See caption
Replica of Drake’s Drum, from the Buckland Abbey education centre
Wikimedia Commons

Drake’s drum is a 16th-century drum said to have belonged to Sir Francis Drake (1540–1596), and to have magical powers to revive him when England is in peril. It may have been carried by him on board his ships to beat the crews to quarters, although doubts remain about the drum’s authenticity,[1] and whether it held any special significance for Drake.[2]

The Drake historian Susan Jackson has pointed out that in the final hours of his life Drake was delirious and, according to an eye-witness “… raved in words which nobody cared to record”, which she speculates could have been the source of the legend, and resulted in the drum being preserved in the Drake family.[2]


Following his death in Panama in 1569, Drake’s drum, sword and bible were sent home to his widow at their home in Buckland Abbey, Devon, where the drum remains on display today.[3] Nothing is recorded of the drum’s legendary power until the mid-19th century, when the folklorist Robert Hunt reported that the housekeeper at the abbey, Betty Donithorne, had told him that “If the old warrior hears the drum that hangs in the hall of the Abbey and which accompanied him around the world, he rises and has a revel”.[2][a]There is no evidence that the drum accompanied Drake on his circumnavigation of the world.[2]

The popular notion that the beating of the drum would rouse Drake to the defence of England appears to derive from a poem by Sir Henry Newbolt, “Drake’s Drum”, published in 1895.[3]

Drake he was a Devon man, an’ ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha’ sleepin’ there below?)
Roving’ tho’ his death fell, he went wi’ heart at ease,
A’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
“Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
Strike et when your powder’s runnin’ low;
If the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port o’ Heaven,
An’ drum them up the Channel as we drumm’d them long ago.”

Alleged occurrences

At the end of the First World War, the German fleet sailed into Scapa Flow to surrender to the British. On board the flagship Royal Oak a drumming noise was heard by the captain, John Luce. All the crew were at action stations, and a subsequent investigation found no drum on the ship.[4]

See also

  • Angels of MonsAngels who were widely reported as having defended the British Expeditionary Force against overwhelming odds in the first major engagement of the First World War, the Battle of Mons, on Sunday 23 August 1914.


a There is no evidence that the drum accompanied Drake on his circumnavigation of the world.[2]



Dear, I. C. B., and Peter Kemp, editors. “Drake’s Drum.” The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, Online, 2007,
Jackson, Susan. The Legend of Drake’s Drum.
Kingshill, Sophia, and Jennifer Beatrice Westwood. The Fabled Coast: Legends & Traditions From Around the Shores of Britain. Random House Books, 2012.