George Somers (1554–1610) was an English naval hero,
knighted for his achievements and the
Admiral of the Virginia Company.
He achieved renown as part of an expedition led by Sir Amyas Preston
Caracas and Coro in 1595 during the undeclared
Anglo-Spanish War. He is remembered today as the founder of the
English colony of Bermuda, also known as the Somers Isles.
1 Early life and education
3 Legacy and honours
5 Further reading
6 External links
Early life and education
Born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, in 1554, George was the son of John Somers
and his wife.
From a young age he became a skilled and well-known seaman and owned
at least one ship, the Julian, whose home port was Lyme Regis. Somers'
first venture in command of the Flibcote, in company of three other
vessels during the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War, on a raid to Spain;
he brought home Spanish prizes worth more than £8,000.
Somers then joined up with another seaman
Amyas Preston who had fought
against the Spanish armada. Both agreed to take part in Walter
Raleigh’s proposed expedition to
Guiana in 1595 in the
hope of finding
El Dorado as well as to commit to amphibious descents
throughout the Spanish Main with them. However, after failing to meet,
the expedition went on their own venture along the coast of the
Province of Venezuela
Province of Venezuela and captured the fort at La Guaira
before they headed South inland. After making an arduous trek through
the mountains of pico Naiguata the English led by Preston and Somers
were able to outmanoeuvre the waiting Spanish force and captured the
colonial city of Santiago de Leon de Caracas. After the failure
of a ransom they plundered and torched the city and then went to
Santa Ana de Coro
Santa Ana de Coro before they made a brief excursion to the
Spanish West Indies. Despite the challenges they faced the expedition
was a success for the English who were able to return unmolested with
some profit having set out as only a supporting expedition.
Between 1600 and 1602, Somers commanded several English ships,
including HMS Vanguard, HMS Swiftsure and HMS Warspite. He was
knighted in 1603 and became
Member of Parliament for
Lyme Regis the
In 1609, Somers was appointed as
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 2 June
1609, he set sail from Plymouth,
England on the Sea Venture, the
flagship of the seven-ship fleet, (towing two additional pinnaces)
destined for Jamestown, Virginia. The fleet carried a total of
five-to-six hundred colonists bound for Jamestown. (Historians have
not determined if this number included crew or was passengers only.)
On 25 July, the fleet ran into a strong storm, probably 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; she had recently been constructed and
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 arm Bermuda's first fort) to raise her buoyancy, but this only
delayed the inevitable. Sir
George Somers was at the helm through the
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. 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 the dog aboard to reach shore safely,
at what they later named Discovery Bay. Not seeing them again, those
who continued on to Virginia presumed that Somers and the others had
died in the storm, which had battered the relief fleet and damaged its
The Guard of TS
Admiral Somers, the
Bermuda Sea Cadet Corps unit of
St. George's, Bermuda, parades on Ordnance Island, St. George's.
Somers and his company remained in
Bermuda for 10 months, living on
food they could gather on the island and fish from the sea. Some
commentators believe that this incident inspired William
Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.
During their time on the islands, the crew and passengers built a
church and houses, the start of the
Bermuda colony. 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
In May 1610 the ships set sail for Jamestown, with the surviving 142
castaways on board taking food from the island. When they reached the
settlement, they found it nearly destroyed by the famine and disease
of what has been called the "Starving Time". Few of the supplies from
the Supply Relief Fleet had arrived (the same hurricane which caught
Sea Venture had damaged some of the rest of the fleet), and only
60 settlers survived. Only the food and help offered by those on the
two small ships from Bermuda, followed by a relief fleet in July 1610
commanded by Lord Delaware, enabled the colony to survive and avoided
the abandonment of Jamestown.
Somers returned to
Bermuda in the Patience to collect more food, but
he became ill on the journey. He died in
Bermuda on 9 November 1610 at
age 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
England and buried in his home hamlet of Whitchurch Canonicorum
near to the town of Lyme Regis.
Legacy and honours
1603, he was knighted for his naval achievements.
The colony he founded was called Somer's Isles for some years.
Bermuda Sea Cadet Corps unit of St. George's, Bermuda, TS Admiral
Somers, is named for him.
1984, a statue of him by Desmond Fountain was unveiled in St. George's
by HRH Princess Margaret to celebrate the 375th anniversary of
^ Shorto, Gavin (June 13, 2013). "George Somers,
Amyas Preston and the
Burning of Caracas". The Bermudian.
^ "Preston, Amyas (DNB00)". Dictionary of National Biography.
London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. p 305
^ John Lombardi, Venezuela, Oxford, England, 1982, p 72
^ Navy and Army Illustrated, Volume 15. Hudson & Kearns. 1902.
^ Hobson Woodward. A Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who
Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest. Viking
(2009) ISBN 978-0-670-02096-6
Bermuda Sea Cadet Corps: History of
Bermuda Sea Cadets Archived 20
April 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
Dwyer, Jack. 2009.
Dorset Pioneers, The History Press
Glover, Lorri and Daniel Blake Smith. The Shipwreck That Saved
Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America, New
York: Henry Holt & Co., 2008
Mayden, David. 1998. Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed
Conflict in the New World, 1492 to the Present. Editorial ABC-CLIO.
Raine, David. Sir George Somers: A Man and his Times
Bermuda online's biography of Somers
Bermuda history and information
George Somers (1554 - 1610)
Historic UK: Sir George Somers