William Hutchinson

Hutchinson was a remarkable man, who rose from being a common sailor to be a privateer captain.

The only image thought to be of William Hutchinson. The original portrait is now lost but a copy survives at Liverpool Local Record Office.

Two particular aspects of Hutchinson's life are of interest to us at NOC. First, Hutchinson is known to have had an interest in mirrors and illumination mechanisms for lighthouses. The first parabolic reflector to be used in British lighthouses was made by William Hutchinson in 1763 and was erected at Bidston.

Second, Hutchinson is recognised as providing the first sustained set of tidal measurements in the UK. He did this by measuring the heights and times of high waters, and meteorological parameters, for almost 30 years (1764-93) at the Old Dock gates in Liverpool.  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 for 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.

Born in 1715 Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He went to sea starting as a cook's cabin boy and 'beer drawer' through to becoming a Ship’s Captain.

 In 1755 Hutchinson was made a freeman of the city for his services to the improvement of the fishing industry..

On the 7th of February 1759 he was appointed Dock Master in Liverpool, this appointment gave him the time and authority to investigate and improve various aspects of shipping and navigation on the river.

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.

Hutchinson was instrumental in the establishment of the world's first lifeboat station at Formby and, with Dr Thomas Houlston of the Liverpool Infirmary, developed early methods of artificial respiration (Williams 1897).

He founded Liverpool Marine Society in 1789 for the benefit of masters of vessels, widows and children and was regarded as a contributor to all the benevolent institutions of the town.

Hutchinson died 7 February 1801 aged 85 and interred in St.Thomas's churchyard in Park Lane, Liverpool. This plot would have been removed as part of the 1885 clearance. The former site of St Thomas’s Church has been created into a memorial garden to honour the influential Liverpool characters that were buried there.

Hutchinson in commemorated in the pavement of the Liverpool One waterfront development, a major retail development covering 42 acres in the heart of Liverpool. The development has attempted to capture some of the history of the area by outlining the dock boundaries in the walls and brickwork of the tidal pavement.

The partial outline of the Dock wall.

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. 

What do the numbers in the pavement mean?

Hutchinson measured the heights and times of high waters between 1764 and 1793. The numbers in the pavement refer to measurements that he made in January 1783.

The column starting Wednesday 01 then Thursday 02 and so on which refers to the dates of the days in that month.

The second column starts with (for Wednesday 1st January) '28'. This is the 'Age of the Moon' or the number of days since the last New Moon. Hutchinson would not have measured this - he would simply have noted the Moon Age from information in an almanac.

Black lines in the pavement indicating the boundary of the Old Dock.

The third column starts with '8:55' which was the time of the morning high water on the Wednesday, the fourth column shows '14.1', the height of that morning high water in feet and inches as measured by him.  By 'morning' we mean the period from midnight to noon and the exact time noted by Hutchinson would have been what is called 'apparent time', which is the time one would infer from using a clock adjusted to correspond to a local sun-dial.

On the second row, but still for Wednesday 1st January, you can see the time and height of the afternoon tide, ( ‘afternoon' means the period from noon to midnight) . In this case, the afternoon tide occurred at 9:25 (pm) and had a height of 15 feet 2 inches.

Why is there a 'no high water' occasionally?

Liverpool has one of the largest tidal ranges in the world. Most days there are two high tides, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. They are separated by, on average, 12 hours 25 minutes which is half of the length of the 'lunar day'. Ocean tides are primarily due to the Moon rather than the Sun and the lunar day is the average time between passages of the Moon over the longitude of a given location, such as Liverpool. Because of that extra 25 minutes, it can happen that when a high tide occurs just before a midnight (or noon) then the next high tide does not occur in the following morning (or afternoon) but in the early part of the next afternoon (or morning). Hutchinson noted this skipping of a morning or afternoon entry as a 'no high water'. It is an inevitable consequence of the main tidal period (the 12 hours 25 minutes) – it does not mean that he actually missed a high tide!

'No high water' as drawn on the pavement for the morning of Monday 20th January.








What are the strange characters in the Age of the Moon column?

Tthe numbers in this column usually indicate the Moon Age, or the number of days since New Moon. However, on the day when New Moon occurred you will see a symbol such as 'N7M' which is Hutchinson's code for 'New Moon at 7 o'clock in the morning'.

Hutchinson's code for 'New Moon at 7 o'clock in the morning'.








On other days there are other strange codes. For example, on Friday 10 January you will see 'Qr10M' (appearing in the pavement as '210M') which means 'Quarter Moon at 10 in the morning'. A quarter moon is when the Moon appears half full! That is to say it is a quarter of the way through its progress from New Moon to Full Moon and back to New Moon again.

Similarly, on Saturday 18 January one sees 'F2E' which means 'Full Moon at 2 in the evening' (i.e. afternoon). On these days, Hutchinson is providing 'extra information' for us – it is clear from the column as a whole what the Moon Age on these days was (e.g. age 7 days for 10 January). Another code is the '11 A' on 14 January which indicates a Moon Age of 11 days and that the Moon was then at its greatest altitude called its 'Apogee'.


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