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John Washington

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Rear Admiral John Washington CB, F.R.S, (1801-1863)

1849 Captain Washington published a report "On the loss of life and damage to fishing-boats on the east coast of Scotland."

1849 The Tyne lifeboat upset and drowned twenty pilots; as a result the Duke of Northumberland offering a prize of 100 guineas for the best model of lifeboat.

c.1850 Captain Washington, R.N., and a committee of naval officers and surveyors, having considered the merits of 280 models and plans, awarded the prize to Mr. Beeching's model, accompanying it with a report. The Duke of Northumberland circulated 1,300 copies of this report, with plans, drawings, and descriptions of the best life-boats, including those of a thirty-feet boat, designed by Mr. Peake, "in which, profiling by experience gained by examination of the models, all the best qualities of a lifeboat should be combined."[1]


1864 Obituary [2]

REAR-ADMIRAL JOHN WASHINGTON, C.B., F.R.S., &C., was born on the 1st of January, 1801, and entered the Royal Navy in, 1812, on board the 'Juno,’ fitting for the American Station, where, as well as afterwards on board the ‘Sibyl,’ he saw some active service, and profited by the scientific instruction of the then Master of the vessel, afterwards Sir W. Bain, under whom he attained great proficiency in making astronomical and magnetical observations.

After a cruise of two years’ duration, on his return to England he continued his studies, for two years, at the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth, where, in 1816, he gained a prize gold medal, and laid the foundation of the skill and accomplishment which he afterwards attained in nautical surveying and hydrography, and through which, in his subsequent career, he was enabled to render so much valuable service to the maritime interests of this and other countries.

He then served for three years on board the ‘Forth,’ on the North American Station and in the Pacific. On receiving his promotion as Lieutenant, in 1821, he obtained leave of absence, landed at Valparaiso, crossed the Andes to Mendoza, and rode over the Pampas to Buenos Ayres, taking advantage of the opportunity to make some useful observations.

Soon after his return to England he was transferred to the ‘Parthian,’ and was sent to the West Indies, where, his health failing, he obtained leave and travelled in France, Spain and Italy, acquiring facility in speaking the languages of these countries.

In 1827, he was again afloat, and for four years, on board of the 'Weasel’ and the ‘Dartmouth,’ he was stationed in the Mediterranean, when he found time to explore the interior of Morocco in company with the English Consul-General Drummond Hay, making astronomical observations and fixing the true position of places hitherto undetermined. A memoir containing these observations was communicated to the Royal Geographical Society, and was published in the first volume of the Journal of that Society.

Attaining the rank of Commander in 1833, he remained for some time ashore, prosecuting his scientific studies and rendering valuable assistance to the then young Geographical Society, to the position of Secretary of which he was elected in 1836. To the vigour infused by him into the proceedings, in stimulating important expeditions, counselling and aiding travellers, and improving the publications, to the editing of which he devoted himself assiduously, may be, in a great degree, attributed the first success of the Geographical Society. He also advocated the practice of annually reviewing the progress of geography during the past year, which was adopted by Mr. W. R. Hamilton, in 1839, and has been continued since the period of his Presidency, setting an example to many of the older societies.

After the devotion of five years of valuable time to the Society, he, in 1841, was again afloat in the 'Black Eagle,’ in which ship he brought the late King of Prussia to England;- his promotion to the rank of Post Captain is said to have been influenced by the impression made upon the mind of Baron Alexander Von Humboldt, by the varied acquirements and knowledge possessed by Commander Washington.

He was then intrusted with the command of the ‘Blazer,’ and was employed in nautical surveying until 1847, and in 1855 he succeeded the late Admiral Beaufort as Hydrographer of the Admiralty, a post for which he was thoroughly fitted by his knowledge of the subject, his habits of business, and the spirit of order and regularity which he so well knew how to infuse into all who served under him. He had now full scope for affording aid to all explorations ; and, with his religious views, it is not surprising that he should especially aid and counsel Dr. Livingstone in his enterprises. He also was conspicuous in aiding Lady Franklin in her efforts to obtain information as to the fate of her long-lost husband.

In due course he became an Admiral, and, in his official position at the Admiralty, Washington was very frequently in contact, and sometimes in official collision, with Civil Engineers, but in all cases his urbanity, plain sailing, and honesty of purpose, converted contests into friendly meetings ; and he will long be remembered with regret by the majority of Civil Engineers.

Exhausted by overwork, he obtained leave of absence to travel on the Continent, where for a time he appeared to revive ; but a relapse occurred, and he sank and expired at Havre-de-Grace, September 16th, 1863, in his sixty-third year. On the occasion of his funeral well-deserved honours were paid to his memory by the scientific men of France and the authorities of Havre ; and a very interesting memoir was published by Monsieur D'Avezac.

Admiral Washington was a Fellow of the Royal Society and a member of several other of the scientific societies of the metropolis.

He joined the Institution of Civil Engineers as an Associate, March 11th, 1845, was a frequent attendant at the meetings, taking part in the discussions, and he was ever ready to afford assistance to the Society by lending or giving charts, or in any other way concurring in the objects of the Institution. He was an unaffectedly pious, worthy man, a highly educated conscientious officer, and whether in public or private, he set a good example to all around him.


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