Humphrey Gilbert was a noted English navigator, soldier and explorer of the early Elizabethan Age. The half brother of Walter Raleigh, he was born near Dartmouth. Gilbert was educated at Eton and Oxford, but chose military service over a more settled profession. He served in France in the early 1560s. In 1566, he was sent to Ireland, where his efforts to quell a rebellion won him attention at court. Gilbert was knighted in 1570.
In 1572, a budding Parliamentary career was interrupted by a call to action in the Netherlands, where Dutch Protestant allies were attempting to overthrow Spanish Catholic control.
Gilbert had long maintained an interest in exploring the New World. He had written about the Northwest Passage, which served as an inspiration to noted navigators Martin Frobisher and John Davis. On a number of occasions over the years, Gilbert had petitioned Elizabeth I to back his own venture. The queen, however, found him more valuable in other capacities.
Gilbertâ€™s wish was granted in 1578, when he and Raleigh received a charter to explore North America. This venture was outfitted and set sail, but was quickly and totally halted by a fierce storm. The disheartened Gilbert was not able to mount another effort until 1583. That voyage resulted in the establishment of a small settlement on Newfoundland â€" the first English colony in America. The settlers quickly became disenchanted and managed to convince Gilbert that he should take them home. On that return voyage, Gilbertâ€™s ship was lost near the Azores.