2003 Letter from Plymouth: Plymouth is not much today. It is a nice city, to be sure, but most of it is not too pretty, and not much
in the city itself is worth singling out for special attention. That is because the Nazis bombed it severely during the war, destroying
most of the dock area and the whole center city. The city was rebuilt after the war but for efficiency, not for beauty. Nevertheless,
this city has at least two very great things going for it, not even considering Plymouth University or anything else that we may have
overlooked. One of those things is its harbor. The other is its history, which this harbor made possible.
The harbor is large,
very beautiful, with great bights on either side. The port side one is straighter than the starboard side one, so that you see a great
sweep of land on the port side as you look out to sea. And on the right side, the bight is very irregular with small promontories
behind which are several snug anchorages sheltered from south, southeasterly or southwesterly winds, while the landward shore of the
harbor provides shelter from all points north. Two rivers empty into it. The smaller one is the Plym, and this one provides the city
with its name, Plym-mouth, and in turn, also provided its name to Plymouth, Mass, 3358 miles away as the sign in the museum reports.
The other, larger river is the Tamar, which on the map looks like a whole fleet could anchor in its mouth.
The history of this sheltered harbor is such as to inspire awe and reverence in anyone who visits. The local history museum claims
that three expeditions launched from this place changed the world. We think they undercounted. The first one that they cite was Sir
Francis Drake’s voyage in the Golden Hind in the 16th century. They ended up circumnavigating the globe thanks to stolen charts and
log books supplied by a Portuguese pilot, and returned with great loads of material riches stolen from the Spanish colonies in America.
In the process, Drake charted the west coast of the United States. There is no doubt that this expedition helped create the idea of
the British Empire.
The second voyage named by the museum was the Pilgrims’ voyage in 1620 to settle in what was to become the
United States which ultimately led, for better or worse, to the creation of the most powerful economic, military and cultural power
on earth. An earlier expedition in 1584 also sailed from here. It had been sent by Sir Walter Raleigh to set up the Virginia colony,
which later failed.
The third expedition was not one, but three voyages by Captain Cook in the 18th century which charted much of
South America and the Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand and brought back much scientific information about those Pacific
areas. This certainly facilitated the actual creation of the British Empire.
Now consider further that Charles Darwin’s Voyage of
the Beagle also sailed from here. One could certainly argue that that voyage changed the world significantly, perhaps even more than
the other three, because it was on that voyage that Darwin began formulating the theory of evolution. Also consider that the British
fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada sailed from Plymouth harbor and engaged and scattered their enemy in sight of citizens of Plymouth
who were watching from the shore. Indeed, most of the great captains of the British fleets, including Lord Nelson, led their usually
victorious fleets from this place. In more recent times, the Australian , and I think the New Zealand emigration started from here.
And last and perhaps least, the first transatlantic seaplane voyage by the American seaplane, the N.C. 4, landed here in 1919.