Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Perry, John

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1164560Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 45 — Perry, John1896Gerald Patrick Moriarty

PERRY, JOHN (1670–1732), civil engineer and traveller, second son of Samuel Perry of Rodborough, Gloucestershire, and Sarah, his wife, daughter of Sir Thomas Nott, was born at Rodborough in 1670. He entered the navy, and at the beginning of 1690 is described as lieutenant of the ship Montague, commanded by Captain John Layton. In January 1690 he lost the use of his right arm, from a wound received during an engagement with a French privateer. In 1693 he superintended the repair of the Montague in Portsmouth harbour, on which occasion he devised an engine for throwing out water from deep sluices. In the same year he appears as commander of the fireship Cygnet, attached to the man-of-war Diamond, the commander of the latter being Captain Wickham. While the two vessels were cruising about twenty leagues off Cape Clear, on 20 Sept. 1693, they were attacked by two large French privateers, and compelled to surrender. Perry declares that his superior, Wickham, gave him no orders, and struck his flag after a slight resistance, thus leaving the Cygnet a helpless prey to her stronger assailant. Wickham, however, maintained that Perry refused to co-operate with him, and was also guilty of a dereliction of duty in not setting fire to his ship before the Frenchmen boarded her. Perry being put on his trial before a court-martial, Captain Wickham's charges were held proved, and Perry was sentenced to a fine of 1,000l. and ten years' imprisonment in the Marshalsea. While in prison he wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘Regulations for Seamen,’ in the appendix of which he gave a long statement of his case. The pamphlet is dated 18 Dec. 1694. Perry eventually obtained his release, for in April 1698 he was introduced by Lord Carmarthen to the czar Peter, then on a visit to England. Peter, struck with Perry's knowledge of engineering, engaged him to go out to Russia immediately, to superintend naval and engineering works. Perry was promised his expenses, an annual salary of 300l., and liberal rewards in case his work proved of exceptional value.

Perry arrived in Russia in the early summer of 1698. He was first employed to report on the possibility of establishing a canal between the rivers Volga and Don. The work was begun in 1700, but the progress made was slow, owing to the incapacity of the workmen, the delay in supplying materials, and the opposition of the nobility. Perry was also much annoyed at the the czar's neglect to pay him any salary. In September 1701 Perry, who now received the title of ‘Comptroller of Russian Maritime Works,’ was summoned to Moscow, and early in 1702 ordered to Voronej, on the right bank of the river of that name, to establish a dock. This was completed in 1703, after which Perry was employed in making the Voronej river navigable for ships of war from the city of Voronej to the Don. To 1710 Perry made surveys and engineering work about the river Don. After some delay, caused by the Turkish war of 1711, he received instructions to draw plans for making a canal between St. Petersburg and the Volga. He fixed a route, the works were begun, but Perry was now rendered desperate by the czar's continued refusal to reward his services. A final petition to Peter was followed by a quarrel, and Perry, afraid for his life, put himself under the protection of the English ambassador, Mr. Whitworth, and returned to England in 1712. During fourteen years' service in Russia, he only received one year's salary. In 1716 he brought out an interesting work on the condition of Russia, entitled ‘State of Russia under the present Tsar.’ It contains a full account of the personal annoyances suffered by Perry during his stay in Russia.

In 1714, tenders being invited to stop the breach in the Thames embankment at Dagenham, Perry offered to do the work for 25,000l. The contract was, however, given to William Boswell, who asked only 16,300l. Boswell having found his task impossible, the work was entrusted to Perry in 1715. He completed it successfully in five years' time; but the expenses so far exceeded anticipation that, though an extra sum of 15,000l. was granted to him by parliament, and a sum of 1,000l. presented to him by local gentry, Perry gained no profit by the transaction. He published thereof in ‘An Account of the Stopping of Dagenham Breach’ (1721). In 1724 Perry was appointed engineer to the proposed new harbour works at Rye. He subsequently settled in Lincolnshire, and was elected a member of the Antiquarian Society at Spalding on 16 April 1730. He died at Spalding, while acting as engineer to a company formed for draining the Lincolnshire fens, in February 1732.

[Perry's works; Report of Lawsuits relating to Dagenham Breach Works, John Perry, Appellant, and William Boswell, Respondent; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 115, vi. 104; Smiles's Lives of the Engineers, i. 73–82.]

G. P. M-y.