The Last Voyage of Sir Humphrey Gilbert

Read about how this English explorer's pride led to a disastrous end.

As he contemplates the dreadful possibility of being cast upon the rocks after embarking in the Dolphin, young Victor declares to his brother Peter that, “I’m not afraid. I’m thinking of what some great captain said once, ‘We are as near to heaven by sea as by land.’” You may be interested to learn that this captain was a real explorer during the 1500s. His name was Sir Humphrey Gilbert, one of several English explorers who embarked upon voyages to the New World after it had been rediscovered by Christopher Columbus during the previous century.

On June 11, 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert departed from Plymouth, England with the goal of establishing an English colony in the Americas. On August 3 Gilbert arrived at St. John’s, Newfoundland along with the rest of his fleet. After claiming the land for England he then turned his sails southward, taking with him the ships the Golden Hind, Squirrel, and Delight. However, tragedy struck on the morning of August 29 as the Delight ran aground and was broken to pieces near Sable Island.

Left with only two remaining boats, on August 31 Gilbert gave the order to return homeward. During this final voyage, Gilbert refused to leave the Squirrel even though he was warned that the ship was over-gunned and unfit for ocean travel at that time of year. In his description of the expedition, Edward Haies, captain of the Golden Hind, writes that “the vehement persuasion and entreaty of his friends could nothing avail to divert [Gilbert] of a wilful resolution of going through in his frigate.”

Undaunted by the warnings of his friends and crew, Gilbert continued on at the helm of the Squirrel. He was last seen by crewmembers of the Golden Hind as the two ships drew near each other on September 9, 1583. During a lull in the otherwise turbulent sea, Gilbert is said to have hailed the Golden Hind, declaring that “We are as near to Heaven by sea as by land.” Haies reports how later that night, “suddenly [the Squirrel’s] lights were out… for in that moment the frigate was devoured and swallowed up of the sea.” Despite his outward appearance of confidence in God, Gilbert lacked the humility or wisdom to listen to those whose advice could have saved his life. According to Captain Haies, Gilbert was more concerned with maintaining an air of bravado than he was with taking the action necessary to preserve his own life or the lives of his crew.

Gilbert’s attitude toward danger contrasts sharply with the way in which Peter is described in The Crew of the Dolphin. Whereas Gilbert foolishly refused to listen to the advice of his men, Hesba Stretton describes how Peter “was a brave man, and had a sincere, hearty trust in God. But he did not look to God to work a miracle in order to avert the consequences of man's negligence or covetousness” (29). Unlike Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Peter trusted God to provide for him and his brother Victor while still accepting his own responsibility to make well-informed decisions.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”

Proverbs 12:15

The above article was written using information from the following sources:

The Crew of the Dolphin

The Crew of the Dolphin

Hesba Stretton, 1876

Price: $20

The crew of the Dolphin faces great peril, being swept away in crashing waves and crushing winds. But this is not the fiercest storm they face. The insurmountable surges of greed and deceit are far worse, bringing exposure, disgrace, and ruin. Yet we need not drift or be lost at sea, for God holds the sea in His great strong hand!


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