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Huddart, Captain Joseph

(1741 - 1816)

Huddart, Captain Joseph

Important and influential English Captain, hydrographer, chartmaker, inventor and entrepreneur. Born at Allonby in Cumberland on January 11th 1741, he was drawn to astronomy and then to the sea. His groundwork at sea was initially in the local fish trade and in the family run business, first as seaman then as a master, in 1762 taking command of the sloop Allonby in the White Fishery trade, conveying cured fish to Ireland for the supply of the West Indian markets. In 1763 he married Elizabeth Johnson and in the following year was offered the command a brig named Glory, which he held for two years, before deciding to fulfil his ambition of building his own brig at Maryport. A collier of 190 tons subsequently named Patience, it was designed and built by Huddart himself and launched in 1768 & began annual passages to North America under Huddart's command. In 1773 with the encouragement of his uncle and his cousin, Sir Richard Hotham, he entered the service of the Honourable East India Company, sailing as Fourth Officer aboard the York, bound for St.Helena and Bencooleen. During the course of this voyage he made detailed scientific observations and surveys of the West coast of Sumatra. The York returned to England in October 1775 with Huddart out of pocket and in debt, ready to return to his own brig in the White Fishery trade. His connections with Sir Richard Hotham however secured a contract for him to supply East India Company ships with cured provisions from Cork in Ireland with his own vessels and Huddart's return to London in 1777 was also heralded by an invitation from the chartmaker Robert Sayer to publish his surveys of the coasts of Sumatra. Sayer also engaged him to carry out a new and detailed survey of St.George's Channel, which he completed in summer 1778. His chart of St. George's Channel proved a masterpiece of accuracy and established Huddart's financial fortunes and his reputation as one fo the country's foremost hydrographers. In the latter part of 1777 he re-entered the service of the East India Company, as first mate, & almost immediately afterwards Captain, of a brand-new vessel, the Royal Admiral. For the next decade Huddart plied oriental waters between India and China, in the service of the East India Company. In 1786 his survey of the Tigris (Pearl River) delta was published by Sayer & Bennett. On his retirement from the sea in 1791 he was much in demand for his advice on harbour improvements, becoming one of the first directors of the East India Dock Company in 1798 and laying the Dock's first foundation stone in 1804. In 1791 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and for 25 years he was one of the Elder Brethren of Trinity House. His scientific acumen resulted in a number of important inventions, including the three arm protractor for hydrographers and the use of high water marks for the London docks, still in use until the 1960's. Perhaps his greatest invention however lay in the development of steam-driven machinery for laying up and binding rope. This took the whole process away from labour-intensive handwork to an industrialised factory-floor production line, manufacturing rope of vastly improved quality and reliability and setting the standard for all future ropemaking. Huddart, with colleague William Cotton and brother-in-law, Charles Hampden-Turner, became the partners in Huddart & Co, which produced the new rope at a site in London's Limehouse. The business became extremely successful and provided a substantial fortune for its founder. Huddart's final years saw this fortune invested in a number of landed estates, principally in Wales, where he purchased the Brynkir Estate in Snowdonia in 1809 and the Wern and Eithinog estates in 1811. He died in London in August 1816 and is buried in St. Martin-in-the Fields in his uncle's vault. To quote from his obituary, published in the Times, on August 30th 1816 :

To him the science of navigation owes many notable discoveries and improvements, the result of much personal fatigue and expensive experiements : the world is likewise indebted to him for many of the best maps and charts extant: and his knowledge of mathematics and astronomy ranked him in the class, if not upon the level with the first professors of these sciences. Of his skill in mechanism he has left a monument in the machinery for the manufacture of cordage, unrivalled in this or any other country, if we except the steam engine, the work of his contemporary and friend, Mr Watt of Birmingham.
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