Harriott, John (DNB00)

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HARRIOTT, JOHN (1745–1817), projector of the Thames police, and resident magistrate at the Thames police-court 1798–1816, was born at Great Stambridge, near Rochford, Essex, in 1745. His father, who had been in the royal navy and the merchant service, settled there a couple of years previously. His grandfather had been the last local representative of a family which had for centuries been small landowners in Northamptonshire, where they followed the calling of tanners. After a little country schooling young Harriott was put into the navy; served in the West Indies and the Levant, and was shipwrecked on the Mewstone rock on the passage home. Harriott afterwards served under Admiral Pocock at the taking of Havana in 1762, and the recapture of Newfoundland. After the peace he entered the merchant service, went up the Baltic, and, as mate, made many voyages in the American and West Indian trade. He spent several months among the American Indians in 1766; returned home, and in 1768 received a military appointment in the East Indies. His name has not been found on the books at the India Office (information supplied by the India Office). He states that he arrived at Madras in time to take part in the conclusion of General Smith's operations against Hyder Ali. Subsequently he was posted to a sepoy battalion in the Northern Circars, where he also did duty as deputy judge-advocate and acting chaplain for some time. A severe matchlock wound in the leg, received when in command of four companies of sepoys sent against a refractory rajah in the Golconda district, unfitted him for further active service, and after lengthened visits to Sumatra and the Cape he returned home, married, and after trying his hand at underwriting and the wine trade, settled down as a farmer at his native place in Essex. In 1781–2 he recovered from the sea an island of two hundred acres, known as Rushley, situate between Great Wakering, Essex, and Foulness, which had several feet of water on it at spring-tides, by enclosing it with an embankment three miles in length. He after- wards erected farm-buildings and sank wells on it. For this the Society of Arts awarded him a gold medal (cf. Transactions of the Society of Arts, iv. 44–59). About the same time the Society of Arts awarded him a prize of ten guineas for an ‘improved road harrow,’ (ib. vii. 204). It was designed for levelling ruts and re-forming the surface of roads, which then were not ‘macadamised’ or ‘metalled.’ Harriott at this time was a surveyor of roads and an Essex magistrate as well as a farmer. In 1790 the total destruction of his farm by fire brought Harriott to the verge of ruin. He called a meeting of his creditors, who behaved handsomely to him; emigrated with his family to the United States, where he remained in an unsettled position for some years, and then returned home again in 1795, crossing the Atlantic for the fourteenth time. In 1797 the East India Company gave appointments to two of his sons: John Staples Harriott, afterwards a colonel of Bengal infantry, who lost a leg at the battle of Delhi in 1803, when serving under Lord Lake, and Thomas Harriott, afterwards lieutenant in the Indian navy, who commanded the Psyche gun-brig at the taking of Java. On 31 Oct. 1797 Harriott, then described as of Prescott Street, Goodman's Fields, in the county of Middlesex, patented an improvement in ships' pumps, afterwards adopted in the navy, and set up a small manufactory. He also subscribed 500l. to Pitt's loyalty loan, and suggested improvements in the organisation of volunteer corps and sea and river fencibles.

About the same time he prepared a scheme for the establishment of a river police for the port of London. The lord mayor, although ex officio conservator of the river, gave no encouragement. On 30 Oct. 1797 Harriott addressed a letter on the subject to the Duke of Portland, then secretary of state [see Bentinck, William Henry Cavendish, third Duke of Portland]. Harriott was also introduced to Patrick Colquhoun [q. v.], to whose influence he ascribes the execution of the scheme. At midsummer 1798 the ‘marine police’ was established at a cost of 8,000l. per annum, instead of 14,000l. as originally proposed. Colquhoun was appointed receiver, with an office at Westminster, with three special justices, one of whom, Harriott, was to reside at the police office in Wapping. Harriott claims that the preventive measure of patrolling the river with police cutters was exclusively his own. The organisation was unpopular at first, and on one occasion the officer was mobbed and attacked by hired gangs of coalheavers. But great leniency was practised by the justices, and in a few years a marked decrease of crime was observable. Harriott was long unpopular, and in 1809 a number of petty charges of malversation were elaborated against him by two clerks in his office. The case came on in the king's bench before Lord Ellenborough in Trinity term, 1810, and broke down (see King's Bench, Crown Roll 42, Easter term, 50 Geo. III). Park (afterwards baron), who was leading counsel for the crown, presented the fees he had received to Lieutenant Harriott, the defendant's son, who had been taken prisoner by the Piedmontese frigate, and was then on parole in England. Harriott continued his duties until his health broke down some nine months before his death. He died at Burr Street, Spitalfields, on 22 April 1817.

Harriott was three times married, and left a widow and several children and grandchildren. Harriott published ‘Tables for the Improvement of Landed Estates, and for Increasing the Growth of Timber thereon;’ ‘An Address at a Parish Meeting at St. John's, Wapping, on the formation of an Armed Association,’ London, 1803; ‘The Religion of Philosophy as contradistinguished from Modern French Philosophy, and as an Antidote to its pernicious effects lately so evident in the prevalence of Assassination and Suicide,’ pp. xvii, 152, London, 1812, 8vo; and ‘Struggles through Life,’ London, 3 vols. 12mo. The last work went through several editions, the last containing a portrait, and, among other desultory matter, a chapter on the ‘Abuses of Private Madhouses,’ which attracted notice at the time. Harriott was also a patentee of the following inventions: Patent 2197, 31 Oct. 1797, cog-wheel, crab, or capstan, with gear, to work ships' pumps, and for propelling; 2610, 13 April 1802 (with Thomas Strode, smith, of Wapping), engine for raising weights and working mills; 2713, 13 June 1803 (with Hurry & Crispin of Gosport), improved method of making and working windlasses; 3130, 10 May 1808, fire-escapes.

[Harriott's Struggles through Life, London, 1815; Trans. Soc. of Arts, vols. iv. vi. vii. viii., the index to which is in vol. xxvi.; Bennet Woodcroft's Alphabetical Indexes of Patentees and Subject Matter of Patents, 1617–1852; Nicholson's Journal, 1803, iv. 44; Ann. Reg. 1817, Chron. p. 4; European Mag. lxxi. 485; Gent. Mag. 1817, pt. i. p. 93.]

H. M. C.