Following his disasterous first voyage in 1578, Humphrey Gilbert was prepared to set sail for his second attempt to settle the New World. Five ships awaited him in port, again crewed mainly by pirates attempting to escape lengthy prison terms or even death sentences, as had the crews in the first voyage.
In 1583, Gilbert set sail for the New World. Two days out of port, one ship deserted. Later, another ship, crewed mainly by pirates, robbed a French ship despite strict orders from Gilbert not to do so. On top of that, the weather was not favourable and the crossing took 2 months.
Originally, Gilbert had planned on sailing farther west to the mainland, but when he reached St. John's Harbour in Newfoundland, he immediately fell in love with the exotic, mysterious and barrenly-rugged land and decided that it was the perfect spot for a colony. Many countries fished the Grand Banks and used the harbour: French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Basque, and English. They had done so for decades and had developed something of a 'community' in which each country left the other countries alone. When Humphrey Gilbert arrived, this all came to an end overnight.
When Gilbert had found a suitable spot on shore, he had a huge, elaborate tent erected. Then, sounding horns and sending out couriers, he summoned all the captains to shore. When they had gathered, he announced that he was claiming the land for England and proclaimed himself Lord Paramount. Everyone would be ruled by English law and they would also have to obey the laws of the Church of England. He declared sovereignty over a principality which went almost 500 kilometres (300 miles) inland. Fishing licenses were handed out to all captains along with notices of taxation which would begin immediately. He also began doling out small parcels of land to his own captains, none of whom took advantage of Gilbert's 'generosity'.
Gilbert's empire began to fall apart almost immediately. Within days, many of the pirates he'd recruited for the voyage began looting the fishing boats in the harbour. Many others deserted and many fell ill to an epidemic which swept through the region. Gilbert sent the traitors and the ill back to England.
His dreams of fame, wealth, and power would be short-lived. The next year, in 1584, Gilbert set sail to the south to expand his territory. Virtually the moment he left, his government and laws vanished. And so did Gilbert. His ship sank during a storm near the Azores.
First Voyage 1578 - Destined to Fail
* Second Voyage 1583 - Settlement & Thirst for Power *