Admiral Sir George Somers (1554-1610) was a British naval commander and is acclaimed as a British hero. He was born in the coastal town of Lyme Regis in the English county of Dorset. His father was John Somers and his first notable achievement came during an expedition against the Spanish navy in the year 1595 under the command of Sir Armyas Preston. George Somers is recognized as the founder of the British overseas colony of Bermuda, also known as Somers Isles, located in North Atlantic Ocean off the eastern coast of United States.
From 1600 to 1602, Somers held the command of several English ships including HMS Vanguard, HMS Swiftsure and HMS Warspite. George Somers had the privilege of being knighted in 1603 and he acquired the membership of Parliament for Lyme Regis in the very same year.
Somers and the third Supply Mission:
George Somers was selected Admiral of the Virginia Company’s famous third supply mission in 1609. Somers embarked on this voyage on 2 June on board Sea Venture from Plymouth, England to Jamestown with five hundred to six hundred men, while Somers was also accompanied by Thomas Gate and Samuel Jordan. The seven ship fleet led by the Sea Venture ran into a hurricane on 25 July, and struggled for the next three days. Bigger ships were able to endure the wrath of this storm, but Sea Venture was still a new ship and its timber had not set. Its caulking began to give way and the ship started leaking. It is also reported that the ship’s guns were thrown overboard to keep the ship buoyant, but the water levels kept rising. In 1612 two of these guns were retrieved from the ship wreck. On the morning of 28 July when Somers inspected the situation the water level had gotten up to nine feet and the entire crew was suffering from enfeeblement.
George Somers being the leader of the ship decided to deliberately run Sea Venture aground on the coast of Bermuda in order to avoid destruction. This move by Somers gave a new life to almost 150 crew members and one dog as they landed safely on shore. It is also conjectured that this unfortunate event was the major inspiration behind Shakespeare’s masterpiece: The Tempest.
While Sea Venture had run aground, the rest of the fleet continued the journey to Jamestown oblivious of the fate of Somers and his men. George Somers and the surviving men came to Discovery Bay and ultimately lived for 10 months on Bermuda Island.
Colonization in Bermuda:
After George Somers and his men had landed on Bermuda Island, they started colonizing the island by constructing a church and many houses. George Somers and Sir Thomas Gates also supervised the construction of two ships made by Bermuda Cedar and the remains of the weather-beaten Sea Venture, the Deliverance and the Patience.
The “Starving Time”:
In the month of May in 1610, Somers along with 142 men journeyed on the locally constructed ships and reached Jamestown, Virginia only to find that the colony had been nearly ruined with famine and disease. They also came to find out that most of the supplies from the Special Relief Mission failed to reach the people of the colony. Due to outbreak of famine and disease only 60 settlers remained alive, and this period is still commemorated as ‘Starving Time’.
After the arrival of Somers and his men and another relief mission commanded by Lord Delaware in the month of July, the colony was able to survive and eventually prospered.
Later Somers returned to Bermuda in order to collect more food supplies in the Patience but he fell ill during the trip and passed away on November 9, 1610 at the age of 56. It is popularly believed that Somers had so much love for the island that he had made a request of burying his heart there in the event of his death. The exact place where his heart was buried on the island is pointed out by a marker in Somers’ Gardens in St. George’s. The rest of his body was taken to England and buried in Lyme Regis.
David Raine wrote a comprehensive biography accounting the events in the life of George Somers, called “Sir George Somers: A Man and His Times.”