Hutchinson, William (1715-1801) (DNB00)

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HUTCHINSON, WILLIAM (1715–1801), mariner and writer on seamanship, a native of Newcastle-on-Tyne, was at a very early age sent on board a small collier, where he was 'cook, cabin-boy, and beer-drawer for the men.' He gradually worked his way up, going through all the most active enterprising employments as a seaman.' His experiences were extremely varied. He speaks of himself as a 'forecastle man ' on board an East Indiaman in 1738-9, and making the voyage to China; as 'mate of a bomb's tender in Hyères Bay, with our fleet under Mathews and Lestock' about 1743; as commanding a ship at Honduras; as cruising in the Mediterranean during the French war, in the employ of Fortunatus Wright [q. v.], and apparently in command of a privateer in 1747. In 1750 he commanded the Lowestoft, an old 20-gun frigate sold out of the navy and bought by Wright, and in her traded to the West Indies and the Mediterranean. At one time (the date is not given) his ship was wrecked, he and his men escaping in a boat. They were without food, and cast lots to determine which one should die for the others. The lot fell on Hutchinson, but at the last moment he was saved by a vessel coming in sight. To the end of his life he kept the anniversary as a day of 'strict devotion.' In 1760 he was appointed a dock-master at Liverpool, and as dock-master or harbour-master he continued for upwards of twenty years, part of the time in conjunction with a younger Fortunatus Wright, a kinsman of his old companion. In 1777 he published a treatise on seamanship and the proper form and dimensions of merchant ships, of which an enlarged edition was published in 1781, with a fuller title. In the fourth edition, published in 1794, this ran: 'Treatise on Naval Architecture, founded upon Philosophical and Rational Principles, towards establishing fixed Rules for the best form and Proportional Dimensions in Length, Breadth, and Depth of Merchant Ships in general; and also the management of them to the greatest advantage by Practical Seamanship, with important Hints and Remarks relating thereto, especially both for Defence and Attack in War at Sea, from long approved experience.' His hints on the conduct of war at sea, specially addressed to a community of privateers, embody the recollections of his service with Fortunatus Wright during the war of the Austrian succession. He also kept a register of tides, barometer, weather, and wind from 1768 to 1793, which is still preserved in the Liverpool Library. He is said to have introduced parabolic reflectors into lighthouses, and to have superintended their fitting in those near the Mersey, using small reflectors of tin or glass, bedded in a sort of wooden bowl. He died at the age of eighty-five, on 11 Feb. 1801, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Thomas, Liverpool.

[His own works, as above; Brooke's Liverpool as it was during the last Quarter of the Eighteenth Century, pp. 101-2; information from the Rev. J. H. M. Barrow. See also Laughton's Studies in Naval History, pp. 207, 209, 217, 224.]

J. K. L.