He’s been beaten, mugged, arrested, imprisoned and stabbed, but Burnham-on-Sea’s most intrepid explorer is undanted.
Michael Turner has travelled the world in his quest to research and write about Sir Francis Drake for a series of books on the Elizabethan explorer, privateer and adventurer. But Mr Turner also covers the globe in a quest for knowledge for his work as a humanities teacher in order to bring his lessons at summer school to life with film, photography and first-hand experience. It’s a life for the bachelor, supply teacher and keep fit fan that has taken him to 80 countries in 40 years and introduced him to the likes of Nelson Mandela, Neil Sedaka and Frank Bruno to name but a few. And at 60 there’s no sign of this restless spirit slowing down as he heads off to Easter Island this Easter. It all began when he was 20 years old.
“I was a disenchanted fireman in London,” he said, “and the chief fire officer said to me ‘if I was you would go round the world and see something of the world before you settle down into a career.’ I was born in Weston and have lived in Burnham for most of my life.”
The man behind the website In Drake’s Wake, several books on the explorer and with numerous films on YouTube the self-styled Drake-ologist is close to completing his latest volume on Drake. Clearly the 16th century explorer is something of a life-long passion for Mr Turner who has traced Drake’s footprint from Panama to Cape Horn and from the Canary Islands to West Africa. He manages to do this from being careful with his income as a teacher, and not smoking and drinking. His travels however have got him into the odd scrape.
“I’ve got a scar behind my left ear,” he said, “when I was in Columbia. I’ve been jailed three times although I’ve never done anything wrong. For instance when Britain gave Belize independence in the early 1980s, the neighbouring country of Guatemala didn’t like it. So when I turned up with a tourist visa in 1983 they said I had the wrong documents, accused me of being an illegal immigrant and banged me up of three days.”
He has also been thrown in a cell by the French Police who he said roughed him up, while in Guinea in West Africa following a coup he was mistaken for Mark Thatcher and arrested.
“I was strangled and knifed in Columbia,” he recalled, “and in Kenya I was attacked and left unconscious. I lost my watch and money so insurance companies are keen on people like me.”
He is now compiling a complete volume combining is various books on Drake which he plans to publish soon and it all started when was in South America on holiday. He read about his hero, discovered he was in the same place where Drake had visited and a life-long passion began.
“You can’t judge Drake in 21st century terms,” he said. “They were different times so you mustn’t judge people in the 16th century by our standards. The Spaniards wrote that he was not a cruel man and that he was generous and fair. Yes he was ruthless with anyone who crossed him but in those days if a country wronged you could take reprisals with your own Government’s support.”
To find out more about Mr Turner’s books on Sir Francis Drake visit his website where there is a wealth of information on his life and work.
Have you had some hair-raising adventures abroad? Email firstname.lastname@example.org as we’d love to hear from you.