The Galileo Project
site map

Norwood, Richard

1. Dates
Born: Stevenage, Hertforshire, Oct. 1590
Died: Bermuda, 1676 The inventory of his will is dated 25 Jan 1676
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 86
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
Probably named Edward Norwood; he is called a gentleman who had fallen on hard times. That is too vague to put into any category.
I take it as sufficiently clear that they were poor. Norwood was apprenticed to a fishmonger at age fifteen.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: Bermuda (i.e., English)
4. Education
Schooling: No University
Two years of grammar school, Norwood's only formal education.
No university education.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican, Calvinist
Norwood underwent a conversion in 1616. I assume that he was a passive, conforming Anglican before that. He became a convinced Puritan who left England in 1638 to escape from Laud. In Bermuda he opposed the more extreme Puritans.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Navigation
Subordinate: Mathematics, Cartography
Trigonometrie, or, the Doctrine of Triangles, 1631, based on the logs of Napier and Briggs, was intended as a navigational aid. It explained the application of logs to navigational problems. Norwood emphasized great circle navigation.
Seaman's Practice, 1637, remained for a long time one of the basic works on navigation. His work forwarded the practice of mathematical navigation. Seaman's Practice continued to be republished into the 18th century. It also contained a section on surveying and mapping.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Schoolmastering, Agriculture
Secondary: Sailing, Military, Engineering
Apprenticed to a London fishmonger, 1605.
Shipped on a coaster plying between London and Newcastle, c.1607, and in 1610-12 on a ship to the Mediterranean.
For a brief time about 1609 between the naval interludes he served as a soldier in the Netherlands.
Employed by the Bermuda Company, 1613-17, initially to dive for pearls, which did not work out, then to survey the islands, 1614-17. He surveyed Bermuda again in 1662. He also surveyed for the royal government in the 1630s.
Taught mathematics in London, 1620s-30s.
Patented lands in Virginia, 1623, but did not remain there.
Schoolmaster in Bermuda, 1638-75.
He became one of the leading planters on the islands.
8. Patronage
Types: Merchant, Aristrocrat
Daniel Tucker, who had been governor of Bermuda for the company during Norwood's survey (and whom I categorize as a Merchant because of his connection with the company), recommended Norwood to the Virginia Company in 1623 for the same job. As a result, Norwood was appointed and went to Virginia, where he patented lands. He did not remain.
Norwood dedicated Trigonometrie, 1631, to the Earl of Bedford.
Norwood dedicated The Seaman's Practice, 1637, to the Earl of Warwick, who in 1637 or 38 arranged Norwood's appointment as schoolmaster in Bermuda.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Navigation, Applied Mathematics, Cartography, Instruments, Military Engineering, Agriculture
At the very beginning of his career, Norwood devised and used a primitive diving bell to retrieve a piece of ordnance that had fallen overboard. This led to his employment by the Bermuda company as an expert diver. Frankly, I do not have a category into which this fits.
Norwood signficantly forwarded the art of navigation, especially in his application of logs to navigational problems.
In addition to his surveys of Bermuda, he measured (in 1635) the length of the meridian from London to York in order to determine the length of a degree. Although his method was extremely crude, the care with which he applied it led to a good approach to the modern value. Using this value, he reknotted the log line with a knot at every 50 feet, corresponding to 60 nautical miles per degree.
After the early years in Bermuda, Norwood was known in the Virginia Company as one expert in fortification, and he published Fortification in 1639.
In Bermuda he made olive oil and shipped a sample to London, leading the company to promote the planting of olive trees on the islands.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: Correspondence with the Royal Society.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 14, 675. E.G.R. Taylor, The Mathamtical Practitioners of Tudor and Stuart England, (Cambridge, 1954), p. 202.
  2. David W. Waters, The Art of Navigation in England in Elizabeth and Early Stuart Times, (London, 1958), pp. 342-5, 432-4, 481-93.
  3. The Journal of Richard Norwood, Surveyor of Bermuda, intro. Wesley Frank Craven and Walter B. Hayward, (New York, 1945). The two prefactory essays by Craven and Hayward are easily the best source I found.
  4. John Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed. Andrew Clark, (Oxford, 1898), 2, 96- 8.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
Home | Galileo | Biography | Chronology | Family | Portraits |
Science | Christianity | Library | About | Site Map | Search

Please note: We will not answer copyright requests.
See the copyright page for more information.