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The San Pedro's



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Shipwrecks added since November 2014

SS Newholm
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The San Pedro-el-Menor was Part of the Squadron of Castile Commanded by Don Diego Flores de Valdes and had 24 guns with a crew of 131 mariners and141 Soldiers on board. Her commander was Francisco de Cuellar who, after the first battle the Armada fought off Plymouth he was relieved of his command for braking the formation during the battle and transferred under arrest to the ship La Lavia of Levant escaping being hanged. He went on to be shipwrecked on the coast of Ireland and after many adventures final got back to Spain, that’s another story.

We hear of the San Pedro el Menor again when her Master Simon Henriquez and Juan Isla the ships pilot disserted while off Calais and Finally on the 20th October her new captain don Juan de Monsalve reports that he has gone aground off Morvien on the Brittany coast and was awash to the upper decks so it would seem it never returned to Spain. It would appear that he had circumnavigated Scotland and Ireland and then he was driven up the English Chanel by the SW gale he encountered.

What of the hospital ship San Pedro el Mayor we are told that she took on some of the inured of the San Salvador which had exploded on 31July at the first battle of the Armada off Plymouth and would have kept station during the battles up the Channel whilst taking on more sick and injured as well as experiencing the rout by the English fire ships at Calais. We don’t hear any more of her utill she limps into the little port of Vicey by the Great Blasket Island off County Kerry where she took on more sick and injured. It must have been quite a feat of seamanship navigating around the Scottish and Irish coast. The San Pedro was joined by two other ships and the San Juan commanded by Jaun Martinez Recalde, one of Spain’s most famous seamen. They found  anchorage to try and get some fresh water and supplies. We don’t know how successful they were in getting supplies but they left the anchorage together the Great Galleon San Jan making it back to Spain and three day after its arrival there, Recalled died of sickness and fateuie.

The San Pedro el Mayor left the Great Blasket sound in company of the San Jaun but she was in such a bad state that Captain Pedro Coco Calderon with his ship taking in water and his crew weak from hunger and lack of clean drinking water, he could no longer control the ship and before a gale force SW wind the San Pedro el Mayor also was driven up the Channel on to the rocks of Bigbury Bay.

The Calendar of State Paper (Domestic) for 1588 contains all manner of information in letters and reports concerning the Amada. Two of these referrer to the wreck of the San Pedro el Mayor at Hope in Bigbury Bay.

The first is by George Cary at Cockington, near Torquay, who wrote the first letter to Queens Council dated it November 5th. 1588. The second letter to the Council was written by Anthony Ashley the sectary of the Queen’s Council from Ilton Castle, The home of Sir William Courtenay’s  near Salcombe who was the third Earl of Devon and High Sheriff of Devon. The letter is dated November 12th. 1588.


State Papers


In the letter written on November 5th 1588 George Cary Local Magistrate to the Queens Council, in his second paragraph he sates.

And during my abode there, having understanding that one of the Spanish fleet was cast ashore at a place called Hope near Salcombe and great pilfering and spoils that the country folk made. I rode thither and took order for the restoring and behaving again as either by search or inquiry I could find out, and have put in inventory .And took order, for the orderly saving of the rest, as weather would give leave, to have the same on land, appointing two head constables to attend to that service, and others to keep inventories.

The ship is a hulk and called the St Peter the Great one of the two ships which were appointed for the hospital of the whole Navy. She is burden, as they say, 550 tons but I think not so much.

The ship is not to be recovered; she lieth on a rock and full of water to her upper decks. They confess that there were put into her, at the coming out of Spain, thirty mariners, one hundred soldiers, and fifty appertaining to the hospital. There are now remaining140 or there about.

There was put into her as much drugs and pothecary stuff as came to 6,000 ducats, as I think it will come little good of the same, being in the water almost this sennight the weather such that none could get aboard,  There has been some plate and certain ducats rifled and spoiled at the first landing, both from the prisoners and out of their chests. The ship, I think, will prove of no great value; the ordnance is all iron, and no brass; their ground tackle all spent, save only one new cable. There are no men of account in the ship-soldiers and such as have risen by service, and bestowed all their wealth I this action. I have severed all captains and chiefest of them, to the number of 10 persons from the rest; eight of them I left to the charge of Sir William Courteney, and two of them, the one being the pothercary, and other the sergeant, I took to myself; the others are put in safe keeping and guarded both day and night; and have appointed 1.1/2. A day to every of them to make provision for their sustenance. Until your Lordships pleasures ere further know; which I humbly desire may be with some speed, for the charge of these, and those of Bridewell, grow somewhat heavy to me. I disburse these money myself, for money is not to be received for the wines, Sir John Gilberte having disposed already of all the best; the rest through ill usage in this country, will yield but little, nor good for anything. as I think, save only to make aquavitae of, or such like. I would humble desire the gift of those two Spaniards which I have, not for any profit, but I make trial what skill is in them. I am given to understand that there is remaining 14 barrel of powder in the Samaritan, of such as I caused to be taken out of the Spanish carrack and appointed to have been sent and delivered unto my Lord Admiral in the late service, according to my Lord’s direction; but the same was never delivered, and doth yet remain in the Samaritan, as I am informed. And so I humbly take my leave. Cockington, this 5th November, 1588


