Early depiction of the Pearl as talisman

Klaas Oudt, who’s been reading this blog and helping with my research and hunt for the pearl, just sent me this image of a map originally published in 1589 which I thought it would be great to share with you too.


1589 map of Sir Francis Drake in Cartagena

It shows Drake’s involvement in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1586) and is especially interesting because, as Klaas pointed out, it looks to be an early depiction of the talisman powers of the pearl after Drake found it on his voyage of circumnavigation 1577-80.

In the context of what we know about the pearl, this map seems to be a representation of the pearl (above the galleon) as a good omen in battle and a form of protection against the ancient sea monsters of the deep.

Principles of the Order of the Pearl

This is one of the main reasons I’m certain the pearl is hidden somewhere in Plymouth. I found this pamphlet featuring the principles of the Order of the Pearl in the attic at Plymouth Arts Centre.

Principles of the Order of the Pearl

I got a call one day from my friend who works there saying she’d found something she thought I’d be interested in. I went straight over and she took me up into the attic. No one on the current staff had been up there until that day. It was carpeted in dust and massive cobwebs were hanging from the eaves. They’d discovered all sorts in there that morning: old film reels, love notes from the 1930s and an ornate old box which had some of Nancy Astor’s possessions inside.

The Astors had acquired the Victory House Boys and Girls Club in 1918, and in 1924-5 the purchase and conversion of the neighbouring church buildings allowed the whole site to be redeveloped and opened as the Virginia House Settlement, named after Nancy’s birthplace. The facilities have changed over the years. It was originally described as a ‘Welfare Work Centre,’ parts became a base for voluntary social services and the Plymouth Arts Centre opened on Looe Street in 1948.

My friend found the box buried in a corner under film cans, blankets, an array of mops and old posters. She gave me an opportunity to investigate all the contents and I made this incredible find.  I’ve had it analysed by forensic scientists to determine the age and origin and they said it is vellum dating back to late 16th Century, England. So, this could well be the very first place the principles of the Order of the Pearl were written down after Drake devised them.

Drake pictured with the pearl and armillary sphere

This is a section of a painting at Buckland Abbey (Drake’s former home) depicting Drake with the pearl as he found it inside the armillary sphere.

drake and the pearl

Section of a painting at Buckland Abbey depicting the pearl and armillary sphere

This was painted long after his death, and my research has found that the pearl is actually slightly larger than this, but it’s a good image to analyse, especially because of the sea monster eyeing the pearl suspiciously. It obviously knows its powers!

drake and the pearl

Queen Elizabeth I letter establishing the Order of the Pearl

I found this letter/court order from Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Francis Drake amongst Grandma Betsy’s papers when I was sorting through them after she died. It was written the day after the Queen knighted Drake aboard the Golden Hind in London, and just a few months after he’d returned from circumnavigating the globe.

That same day he secretly presented the pearl as a gift to the Queen. She reportedly admired it greatly but was perturbed that its glow had dimmed since arriving in the capital. She told Drake that its power must lie in being by the sea and asked him to guard it in Plymouth. This is how and why it became to be known as the Pearl of Plymouth.

At the same time, Queen Elizabeth declared all written accounts of Drake’s voyage secrets of the Realm. Drake and those who sailed with him were also sworn to secrecy on pain of death. Hence why the finding of the pearl has such a secret history and the Order of the Pearl was established.

queen elizabeth I letter

Queen Elizabeth I letter to Drake establishing the Order of the Pearl

The scroll from Atlantis and rise of Mergor

In yesterday’s blog I told you the story that’s been passed down through my ancestors of how Sir Francis Drake found the pearl. What I left out is that inside the sea chest, with the pearl and armillary sphere, was a seaworn scroll from Atlantis. That scroll has been in my family since Drake died in 1596 and I inherited it along with the Drake Armillary Sphere from my Grandma Betsy in 2001.

Atlantis sea scroll

Scroll from Atlantis found with the pearl

It’s written in Atlantean but was translated for me by Grandma Betsy. She told me it reads:


‘To the souls who find this pearl

Falls custody ancient power –

the balance twixt land and sea,

the battle twixt light and dark.

Beware forces unsettlin’ the axis,

protect her and ye’ll prosper.’


My research into the pearl and Atlantis corroborates that translation. And further findings reveal that the pearl was placed in the chest and thrown on the open sea the fateful night Atlantis sank beneath the waves. In further blogs I will explain more about the pearl’s role in Atlantis from evidence I found in the Hall of Records, but for now I want to draw attention to the key part of that text that tells of the pearl holding the balance between land and sea.

My research has revealed that the pearl is only capable of doing this when it’s active and spinning inside the armillary sphere. In 1941, when Nancy Astor separated the pearl from the sphere and hid it somewhere in Plymouth, the pearl was deactivated. Since then the balance between land and sea has been unsettled. It’s clear that the sea is now rising up to claim the land and Plymouth will be one of the first cities lost under water if the pearl isn’t found.

For several years, I’ve been documenting and charting disturbing occurrences linked to the dormancy of the pearl, including rising sea levels, sea birds washing up dead on the coast and sink holes suddenly appearing on beaches. These are all signs that Mergor, an ancient beast of the ocean feared by generations of seafarers, is rising out of the depths to claim the land. During the recent heatwave there’s been an increase in surfers, sailors, fishermen, divers, swimmers and others reporting strange experiences at sea. The intensity of incidences in 2013 signal that Mergor’s getting closer and closer. I’ll tell you more about these freak events in the next blog. Be careful when you’re out in the water… and let me know if you encounter anything odd.

