William Hutchinson was born in 1715 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Following his father's death he was compelled at the age of eleven to seek employment as a cabin boy on a Newcastle collier working the coal trade from North East England to London. Huchinson served his time as a ‘forecastle man’ on board an East Indiaman in 1738–9, and making the voyage to China; he was also mate of ‘a bomb's tender in Hyères Bay’ with the Royal Navy about 1743.
His later experiences included a time cruising in the Mediterranean, in the employ of Fortunatus Wright, merchant and privateer. A privateer or "corsair" was a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign vessels during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend treasury resources or commit naval officers. They were of great benefit to a smaller naval power or one facing an enemy dependent on trade: they disrupted commerce and pressured the enemy to deploy warships to protect merchant trade against commerce raiders. The cost was borne by investors hoping to profit from prize money earned from captured cargo and vessels. The proceeds would be distributed among the privateer's investors, officers, and crew. Hutchinson was himself in command of a privateer in 1747. and in 1750 Hutchinson commanded the Lowestoft, an old twenty-gun frigate sold out of the navy and bought by Wright, and in her traded to the West Indies and the Mediterranean. In 1747 he took command of the West Indiaman Perl. Hutchinson was described as ‘the ablest and boldest of the Liverpool privateers' and he remained a privateer up to July 1758. He was made Freeman of the town of Liverpool in 1755 ‘in consideration of his efforts for better supplying the town with sea fish.
|Bidston Lighthouse and Observatory|
In 1763 Hutchinson set up the first parabolic reflectors on the Bidston lighthouse. These were made up from sheets of tin soldered together and lined with pieces of mirror-glass; he afterwards had larger reflectors made, up to 12 feet in diameter, plastered inside to a smooth bowl and similarly lined with glass. These reflectors were so successful that Hutchinson was asked to procure examples for the Dublin harbour authorities' lighthouses.
Prompted by a friend, the astronomer James Ferguson, Hutchinson used his extensive maritime experience for improving access to the dock by observing and recording the first sustained set of tidal and meteorological measurements in the UK. In 1764 he began to observe the times and heights of tides flowing at the old dock gates in Liverpool, he did this for almost thirty years without a gap, night and day and under all conditions, from a marked stone wall at the entrance to the dock and fixed a tide-pole in the bed of the river itself, to gauge the lowest point of the ebb. He attributed the difference between his observed measurements and the predictions given by tide-clocks to lunar effects which had not previously been properly considered. Hutchinson's data was incorporated in Holden's Tide Tables, published in 1773. His record of tides, barometer, weather, and winds, 1768–93, was presented to Liverpool Public Library.
Hutchinson was also one of the founding members of the Liverpool pilot committee, founded in 1766. In 1779, he and some companions set out on horseback to find a suitable site for the pilot boats. Riding across Anglesey they identified a cove which they named Pilot's Bay. He also subscribed 100 guineas to the Liverpool Marine Society, established in 1789, to care for needy mariners and their families. He died unmarried on 11 February 1801 in Liverpool and was buried in St. Thomas churchyard, Liverpool.
|St Thomas's Church|
Visitors to Liverpool ONE will see an observation window, set into the pavement, above the Old Dock. They may not however have heard of the gentleman who lived and worked only a matter of yards away. Hutchinson died 7 February 1801 aged 85 and interred in St.Thomas's churchyard in Park Lane, Liverpool. This plot was removed as part of the 1885 clearance. The former site of St Thomas’s Church has been created into a memorial garden to honour some of the people buried there.
Hutchinson in commemorated in the pavement of the Liverpool One waterfront development, Fountains in the development and a 'lunar pool' convey a tidal theme, while etched into the pavement alongside the fountains can be found a set of numbers which refer to measurements of the heights and times of high water made by William Hutchinson.
Liverpool Cenral Library
Liverpool Records Office
By Robert F Edwards