Sir Walter Raleigh - Frederick Ober

A Promoter of Discovery


As a text for this chapter of Walter Raleigh's life, we will take the following letter, written by him to Sir Humphrey Gilbert, in March, 15 83:

"BROTHER,I have sent you a token from Her Majesty, an ancor [anchor] guided by a lady, as you see; and farther, her Highness willed me to sende you worde that she wished you as great good-hap and safety to your ship, as if her sealf were there in person; desiring you to have care of your sealf, as of that which she tendereth, and therefore, for her sake, you must provide for it accordingly.

"Farther, she commandeth that you leve your picture with me. For the rest, I leve till our meeting, or to the report of this berer [bearer], who would needs be the messenger of this good newse. So I commit you to the will and protection of God, who sends us such life or death, as He shall please, or hath appointed.

"Richmonde, this Friday morning.

"Your treu brother, W. RALEGH."

"To my brother, Sir Humfrey Gilbert, Knight."

The token of the Queen's approbation and regard, which she sent Sir Humphrey Gilbert by the hand of his brother, was a small anchor of beaten gold with a precious pearl in its peak. It was esteemed so highly by its recipient that he ever after wore it on his breast; and it went with him to the watery grave which ended this voyage and his earthly career. This token typified, both the Queen's esteem of the gallant mariner, and the love of his half-brother Walter Raleigh, through whose influence he had obtained his charter for discovery and colonization.

We owe our knowledge of this venture of 1583 to a captain and owner of the Golden Hinde, one of the five vessels which comprised the fleet that set sail from Plymouth harbor. Says the mariner:

"Orders having been determined and promises mutually given to be observed, every man withdrew himselfe unto his charge. The ankers being already weyed, and our shippes under saile, having a soft gale of winde, we began our voyage upon Tuesday, the eleventh day of Iune, in the yere of our Lord, 1583, having in our fleet these shippes, whose names and burthens, with the names of the captains and masters of them, I have also inserted, as followeth:

"1. The Delight, burthen 100 tunnes, was Admirall [or flag-ship], in which went the General [Humphrey Gilbert], William Winter, captaine and part owner, and Richard Clearke, master.

"2. The Barke Ralegh, set forth by M. Walter Ralegh, of the burthen of 200 tunnes, was then Vice Admirall; in which went M. Butler, captaine, and Robert Davis, of Bristol, master.

"3. The Golden Hinde, burthen 40 tunnes, was then Reare Admirall, in which went Edward Hayes, captaine and owner [chronicler of the voyage], and Wm. Cox, of Limehouse, master.

"4. The Swallow, burthen 40 tunnes; in her was captaine Maurice Browne.

"5. The Squirrill, of burthen 10 tunnes, in which went captaine Wm. Andrewes, and one Cade, master.

"We were in number about 260 men: among them we had of every faculty good choice, as shipwrights, masons, carpenters, smithes, and such like, requisite to such an action [the founding of a colony]; also mineral men and refiners. Besides, for solace of our people, and allurement of the salvages, we were provided of musike in good variety; not omitting the least toyes, as morns dancers, hobby horses, and like conceits, to delight the salvages, whom we intended to winne by all faire meanes possible. And to that end we were indifferently furnished of all petty haberdasherie wares, to barter with those people.

"In this manner we set forward, departing (as hath bene said) out the eleventh day of Iime, being Tuesday, the weather and winde faire and good all day; but a great storme of thunder and winde fell the same night. The Thursday following, when we hailed one another in the evening (according to the order given before starting), they signified unto us out of the Vice Admirall, that both the captaine and very many of the men were fallen sicke. And about midnight the Vice Admirall forsooke us, notwithstanding we had the winde East, faire and good. But it was after credibly reported that they were infected with a contagious sicknesse, and arrived greatly distressed at Plymouth. The reason I could never understand, but sure I am no cost was spared by their owner, Master Ralegh, in setting them forth. Therefore I leave it unto God."

Highly indignant at this desertion, and of course unaware of the cause, Admiral Gilbert afterward wrote to Sir George Peckham, in England:

"I departed from Plymouth on the 11th of June, with five sail, and on the 13th the Ark Ralegh  ran from me, in fair and clear weather, having a large wind. I pray you solicit my brother Ralegh to make them an example to all knaves!"

Four ships were then left to him, and soon after one of these was lost, leaving but three in which to pursue the voyage to Newfoundland, which was sighted the last week in July. The narrative continues:

"On the Monday following the General had his tent setup, who, being accompanied by his own followers, summoned the marchants and masters, both English and strangers, to be present at his taking possession of those countreys. Before whom was openly read and interpreted unto the strangers his Commission, by virtue whereof he tooke possession in the harbor of S. John, and 200 leagues everyway invested the Queene's maiestie with the title and dignities thereof, and had delivered unto him (after the custome of England) a rod and a turffe of the same soil, entering possession also for him, his heires, and assignes forever. . . . And afterward were erected, not farre from that place, the Armes of England, ingraven in lead, and infixed upon a pillar of wood."

The Admiral assigned lands to those who had been brought out as colonists, and after a scant exploration of the region's resources, during which the mineralogist discovered what he thought was ore of silver, the ships sailed southward along the coast. Although Gilbert had found the ships of other nations than England, such as French and Portuguese, fishing in the waters of Newfoundland, and making harbor in its bays, he took possession of the country by right of title to it acquired (as already explained), through the voyage of the Cabots in the previous century. After an interval of nearly ninety years, his skeleton of a colony was the first established there. Too easily satisfied with this apology for a settlement, and accepting without question the statement of his "mineral man" that the ore he had found was rich in silver, Sir Humphrey sailed off on the very course taken by his predecessors, the Cabots. He could lay claim to no new discovery, to no novel enterprise, yet he seemed satisfied.

