Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sir John Campbell's brother-in-law wrote the leading work on navigation: J.W. Norie

Did Sir John Campbell own the house he lived in during the mid-1800s, on Charles Street, Berkeley Square, or did his second wife bring it into their marriage? She was married three times, to three different men: one famous for losing a court case, one an early 19th century military hero, and one a one-time leader of the losing side in the Portuguese civil war between two brothers.

Harriet Maria Norie, the second wife of both Sir Alexander Dickson and Sir John Campbell

In 1842, over 20 years after the death of his first wife, Sir John became the third husband of Harriet Maria Dickson, nee Norie.

Harriet Maria's father, James Norie, was not a wealthy man, at least, there are no hints suggesting he was, which is about as definite a statement as I can make. He came from Morayshire, Scotland, established a school in London after moving down from Scotland. Harriet Maria's mother, Dorothy Mary (nee Fletcher), was the daughter of a merchant, Jacob Fletcher, who was, it appears, a London man. Again, I haven't seen anything to suggest he was a particularly notable or rich merchant. My impression is that this was a happy and creative family of teachers, writers, and painters, who perhaps had more intangible wealth than money.

One brother, John William Norie, 1772 to 1843, became a leading writer on navigation, with Epitome of Practical Navigation (1805) being one of the most frequently-mentioned of his books. There is a portrait of J.W. Norie in the National Portrait Gallery. It's from the entry for J. W. Norie in the Dictionary of National Biography that we get the information about his and Harriet Maria's parents.

"NORIE, JOHN WILLIAM (1772–1843), writer on navigation, born in Burr Street, London, on 3 July 1772, was son of James Norie (1737–1793), a native of Morayshire, who, after being trained for the presbyterian church, migrated to London in 1756, and kept a flourishing school in Burr Street, Wapping. Norie's mother was Dorothy Mary Fletcher (1753–1840), daughter of a merchant in East Smithfield.

The son, John William, resided, according to the ‘London Directory’ for 1803, at the ‘Naval Academy, 157 Leadenhall Street.’ At the same address William Heather carried on business as a publisher of naval books and dealer in charts and nautical instruments at the ‘Navigation Warehouse.’ Heather's name disappears in 1815, and the business was henceforth conducted by Norie with a partner, Charles Wilson, under the style of Norie & Wilson.

The ‘Navigation Warehouse’ has been immortalised by Charles Dickens in ‘Dombey and Son’ as the shop kept by Sol Gills (cf. J. Ashby-Sterry's article ‘The Wooden Midshipman’ in All the Year Round, 29 Oct. 1881, p. 173). Norie retired about 1830, but the business was carried on in the same place until 1880, when the premises were taken down and the firm removed to 156 Minories, where the figure of the little midshipman which decorated Norie's house of business still exists.

Norie, who is variously described as ‘teacher of navigation and nautical astronomy,’ and ‘hydrographer,’ died at No. 3 Coates Crescent, Edinburgh, on 24 Dec. 1843, and was buried in St. John's episcopal church."

The entry is from an old edition of the Dictionary. Since then, the properties where Norie's business was have both been redeveloped. Norie's firm survives as Imray. A detailed, illustrated short history of the firm is found on Cruising World's website.

The little wooden midshipman is on permanent loan from Imray to The Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, London.

So, we know there was at least one famous Norie, but I still don't think they were wealthy.

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