Sir George Somers was a man of great energy. He not only sailed with Sir Walter Raleigh, captured treasure ships, was Mayor of Lyme Regis, (where he was born), but also found time to become a Member of Parliament. Contemporary writings described him as ‘a lamb on land, . . . a lion at sea’. He is best known for his part in the Colonisation of Virginia.
Berne Farm, between the Marshwood Vale village of Whitchurch Canonicorum and the main road at Charmouth, was the home from which retired seaman Sir George Somers was called out of retirement to mount the Sea Venture expedition to relieve the Virginia settlements
The fleet got scattered when the flagship “Sea Venture” of the British Third Supply Fleet, was caught in a tempest. With eight other smaller vessels, it was en route from England directly to Jamestown, Virginia, to resettle and replenish that starving colony. The tempest (probably a hurricane) blew the ship far off course and wrecked it on a Bermuda reef.
Aboard were 150 British officials, colonists and crew, including Sir Thomas Gates, Virginia’s first Governor-Designate, and John Rolfe. All became castaways in Bermuda for 10 months. Two pinnaces were built locally during that time. They carried most of the colonists safely to Jamestown, with a supply of food sufficient for Jamestown’s then-starving colonists as well.
Sir Thomas Gates assumed the Governorship of Virginia. John Rolfe, whose first wife and infant had died in Bermuda, later became the husband of the famous American Indian Princess Pocahontas. And Sir George Somers recommended to London that Bermuda be colonized permanently. It became the role model for the establishment of all the American mainland British colonies.
Sadly on a voyage back to Bermuda for more supplies, he died in there in 1610, “of a surfeit in eating of a pig” and the cluster of islands were known for a time as the Somers Islands in his honor; then the earlier Spanish name prevailed.
Sir George’s heart was buried in Bermuda but his pickled body was brought back to the parish church in Whitchurch Canonicorum for burial, and where he has a modern memorial tablet, in the chancel.
News of the shipwreck would be relayed to the nation by Silvester Jourdain, whose words were then dramatized by William Shakespeare in his play, ‘The Tempest’, where Bermuda became the Bermoothes of Shakespeare’s play. As a consequence, Jordan’s humble home – at Wootton Hill, between Wootton Fitzpaine and Fishpond Bottom – is now called Tempest Cottage.