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William Hutchinson

1715 - 1801
Ship-owner, boat-builder, commercial trader, local politician, inventor, author and philanthropist.


Born in 1715 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and spent his youth as cook's cabin boy and 'beer drawer'  He was a remarkable man and  from common sailor to become a privateer captain.   He was the most famous of the Liverpool privateers.  Hutchinson was at various times a ship-owner, boat-builder, commercial trader, local politician, inventor, author and philanthropist.

At Bidston Hutchinson is known to have had an interest in mirrors and illumination mechanisms for lighthouses. He experimented with the construction of large one-piece mirrors up to 12 feet diameter, and large mirrors made from smaller sections of looking-glass fixed to a wooden backing frame. He also developed oil-fired light apparatus, lighthouses at this time usually being lit by 'firebaskets' containing wood or coal. The Liverpool Council Minutes record that in 1763 he experimented with his reflectors at the Bidston Hill signal station at which the first Bidston lighthouse was constructed in 1771.

Between 1764-93 Hutchinson provided the first sustained set of tidal measurements in the UK through his efforts of measuring the heights and times of high waters, and meteorological parameters, for almost 30 years  at the Old Dock gates. High waters were measured at all times of day and night and in all weathers with very few gaps. His data have proved to be essential to the construction of a long sea level record from Liverpool. Hutchinson's data has also been used to study changes in the frequency of severe storm events and of the ocean tides at Liverpool during the last 230 years.  Later ones were by Jesse Hartley, who constructed many of Liverpool's docks and the Observatory.

Sailed as forecastleman in East Indiaman to India and China in 1738-39. Served as mate of bomb's tender in Hyères Bay around 1743 during the Mediterranean war and by 1747 was in command of a privateer alongside Fortunatus Wright, the most famous of the Liverpool privateers. Sailed with Wright in the private Lowestoft frigate to West Indies in 1750. The Lowestoft was an old 20 gun frigate sold out of the Navy to Wright. Wright was born in Wallasey and was lost at sea in 1757 in command of the St.George privateer.

Made Freeman of Liverpool gratis in 1755 'in consideration of his efforts for the better supplying the town with sea fish.

Captain and part-owner of the Liverpool privateer during the first part of the Seven Years War (1756-63). Two years of successful cruises in the Liverpool in the Mediterranean and home waters in 1757-58. Hutchinson was described as 'the ablest and boldest of the Liverpool privateers'. The Liverpool was launched soon after the start of the war. She was a 22 gun frigate (18 of which 12 pounders) with 160-200 men. She was sold in April 1759 and used for the New York - Liverpool trade. There was also a King's ship at this time called the Liverpool as there has been for over 250 years.

One of Huthinson's first parabolic lighthouse reflectors on display at Trinity House London (circa. 1763). It is constructed of facets of glass set in plaster.

In 1758, there was an attempt by Hutchinson to 'curb the insolence' of the notable French privateer François Thurot in the Irish Sea by regaining command of the Liverpool from Captain Ward, who had just replaced him. The attempt got nowhere. This was the last privateering adventure by Hutchinson. Thurot was killed in a battle between three British and three French frigates, which he commanded, off the Isle of Man in 1760.

Appointed Dock Master and Water Bailiff on 7 February 1759.

Mirrors tested at Bidston Signal Station in 1763. One of the original mirrors still exists at Trinity House Museum in London.

In 1779 improved on a quick-match priming mechanism for large guns developed originally by Henry Ross, another Liverpool inventor.

Author of the 'Treatise on Practical Seamanship' 1777. Second version 1787.

Instrumental in the establishment of the world's first lifeboat station at Formby, and of Mersey pilotage services and, with Dr. Thomas Houlston of the Liverpool Infirmary, developed early methods of artificial respiration.

In April 1778 commanded the 'Queens Battery' in defence of the town against the American corsair John Paul Jones (who did not appear). The Bidston light was extinguished in this period.

Founded Liverpool Marine Society in 1789 for the benefit of masters of vessels, widows and children. 'Contributor to all the benevolent institutions of the town'. Also proposed, unsuccessfully, Maritime Academies at Liverpool, North Shields and Limehouse, London for students of seamanship.

Inventor of marine equipment (e.g. types of rudder) and commentator on ship design (ships at this time were being built too high with extra decks). Author of a 'Treatise on Naval Architecture'.

Ridge of rock and gravel near Fort Perch Rock, New Brighton named after him. Hutchinson cut away the rock and deepened the channel.

Died 7 February 1801 aged 85 and interred in St.Thomas's churchyard in Park Lane. His Will records that his estate was left to his sister and nephew and makes no mention of a wife or children. In 1777 he described himself as 'a former cook of a collier .... and a seaman who had done his best' which provides an understated obituary. Bryan Blundell (mariner, ship owner and founder of the Blue Coat Hospital) considered Hutchinson's life to be 'one unwearied scene of industrious usefulness'.

Rob Ainsworth