NORRIS, Sir JOHN, officer in the Royal Navy; b. 1670 or 1671; d. 13 or 14 June 1749, probably at Hemsted Park, Kent, England.
John Norris’ parentage is unknown; he may have been of Irish ancestry. He entered the Royal Navy in 1680 as a captain’s servant, and by August 1689 had been appointed a lieutenant in the Edgar, commanded by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, who had been his patron for several years and with whom he established a firm friendship. He was promoted post captain in 1690 and in May 1692 was present at the battle of La Hougue off the Pointe de Barfleur (dept. of Manche), France.
In April 1697, in command of the Monk, Norris was commissioned commander-in-chief in Newfoundland and commodore of a small squadron which was to embark the regiment of Colonel John Gibsone* from England and recapture the Newfoundland territories seized the previous winter by a French force led by Pierre Le Moyne* d’Iberville and Jacques Testard* de Montigny. On his arrival at St John’s, Norris found the town abandoned by the French and laid waste. He landed seamen and soldiers to repair the fortifications. In July he received news of the presence off the Grand Banks of a powerful French fleet under Jean-Bernard-Louis Desjean de Pointis. Norris was eager to engage the French but the council – which would have included Gibsone and the engineer, Michael Richards* – overruled him and decided to remain on the defensive. His inaction brought him some criticism on his return to England in October, but he was absolved of all blame.
The peace of Ryswick was concluded in September 1697. Norris commanded the Newfoundland convoy again in 1698 and was able to report to the Board of Trade that good progress had been made in rebuilding the fortifications at St John’s and that the fishing industry there was rapidly recovering. In May 1699 he married Elizabeth Aylmer, daughter of Admiral Matthew Aylmer.
Norris’ subsequent career, greatly aided by Admiral Aylmer, was distinguished. He was knighted in 1705 and made admiral in 1709. “Foul-weather Jack,” as he came to be called, commanded the Baltic squadron in 1715–16, 1719–21, and 1727, went to St Petersburg, Russia, in 1717 as a special envoy, and was a lord of the admiralty between 1718 and 1730. In 1735 he led a large squadron to Lisbon to support the Portuguese during a minor dispute between Portugal and Spain. From 1739 on he commanded the Channel fleet. In February 1744, shortly before the outbreak of war with France, he nearly caught the Brest squadron becalmed off Dungeness. He retired from active service in March, in part because of his disappointment over this failure.
Norris was a member of parliament, representing Rye and Portsmouth, from 1708 to 1749, and generally voted against government measures. He had 11 children, five of whom seem to have survived infancy. Two sons followed him in the naval service.
BM, Add. mss, 28126–57 (Norris papers). PRO, Adm. 2/23. Gentleman’s Magazine, 1749, p.284. G.B., Privy Council, In the matter of the boundary between the Dominion of Canada and the colony of Newfoundland in the Labrador peninsula . . . (12v., London, 1926–27), IV, 1800–6. PRO, CSP, Col., 1696–97; 1697–98. The registers of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London, ed. W. H. Hunt (5v., Pubs. of the Harleian Soc., [Registers], XXXIII–XXXVII, London, 1906–9), I, 112–81, passim. Charnock, Biographia navalis, II, 341–62. DNB. Sedgwick, History of parliament, II, 298. D. D. Aldridge, “Admiral Sir John Norris 1670 (or 1671)–1749: his birth and early service, his marriage and his death,” Mariner’s Mirror (Cambridge, Eng.), LI (1965), 173–83. G. Hinchliffe, “Some letters of Sir John Norris,” Mariner’s Mirror, LVI (1970), 77–84.