Hosken, James (DNB00)

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HOSKEN, JAMES (1798–1885), vice-admiral and pioneer of ocean steam navigation, was born at Plymouth on 6 Dec. 1798. His father, a warrant officer, served with distinction through the wars of American independence and of the French revolution, and was present in seventeen general actions, from St. Lucia in 1778 to that off Cape Finisterre in 1805. He died in 1848 at the age of ninety-one. James Hosken entered the navy in 1810 as midshipman on board the Formidable, and served in the Baltic, the Mediterranean, and North Sea, till the peace; afterwards in the Pique in the West Indies from 1816 to 1819, for three years in the Channel in the Wolf brig, and from 1824 to 1828 in the Scout revenue cutter, in days when smuggling was still a living reality. In 1828 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Etna in the Mediterranean; in 1832 he had command of the Tyrian packet, carrying the mails to Brazil, and from 1833 to 1836 of a merchant ship trading from Liverpool to South America. In 1837 he devoted himself to the study of the marine steam engine, and towards the end of the year was appointed to the command of the Great Western, a large steamship specially built to solve the still open question of the practicability of ocean steam navigation. After going round from the Thames to Bristol she made her final start on 8 April 1838, and arrived at New York on the 23rd. It was a great experiment brought to a successful issue. The Sirius, which had left Cork some four days before the Great Western left Bristol, arrived two hours sooner, making the passage with difficulty in nineteen days, four days more than the Great Western. With a little experience the Great Western's fifteen days was reduced to thirteen, and the following year, after such a run out, 18–31 May, Hosken was presented by the passengers with a telescope, recording the then unparalleled achievement in the inscription. In November 1843 he was further presented with a gold watch by the underwriters of Lloyd's, in testimony of their high opinion of his skill and care ‘in having successfully navigated the Great Western steamship sixty-four passages between England and America.’ Hosken's repute was at this time very high; he had been repeatedly thanked by the admiralty for information on the subject of steam navigation and the screw-propeller. In 1844 he was appointed to command the Great Britain, which, both as a screw steamer and from her size, was looked on as one of the wonders of the world. At Bristol the gates, piers, and coping of the dock had to be removed before she could be got out; when she came round to London in April 1845 the queen and the prince consort paid her a visit, and Hosken, by her majesty's command, was presented the next day at a drawing-room. At Plymouth, at Dublin, and again at Liverpool, she was visited by crowds. She sailed from Liverpool for New York in August 1845, and after making three or four trips was stranded in Dundrum Bay on the night of 22 Sept. 1846. She had left Liverpool the previous forenoon; the weather became very thick, and an error in his chart led Hosken to suppose that the light on St. John's Point, at the entrance of the bay, was on the Calf of Man, which they had passed four hours before. Many months afterwards the ship was got safely afloat, but Hosken had no further employment in the merchant service.

From 1848 to 1849 Hosken was harbour-master, postmaster, and chief magistrate at Labuan, then lately ceded to England. He also had some correspondence about 1850 with Henry Labouchere, afterwards lord Taunton [q. v.], upon the subject of the Mercantile Marine Bill, before the House of Commons at that time. In 1851 he was appointed to the command of the Banshee despatch vessel in the Mediterranean, and afterwards in the Channel. In September 1853 he was promoted to be commander, and in the Baltic campaigns of 1854–5 commanded the Belle-Isle hospital ship: at the end of the war he was employed in the same vessel in bringing home troops from the Crimea. In June 1857 he was promoted to be captain, and in 1868 was placed on the retired list. He became rear-admiral in 1875, and vice-admiral in 1879, and having preserved his faculties to a very advanced age, died at Ilfracombe on 2 Jan. 1885. He was twice married, and left issue.

[Autobiographical Sketch of the Public Career of Admiral James Hosken, edited by his widow (1889, for private circulation); information from the family; Annual Register, 1846, pp. 139–40; Nautical Magazine, 1846, p. 616.]

J. K. L.