Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whitbourne, Richard

WHITBOURNE, Sir RICHARD (fl. 1579–1626), writer on Newfoundland, born at Exmouth in Devonshire, was 'a traveler and adventurer into foreign countries' at fifteen years of age. His journeys extended to 'France, Spaine, Italy, Sauoy, Denmarke, Norway, Spruceland, the Canaries, and Soris Hands.' He made his first voyage to Newfoundland about 1579 in a vessel of 300 tons, freighted by Edward Cotton of Southampton. He visited the island again in 1583 in a Southampton vessel of 220 tons, and was eye-witness of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's formal annexation of the country, the ceremony taking place in the harbour of St. John's. In 1585 he paid a third visit in a ship of which he was part owner, and saw Sir Bernard Drake [q. v.] capture 'many Portugall ships laden with fish.' In 1588 Whitbourne equipped a ship at his own expense to serve against the Spanish armada, commanding her in person, and on taking leave of the English admiral, Lord Howard, received 'favorable letters' from him. He made several other voyages to Newfoundland, and occasionally fell in with pirates. In 1611 he met the famous Peter Easton, for whom he subsequently solicited a pardon at court, and in 1614 encountered Sir Henry Mainwaring. On 11 May 1615 he sailed from Exeter in a bark equipped at his own charge bearing a commission from the court of admiralty to hold courts of vice-admiralty in Newfoundland, the first attempt to create a formal court of justice in the country. He proceeded to the various harbours, called the masters of the English ships together and held courts, in which he carefully inquired into disorders committed on the coast, receiving presentments and transmitting them to the admiralty.

In 1616 a ship of Whitbourne's was rifled 'by a French pyrate of Rochell,' one Daniel Tibolo, by which he lost more than 860l. In 1617 he was sent for by Sir William Vaughan [q. v.], who was attempting to people Newfoundland with Welshmen, and in the year following was entrusted with the conduct of a second detachment of colonists, who were conveyed in a ship belonging to Whitbourne to Vaughan's settlement, Golden Grove, now known as Trepaney Harbour. The venture was a failure, owing chiefly to the idleness of the Welsh colonists, and it nearly ruined Whitbourne, who says pathetically that, 'after the more than forty yeeres spent in the foresaid courses, here remaines little other fruite vnto me, sauing the peace of a good conscience' and the contentment of health. In 1620, while residing in London 'at the signe of the Gilded Cocke in Pater-noster-Row,' he published his 'Discovrse and Discovery of New-fovndland, with many reasons to prooue how worthy and beneficiall a Plantation may there be made, after a far better manner than now it is. Together with the laying open of Certaine Enormities and abuses committed by some that trade to that Countrey, and the meanes laide doune for reformation thereof. Imprinted at London by Felix Kyngston, for William Barret,' 4to. Whitbourne's treatise found favour with James I, and the archbishops of Canterbury and York were enjoined by letters from the lords of the council to recommend the work and to assist in making collections for Whitbourne in the 'severall parishes of this Kingdome' to defray the cost of printing it. By a proclamation, dated 12 April 1622, James reiterated these injunctions, and granted Whitbourne the sole right of printing his book for twenty-one years. In 1622 Whitbourne supplemented the original edition with ' A Discourse containing a loving invitation … to all such as shall be Adventurers … for the advancement of his Majesties … Plantation in the New-foundland,' London, 4to. Some copies also contain a letter from the bishop to the clergy of his diocese directing them to recommend the work from their pulpits, and to make a special collection for the author. The 'Discourse' was dedicated to the king, with a supplementary address 'to his Maiesties good Subiects,' and an autobiographical introduction. The account of Newfoundland is interesting and valuable, full of amusing detail, and written with a literary skill hardly to be looked for in one who had been a mariner from fifteen years of age. The 'Discourse' had considerable fame at the time of its appearance, and is several times quoted and referred to by Captain John Smith. Another edition of the 'Discourse' was published in 1623 (London, 4to).

Whitbourne soon after received the honour of knighthood; but his circumstances continued straitened, and he grew tired of the inactivity of his life ashore. On 13 July 1626 Edward Drake wrote to Edward Nicholas, recommending him as peculiarly qualified to command a ship, and on 10 Nov. he himself solicited the favour of Buckingham, sending a certificate of his good services and losses, signed by Sir Edward Seymour, John Drake, and eight others (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1625-6, p. 374, Colonial 1574-1660, p. 82). On 11 Oct. 1627 he wrote to Hugh Peachey, stating that he had been appointed lieutenant on the Bonaventure, under Sir John Chudleigh, to hasten the ship round the Downs (ib. Dom. 1627-8, p. 382). The date of his death is unknown.

A rough draft of Whitbourne's 'Discourse,' in manuscript, with many alterations in the author's own hand, is preserved in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 22564). The 'Discourse' was abridged and translated into German by Theodor de Bry in 1628, for the thirteenth part of his 'Historia Americee,' a collection of the writings of explorers of all nationalities. It also appeared in a similar collection by Levinus Hulsius (Theil 20), published in 1629 at Frankfort-on-Main, and in 1634 in the Latin version of De Bry's collection. Some parts of the 'Discourse' were also reprinted in 1870, under the editorship of T. Whitburn, with the title 'Westward Hoe for Avalon,' London, 8vo.

[Whitbourne's Works; Prowse's Hist. of Newfoundland, 1895; Brown's Genesis of the United States, 1890, ii. 1050-1; Works of John Smith (Arber's English Scholars' Library), 1884.]

E. I. C.