Shipmaster John Douglas

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names

This page is a stub.  You can help improve it.

John Douglas, master of Raleigh's admiral, had served in Raleigh's privateers. He is listed as one of the shipmasters who appraised the Black Dog for a High Court of Admiralty suit relating to the privateering voyage made by the late William Mitchelson in 1589. Thomas Hariot noted that John Douglas had a copy of a Spanish rutter(1) for the West Indies which Captain William Parker has acquired, either in his voyage of 1592 or that of 1593, and passed on to Raleigh: see BL, Sloane MS 2292, ff. 16-33; Andrews, English Privateering, pp 57, 220.

For the 1595 Guiana voyage, Thomas Hariot worked out navigational figures for Raleigh, Captain Jacob Whidden  (died Trinidad 1595) and John Douglas, the shipmaster, so that they could make corrections due to facial structure. However, it seems that Whidden and master of "myne owne shippe" Douglas's measurements consistently placed then 2 degrees closer to the equator than they actually were.

Raleigh's El Dorado Expedition also known as Raleigh's First Voyage to Guiana was a military and exploratory expedition that took place during the Anglo–Spanish War in April 1595.

Raleigh's flagship on the first El Dorado expedition was the "Bark Raleigh." The Captain was Jacob Whiddon, (died Trinidad 1595) and the shipmaster was John Douglas. There was also a small bark under Captain Cross. On board were 150 officers, soldiers as well as gentleman volunteers.

1.  A rutter is a mariner's handbook of written sailing directions. Before the advent of nautical charts, rutters were the primary store of geographic information for maritime navigation.
2.  Presumably this is not the same man:
1n 1664 Captain John Douglas, who held a Portuguese Commission to attack enemy ships, was in Cayman Brac for 10 days, lying in wait for the vessel the Blue Dove. Douglas eventually caught up to the Blue Dove in Bluefields Bay, Jamaica. William Browne, a passenger on board the vessel reported that ‘Douglas’ men gave them a voly of shot, being in number about 27 men, and being somewhat darke the master was shot in the arme and the men of the Blow Dove were put in the howll of the ship; and then the asaylants cut the cables and carryd away both vesells and them, until they came to Poynt Niggereell, where they met with ane English barke coming from Caymans and bownd for Porte Royall in Jamaica where they putt the said master of the Blowe Dove aboard according to his desire and furnished them with some victwales and a caise of spirits; and after they were gone owt of sight they lasht there barke aboard the prise and took most of there things owt of her and let her go adrifte.’ The master of the Blue Dove, Robert Cook later said that Douglas and his men had taken everything except the clothes he wore, including jewellery, chests of silver and the cargo of sugar the Blue Dove was carrying. More on this John Douglas here:
3.  Extracts from Walter Raleigh (1554-1618): The Discovery of Guiana, 1595 - Fordham University:
The master of my ship, John Douglas, took one of the canoas which came laden from thence with people to be sold, and the most of them escaped; yet of those he brought, there was one as well favoured and as well shaped as ever I saw any in England; and afterwards I saw many of them, which but for their tawny colour may be compared to any in Europe.

Many and the most of these I found to be true; but yet I resolving to make trial of whatsoever happened, directed Captain George Gifford, my Vice-Admiral, to take the Lion's Whelp, and Captain Caulfield his bark, [and] to turn to the eastward, against the mouth of a river called Capuri, whose entrance I had before sent Captain Whiddon and John Douglas the master to discover. Who found some nine foot water or better upon the flood, and five at low water: to whom I had given instructions that they should anchor at the edge of the shoal, and upon the best of the flood to thrust over, which shoal John Douglas buoyed and beckoned34 for them before. But they laboured in vain; for neither could they turn it up altogether so far to the east, neither did the flood continue so long, but the water fell yere they could have passed the sands.

In the meantime, fearing the worst, I caused all the carpenters we had to cut down a galego boat, which we meant to cast off, and to fit her with banks to row on, and in all things to prepare her the best they could, so as she might be brought to draw but five foot: for so much we had on the bar of Capuri at low water. And doubting of King's return, I sent John Douglas again in my long barge, as well to relieve him, as also to make a perfect search in the bottom of the bay; for it hath been held for infallible, that whatsoever ship or boat shall fall therein can never disemboque again, by reason of the violent current which setteth into the said bay, as also for that the breeze and easterly wind bloweth directly into the same. Of which opinion I have heard John Hampton,35 of Plymouth, one of the greatest experience of England, and divers other besides that have traded to Trinidad.

I sent with John Douglas an old cacique of Trinidad for a pilot, who told us that we could not return again by the bay or gulf, but that he knew a by-branch which ran within the land to the eastward, and he thought by it we might fall into Capuri, and so return in four days. John Douglas searched those rivers, and found four goodly entrances, whereof the least was as big as the Thames at Woolwich, but in the bay thitherward it was shoal and but six foot water; so as we were now without hope of any ship or bark to pass over, and therefore resolved to go on with the boats, and the bottom of the galego, in which we thrust 60 men.

So as we were driven to go in those small boats directly before the wind into the bottom of the Bay of Guanipa, and from thence to enter the mouth of some one of those rivers which John Douglas had last discovered; and had with us for pilot an Indian of Barema, a river to the south of Orenoque, between that and Amazons, whose canoas we had formerly taken as he was going from the said Barema, laden with cassavi bread to sell at Margarita.



Sources for this article include:

•  BL, Sloane MS 2292, ff. 16-33
•  Andrews, English Privateering, pp 57, 220
•  Three Keys to the Past: The History of Technical Communication, edited by Teresa C. Kynell, et al.

Any contributions will be gratefully accepted


Back to top


The content of this website is a collection of materials gathered from a variety of sources, some of it unedited.

The webmaster does not intend to claim authorship, but gives credit to the originators for their work.

As work progresses, some of the content may be re-written and presented in a unique format, to which we would then be able to claim ownership.

Discussion and contributions from those more knowledgeable is welcome.

Contact Us

Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024