Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Humphrey Gilbert

Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539 - 1583) was Sir Walter Raleigh's half brother. In 1566 he presented A Discourcs of a Discoveries for a new Passage to Cataia to Queen Elizabeth I of England, to gain royal patronage for voyages of exploration to China (Cataia) by sailing in a Northwest direction, via an anticipated "Northwest Passage". He influenced Martin Frobisher and John Davys. The latter named Gilbert Sound near Greenland after him.

He has been accused of genocide for his role in the English persecution of the Irish in Munster. He used to place the severed heads of his victims on each side of a path leading to the entrance to his tent, claiming that it brought "great terror to the people when they saw the heads of their dead fathers, brothers, children, kinsfolk, and friends...", walking to meet him. He was knighted for his role here.

In 1573 he presented Elizabeth I with a proposal for an academy in London. This was subsequently put into effect by Sir Thomas Gresham when he set up Gresham College.

He was a financial backer of Martin Frobisher's trip to Greenland from where a mysterious black rock was brought back. Gilbert set up the Society of the New Art with Lord Burghley and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester who had their alchemical laboratory in Limehouse.

In 1578 he received royal approval to start a colony in America. After an abortive first trip he eventually reached Newfoundland in 1583, founding St John's on August 5 and Britain's overseas empire.

On the return they had sight of a sea monster which looked like a lion with glaring eyes. Some people have suggested this was a giant squid. Whether it was responsible for the sinking of Gilbert's ship the Squirrel has been the subject of debate. His last recorded words were: "We are as near to heaven by sea as by land."

External links