Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

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Humphrey Gilbert


GILBERT, SIR HUMPHREY (c. 1539-1583), English soldier, navigator and pioneer colonist in America, was the second son of Otho Gilbert, of Compton, near Dartmouth, Devon, and stepbrother of Sir Walter Raleigh. He was educated at Eton and Oxford; intended for the law; introduced at court by Raleigh's aunt, Catherine Ashley, and appointed (July 1566) captain in the army of Ireland under Sir Henry Sidney. In April 1566 he had already joined with Antony Jenkinson in a petition to Elizabeth for the discovery of the North-East Passage; in November following he presented an independent petition for the "discovering of a passage by the north to go to Cataia." In October 1569 he became governor of Munster; on the 1st of January 1570 he was knighted; in 1571 he was returned M.P. for Plymouth; in 1572 he campaigned in the Netherlands against Spain without much success; from 1573 to 1578 he lived in retirement at Limehouse, devoting himself especially to the advocacy of a North-West Passage (his famous Discourse on this subject was published in 1576). Gilbert's arguments, widely circulated even before 1575, were apparently of weight in promoting the Frobisher enterprises of 1576–1578. On the 11th of June 1578, Sir Humphrey obtained his long-coveted charter for North-Western discovery and colonization, authorizing him, his heirs and assigns, to discover, occupy and possess such remote "heathen lands not actually possessed of any Christian prince or people, as should seem good to him or them." Disposing not only of his patrimony but also of the estates in Kent which he had through his wife, daughter of John Aucher of Ollerden, he fitted out an expedition which left Dartmouth on the 23rd of September 1578, and returned in May 1579, having accomplished nothing. In 1579 Gilbert aided the government in Ireland; and in 1583, after many struggles—illustrated by his appeal to Walsingham on the 11th of July 1582, for the payment of moneys due to him from government, and by his agreement with the Southampton venturers—he succeeded in equipping another fleet for "Western Planting." On the 11th of June 1583, he sailed from Plymouth with five ships and the queen's blessing; on the 13th of July the "Ark Raleigh," built and manned at his brother's expense, deserted the fleet; on the 30th of July he was off the north coast of Newfoundland; on the 3rd of August he arrived off the present St John's, and selected this site as the centre of his operations; on the 5th of August he began the plantation of the first English colony in North America. Proceeding southwards with three vessels, exploring and prospecting, he lost the largest near Cape Breton (29th of August); immediately after (31st of August) he started to return to England with the "Golden Hind" and the "Squirrel," of forty and ten tons respectively. Obstinately refusing to leave the "frigate" and sail in his "great ship," he shared the former's fate in a tempest off the Azores. "Monday the 9th of September," reports Hayes, the captain of the "Hind," "the frigate was near cast away, .... yet at that time recovered; and, giving forth signs of joy, the general, sitting abaft with a book in his hand, cried out unto us in the 'Hind,' 'We are as near to heaven by sea as by land.' .... The same Monday night, about twelve, the frigate being ahead of us in the 'Golden Hind,' suddenly her lights were out, .... in that moment the frigate was devoured and swallowed up of the sea."


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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 12

See Hakluyt, Principal Navigations (1599), vol. iii. pp. 135–181; Gilbert's Discourse of a Discovery for a New Passage to Cataia, published by George Gascoigne in 1576, with additions, probably without Gilbert's authority; Hooker's Supplement to Holinshed's Irish Chronicle; Roger Williams, The Actions of the Low Countries (1618); State Papers, Domestic (1577-1583); Wood's Athenae Oxonienses; North British Review, No. 45; Fox Bourne's English Seamen under the Tudors; Carlos Slafter, Sir H. Gylberte and his Enterprise (Boston, 1903), with all important documents. Gilbert's interesting writings on the need of a university for London, anticipating in many ways not only the modern London University but also the British Museum library and its compulsory sustenance through the provisions of the Copyright Act, have been printed by Furnivall (Queen Elizabeth's Achademy) in the Early English Text Society Publications, extra series, No. viii.

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