The story of Sir Francis Drake’s Armillary Sphere

This time last week I donated an armillary sphere to the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery collection, which you can go and get a close look at in the Port and Place gallery where it’s gonna be until September.

Look, it’s a beauty..


But most people don’t know just how special it is…

When I was 18, I inherited it from my Grandma Betsy along with her last wishes that I find the pearl which belongs inside it. From the picture you can just make out wooden rings and a globe in the centre, but they’re placeholders for what was originally there when it was found by Sir Francis Drake (my great, great, great, and many more times great (!), uncle) on his voyage of circumnavigation (1577-80).

This is the story of finding the Pearl that has passed down through generations of my family…

It was 1578 and the height of winter in the south Atlantic ocean. Drake’s men were exhausted and sick from scurvy, the waves were tall and icy and relentlessly pounding the deck of the Golden Hind. The ship had been blown far off course on the west side of South America towards Antarctica. The crew was losing hope when the new direction revealed a possible open passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that had never been found before. Drake steered the ship towards the tip of the continent, landing on the southernmost island of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago.

Elizabeth Island, which earthquakes have since destroyed, was nearly square, running 30 miles per side and with a lake at its centre that was probably the crater of an extinct volcano. Drake dropped anchor for four nights and three days and explored as his crew hunted birds, seals and penguins for food stocks. It was on a beach on the westside of the island he found an old teak sea chest, part-buried by shingle and adorned by detailed hand carvings featuring the ring-shaped islands of Atlantis and Poseidon in a sea chariot fighting off a many-tentacled monster with his trident. He dug with his hands for more than an hour to free it and then dragged it aboard the Golden Hind to open and inspect.

That wasn’t as easy as it sounds. It took Drake almost the remainder of his trip to crack the code of the ship’s wheel lock. Many late nights he could be found in the Captain’s Cabin spinning the wheel by candlelight, trying different combinations of turns and noting down mathematical codes. When he eventually cracked the code and opened the lid the light illuminated his entire cabin. Inside the chest was a pearl the size of a crystal ball slowly spinning on an invisible axis in the inner chamber of the same armillary sphere I’ve just donated to the museum. They didn’t have lightbulbs back then and Drake was taken aback by the translucent and iridescent glow. He watched for hours, hypnotised by the motion.

Illustration from Drake's private diary of him finding the Pearl

Illustration from Drake’s private diary of him finding the Pearl – click to enlarge

It wasn’t until the final leg of his journey that he discovered the true power of the pearl. Having rounded the globe, the Golden Hind was back in the rough and tempestuous Atlantic Ocean, not far from the Canary Islands, when it was caught in a brutal storm, one Drake claimed was the work of more than just weather. Drake, like many seafarers, believed there was an immense, tentacled monster in the depths of the sea, capable of conjuring colossal storms and sinking not just ships but whole tracts of land too. During this particular storm, he claimed its tentacles reached up through the waves and grasped the ship, wrapping itself around the rigging and deck preparing to pull the galleon under.

Mergor and ship attack

In a last ditch effort to save his crew, he went on instinct and rushed below deck to bring the pearl to the bridge. When he fixed the armillary sphere beside the wheel and compass the pearl instantly began spinning, so fast it was a blur, before emitting a sudden blast of silver light that blanched the sky and sea and let out a crack like a thunder clap. Drake and the crew stood in awe as the wind and waves instantaneously settled, the clouds parted, and the tentacles froze and receded as if electrocuted, leaving the Golden Hind to drop back down into the waves and resume its safe passage towards Plymouth. From this moment on the pearl was revered for its ability to harness the energy of the ocean and bring luck and protection to all who sailed with her.

Throughout his life, Drake considered the pearl the greatest treasure he’d ever found on his voyages of discovery. He was a proud man and especially proud of serving his Queen. He was her favoured privateer and everything he did demonstrated his loyalty to her. She collected pearls so it was only natural that when he returned to dry land he would gift the new found pearl to her. He travelled to London to present it but its glow dimmed the further it was from the sea and the Queen, sensing it didn’t belong in the capital, asked Drake to guard it in Plymouth, the maritime hub of her kingdom. It was then he founded the Order of the Pearl, a secret society charged with the task of protecting it. For generations the pearl, which came to be known as The Pearl of Plymouth, was safeguarded by the Order and members used it as a talisman on voyages of discovery and adventure believing it brought them luck and protection at sea.

By the time of the Second World War, when Plymouth was being ravaged by the Blitz, the pearl had come to be considered so precious that Nancy Astor, fearing it would be destroyed by German bombs or stolen by the Nazis as one of Hitler’s holy relics, hid it in a secret location. As an extra precaution she separated the pearl from its armillary sphere knowing that they only worked together. The armillary sphere was given to our family, as descendants of Drake, and we were asked to hide it. The pearl was hidden somewhere else. For safety, we were never told where. The Order covered its tracks so diligently that those who sought to steal it were thwarted. After the war, the people of Plymouth were so focused on rebuilding the city that the pearl was forgotten. For more than half a century, the pearl has lain lost and dormant somewhere in the city, many still believing it was destroyed in The Blitz.

My research has left me in no doubt that the pearl is still hidden in Plymouth and must be found, not only because it is a magnificent treasure with great historical significance but because of its other more secret power. I promise to tell you more about that power and its consequences in my next blog…