George Somers was born in 1554 at Lyme Regis, Dorset England.
Somers went into the Royal Navy, where he distinguished himself as part of an expedition led by Sir Amyas Preston in sailing against the Spanish fleet in 1595 during the Anglo-Spanish War.
George Somers was knighted in 1603 for his naval achievements.
In 1609, Sir Somers was appointed Admiral of the Virginia Company’s Third Supply relief fleet, organized to provide relief to the Jamestown colony settled in North America two years before.
On June 2, 1609, Somers set sail from Plymouth, England on the Sea Venture, the new purpose-designed emigrant flagship of his seven-ship relief fleet, (towing two additional pinnaces) destined for Jamestown, Virginia. The Sea Venture carried her guns on the main deck, rather than below deck as was then the norm. This also allowed the hold below to be sheathed and furnished with passengers.
Sort of like the first passenger airliner of its day.
The Sea Venture’s maiden voyage, combined with the other six ships of Somers’ fleet, carried a total of five-to-six hundred colonists.
(Historians have still not determined if this number included crew or was passengers only.)
The loss of the Sea Venture
On July 25, 1609, Sir Somers and his fleet ran into a strong storm, probably a hurricane, and his ships became separated.
Somers and the Sea Venture fought the storm for three days.
Comparably-sized ships had survived such weather, but the Sea Venture had a critical flaw; she had recently been constructed and her timbers had not yet set.
The caulking was forced from between them, and the ship began to leak.
Somers put All hands to bailing, but the water continued to rise in the ships hold.
The Sea Venture’s guns were reportedly jettisoned to raise her buoyancy, but this only delayed the inevitable. Sir George Somers was at the helm through the entire storm.
(though two of the ships guns were later salvaged from the wreck in 1612)
When Somers finally spied land on the morning of July 28, 1609, the water in the hold of Sea Venture had risen to nine feet, and crew and passengers had been driven past the point of exhaustion. Somers then deliberately drove the ship onto reefs in order to prevent the ship from sinking. This allowed all 150 people and the dog aboard to reach shore safely, at what they later named Discovery Bay (modern day Bermuda).
The other ships of the fleet, not seeing the Sea Venture again, continued on to Virginia presuming that Somers and the others had died in the storm, which had battered the entire fleet and damaged their supplies.
Somers and the other survivors, including several company officials (Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Gates, the ship’s captain Christopher Newport, Sylvester Jordain, Stephen Hopkins, later of the Mayflower, and secretary William Strachey), were stranded on the island for approximately nine months, living on what food they could gather on land as well as fish caught from the sea. Today, some historical commentators believe that this incident inspired William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.
During their time on the island, the crew and passengers built a church and houses, beginning a colony called Somer’s Isles for some years, eventually becoming known as the Bermuda colony.
Sir George Somers and Sir Thomas Gates oversaw the construction of two small ships, the Deliverance and the Patience. They were built from local timber (Bermuda Cedar) and the salvaged spars and rigging of the wrecked Sea Venture.
The original plan was to build only one vessel, the Deliverance, but it soon became evident that she would not be large enough to carry the settlers and all of the food (salted pork) that was being sourced on the islands.
While the new ships were being built, the Sea Venture’s longboat was fitted with a mast and sent under the command of Henry Ravens to find Virginia. The boat and its crew were never seen again.
Some passengers of the Sea Venture died on the island before the Deliverance and the Patience could set sail. Among those lost were the wife and child of John Rolfe, who would found Virginia’s tobacco industry and find a new wife in Chief Powhatan’s daughter Matoaka (Pocahontas).
Two crewmen, Carter and Waters, were left behind; they had been convicted of unknown offenses, and fled into the woods to escape punishment and execution.
In May of 1610, the 142 castaways launched their two newly built ships and set sail once more for Jamestown.
When they reached the Virginia settlement on May 23, 1610, they found Jamestown nearly destroyed by the famine and disease of what has been called Jamestown’s “Starving Time”.
Few of the supplies from the rest of Somers Fleet remained and only 60 settlers had survived.
The food and help offered by Somers and those aboard his two small ships from Bermuda enabled the colony to survive until another relief fleet arrived two months later.
Still worried about surviving the upcoming winter, Somers returned to his Bermuda Colony in the Patience to collect more food, but he became ill on the journey.
Sir George Somers died in Bermuda on November 9, 1610 at the age of 56.
Local legend says 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 home hamlet of Whitchurch Canonicorum near to the town of Lyme Regis.
In 1984, a statue of Sir Somers by Desmond Fountain was unveiled in St. George’s by HRH Princess Margaret to celebrate the 375th anniversary of Bermuda’s settlement.
Now WE know em
Today, on Ordnance Island (a tiny Bermuda island used as a cruise dock) lies a full size replica of Deliverance, one of the two vessels that Sir George Somers and his men rebuilt after their ship Sea Venture got wrecked in 1609 and finally completed their journey to Jamestown, Virginia.