Sir Francis Drake was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, and politician of the Elizabethan era. He is best known for having been the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world (1577-1580) and for his role as second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. Before that, Drake had also been involved in the beginnings of the slave trade in West Africa. He died of dysentery in 1596 following an unsuccessful attack on San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The reference to Sir Francis Drake might have reminded some of Conrad’s first readers of a less than flattering article that had appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine six months earlier: David Hannay’s ‘The Case of Mr Doughty’ (June 1898), which characterised Drake as violent and self-seeking, and probably a murderer.