We will not follow him in his farther wanderings, which were devious and seemingly without aim. They show that he was erratic, that his great reputation for seamanship was altogether unfounded, for in this voyage he lost three of his ships, and eventually his life, through the lack of precautions which any ordinary mariner should have taken. We come now to the end of this brave man's life, following the narrative from which we have quoted. Having met with head winds and storms, the Admiral had abandoned his purpose of continuing southward along the coast of America, and in the last week of August shaped his course for England. But two vessels remained of the fleet of five with which he had set forth the previous June—the Golden Hinde  and the Squirrel.

From some caprice, when distant from the coast a hundred leagues or so, he insisted upon transferring himself from the larger vessel to the smaller. His friends entreated him not to do so, but in vain, for this was his answer:

"I will not forsake my little company, going homeward, with whom I have passed so many storms and perils." "And in very truth," says an eye-witness of the events now to be described, "hee was urged to be so over hard because of reports given out that he was afraid of the sea; albeit this was rather rashness than advised resolution: to preferre the wind of a vain report to the weight of his own life. And it was God's ordinance upon him, even so the vehement perswasion and intreatie of his friends could nothing availe to divert him of a wilful resolution of going through in his frigat (the little Squirrel, of only ten tons burthen). It was overcharged upon its decks with artillerie, and too cumbersome for so small a boate, that was to pass through the Ocean sea at that season of the yere, when by course we might expect much storme of foule weather—whereof indeed we had enough.

"Seeing that he would not bend to reason, he had provision out of the Hinde, such as was wanting aboord his frigat. And so we committed him to God's protection, and set him aboard his pinnesse." The two vessels kept on together, speaking each other at intervals until they passed the latitude of the Azore Islands, when they met with very foul weather and terrible seas, "breaking short and high, pyramid wise," which separated them for a space, and put their crews in peril of their lives. "Howsoever it commeth to pass," wrote the honest chronicler of the voyage, "men which all their lives had occupied the sea never saw more outragious seas. We had also upon our main-yard an apparition of fire by night, which seamen doe call 'Castor and Pollux.' But we had only one, which they take an evil sign of more tempest, the same being usual in storms."

Now and again, as the storm-mists parted, those on the Hinde  caught glimpses of the imperilled Squirrel, gallantly battling with the heavy seas, which threatened to overwhelm her entirely.

"Munday, the ninth of September, in the afternoone, the frigat was neere cast away, oppressed by waves, yet at that time recovered. And giving foorth signes of joy, the Generall, sitting abaft with a book in his hand, cried out to us in the Hinde  (so oft as we did approch within hearing): 'We are as neere to Heaven by sea as by land!  Reiterating the same speech, well beseeming a souldier resolute in Iesus Christ, as I can testifie he was.

"The same Munday night, about twelve of the clock, or not long after, the frigat being ahead of us in the Golden Hinde, suddenly her lights went out, whereof, as it were in a moment, we lost sight of them, and withall our watch cryed out: 'The Generall is cast away!'—which was so true, for in that moment the frigat was devoured, and swallowed up of the sea. Yet still we looked out all that night, and ever after, untill we arrived upon the coast of England."

In this manner perished Sir Humphrey Gilbert, gallantly, though stubbornly, insisting upon sharing the perils of the great deep with his devoted men in the smallest craft remaining of the fleet. His expedition had met with disaster from the very first: by the casting away of his flag-ship he had lost all his charts, memoranda relating to the resources of the region, and the precious silver ore, together with the mineralogist, upon whose authority it had been declared genuine and of great value; yet he had continued hopeful to the last.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert


He declared he would fit out and return with another expedition the following year, at the opening of the summer season, and expressed his confidence in securing, through his brother at court, the assistance of the Queen, "Ten thousand pounds she will lend me," he said to his men; "for she cannot do less, who gave to me this golden anchor and the lady, which I wear upon my breast." In this belief he doubtless died, and upon his breast, at the moment he and his little craft were overwhelmed by the sea, was the golden anchor with a pearl in its peak, which had been given to him by his sovereign.

Nothing resulted to the crews, nor to the merchants who had adventured with Gilbert and Raleigh in the enterprise. In the two voyages he had made, Sir Humphrey had wrecked his private fortune and sealed the sacrifice with his life; but his half-brother and co-adventurer was by no means dismayed. Walter Raleigh mourned the loss of a faithful, devoted friend—a loss for which there was no reparation; but he did not abandon the enterprise for which Humphrey had given his life, nor lose sight of the end for which both had so long striven.

He was the more impelled, if possible, to promote discoveries, but especially colonization, in the great country across the ocean, which at that time but a handful of his countrymen had visited. He had resolved, however, to strike farther southward than Humphrey had been, moved thereto, says the old chronicler, by the determination of Humphrey himself. When asked what means he had at his arrival in England "to compass the charges of so great a preparation as he intended to make the next spring, having determined upon two fleeter, one for the South, another for the North, Humphrey had replied: 'Leave that to me. I will ask a pennie of no man. I will bring good tidings unto her Majesty, who will be so gracious as to lend me 10,000 pounds.'

"Willing us therefore to be of good cheere, for he did thank God, he sayd, with all his heart, for that he had Beene, the same being enough for us all; and that we needed not to seeke any further. And these last words he would often repeate, with demonstrations of great fervencie of mind, being himself e very confident, and settled in belief e of inestimable good by his voyage."