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HAWKINS, Sir John.

Two manuscript estate indentures relating to Hawkins's property at Chatham, established as a Royal Dockyard in 1567. Signed by Sir John Hawkins and Dame Margaret Hawkins respectively.

Chatham, Kent, 1582 & 1599 Stock Code: 115601
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A superb example of the signature of one of the great sailors of Elizabethan England, the first document showing him acquiring land at Chatham, established as a Royal Dockyard by Elizabeth I in 1567. Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595), merchant, privateer and naval commander, was cousin to Sir Francis Drake "but Hawkins arguably knew more about seamanship and did more for his country than Drake. During several voyages in the 1560s Hawkins demonstrated to his countrymen that good profits could be made trading in the Spanish ports of the West Indies. He also introduced his queen and his fellow merchants to the loathsome business of slave trading, where even greater profits could be made by men whose consciences were not of exceeding tenderness" (Harry Kelsey, Sir John Hawkins: Queen Elizabeth's Slave Trader, Yale 2003, p. xiii). Hawkins played a pivotal role in the slave trade, proving "the possibility of extending the long-established English triangular trade via Guinea to Brazil - in which his father had taken a pioneering role thirty years earlier - to a new, and readily available commodity, namely African slaves, and to a new Caribbean destination, where Spanish colonists welcomed slaves as an important constituent element in their internal economy - a valuable, harder-working, and longer-living antidote to the chronic wastage of the aboriginal population, and furnished more cheaply than their own compatriots managed via Seville" (ODNB).
The earlier of the two indentures is dated 22 January 1582, signed "John Hawkyns", and bears his wax seal: with this document William Barnes of Chatham (a "chief master" - or captain - in Elizabeth's navy), conveys to Sir John Hawkins of London, then treasurer of the navy, a house, storehouse, two yards, an adjoining garden near Chatham Street, together with a section of land called "The Quay" and some marshlands both belonging to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, altogether procured for 100. The document further mentions a bond in 160 for quiet possession of the house by Peter Hills of Rotherhithe in Surrey, yeoman, to William Barnes (30 January 1577), and recites the lease made 15 October 1545 for The Quay and marsh by George Bowne, master of St Bartholomew's Hospital in Kent, to Walter Hayte of Rochester, tailor, for 99 years, which was by 1582 vested in William Barnes. The witnesses are listed as Walter Portryff, Thomas Maynerd and Miles Toogye. The attached red wax seal bears a fine impression of Hawkins' "merchant's mark" - the design appearing to incorporate a hawk's talon, presumably a play on his name - and a fine example of his signature. In the most famous portrait of Hawkins, at the National Maritime Museum, Hawkins is pictured holding a seal on a ring but close inspection shows that it is not the same as either of the two seals used on these documents. William Barnes would have been well known to Hawkins as he was one of two "chief masters" - the other being Thomas Gray - of the group appointed by Elizabeth to the special investigation commission that was looking into the state of the navy. ODNB records that "Hawkins bought a house in Deptford, and soon afterwards another in the city, in the parish of St Dunstan-in-the-East, which he retained for the remainder of his life" but would presumably also have had lodgings at Chatham while he oversaw the fitting-out of ships. Interestingly, St Bartholomew's Hospital, alluded to in both documents, had, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, been reduced to a "poor show of a decayed hospital" (William Lambarde, Perambulation of Kent, 1576); however, when Chatham became a Royal Dockyard in 1567 the meagre estates which had formerly only supported a decayed hospital became more valuable. In fact property values rose to such an extent that an attempt was made to seize the land for the Crown.
Dated 20 May 1599, the second document records Dame Margaret Hawkins (d.1619), leasing The Quay and the marsh to the governors of the hospital of Sir John Hawkins in Chatham, with a fine example of her signature at foot. A deed of ratification of leasehold estate and surrender of interest in the head-lease, the text recites the lease for 99 years by George Bowne (which subsequently came to Sir John Hawkins, who built a dwelling house on part of the land) and the grant of a lease by the feoffees of such parts of the premises in which Sir John Hawkins claimed a freehold estate (Henry Palmer, kt, Thomas Hughes, Hugh Vaughan and Richard Reynoll, esqs), to Christopher Chapman, merchant, of the messuage, gardens, wharf, storehouse and half an acre of marsh for 21 years from 25 Mar 1597 at 8 (1 May 1597). Dame Margaret now ratifies Christopher Chapman's leasehold interest and, as the executrix of Sir John Hawkins, assigns to the governors such interest as she may have in the quay and marsh under the head-lease of 1545. The witnesses are recorded as Anthony Lewes, Richard Holman and John Cureton. The seal attached to this second document shows the arms of Sir John Hawkins and a fine example of Margaret Hawkins's signature.
Chatham is still home to the Sir John Hawkins Hospital - an almshouse for sailors - the brainchild of Hawkins, conceived some time during 1593; "the institution received a royal charter in 1594" (Kelsey). It is possible that some of the land purchased in the present indenture of 1582 was used as the site of the Hospital; while the indenture of 1599 indicates the expansion of the Hospital. Hawkins was also a co-founder of the famous Chatham Chest, "a fund for disabled seamen which was founded in 1590 by Drake, Sir John Hawkins and Lord Howard of Effingham. Seamen paid 6d. a month from their pay into the fund; the chest in which the money was kept is now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich" (Uden & Cooper, A Dictionary of British Ships and Seamen, 1980, p. 83). Hawkins's position in British history has been summed up succinctly: "This many-talented man was one of the greatest of his age: seaman, navigator, strategist, administrator, businessman, Member of Parliament, innovator and patriot" (ibid).

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2 sheets vellum, folio (measuring 424 x 569 mm and 335 x 503 mm respectively). Manuscript in an English secretary hand. Both with wax seals on vellum tags, that of 1582 bearing Hawkins's "merchant's mark" and that of 1599 his arms (sable on a point wavy, a lion passant or, in chief three bezants, crest, a demi Moor in his proper colour, bound and captive, with annulets in his arms and ears). Prickings visible along left margin (made as a guide for ruling the sheets).


Creased where folded, only light soiling, seal on document of 1599 partially cracked but whole, overall both indentures in excellent condition.


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