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This article is about the British naval hero. For the American football player, see George Somers (American football)

A portrait believed to be of Admiral Sir George Somers.

Admiral Sir George Somers (1554-1610) was a British naval hero. Born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, the son of John Somers, his first fame came as part of an expedition led by Sir Amyas Preston against the Spanish navy in 1595. He is remembered today as the founder of the English colony of Bermuda, also known officially as the Somers Isles.

Somers commanded several English ships between 1600 and 1602, including HMS Vanguard, HMS Swiftsure and HMS Warspite. He was knighted in 1603 and became Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis the same year.

In 1609, Somers was made Admiral of the Virginia Company's Third Supply relief fleet. On 2 June 1609, he set sail from Plymouth, England on the Sea Venture, the flagship of the seven-ship fleet (towing 2 additional pinnaces) destined for Jamestown, Virginia carrying 500-to-600 people (it is unclear whether that number included crew, or only settlers). On the 25 July, the fleet ran into a strong storm, likely a hurricane, and the ships were separated. The Sea Venture fought the storm for three days. Comparably-sized ships had survived such weather, but the Sea Venture had a critical flaw in her newness, as her timbers had not set. The caulking was forced from between them, and the ship began to leak rapidly. All hands were applied to bailing, but the water continued to rise in the hold. The ship's guns were reportedly jettisoned (though two were salvaged from the wreck in 1612) to raise her buoyancy, but this only delayed the inevitable. The Admiral of the Company, Sir George Somers himself, was at the helm through the storm. When he spied land on the morning of 28 July, the water in the hold had risen to nine feet, and crew and passengers had been driven past the point of exhaustion.

The Guard of TS Admiral Somers, the Bermuda Sea Cadet Corps unit of St. George's, Bermuda, parades on Ordnance Island, St. George's. Visible behind the officer at left is a statue of Admiral Sir George Somers, for whom the unit is named, credited as the founder of Bermuda, alias The Somers Isles. The statue, by sculptor, Desmond Fountain, was unveiled by HRH Princess Margaret in 1984 to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the settlement of Bermuda.

Somers deliberately drove the ship onto the reefs of what proved to be Bermuda in order to prevent its foundering. This allowed all 150 people, and one dog, aboard to be landed safely ashore. The survivors came ashore at Discovery Bay. Somers, along with all those others who had survived the wreck of the Sea Venture, was presumed dead by those who continued on to Virginia, but instead, remained in Bermuda for 10 months. Some commentators believe that this incident was one of the inspirations for William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

During their time on the islands, the crew and passengers formed the start of the Bermuda colony, building a church and houses. Somers and Sir Thomas Gates (also among the castaways) between them oversaw the construction of two ships, the Deliverance and the Patience, from spars and rigging of the wrecked Sea Venture and local timber (Bermuda Cedar).

In May 1610 the ships set sail, with 142 castaways on board. On arrival, they found the Virginia Colony almost destroyed by famine and disease during what has become known as the "Starving Time". Very few of the supplies from the Supply Relief Fleet had arrived (the same hurricane which caught the Sea Venture had also badly affected the rest of the fleet), and only 60 settlers remained alive. It was only through the arrival of the two small ships from Bermuda, and the arrival of another relief fleet commanded by Lord Delaware in July of 1610 that the abandonment of Jamestown was avoided and the colony was able to survive.

Somers returned to Bermuda in the Patience to collect more food, but he became ill on the journey and died, on November 9, 1610 aged 56, in Bermuda. Local legend states that he loved Bermuda so much that he requested that his heart be buried there. A marker in Somers' Gardens in St. George's marks the approximate location where his heart was supposed to have been buried. The remainder of his body was taken back to England and buried in his hometown of Lyme Regis.

Biography

  • Sir George Somers: A Man and his Times, was written by David Raine
  • Dorset Pioneers, Jack Dwyer, 2009. The History Press ISBN 978-0-7524-5346-0

External links

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