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William Hutchinson.

William Hutchinson
Hutchinson was a remarkable man, who rose from being a common sailor to be a privateer captain alongside Fortunatus Wright, 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. His character was more like that of the Puritan 17th century than the 18th century, combining the aggression of privateering with strict religious adherence. For example, he abhorred swearing, which must have made life difficult aboard ship.

Two particular aspects of Hutchinson's life are of interest to us at Bidston. First, 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, which became Bidston Observatory, and at which the first Bidston lighthouse was constructed in 1771.

Second, Hutchinson has to be recognised as providing the first sustained set of tidal measurements in the UK through his unstinting efforts of measuring the heights and times of high waters, and meteorological parameters, for almost 30 years (1764-93) 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 fro Liverpool which is of importance to climate change studies. Hutchinson's data have 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.


Time series of Adjusted Mean High Water from Liverpool compared to sea level data from other parts of northern Europe.

The first 30 years of the Liverpool record were from Hutchinson's efforts. Later ones were by Jesse Hartley, who constructed many of Liverpool's docks and the Observatory. The scale bar indicates ±100mm.


Some Aspects of Hutchinson's Life
Born in 1715 Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Early years as cook's cabin boy and 'beer drawer' through to forecastleman in small colliers in east coast coastal trade.

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.

Observed a particular day each year for devotion for deliverance after loss of vessel. He and crew being without food on a barren coast had drawn lots to be put to death to feed remainder. Hutchinson lost the draw but was saved when another vessel appeared.

Made Freeman of Liverpool gratis in 1755 'in consideration of his efforts for the better supplying the town with sea fish by fitting out well boats (or cod smacks)’.

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.

Developed special method for making tea (quart bottle boiled in ship's kettle with the salt beef).

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.

Survived through pistol misfire an attempted murder in 1759 (about 3 months after becoming Dockmaster) by a seaman called Murphy from the New Anson privateer. Murphy was sentenced to the Navy for life. Inventor of reflecting mirrors and oil burning apparatus for lighthouses. 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.

Measured heights and times of high waters and meteorological parameters at Old Dock 1764-1793 (data survive for 1768-1793).

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'.

So far as is known, there is no recognition in Liverpool itself of either Hutchinson or Wright.


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