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A Tale of Two Thomases

On 8th November 1561 a baby named Thomas Eldred, son of Thomas Eldred, a tallow chandler, was baptized at St Mary at the Quay.

Thomas attended Ipswich School where he befriended Thomas Cavendish. Upon leaving school, he became a bosun (a ship’s officer, typically in charge of equipment and crew) on the Pelican, later establishing himself as a merchant and mariner.

Between 1577 and 1580 Sir Francis Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. The second Englishman, and third person ever, to achieve this feat was Thomas Cavendish from Grimston Hall in Trimley St. Martin, Ipswich. He was born on 19 September 1560, inherited a fortune at the age of 12 and went to Corpus Christi College at Cambridge University from the age of 15 to 17.

On 21st July 1586 Thomas Cavendish set sail from Plymouth on a westbound voyage, under the instruction of Sir Walter Raleigh and with the blessing of Queen Elizabeth I. He was accompanied by a crew of 123 officers and men, together with two years’ worth of provisions on three ships; the Desire (120/140 tons and 18 cannons), the Content (60 tons and ten cannons) and the Hugh Gallant (40 tons). One of those amongst the crew on board the Desire was Thomas Eldred, it is believed he was the navigator.

Upon reaching the Pacific in February 1587, Cavendish burned the Hugh Gallant due to a lack of crew to sufficiently man all three ships. Many of the crew died on the voyage and suffered from scurvy due to the lack of vitamin c in their diets. Cavendish then conspired to capture the King of Spain’s ship, the Great St. Anna, which contained 600 – 700 tons of cargo, killing many of the crew in the process. Limited to space for only 40 tons of cargo and treasure on his two remaining ships, he burned the remaining cargo and the Spanish ship. The Content’s crew then mutinied over the division of the spoils and the ship was never heard of again.

The voyage ended on 9 September 1588 when the Desire arrived at Plymouth before sailing up the Thames, complete with Spanish gold, silk, musk, damask, satins and treasure, to bask in its glory. Cavendish was knighted by Elizabeth I upon his return to England, becoming Sir Cavendish. The entire voyage took two years and 50 days, with a crew of only 48 out of the original 123 returning with Cavendish. The achievement was however somewhat overshadowed by the spectacular defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Thomas Eldred ended his days as a bailiff in Ipswich and died in 1624. He was buried at St Clements church on 3 May 1624 and he is commemorated by a blue plaque at 97 Fore Street, which is the site of his original home. A piece of 16th century plaster work from his house is on display at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, together with an oak over mantle which celebrates his maritime exploits with Cavendish.

‘He that travels the world about, Seeth God’s wonders, and God’s works.’
Inscription on Thomas Eldred’s tomb at St Clements’ Church, Ipswich.

On of the rooms at Quay Place, The Eldred, is named after Thomas Eldred.

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