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Jonas Hanway: A Man with a Plan

Portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785.
Portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785.

Jonas Hanway (August 12, 1712 – September 5, 1786), English traveller and philanthropist, was born at Portsmouth, on the south coast of England.

While he was still a child his father, a victualler, died, and the family moved to London. In 1729 Jonas was apprenticed to a merchant in Lisbon. In 1743, after he had been some time in business for himself in London, he became a partner with Mr Dingley, a merchant in St Petersburg, and in this way was led to travel in Russia and Persia. Leaving St Petersburg on 10 September 1743, and passing south by Moscow, Tsaritsyn and Astrakhan, he embarked on the Caspian Sea on 22 November and arrived at Astrabad on 18 December. Here his goods were seized by Mohammed Hassan Beg, and it was only after great privations that he reached the camp of Nadir Shah, under whose protection he recovered most (85%) of his property.

His return journey was embarrassed by sickness (at Resht), by attacks from pirates, and by six weeks’ quarantine; and he only reappeared at St Petersburg on 1 January 1745. He again left the Russian capital on 9 July 1750 and travelled through Germany and the Netherlands to England (28 October). The rest of his life was mostly spent in London, where the narrative of his travels (published in 1753) soon made him a man of note, and where he devoted himself to philanthropy and good citizenship.

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In 1756, Hanway founded The Marine Society, to keep up the supply of British seamen; in 1758, he became a governor of the Foundling Hospital, a position which was upgraded to vice president in 1772; he was instrumental in establishing the Magdalen Hospital; in 1761 he procured a better system of parochial birth registration in London; and in 1762 he was appointed a commissioner for victualling the navy (10 July); this office he held till October 1783. He died, unmarried, on 5 September 1786 and is now buried in the crypt at St. Mary’s Church, Hanwell.

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