William Dampier was born in the village of East Coker in August 1651. He died in London in March 1715, at the age of sixty-three. He was at various times a buccaneer, a Royal Navy captain, an author and a scientific observer. He was the first Englishman to explore and map parts of New Guinea and New Holland (Australia). He was the first person to circumnavigate the world three times. He has been described as the greatest nautical explorer-adventurer, British or otherwise, between the Elizabethans (notably Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh) and James Cook; and also as the first natural historian of Australia.
Dampier was orphaned at the age of sixteen, and was placed with the master of a ship at Weymouth, with whom he sailed to Newfoundland. On his return he sailed to Bantam in the East Indies. He joined the Royal Navy in 1673 and took part in the battles of Scoonvelde. After recovering from illness, in 1674 he became manager of an estate in Jamaica, later engaging in the coastal trade, in logging in Mexico and in buccaneering.
Dampier returned to England in 1678, and sailed back to Jamaica in 1679, joining a group of buccaneers with whom he crossed the isthmus of Darien and spent 1680 on the Peruvian coast raiding Spanish settlements before returning to the Caribbean. In 1683 in Virginia, he engaged with a privateer John Cook (not to be confused with James Cook). They sailed via Cape Horn, raiding Spanish possessions in Peru, the Galapagos Islands and Mexico. Dampier transferred to a privateer called 'Cygnet', and in 1686 set out across the pacific to raid the East Indies. In 1688 Cygnet was beached on the north-west coast of Australia, where Dampier made notes on the fauna flora and indigenous peoples. He returned to England in 1691, penniless but with his journals which he published. He also apparently had with him a tattoed Prince Jeoly and his mother, which he had bought as slaves, and exhibited in London.
The publication of his journals in 1697 led to his being given command of the 'Roebuck' with a commission from the Admiralty, and King William 3rd,to explore the coast of New Holland, which is what the Dutch then called Australia. He sailed in January 1699 via Cape of Good Hope, and arrived in Western Australia in July 1699. He sailed the coast north-east to what is now called Roebuck Bay, all the time recording and collecting samples. He rounded New Guinea in December 1699, but his ship was rotten and he was unable to chart the east coast as he intended. The Roebuck foundered at Ascension Island in February 1701, the crew being marooned there before being picked up and returning home in August 1701. He was court-marshalled and dismissed the Royal Navy, and was docked his pay for the voyage. This was because he had a crewman jailed in Brazil, who then returned to England and complained to the Admiralty. Dampier wrote an account of the voyage, and then returned to privateering.
With the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession, Dampier was appointed commander of the St George and sailed on April 1703 to destroy French and Spanish shipping. A ship in company with his, put a seaman ashore alone on an island for complaining about its (un)seaworthiness, and then sank a month later. The seaman was Alexander Selkirk. In 1708, Dampier was engaged as sailing master by another privateer. This voyage rescued Selkirk, and also amassed a huge profit of £200,000 (say £20m at today's value), returning in 1711. In the four years it took before the prize money was distributed, Dampier died a pauper in London in 1715. His burial place is unknown.
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1888. After graduating from Harvard, he studied at the Sorbonne and Oxford. He moved to England in 1914, and in 1927 he became a British citizen, working for most of his life for the publishing company Faber and Faber. He died in London in 1965, was cremated at Golders Green and, in accordance with his wishes, his ashes were interred in St. Michael's Church in East Coker.
Eliot was without doubt the greatest and most significant English-language poet of the 20th Century. He was awarded the Order of Merit by George VI in 1948, and that same year was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. One of his most significant works is 'The Four Quartets', which Eliot himself regarded as his masterpiece, and which was the work for which he received the Nobel Prize. One of the quartets is entitled 'East Coker', a reference to the village from which his ancestor Andrew Elyot emigrated to New England in the 17th Century.
In the north-west corner of St. Michael's church there is a plaque in Eliot's memory, which is inscribed with this quotation from 'East Coker':
"In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning."