On today’s date in 1578, Queen Elizabeth I granted Humphrey Gilbert a letters patent to explore and colonize the coast of North America.
An experienced colonizer of Ireland and early supporter of a Northwest Passage, Gilbert took possession of the colony of Newfoundland on Aug. 5, 1583.
Almost to the day 350 years later – Aug. 3, 1933 – 14 commemorative stamps were issued by Newfoundland to mark the anniversary of Gilbert’s 1583 annexation. The Newfoundland stamps were printed and engraved on paper with a watermark depicting the coat of arms of Newfoundland.
One of the stamps – a 24-cent violet brown (Scott #224) – depicts Queen Elizabeth I in commemoration of her decision to grant Gilbert the letters patent to explore the New World. Another stamp, this in blue with a face value of seven cents (SC #217) – depicts Gilbert receiving the royal patent for the colonization of North America from Queen Elizabeth I in 1578.
A grey-black one-cent stamp (SC #212) features a portrait of Gilbert based on an early 17th-century engraving.
The next in the series, a green two-cent (SC #213), shows the Compton Castle, the residence of the Gilbert family since the 14th century.
A yellow-brown three-cent stamp (SC #214) shows the Gilbert family Coat of Arms.
A carmine four-cent stamp (SC #215) depicts Eaton College, where Gilbert was educated.
A dull violet five-cent stamp (SC #216) shows a token awarded to Gilbert by Queen Elizabeth I prior to his voyage of colonization. The token, which was made of beaten gold and a single pearl, was delivered to him by his brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, in March 1583 along with the wishes of good luck and a safe voyage.
An orange-red eight-cent stamp (SC #218) depicts Gilbert’s five ships leaving Plymouth in Devon, England on June 11, 1583. Gilbert’s five ships included The Delight, The Raleigh, The Golden Hinde, The Squirrel and The Swallow, the last of which was lost at sea. All others except The Raleigh, which turned back, successfully continued on to their destination on the Canadian coastline.
The series also includes an ultramarine nine-cent stamp (SC #219) showing Gilbert’s arrival in St. John’s, Nfld., and a red-brown 10-cent stamp (SC #220) showing the annexation of St. John’s on Aug. 5, 1583.
A black 14-cent stamp (SC #221) depicts the Coat of Arms of England, and a claret 15-cent stamp (SC #222) shows Gilbert on the deck of The Squirrel alongside the words “WE ARE AS NEAR TO HEAVEN BY SEA AS BY LAND,” a recreation of Gilbert’s final moments.
In August 1583, Gilbert’s remaining fleet departed Newfoundland without establishing a permanent colony because of a lack of vital supplies. Carrying most of the crew’s supplies, The Delight ran aground near Sable Island – a small island about 300 kilometres southeast of Halifax – where it sank, killing all but 16 crew members.
The Squirrel, commanded by Gilbert, and The Golden Hinde continued home but crossed paths with a violent storm about 1,500 kilometres away from the Portuguese islands of Azores. The Squirrel began sinking; however, Gilbert refused to leave his doomed ship; instead, he sat on the deck, read a book and reportedly uttered the phrase, “We are as near to heaven by sea as by land.”
Gilbert went down along with his ship on Sept. 9, 1583. The Golden Hinde would be the only vessel from Gilbert’s original fleet to return home to England.
The remaining stamps in the 1933 commemorative set include a 20-cent stamp (SC #223) depicting Captain John Mason’s 1626 map of Newfoundland and a 32-cent stamp (SC #225) showing Gilbert’s statue at Truro, N.S.