and empire. The Spanish and Portuguese were dividing up the hemisphere south of Florida and the French had Jacques Cartier in the north. After John Cabot in 1497, the British waited thirty-nine years before launching a second expedition, and it turned out to be an eccentric blip in the annals of exploration.
In 1536, Richard Hore, an English gentleman, organized an expedition to the New World that had two ships, a crew of ninety, and thirty gentlemen who were interested in exotic adventure. They may have been trying to follow Cartier's route into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. After receiving the sacrament, they left England from Gravesend in the spring of 1536.
The crossing was long, almost two months, and their adventure was initially limited to spotting some Beothuk on Newfoundland. The natives fled, leaving a campfire with bear meat on a spit. A more genuine, dismal adventure took shape after one of the ships became unseaworthy and they ran out of food. They had little luck hunting or fishing and scoured the inhospitable land for edible roots and herbs. An account of the voyage was told by one of the survivors, Sir William Buts:
"...but the famine increasing and the reliefe of herbes being to little purpose to satisfie their insatiable hunger, in the fields and deserts here and there, the fellowe killed his mate while he stouped to take up a roote for his reliefe, and cutting out pieces of his body whome he had murthered, broyled the same on the coles and greedily devoured them. By this meane the company decreased... "
The cannibals among the crew accounted for their shipmates by saying they had been killed by savages or wild animals. When one of the crew confessed to broiling and eating a shipmate's buttock, the captain invoked God:
"Yet it had bene better to have perished in body, and to have lived everlastingly, then to have relieved for a poore time their mortal bodies, and to bee condemned everlastingly, both body and soule to the unquenchable fire of hel. And thus having ended to that effect, he began to exhort to repentence, and besought all the company to pray, that it might please God to looke upon their miserable present state, and for his owne mercie to relieve the same. And such was the mercie of God, that the same night there arrived a French shippe in that port, well furnished with vittaile, and such was the policie of the English, that they became masters of the same."
They pirated the ship and left the French crew with the unreliable English ship and no food, then returned home. Several months later, against great odds, the French sailors arrived in England in the rotting vessel, demanding compensation, which was granted by a sympathetic Henry VIII. British ambitions for the New World weren't revived for several years.
The Beothuk were perhaps the first natives to be paraded in Europe as the exotic face of the New World but the fate of those who were brought to Europe would be the eventual fate of the entire nation.
By the mid-nineteenth century they had completely disappeared. The last Beothuk, a woman named Shawnadithit, died of tuberculosis in 1829.