ROBERT HARCOURT (1574/5-1631)
A Relation of a Voyage to Guiana. London: printed by John Beale for W. Welby, 1613. Small 4° (137 x 175mm). Woodcut device to title, headpieces and initials. (Occasional very light spotting.) Contemporary flexible vellum, sprinkled red edges (lightly soiled, lacking ties). Provenance: Boies Penrose (bookplates; sold Sotheby's 7th June 1971, lot 105).
EXTREMELY RARE FIRST EDITION. In 1609 Harcourt sailed to Guiana, arriving at the mouth of the Wiapoco on 17 May. A settlement was established there and in July, after the rains had ceased, Harcourt made contact with an inland chief and started to prospect inland for gold. In this he was unsuccessful, and his stay on the Wiapoco was cut short by the realisation that his ships' drink casks were deteriorating. He set sail for England in early August, leaving his brother Michael and Captain Edward Harvey to command thirty men left behind.
Harcourt arrived back in Bristol on 17 December 1609, and was beset by financial troubles. As a result he was never able to supply his settlers. However, when 'Michael Harcourt returned to England in 1612 with stories of rich goldmines and precious stones to be found in the interior, and of the commercial possibilities on the coast, [this moved] his older brother to ask Prince Henry to advance his suit to the king for an exclusive administrative and commercial monopoly of the region "betweene the Ryver of Amazones [Amazon] and the Ryver of Dessequebe [Essequibo]"' (ODNB).
This was granted on 28 August 1613, and Harcourt immediately set to publishing the present work, essentially a promotional prospectus for the author's plantation. Unfortunately, it does not seem to have stirred up much interest from investors, despite Harcourt's depiction of the rich commercial potential in sugar, cotton and tobacco. Harcourt himself seems to have sold the manor of Stanton Harcourt to underwrite the venture. As it was, he was occupied by fending off Roger North's efforts to form an Amazon Company; and even when this dispute had been settled by the Privy Council in 1619, south American ventures by North, which provoked the Spanish and James I's pro-Spanish sympathies and led to North's arrest and imprisonment, probably persuaded Harcourt to suspend his colonial adventures. With the death of James in 1625 and the accession of Charles I, Anglo-Spanish relations cooled, and Harcourt was sufficiently encouraged to join North, issuing a second edition of his Relation in 1626 (although lacking the Patent of Guinana found only in the present work). This time the promotion worked, and having attracted sufficient investment, Harcourt sailed in November 1628 for the Amazon. However, he ignored his orders, and made directly for his former settlement on the Wiapoco, arriving in February 1629. A second body of colonists, this time following their directives, went to the Amazon, and left Harcourt unable to supply the settlement. 'English traders who visited the Wiapoco in late March 1630 found his settlers short of provisions, sick with fevers and dysentery, and harassed by hostile Caribs. Harcourt died on 20 May 1631, almost certainly on the Wiapoco, and was probably buried there the same day. Spanish reports indicate that some of his colonists may still have been on the river in 1637' (ODNB). Church 360; Sabin 30296. Bound with two other works.