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Humphrey Gilbert

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Sir Humphrey Gilbert (c. 15371583) 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, during the Desmond Rebellions. 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, claiming St John's for England and securing his patent on August 5. He proceeded to tax the fisherman from several countries who worked this popular area near the Grand Banks. He also explored the area but did not set up a colony.

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. Gilbert's ship, the Squirrel, sank in a storm. His last recorded words were: "We are as near to heaven by sea as by land." They were shouted earlier that day to passengers on the Golden Hind, Gilbert's much larger flagship which he had chosen not to embark in for the journey back to England. The Golden Hind was the only one of Gilbert's five ships to complete the entire journey.

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