Bermuda Beacon, Part 1 - Richard Norwood
The Bermuda Beacon; Vol 3, No 3; Alva M. Hamilton; © July 1986; p. 24-27
Richard Norwood, Part 1
by Alva M. Hamilton
Just before Christmas in 1613, a brilliant young man of twenty-three first set foot on the Somers Islands. His advice had been very helpful to the captain when the ship they were on went aground on one of the outer reefs and this man, Richard Norwood, knew how to extricate it. Richard had arrived only a year and a half behind the first boatload of settlers which included Bermuda’s first governor, Richard Moore. Norwood had been sent to the islands as a “technical specialist”, meaning that he had been hired as a pearl diver in search of what proved to be Bermuda’s non-existent pearls. When that job fizzled out, it was sheer chance that launched him on a career that would give him a very special place in Bermuda’s history as its first map maker and surveyor. He was a man of exceptional ability in those occupations, as well as in the many other pursuits in which he engaged during his long lifetime.
It is believed by historians that Richard Norwood probably had few, if any, intellectual equals among his Bermuda contemporaries. He had already distinguished himself as a mariner, navigator, and diver and would later prove his genius as a mathematician, textbook writer, schoolmaster and historian, as well as surveyor and map-maker. He had many other interests, too, such as nature and religion and in 1638 wrote a journal of his early life. Its detail and clarity have proved invaluable for historians. The original document, passed down through generations of his descendants, is now the prized possession of the Bermuda Archives. In 1945 the Bermuda Historical Monument Trust had the journal published. Copies can now be found in libraries throughout the United States, as well as in other parts of the world.
Richard’s intellect and love of learning might have been inherited from his grandfather, Roger Norwood, who was a fellow of Merton College. Oxford in1548. In 1554 Roger was chosen usher to the headmaster of Berkhamsted School in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. This was the school Richard, himself, would attend years later. While at Berkhamsted Roger married Elizabeth Monox, daughter of Richard Monox, a London salt trader, and his wife Sicely. The wedding took place in the parish church in Berkhamsted, St. Peter’s, 15 July 1554. Their first two sons were born there, the second child only surviving a few months. Roger moved his family in 1561 to Astwood, an estate he inherited from his father, located in Buckingshire a few miles from Bedford.
Edward, Richard’s father, is believed to have been born soon after the move to Astwood. Upon the death of his wife, Roger married Dorothy Whethide and had several more children. Roger died in 1593.
Edward, although born a gentleman, apparently lived in genteel poverty most of his adult life. The family moved about a great deal, sometimes as a result of financial problems. Probably any property of fortune belonging to Roger had gone to Edward’s older brother, John.
Richard was the second child and only son of the four children of Edward and his wife, Sybil Mathew of Towcester. Soon after their marriage they moved to Stevenage, Hertfordshire, where Richard was born in October 1590.
Richard’s first schooling began at the age of 5 or 6 when he joined his older sister, Elizabeth, in a “dames” school near Cannix kept by a Mrs. Langton and her daughter. There he was instilled with a deep religious interest that stayed with him all of his life. After two of three years at that school, he was taught by several schoolmasters who made no impression on him at all and he lost interest during those years. He became discouraged and felt he had gained almost nothing due to poor teaching and the fact that he had a speech impediment that seemed to hamper his progress. The speech impediment remained with him all his life but it was a slight one and he overcame the psychological effects.
Edward Norwood decided to move his family from Stevenage to Berkhamsted. He was having financial problems with his farm and decided to be where Richard could attend Berkhamsted School. Richard looked back upon this move in later years as pretty much an act of God for which he was eternally thankful. He was about ten when he entered that school. As might be expected, Richard took to it like a duck to water and became one of the best students there in Latin and Greek, earning the commendation of his master, Thomas Hunt. Unfortunately, before Richard turned 14, his father came upon hard times and moved the family to Shuthanger near Towcester and then to Stony Stratford. He could no longer pay for Richard’s education. Hunt decided to keep Richard there an extra month while he tried to secure a patron who would support Richard’s further education. The patron, however, chose another boy. That boy was a good friend of Richard’s, named Adolphus Speed, and it is interesting to note that Adolphus’ father, many years later, included Norwood’s map of Bermuda in one of his books on world geography.
