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British Industrial History

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Jonathan Hulls

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Jonathan Hulls's Steam Boat

Jonathan Hulls, (1699-1758) a native of Campden, in Gloucestershire

1699 December 17th. Born at Hanging Aston and baptised in Blockley, Gloucestershire, to Thomas Hull, (or Hulls), a weaver, and his wife Mary. They had two other children, Thomas and Sarah.

Hulls had an aptitude for repairing neighbours' clocks.

He attended Campden grammar school, earning a reputation as a mathematician and skilled technician.

1719 He married Anne, daughter of Stephen and Rebecca Davis of Broad Campden; they had at least one daughter.

On 7 April 1730 he leased from the countess of Gainsborough some 60 acres of farmland and a house at Broad Campden, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Living as he did in an inland country place, it seems remarkable that he should have directed his attention to the subject of steam-navigation. We find him making experiments with models of boats on the river Avon, at Evesham

1736 'Her Majesty has signed a Warrant, in order for Letters Patent to past the Great Seal of Great Britain for granting unto Mr. Jonathan Hull the Sole Benefit, for the Term of 14 Years, of an Invention of a Machine for carrying any Ship or Vessel, out of any Harbour, Port, or River, in England, Wales, or Town of Berwick upon Tweed, to Sea, without Wind or Tide, or in a Calm.' [1]

He proposed to place a Newcomen engine on board a tow-boat, and by its means to work a paddle-wheel placed at the stern. His method of converting the rectilinear motion of his piston into a rotary one was ingenious, but, like Savery, he missed the crank on the paddle-shaft, and many years passed before this simple expedient was adopted. "The work to be done by this machine," said he, "will be upon particular occasions, when all other means yet found out are wholly insufficient. How often does a merchant wish that his ship were on the ocean, when, if she were there, the wind would serve tolerably well to carry him on his intended voyage, but does not serve at the same time to carry him out of the river he happens to be in, which a few hours' work of the machine would do. Besides, I know engines that are driven by the same power as this is, where materials for the purpose are dearer than in any navigable river in England; therefore experience demonstrates that the expense will be but a trifle to the value of the work performed by those sort of machines, which any person that knows the nature of those things may easily calculate."

In 1737 he published a Treatise on the subject entitled, ‘A description and Draught of a new-invented Machine for carrying Vessels or Ships out of or into any Harbour, Port, or River, against Wind or Tide, and in a Calm,' by Jonathan Hulls.

His treatise was illustrated by a drawing, of which the following is a copy on a reduced scale.

1737 December 'Went away from Keyston in Huntingdonshire, near Thrapston, in Northamptonshire, on Monday the 25th of July, Jonathan Hulls, of Camden, Gloucestershire. He is about 36 Years of a middle siz'd broad set Man, wears his own thin brown Hair, has a thick-set Beard, and is of a ruddy Complexion. He had when went away a new Pair of Boo's, and Coat home of home spun Camblet of a mixed Colour of brown and pale red. He it the Author of the new invented Machine for towing Ships of Harbour against Wind and Tide, and may be supposed to be gone toward Lyn or Wisbeach, or Boston. If any one can give Notice of the said Jonathan Hulls, to Mr. Weston of Empingham in Rutland, he shall have half a Guinea reward. Or if the said Mr. Hulls will repair to Mr. Weston at Empingham aforesaid, He will hear of something to his great Satisfactions and Advantage.' [2]

1758 May 17th. Described as a yeoman. He died less than a month later at the house in Broad Campden where he had spent virtually all his adult life but the exact date of his death and his burial place are not known, nor is any memorial.

1854 A letter from E. H. of St. Helen's to the Liverpool Mercury reads '...the steam boat of Mr. Jonathan Hulls was in full operation on one of the Gloucestershire canals as early as the year 1735, and was principally used as "a tow-boat for towing barges etc. to and fro" - which shows that there was something practically done at this early period...' [3]

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Ipswich Journal - Friday 24 December 1736
  2. Stamford Mercury - Thursday 04 August 1737
  3. Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Friday, September 8, 1854