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English, (March 1812 - 12 December 1869)


William Henry Norman was born in Uphoe, Kent, England in March 1812. He married Sarah Stretch, and they had one son, William Thomas. Norman married again on 26 May 1849 at St. Phillips Church, Sydney, to Mary Jane Holberton (18235-13 April 1873) of Totnes. They had three children while living in England, and then after moving to Williamstown, Victoria in 1855, they had another six children.

• Mary (b. 1852)
• Henry (b. 31 December 1852)
• Charles Ernest (b. 1854)
• George Harold (b. 1856)
• Eva Louise (1860-1863)
• Edgar (– born 1863)
• Anne Eliza Norman (b. 1858)
• Victoria Elizabeth (b. 1862)
• Catherine Florence (b. 1866)

Norman joined the merchant marine service as a boy. He became a master mariner and in 1851 he captained the Lady Jocelyn to Australia. His next trip to Australia was as captain of the Queen of the South which had Sir Charles Hotham aboard. Hotham was en route to Victoria to replace La Trobe as Governor. Upon arrival in Victoria, Hotham decided to have an armed steam sloop built for for the colony's defence. He gave the commission to Norman, who returned to England on the Queen of the South, resigned from The General Screw Steam Shipping Company and supervised the building of the HMCS Victoria. The Victoria was designed by the British naval architect Oliver Lang, built at Limehouse, London and launched by Lady Constance Talbot on 30 June 1855.

Norman sailed the Victoria from Plymouth to Hobsons Bay and in 1860 he was sent to New Zealand to assist in the war at Taranaki. Norman and his Lieutenant, George Austin Woods were mentioned in despatches.

Friday, 26 July 1861
Pages 3037-8.

A despatch of which the following is an extract, has been received, with its enclosures, from Major General Pratt. C B.

Commander Norman, Her Majesty's colonial steamsloop Victoria, has with his ship, provided of incalculable value during this service, and his chief officer Mr Woods, late R.N. did good service while attached to the Naval Brigade on shore.

On his return to Australia, Norman was made Commander-in-chief of the Northern Exploring parties (Walker, Landsborough, Kirby) searching for Burke and Wills from the Albert River.

H.M.c.s.s. Victoria crew 1861-2 during the search for Burke and Wills:


Commander William Henry Norman (1812-1869)
Lieutenant George Austin Woods (1825-1905)
Mate Mr Hanfield  
2nd Lieutenant Charles Cecil Gascoyne (Gascoine)  
Midshipman Mr Laws  
Boatswain Mr Rowe  
Quarter Master Samuel Long (1828-1898)
Chief Petty Officer James Joseph Ovenden
(Captain of the Foretop)
Gunner Mr Frost (accidentally shot and killed at the Albert River) (1833-31 December 1861)
Surgeon Dr Patterson  
Botanist Diedrich Henne
(appointed by Ferdinand Mueller)
(1834-21 January 1913)
Boy, 2nd class Samuel Smith [?]  
  & others...  

Mr W Allison of Landsborough's party and Mr John Horsfeldt of Mr Walker's party returned on the Victoria.

Frederick Walker named the Norman River after him, although initially Walker believed he was on the Flinders not the Norman, as Stokes had not charted the Norman during his 1846 maritime survey of the coast.

Norman was sent to England in 1869 to take command of the HMS Cerebus but became ill and died in Ramsgate on 12 December 1869.


Saturday, 22 January 1870
Page 7.

Telegraphic intelligence via Galle has brought the news of the death in England of Captain William H. Norman, late commander of HMCS Victoria, who had been sent home about a twelve months since to superintend the fitting for sea of the ironclad Cerberus, promised by the Imperial Government as a present to this colony, and to bring her hither. His health, it appears, broke down shortly after he reached England. Combined disease of the lungs and heart, with dropsy at a later stage, told fearfully upon a system tried and worn by the hardships of 45 years of sea life, and that he at length succumbed created small surprise.

Although his wife and family were left behind at Williamstown, it is consoling to think that the few last months of his life were cheered by the attentions of his sister and not a few Australian friends in England, among whom was the Hon George F Verdon CB., agent general for Victoria. Till the next mail arrives, we can know very little of the manner and circumstances of his death. We regret to know that he has left a widow and large family to mourn their loss.

The history of Captain Norman is eminently the history of a man of action, and his acknowledged stores of professional knowledge were gained by some of the hardest work a man can be called upon to undergo. He was born in March, 1812, at Uphoe, in Kent, and thus death cut him off in his 58th. year. He was bred to the mercantile marine, in which he soon became a master mariner, and one of his earliest employments in that capacity was as captain of the Lord Hungerford, a vessel owned by Captain Farquharson, which post he retained for nine years. In December, 1848, he was appointed to the Coromandel, and remained there for four years. We are not exactly informed of the trades in which these vessels were engaged, but in 1851 he entered the service of the General Screw Steam Shipping Company and superintended the fitting out of the Lady Jocelyn, which he brought out to these colonies for one trip. On his return he was appointed to the Queen of the South, belonging to the same company. Among her passengers was the late Sir Charles Hotham, K.C.B., who was on his way to assume the governorship of Victoria. Sir Charles, acknowledged to be one of the ablest officers in Her Majesty's navy, was much struck with the character of Captain Norman, and endeavoured to secure his services for the new colony of Victoria.

The Russian war was raging, and shortly after his arrival Sir Charles decided to have built for the colony an armed steam sloop, such as the Victoria has turned out to be. Accordingly he gave Captain Norman a commission to have such a vessel built, and when the Queen of the South returned to England, her commander left her and threw himself heart and soul into the Victorian service.

