Romance and treachery: new Sea Venture novel
A former resident has turned her love of the island’s history into her debut novel on the early days of Bermuda’s settlement.
Tempest: Bermuda 1609, by Sue Wright, charts the perilous journey of English people to relieve the beleaguered and starving colonists at Jamestown in Virginia aboard the Sea Venture. which was run aground off Bermuda after a storm on July 28, 1609.
Ms Wright devoted herself to an historical novel about the Sea Venture’s fate and its role in the history of the United States after she retired last year.
Ms Wright, from Buckinghamshire, England, lived in Bermuda until her early twenties, when she moved to Britain to get married and begin her career as a psychologist. She said: “The book is my tribute to the island that gave me the most wonderful childhood as I grew up.”
Ms Wright was born in Sri Lanka, but came to Bermuda as a small child and attended the Bermuda High School.
She said she was taught very little of the island’s history.
She added: “I love history, and it’s an incredible story.”
Ms Wright said she was captivated by the story of 1609, first told by William Strachey, a passenger on the Sea Venture who became Secretary of the Colony at Jamestown.
She said: “I couldn’t believe it when I read it — surely somebody must have turned it into a novel? But it never has been.”
Admiral Sir George Somers was in charge of a small fleet of boats which made up the Third Relief Fleet to Virginia. Captained by Christopher Newport, the Sea Venture barely survived a major storm before it was run on to the reefs off then uninhabited island.
Ms Wright, who started the book 45 years after she left Bermuda, used modern English rather than the Elizabethan version.
Years of research included a trip back to the island last year to visit Gates Bay in St George’s, where about 150 crew and passengers made landfall.
Among them was John Rolfe, who became a central character in her book. Rolfe’s wife and child, Bermuda, died here during child birth, the first known birth on the island.
The remaining wreck survivors — except for two murderers — completed the journey to Jamestown in 1610 on two ships built from the wreck of the Sea Venture and Bermuda cedar. Their arrival ensured the survival of the colony and led to permanent settlement of Virginia — and Bermuda.
Rolfe is famous in the United States for his second marriage, to Native American princess Pocahontas — who is to be the subject for Ms Wright’s next book. Ms Wright said she found Rolfe’s story online about 15 years ago and found it “amazing”.
She was also taken with the variety of characters that came ashore from the Sea Venture.
Ms Wright explained: “It’s like the William Golding novel Lord of the Flies — people stranded on an island who have to survive. I was fascinated by their differences and conflicts.”
Ms Wright said Tempest: Bermuda 1609 had “romance, treachery, politics — and at the same time acknowledges Bermuda’s beauty, lamenting the destruction of the cahow”.
Bermuda’s national bird, once plentiful, was easy game for settlers, and was almost wiped out a few years after permanent settlement.
Ms Wright said she had felt compelled to write the book, which took about three years, “so that others understood the significance of Bermuda”.
The novel’s cover depicts a painting of the wreck of the Sea Venture by Bermudian artist Christopher Grimes.
• Tempest: Bermuda 1609 is available on Kindle at $3.82, and in paperback for $11.43