Jonas Hanway and the Marine Society

N. Merrill Distad describes how a merchant returned to London from his travels in Russia and the East to become a notable eighteenth-century philanthropist.

In a quiet close, a few steps from Bishopsgate, stands a modest modern building, the home of a philanthropic organization known as The Marine Society.

From its headquarters in the City of London the Society carries on its work of providing financial grants which - in the words of its 215th annual report - ‘encourage boys to consider making their careers in the Merchant Navy upon which the prosperity of the nation so largely depends’.

Benefactions to these young men are part of a tradition that reaches back to the Anglo-French wars of the eighteenth century. The Marine Society still awaits its historian. It was the creation of a remarkable man.

The founder was Jonas Hanway (1712-1786), widely famed in his own lifetime, but today seldom remembered for more than having popularized the umbrella.

Jonas Hanway was a man who devoted himself to practical humanitarianism. As a philanthropist and popular advocate of social reform, his activities were unparalleled. For this alone he is an interesting figure.

But he was also a prolific author, whose scores of books and pamphlets afford a clear view of the mind and motives of eighteenth-century British humanitarianism. Two themes are basic to his writings and activities: a deep religious faith and an abiding sense of patriotism grounded upon a mercantilist view of trade and foreign policy.

Though Hanway’s family had long associations with the navy, he was apprenticed as a youth to a merchant in Lisbon. He gained experience as an agent for the Portuguese Turkey Company, and later moved to St Petersburg.

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