Robert Hayman (14 August 1575 - November 1629) was an English poet, and proprietary governor of Bristol's Hope colony in Newfoundland. He composed the 1st poetry written in English in what is now Canada.[1]


Youth and educationEdit

Hayman was born in Wolborough near Newton Abbot, Devon, the eldest of 9 children. His mother was Alice (Gaverocke)[2] and his father, Nicholas Hayman, a prosperous citizen and later mayor and M.P. of both Totnes and Dartmouth. By 1579 the family was living in Totnes,[3] where in the high street Hayman as a small boy met Sir Francis Drake, who presented him with an orange (Hayman records the incident in one of his poems).[4]

According to the 17th-century historian Anthony Wood Hayman was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, and the college register shows him matriculating on 15 October 1590 (the register wrongly shows his age as 11 whereas in fact he was 15).[3] He then, according to Wood, "retired to Lincolns-inn, without the honour of a degree": but here Wood is incorrect, as Hayman earned a B.A. on 8 July 1596.[3]

He was admitted as a law student to Lincoln's Inn on 16 October 1596, where, again according to Wood,he "studied for a time the municipal law", though modern researches find no evidence of this or of any intention to qualify as a lawyer. In his supplication for B.A. Hayman had mentioned a plan to travel and study in Europe, and this apparently happened, as in a letter his father wrote to Robert Cecil in 1600 he states that he hoped for a career for his son in some government office, and that towards this end he had educated him at both Oxford University and at Poitiers.

Wood explains that Hayman's "geny being well known to be poetical, (he) fell into acquaintance with" a literary circle which included Ben Jonson, Michael Drayton, John Donne, George Wither, John Owen and others. These encouraged his literary efforts with the result, according to Wood, that Hayman had "the general vogue of a poet". Perhaps because of these distractions Hayman seems not to have achieved any significant public office in England. Although Edward Sharpham dedicated a play, "Cupid's Whirligig," to him in 1607,[3] nothing further is known about his activities for 20 years, until he emerges as a venturer and colonist to the new world.

Marriage and familyEdit

Hayman was married on 21 May 1604 at St Petroc's Church, Exeter, to Grace Spicer, daughter of a prominent merchant of Exeter;"Cupid's Whirligig." but they appear to have had no children and Hayman does not mention her in his works (so she may have died young). Several of the poems later published in the book Quodlibets, however, are dedicated to other members of the Spicer family.

Colonial careerEdit

Hayman was appointed the Newfoundland colony's 1st and only governor in 1618 when Bristol's Society of Merchant Venturers received a charter from King James I of England to establish the settlement. Hayman's brother-in-law John Barker was the society's master. Hayman lived in the colony for 15 months before returning to England and visited again every summer until his tenure as governor ended in 1628.[5] Much of his work was in England raising money for the settlement, publicizing it and encouraging more colonisation efforts. In 1628 he petitioned the king's favourite the Duke of Buckingham to forward a "Proposition of profitt and honor" to the king which set out the need to encourage continued colonization of Newfoundland, and which specifically mentioned a plan to build a settlement to be called 'Carolinople' (i.e. "Charles's Town").

Although Hayman apparently remained committed to Newfoundland he was also interested in other colonial ventures, including one to Guiana under the direction of Robert Harcourt. Having arranged his financial affairs he made his will late in the fall of 1628 and left in the Little Hopewell for the Amazon. By February 1629 (new style) he was in Guiana looking into using the river 'Wiapoco' (modern Oyapock) as a trading route.


It was while travelling up the Oyapock by canoe that Hayman died of a sudden fever and was hastily buried by his companions near the banks of the river, on or about 17 October 1629.[3] His will, signed and sealed on 17 November 1628 but not proved until 1633 (1632 old style), leaves his estate to "my loving Cosin and Nephew Thomas Muchell of Longaston in the Countie of Somersett..." His will also mentions 2 "policies of insurance" taken out with the diocesan Chancellor of London, Arthur Duck. Of the value of £100 each, one related to the safe arrival of Hayman's ship in Guiana and the other was "of one hundred pounds assured by the said Doctor Arthur Ducke on my life".[6]


As Newfoundland's 1st poet in English, Hayman is remembered for his writings extolling the island, its climate and its early English pioneers. In his leisure hours as Governor in Harbour Grace he composed a work later published in England as Quodlibets.[7] Quodlibets ("What you will") was the 1st book in the English language written in what would become Canada. Some of it consisted of original short poems by Hayman, and some of translations, both of Latin poems by John Owen and of French prose by Francois Rabelais. It was published in London in 1628, presumably as part of Hayman's attempts to raise interest in the colony.


  • Quodlibets: Lately come over from New Britaniola, old Newfound-land : epigrams and other small parcels, bot[h] morall and divine. London: Elizabeth All-de & Felix Kingston, for Roger Mitchell, 1628.[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies, Canadian poetry: From the beginnings through the First World War (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1994), 3. Print.
  2. William Barker, "Hayman, Robert (bap. 1575, d. 1629)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 William Barker, "Hayman, Robert (bap. 1575, d. 1629)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
  4. Quodlibets, Fourth book, verse no. 7.
  5. 'In this Iland at one tyme I lived fifteene Monethes together, and since I have spent allmost every sommer in it’ (BL, Egerton MS 2451, fols. 162–9).
  6. "And whereas I have left in the hands of Doctor Ducke Channcellor of London two pollicies of insurance the one of one hundred pounds for the safe arivall of our Shipp in Guiana which is in mine owne name, if we miscarry by the waie (which God forbid) I bequeath the advantage thereof to my said Cosin Thomas Muchell...whereas there is an other insurance of one hundred pounds assured by the said Doctor Arthur Ducke on my life for one yeare if I chance to die within that tyme I entreat the said doctor Ducke to make it over to the said Thomas Muchell his kinsman..." Will of Robert Hayman, 1628:Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Catalogue Reference PROB 11/163
  7. 'Qvodlibets, lately come over from New Britaniola, old New-found-land. Epigrams and other small parcels, both morall and diuine. The first foure bookes being the authors owne: the rest translated out of that excellent epigrammatist, Mr. Iohn Owen, and other rare authors: With two epistles of that excellently wittie doctor, Francis Rablais: translated out of his French at large. All of them composed and done at Harbor-Grace in Britaniola, anciently called Newfound-Land.' (1628)
  8. Search results = au:Robert Hayman, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Nov. 1, 2016.

External links Edit

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