Jonas Hanway was baptized at St. Thomas's Church in 1712. He was the son of Thomas Hanway, Victualling Agent to the Navy, killed, by a fall from his horse, when Jonas was two years old. The gravestone of Thomas Hanway, and of Mary his wife, who died in 1755, lies in the north-east corner of St. Thomas's Chapel in Portsmouth Cathedral. Jonas never knew whether he was born on the 2nd or 12th of August, but preferred the 12th; he was baptized on the 9th. He was lamentably ill-informed about his own age as in 1776 he registered his pedigree and made himself out to be 66, a mistake of two years.
At the age of 17, Jonas went into a merchant's office at Lisbon and later on, started in business there on his own account. He was not very successful, and joined the firm of Dingley at Petersburg. He went on a trading expedition to Persia, just when that country was in the throes of revolution, encountered many dangers, and, eventually, wrote four big quartos on the subject. In 1750 he came back to London, determined "to consult his own health, and do as much good, to himself and others, as he was able".
After publishing his big book he joined an anti-Semite agitation. The Government, to ensure re-election, had given votes to Jews, and the London merchants were up in arms Jonas, remembering his Lisbon struggles, was also afraid lest the Hebrew should make use of his political power to gain commercial advantages: in the very next session the Act was repealed. Portsmouth has produced two famous merchants, Josiah Child and Jonas Hanway: Child had an affection for Jews and for Tea, Hanway was the sworn enemy of both.
The state of the London streets at this period is familiar from Hogarth's pictures: Hanway took part in a great effort to improve them, by paving them on sound principles, by painting up their names for the guidance of strangers, by regulating the big obstructive sign-boards, by fixing gutters and water-trunks to the houses to keep the rain-water from splashing down on people's heads.
In 1755 Jonas came down to Portsmouth to bury his mother, and this return to his native soil set his brain working in a way that looked like madness. He took a party of ladies back to London, by way of Southampton, and then wrote them a "Journal of Eight Days' Journey from Portsmouth to Kingston-on-Thames," reminding them of all they had seen. It was a very silly production; Dr. Johnson remarked, privately, that "Hanway acquired some reputation by travelling abroad, but lost it all by travelling at home." Nevertheless the book sold well, and went to a second edition; which included the famous "ESSAY ON TEA." Jonas attributed all human ills to the use of Tea: dyspepsia, infanticide, national bankruptcy. He was not quite so mad as he seemed: the Seven Years' War was just beginning, and Jonas put into this pamphlet of his every idea that was bubbling in his head, stuff that one usually gets rid of in letters to the waste-paper baskets of ungrateful editors.
In 1756 he and fifty merchants started the Marine Society... They picked up youngsters from the streets, washed them gave them the garb of seamen, and trained them and then sent them to fight their country's battles. In six years they provided the Navy with 6000 boys, and nearly as many landsmen volunteers.
The Foundling Hospital was receiving all children dropped into its basket - one day there were 117 of them - but a good many came carelessly packed, and died in transit. Hanway's idea was to make the Foundling a sort of central clearing-house for poor-law children, where they could be educated to become soldiers and sailors, but the reform of an established Institution is not an easy task.
In conjunction with his old partner, Dingley, he started the Magdalen Hospital, still doing its work in London [in 1921], though not on the old site.
In 1760 he collected £7500 to be spent on overcoats for the troops in Germany and North America - the heroes of Minden and Quebec.
He now varied his labours by writing a pamphlet on Vails, or gratuities to servants : whenever he dined abroad it cost him about 16s in tips, which he considered exorbitant.
Jonas was, in fact, growing poor. He sought a Government post as Receiver of Naval Prizes, pleading the services of his younger brother Thomas, who was a Naval Captain, but without success. At last, through the influence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mr. Hoare, the banker, he received an appointment as Commissioner for Victualling. In the performance of his duties he took over the Square Tower at the bottom of High Street, Portsmouth, and used it as a store, built a slaughter-house beside it, and converted the old pier, known as the "Powder-Bridge," into a "Beef Stage."
Hitherto Hanway had been living with a sister, but new wealth enabled him to take a house of his own in Red Lion Square.
In 1765 there was a big fire at Montreal. Jonas sent them out eight or nine thousand pounds, two fire-engines, and a bust of the King - their loyalty was in rather a fainting condition. St. Mary's, Portsea, gave £6 8s 2d. to to the fund.
Jonas was the means of raising the legal age of apprenticeship to chimney sweeping trade, and drew up a standard form of agreement. He wrote on Whole-meal Bread and Female Education, his thoughts on Education are to be found tucked away in his book on Prisons. He advised young ladies to learn how to speak, and to speak not so much of persons as of things; they should also acquire the art of singing the Psalms "instead of leaving this to the school children, who scream with a barbarity of vociferation as if they had been educated among the wildest nations of America." Jonas could not have taught them the art : he was profoundly unmusical, and found " God Save the King " in A minor a perfectly acceptable performance.
As to gaols - for, like that kindred soul, John Ruskin, he sometimes came to the point - they were usually built low within high walls, to prevent fires: Hanway would have them high for the sake of the sunshine and fresh air.
In 1783 Hanway's health, never robust, showed signs of serious failure, and he retired from active life. In his last two years he helped Robert Raikes to start Sunday Schools in London, and gave Granville Sharp some assistance in dealing with the "poor blacks" left stranded at the ports. He died in 1786 and the merchants of London gave him a monument in Westminster Abbey: it was the first monument erected there in honour of a mere philanthropist.
Hanway, however much we may despise him as "an extinct Minerva's owl," will always be famous for his umbrella: he was the first man to carry an umbrella in the streets of London. In Paris they were fairly common objects at a somewhat earlier date: in England they were used only by sempstresses carrying home their work, or (and these were of a larger kind) by parsons at funerals. The Hanway sample would have caught the eye under any circumstances: it was of Persian manufacture, light-green outside and pale-pink within: its handle was carved, and had a joint in the middle so that he could fold it up and place it in his coat pocket.
Adapted from "Portsmouth Parish Church" by Henry Lilley and Alfred Everitt