The result was as we have indicated, the building of HMCS Victoria, whose model, and the character of whose build, has been the admiration of every competent judge visiting these waters. Shortly after bringing this vessel to Hobson's Bay, she began under Captain Norman's command that series of public services which has rendered her name famous throughout Australasia.

About the first of these was her voyage to Port Curtis, to fetch from thence the foolish people who had been lured thither in search of gold, and Mr O'Shanassy, then Chief Secretary, acknowledged in writing the 'zeal and ability' of the commander in the performance. In 1859, Captain Seymour, of HMS Pelorus, then in Hobson's Bay, wrote to His Excellency Sir Henry Barkly, then Governor, in praise of the Victoria and her condition, which was such as -to use his own words 'to reflect the utmost credit on Commander Norman.'

When in 1860 the New Zealand war broke out at Taranaki, this Government decided to send Captain Norman with the Victoria to the assistance of the colonial Government of New Zealand. After 12 months' service she returned, and in a letter dated Camp Waitara, New Zealand, 30th March 1861, the Governor of that colony, His Excellency Colonel T Gore Browne (now Sir Thomas Gore Browne, KCB) acknowledged his sense of the 'valuable service' rendered by the Victoria, adding, as respected Captain Norman, 'your zeal, activity, and the punctuality with which you have performed duties of an especially arduous and harassing nature command our admiration and esteem.'

Commander Cracroft, RN., of HMS Niger, and Major-General G. S. Pratt, C.B., then commander-in-chief of the troops stationed in Australia, also wrote to Captain Norman in similar terms, and the Governor of New Zealand repeated his former statements in a formal despatch to the Governor of Victoria. On Captain Norman's return to this colony the then Chief Secretary (Mr Heales) formally informed him of his (Mr Heales's) high sense of the value of the distinguished services rendered; and subsequently when addresses of thanks from both Houses of Parliament were presented to Major General Pratt in respect to his conduct during the New Zealand war, handsome reference was made in them, and also in General Pratt's reply, to the 'conspicuous courage and energy so eminently displayed' by Captain Norman and the officers and men under his command.

A few months afterwards the news that Burke and Wills had started to go across the continent, and were probably at the Gulf of Carpentaria without the means to support life, reached Melbourne, and a supplementary exploring expedition by sea was immediately decided upon. It was arranged to be under the command of Captain Norman in the Victoria, which, with other vessels containing stores, got together with extraordinary promptitude and energy, was despatched to the gulf. The admirable manner in which this 'responsible and hazardous duty' was performed, was testified to by written testimonials from the Governor and Executive Council of Queensland, by the Chief Secretary of Victoria (Mr O'Shanassy), and also by the Exploration Committee of the Royal Society, whose chairman (Sir W F Stawell, Chief Justice), presented Captain Norman with a highly complimentary address. The Victorian Government also took occasion to acknowledge the useful hydrographic work done by the Victoria while at Carpentaria and in Torres Straits, and subsequently the Duke of Newcastle, writing to Sir Henry Barkly, transmitted, on behalf of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, their thanks to Captain Norman 'for the zeal he has shown in so carefully examining and describing these reefs' (the Chilcott Rocks in Torres Straits). The noble Duke in another despatch commented on the 'very able and efficient manner' in which Captain Norman had managed the expedition.

A vast number of smaller services performed by the Victoria under Captain Norman culminated in his carrying to Tasmania the salmon ova which have since proved so productive. That was in June, 1864, and on the 30th July following, Mr McCulloch, then Chief Secretary, put the Victoria out of commission, at the same time conveying in a formal letter to Captain Norman an 'expression of the satisfaction entertained by the Government' at the manner in which he had always discharged his several duties.

Although the Victoria was put out of commission she remained under Captain Norman's command, and was so efficiently kept as to be able to render many suddenly required services to the colony. The most important of these was her rescue of the shipwrecked passengers and crew of the Netherby from King's Island, a duty skilfully performed.

For a considerable time previous to Captain Norman's departure for England, the Victoria was employed under his command in furtherance of the Admiralty surveys of the coast. The distinguished part taken by her and her gallant commander in the reception of the Duke of Edinburgh will not soon be forgotten.

There is no need to multiply instances of the sort given above. Suffice it is that Captain Norman has always been regarded as one of the ablest seamen who ever entered this port, and as to his other qualities it is doubtful if he had an enemy when he died. Certainly, between him and those who served with and under him there always existed the warmest feelings of regard. His latter years were somewhat embittered by a fear lest in his old age he should be turned adrift by the Government, and at one time this appeared to be so nearly the case - when Mr McCulloch was away from Melbourne and Mr.Verdon was in England - that he was ordered to give up the Victoria altogether. He managed to tide over that difficulty, but others awaited him. His own desire was to succeed Captain Ferguson as chief harbour-master, for which post he was pre-eminently qualified; but the only position which as a return for his great services he was offered by the existing Government was that of water police magistrate. This he felt unable to accept.

When, however, he was sent by Mr McCulloch to take charge of the Cerberus, his mind cleared, his spirits rose to their old level, and he felt a new man, seeing his way to a most acceptable sphere of duty. Had he lived to return, his utmost wishes would probably have been gratified, for we are led to believe that the desired post of chief harbour-master would have been given him. Since the news of his death has arrived, the flags in the bay, Williamstown, and Sandridge have been at half-mast, and his loss has been widely and deeply regretted.

Research Norman further with Trove...

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