Above: The wreck of the Sea Venture
Do you know About… The Discovery of Bermuda
An Irish monk known as Saint Brendan the Navigator lived from 484 to 578 and according to legend was the first to discover Bermuda when he and 17 other monks set off on a seven-year voyage to the west where they may have reached Iceland, the Canary Islands, the Azores, as well as the Western Hemisphere. Saint Brendan claimed to have discovered the ‘isle of birds’ after sailing forty days westward from the Azores. Sadly, there is no evidence that St. Brendan discovered Bermuda more than 1,000 years before the wreck of the Sea Venture in 1609, however, the earliest descriptions of Bermuda all mention the Cahow birds which showed no fear of man and made cries like human speech. Is it therefore not possible that St. Brendan and his fellow monks were the first to set foot on the islands of Bermuda?
The Sea Venture, flagship of nine vessels heading in 1609 with 500 settlers to Virginia, found herself alone after the fleet ran into a hurricane near the Azores. With Admiral Sir George Somers in command and Sir Thomas Gates, Governor of Virginia on board, what happened is best described by William Strachy:
“The clouds gathering thicke upon us and the winds singing and whistling most unusually, a dreadful storm and hideous began blow which swelling and roaring as it were by fits, at length did beat all light from heaven which like an hell of darkness turned black upon us so much the more fuller of horror . . . surely as death comes not so sudden nor apparent so he comes not so elfish and painful as at sea. For four and twenty hours the storm was fury added to fury.”
Above: Building of the Deliverance
After five days and with everyone on board utterly despaired and about to face their death, Sir George Somers shouted “Land” and was able to guide the Sea Venture hard on the reef to allow the entire company to debark safely. It was Friday, July 28th 1609.
A month and a day after the wreck of the Sea Venture, the keel was laid for a new ship to take the survivors to Virginia. With the Sea Venture still high on the reefs, most of the material for the new ship was salvaged from her. When the new ship was towed to the water William Strachy wrote “When she began to swim upon her launching, our Governor called her The Deliverance.” Meanwhile Sir George Somers decided to build a second, smaller, ship and called her The Patience.
On May 10th 1610 both ships were ready and set sail for Virginia, laden with salted pork and other supplies from Bermuda. On reaching Jamestown, they found the 60 surviving settlers desolate and starving. Thinking of the plentiful supply of hogs, fish and turtles, Sir George Somers decided to return to Bermuda and bring additional food to Jamestown.
Sailing back on The Patience, Sir George again encountered heavy storms and died of exhaustion on November 9th, 1610, at the age of fifty-six. After burying his heart in what is now called Somers Gardens in St. George’s, the body of this great adventurer was taken back to England on The Patience – the ship he helped to build only a year earlier.
The illustrations featured below are of two Dioramas created by the Belgian artist Emil Antoine Verpilleaux and the Polish sculptor Andre Bohomolec.