Whitbourne, Sir Richard

Governor of Renews, 1618-1620

Born in Exmouth, Devonshire, this future colonizer and author was involved in the merchant marine as early as 1579, when, at the age of 15, he left Southampton aboard a vessel bound for Newfoundland. Although the purpose for the trip was to hunt whales and trade with the Natives, once in Newfoundland the crew was busy fishing in Trinity harbour. In subsequent years Whitbourne made several more trips to Newfoundland. He witnessed Sir Humphrey Gilbert's ceremony of possession in 1583 and Bernard Drake's raid on Portuguese fishermen in 1585.

Whitbourne led four ships against the Spanish Armada in 1588. While overseeing the transportation of Newfoundland fish to Mediterranean markets in 1612, he was abducted by the pirate Peter Easton. Concerned about the disruption to the fishery and the destruction of fishing property by pirates such as Easton, the High Court of Admiralty engaged Whitbourne to establish a formal court of justice on the island. After setting up court and reviewing the evidence, Whitbourne suggested that increasing the number of year-round settlers was the solution to protecting the property of the migratory fisherman.

William Vaughan consequently chose Whitbourne as governor of a Welsh colony he had established at Renews in 1617. When Whitbourne anchored at Renews in 1618, he found the colony in a lamentable state, the settlers not having even constructed satisfactory shelters. In an attempt to reorganize the settlement Whitbourne sent all but six of the unfit colonists back to England.

Whitbourne wrote several books, including A Discourse and Discovery of the New-Found-Land, published in 1620, whose purpose was to promote the colonization of the island; nonetheless, it appears that the settlement was abandoned that same year. He submitted the book and a proposal for a new colony to the Privy Council, and although the proposal was rejected the book was distributed in every parish under the archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Whitbourne returned to Renews twice between 1622 and 1626 to visit the colony of Henry Cary, or Lord Falkland, which was at that time governed by Francis Tanfield. He served as an advisor to Lord Falkland offering recommendations on the establishment and maintenance of his colony, and was knighted by Falkland in 1625. After this, information on Whitbourne becomes scarce. He was still encouraging settlement in Newfoundland in the West Country in 1626, while at the same time looking for new employment. In October 1627 he was appointed lieutenant aboard Sir John Chudleigh's Bonaventure. In 1628, Robert Hayman, another Newfoundland governor, composed a poem in praise of Whitbourne's writings. It is known that Whitbourne was still alive at this time, but his year of death remains unknown.

Previous Governor | Next Governor