The day that Richard had to depart from Berkhamsted School was one of the unhappiest of his life. This ended his formal education which, of course, was still quite a good one for his day, but a boy of Richard’s potential should have been able to go on to the university. Richard’s learning didn’t stop there. He spent the next ten years getting practical experience, but also learning some of the subjects he would have had at the university as is evidenced by the wide range of subjects of which he had knowledge. Had Richard entered the university, it is probable that Bermuda would never have had the benefit of his contributions to its early development.
At 15 Richard was apprenticed to a London fishmonger. The man was stern and Richard disliked the work, but became intrigued with what the seafaring friends of the fishmonger told him about maritime affairs, navigation and foreign lands. Before Richard was 17, the fishmonger’s family came down with the plague and Richard was stricken also. As soon as he recovered, he found a chance to get an apprenticeship with a sea captain sailing back and forth between London and Newcastle. He had taken along a math textbook of his father’s and was so intrigued with it that he completed all the work in three weeks.
After an injury, he tried to leave the service of his master and was thrown into jail. Another skipper needed his services and bailed him out.
Most of the next year was spent traveling by land and sea to the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. He even reached the point where he was penniless and in poor health. He was befriended and helped by some Roman Catholic priests and thought seriously of conversion to the Roman Church. Upon his return to England a Church of England clergyman helped him to return to Protestantism and he remained a staunch church member.
In August 1610 he sailed several times to the eastern Mediterranean and during these voyages he was able to borrow books on mathematics and gave up his shore leave in order to study. As a result, he mastered algebra, geometry, and trigonometry with help from no-one!
He next joined an expedition as master-mate, as well as tutor in navigation. The ship was scheduled to go to Persia via the Cape of Good Hope. Another ship that was part of the expedition joined them at Lymington. Something happened there that provided Richard the opportunity to show what a good diver he was, leading to a later appointment by the Virginia Company for similar work in Bermuda.
One of the guns being loaded on this other ship slipped and fell deep into the water and was covered with silt, making it almost invisible. Richard volunteered to retrieve it and devised a diving bell out of a hogshead. He was lowered down, found the gun, and had it hauled to the surface.
The expedition, which had hoped to establish direct trade with Persia, was canceled when one of the principal shareholders died. He was Prince Henry, son of King James I, dying 6 November 1612.
Richard spent the year before his arrival in the Somers Islands in a partnership with a well-known London math teacher, John Goodwin. The partnership lasted four or five months until Goodwin married. It had been a happy relationship for Richard. He and Goodwin remained lifelong friends. Richard continued teaching alone for another tree or four months.
It wasn’t long after that that Norwood got his offer from the Virginia Company to become their Bermuda pearl diver. He was to have in payment a share of any pearls found.
The summer before Richard arrived on the islands the Virginia Company sold full title to the islands to a groups of investors who became known as the “Adventurers”. They were anxious to have a precise survey made so that the land could be equally divided among shareholders. They hired a man named Bartlett to do the job. He was there about the time Richard arrived, but had one disagreement after another with Governor Moore and before he had done any of the work, he went back to England and never returned.
This was a lucky break for Richard. Since his pearl-diving job was now non-existent, he was delighted when the governor appointed him to do the survey.
Norwood began by making a survey of the coastline. Then in May 1616, Governor Daniel Tucker replaced Governor Moore. The new governor assigned him the task of dividing the land into eight “tribes”, later known as parishes, and each named for one of the wealthy adventurers. Each tribe was then to be further subdivided into fifty 25 acre plots. St. George’s and St. David’s islands and a small eastern portion would remain unallocated “general” land.
He and his assistant, Charles Caldicott, accomplished the work with amazing accuracy and skill despite the crudeness of their instruments.
The map Norwood devised has remained in use through the centuries with only minor corrections. It still serves as a basis for land tenure in Bermuda today. It was published in London in 1622, five years after Norwood’s return to England. His work in 1614-17 was only the beginning, however, of his influence on Bermuda history. He returned to Bermuda in 1637 or 38. ((That part of his life will be discussed in the next installment.))