Upon the finishing of my letter I received a letter from the Mayor of Plymouth and other officers there, which I send here enclosed unto your Honours.

                      Your Honours always to be commanded

                                      George Cary.      


The second letter which was written to the Queens council was by Anthony Ashley their sectary begins.

May it please your Lordships and continues that he has made an inventory of all the goods from the vessel.

And states, the ship being run upon rocks by the Spaniards, is through the tempestuous weather broken in pieces and scattered on the seashore, and order is taken for the saving of such things as are anything worth,


No were in the two letters does it say that the ship is wrecked at Hope Cove. It refers to a place called Hope and in one letter a rock and in the other letter rocks. At the time of the wrecking the bay between Bolt tail and Burgh Island was called Hope bay and the quay on the main land opposite the island was called Hope quay also in a letter from the Privy Council to George Carey refers to the wreck being at Hope a bay near Salcombe. This widens the search area for the wreck considerably


What of the 140 prisoners! That came ashore in Hope bay? George Carey had asked to have two of them. Not for profit but for the skill in them. The prisoner he wanted were from the Hospital staff and fact that  Spain had been occupied by the Moors for 700 years who had great knowledge of Medical maters and medicine. He thought he could learn some knowledge of medicine from the Spanish physicians

As for the rest we have a letter from the Privy Council to Sir William Courtney, Sir Robert Dennis, Sir John Gilbert, knights, and Hugh Fortescue and George Carey. Telling them to pick persons qualities and calling that might be amongst them. And as for the rest of the soldiers and common people being Spanish born, to be executed as they were enemies to her Majesty.

In this letter it refers to there being 200 prisoners! This is a surprise as the list of prisoner that Ashley complied 5 day after the wreck only said 140. I have a copy of this list and its only 140. I think there was a little cheating going on and the local gentry were trying to get extra for keeping the prisoners.

The prisoners were not executed as again the local gentry saw a chance to make more money by ransoming the ordinary prisoners than killing them and the instructions from the Privy Council That they were given there is a get out clause as the directions go on to say the decision of who is executed will be left to their discretion.

See inserted abstract Copy of the letter from the Privy Council below.


How do we know that the ordinary prisoners were not executed? We have a copy a Statement of Gonzalo Gonzales del Castillo, a native of Granada dated 9 March 1592 in the Paris Archives. K.1592

He states that on the “4 November 1589 the following year the Spanish                       



Prisoner ransom was paid by the Duke of Palma with the exception of the 12 given to Sir William Courteney. Who wanted at first 5,000 ducats for them but after them petitioning the Queen Elizabeth for their release over his head he raised the ransom to 25,000 ducats (I am not sure what a ducat to a pound rate of exchange would be in 1589 would be but I am sure it would be a great deal of money.) It was twelve years before the last prisoners was released.






Having spent many years living at Hope cove I have spent many hours looking for the San Pedro without success the only artifact that has been found that fits the date range is a traveling pewter communion cup dated 1550 to 1650 this was found by Steven George.

It is thought that it may have come from a Portuguese ship that came ashore at Hope around 1649/60 but it is possible that it is from the San Pedro?









The Pillar Dollars Real (Pieces of Eight) Some of the coins found at near the foot of the slip although Spanish have been over stamped with a small numerals 240 that shows they have been used at a later date by the Portuguese and this would fit the Portuguese wreck of a later date 1649/60.












Just recently Steve Clarkson has found a picture of a plate reputably salvage from the San Pedro at the time of the wreck and which is still in-tacked and was bought in a London antique shop See Picture.

Also there is a Spanish Helmet in the Cornworthy Museum at Kingsbridge which was found built into wall of the Church Tower at Aveton Gifford This Helmet and breast plate came to light when the church was hit with a bomb during the last war. Unfortunate the breast plate has not survived. This Helmet could have come from the wreck.













We are still researching and looking for the San Pedro el Mayor so if any one reading this report has any information please let us know.








Steve Clarkson & Neville Oldham.


Attached below are typed letters relating to the prisoners from the Paris archives.





Neville Oldham & Steve Clarkson