The NORTON MEDAL
Information coming directly from Ireland :
Your enquiry was passed to me by Moira Aston in Athletics Ireland. While I cannot say that I can answer all of your questions, below I set out what I have found. You will have seen the detail in the British Museum on-line catalogue about the Norton Medal which I assume led you to contact sources in Ireland.
1. Who was Captain Norton?
I am attaching an outline biography of Captain John Norton from Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History. He was born in Ireland circa. 1788 of an English family. He served in the 34th Regiment (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/34th_(Cumberland)_Regiment_of_Foot ). The article (attached) from The Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1864 states that he was from a military family, having two brothers who were distinguished officers in the British Army and died serving their country. Captain John Norton served in the Iberian Peninsular War (Napoleonic War) at the Battles of Albeura, Arroyo dos Molinos, Vittoria, Nivelle, Nive, and Orthos. He was regarded as an able and brave officer. The chance explosion of an ammunition waggon at the Battle of Busaco in 1810 led him into the invention of military projectiles or missiles and in 1923 he invented what came to be known as the ‘Minie’ bullet which he presented to the Select Committee on Firearms at Woolwich in 1826. His invention was rejected by the War Office which continued to prefer the spherical Brunswick ball as the projectile of choice fired by rifles. In 1849 a Captain Claude-Étienne Minié produced a somewhat similar bullet which was adopted by the British War Office in 1852. There was a subsequent campaign to get Norton credited with his invention (rather than a French foreigner) and rewarded. Norton bullet was said to be superior and scientifically better designed than the Minié bullet.
Between 1854 and 1861 he resided at 30 Blessington Street, Inns Quay, Dublin (now Dublin 7), as listed in Thom’s Official Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. He appears to have moved to Bray, Co Wicklow in 1862 and certainly resided in The International Hotel, Bray for some time. This Hotel on the seafront at Bray (picture attached) was completed in 1862 and destroyed by a fire in 1974. Captain John Norton died aged 82 in Bray, Co. Wicklow on Saturday 2 February 1867 at the Club House after a long illness. I found this particularly fascinating as I have lived in Bray since 1981. He appears to have been a Patron of Rifle and Archery clubs (I have attached two examples from newspapers – clubs associated with projectiles).
2. The Norton Medal
The Norton Medal was designed and struck by John Woodhouse, ARHA (Associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy), one of Ireland finest ever medallists (see attachments John Woodhouse and The Norton Medal) I am also attaching a biography of the Woodhouse brothers (both medallists) published in The Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, Fourth Series, Volume 8, No 71/72 (Jul Oct 1887), pp 189-208. Note that the medal is described as being extremely rare. Only 20 Silver medals were struck, 19 of which were remelted and one issued. Two Bronze proofs were produced, one of which must be that in the British Museum. A copy in white metal was made. Thus a spear throwing competition seems to have been held on one occasion only (one Silver medal awarded – if it ever turned up it would be worth a fortune!). Spear Throwing was abandoned because of an accident. I have not been able to find a record of the spear throwing competition or who won the medal or of the accident (possibly in 1869 or 1870 – see below as the medal was struck in 1869).
Unfortunately none of these references gave the year of minting of the Norton Medal. As it was acquired by the British Museum in 1883 (donated by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks), it had to have been minted before then. As Captain John Norton died in 1867 and it would be very unlikely that his image would appear on a medal while he was alive, I decided to trawl for more information. I eventually found a publication by Col MH Grant “British Medals since 1760” which I attach. This has an entry under 1869 “Captain Norton” by J Woodhouse. Since the Norton Medal has an image of Captain John Norton throwing a spear, I am assuming this to be a reference to the Norton Medal.
The description of the medal: “The medal represents Captain Norton standing in a country scene, with trees, &c., throwing a spear in Australian fashion from a rest” fascinated me. I can find no reference of Captain Norton visiting Australia. However since he was interested in projectiles, this probably led him to aboriginal spear throwing. There is a lovely video of this being demonstrated on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vleudAj43tk Given your interest in Spear Throwing I am certain you are aware of this. I have searched Irish newspapers for spear throwing without much success. However I did eventually find an article in The Freeman’s Journal in July 1862 which reports demonstrations made by Captain Norton in Bray, Co. Wicklow. The Fifth demonstration reads: “Throwing the Australian Spear after the manner of Botany Bay Boys”. He may have provided other demonstrations. Note that in 1862 he would have been 77, a fit man to be able to demonstrate spear throwing. I have looked carefully at the photograph of the medal and the trees could well be eucalyptus trees to fit with throwing the spear Australian style.
3. Santry School
Santry School for Boys was an Irish Charter School established in 1744 by The Incorporated Society in Dublin for Promoting English Protestant Schools in Ireland. The Charter Schools only admitted Catholics under the condition that they were educated as Protestants. I do not know where Captain John Norton attended school, although it is possible that he was a former pupil of Santry School. He did reside at Inns Quay which is on the north side of Dublin as is Santry so he may have taken an interest in Irish Charter Schools. It is possible that he left a bequest in his will to fund a prize for Spear Throwing at Santry School. Records of Santry School Sports being held are only found in newspapers from 1878 but no spear throwing or javelin throw is reported. It is not clear who commissioned the medal to be designed by John Woodhouse.
I hope this helps you with your historical researches,
Cyril J Smyth
Fellow Emeritus TCD
Trinity College Dublin
Member of the Board of Athletics Ireland