Sir Samuel Standidge, Number One High Street and the Re-birth of Hull’s Whaling Industry

Samuel Standidge was born in Bridlington Quay in 1725 to a family which had strong connections with the Hull mercantile business. His mother was his father’s second wife and, as the younger son he was expected to make his own way in life. His father is reputed to have said that ‘Samuel had brains enough to work his own way’. He came to Hull and went to sea intent on pursuing the profitable trade with America. By the age of nineteen he was a mate and later master of ships belonging to Christopher Scott which made voyages to North America.

Sir Samuel Standidge’s House, Number 1 High Street, Hull

Standidge’s early years at sea were nothing if not adventurous, he was taken by privateers off Hispaniola in 1744 and then storm-bound on the Nantucket coast in 1749 but all the time he was developing and enhancing his knowledge of ships, the sea and the mercantile trade.

Standidge seems to have acquired strong links with the Nantucket carrying whale products from New England to Britain. Such transatlantic trade was eventually to bring him both wealth and a knowledge of whaling, both of which he was to put to good use later in life. However, his seaborne adventures were far from finished in the 1750s, especially after the outbreak of the Seven Years War with France and her allies in 1756.. By May 1758 he was commander of eighty men on a privateer, the Antigallican, which was again partly owned by Christopher Scott and a company of Hull merchants. We are not sure how lucrative this trade was or whether his ship combined privateering with ordinary trading but the traditional story attributes his rise to wealth to conventional trade. He is said to have purchased a 130 acre farm in Preston, East Yorkshire from the proceeds of one transatlantic voyage. He renamed this New York Farm after the port his ship had voyaged to. Standidge’s main base for his trading activities was his house at No.1 High Street but in 1768 he also acquired a 200 acre property at Thorngumbald on which he built a mansion.

By this time Samuel Standidge had taken up whaling on his own account, although this was not a trade which had proved successful for the British for a long time. The English had begun whaling in the late sixteenth century. Ships from Hull and London had made regular voyages to the Arctic whale fisheries in the early seventeenth century but had lost interest by the 1660s and left whaling to the Dutch. In the eighteenth century, the British government became keen to promote whaling once more for a number of reasons. Partly, in later decades, this was to make the country less reliant on Dutch and colonial supplies but it was also because the whaling trade was seen as a source of skilled seamen, so important to the Royal Navy in times of war. In 1724 the South Seas Company had fitted out whaling ships but abandoned the venture as unprofitable in 1732. The next year, however, the government introduced a bounty of twenty shillings per ton burthen for ships fitting out for whaling and in 1740 raised this to forty shillings per ton. In that year nineteen British ships fitted out for the northern whale fishery and the revival in interest had lasted for a few years. Hull merchants made a number of attempts at this time to make a profit from whaling and in the years 1755 and 1756 they sent a fleet of seven vessels to the northern waters but then lost interest and gave it over completely from 1762.

Samuel Standidge, however, felt sure there were profits to be made, especially after a tax was imposed on colonial imports of oil to help pay for the Seven Years War. In 1766 he ent an old whaling ship, the Berry, to the Greenland seas in search of whales. His Hull contemporaries, recalling their recent valueless voyages, felt sure he was scattering his wealth on empty waters. The ship returned with one whale and four hundred sealskins. Prior to this time sealskins had not been considered worth salting and bringing back but after some initial difficulty Standidge got the sealskins tanned, made shoes for himself, to show off the leather and, most importantly for a merchant, made money. The next year he fitted out two ships, the Berry and the British Queen and went north with them. These proved to be successful voyages and by 1769 he was using three whaling ships, having added the Britannia to the vessels he sent north. The subsequent revival of the British whaling trade was due in no small measure to the success of his early ventures and this was consolidated by the restriction placed on New England imports after the American War of Independence. Several British ports built up whaling fleets but from the later 1790s Hull emerged as the largest port involved in the business.

Standidge’s understanding of the Arctic was recognised when he was consulted by Daines Barrington about Polar exploration and he even tried to mount an expedition of his own in 1775. In 1767 when he had voyaged north in the British Queen, as owner though not as master, he had reached 80 degrees north. Throughout much of the rest of his career Standidge owned or had interests in a number of ships, though he made only one other polar voyage himself. His interest, however, remained much wider than just whaling and after he retired from regular voyages to sea in 1770 he became a specialist shipowner, and his wide interests included Baltic voyages and taking up government charters to move troops, food and equipment. These were particularly lucrative and he earned in total £17000 from a total of seven years service when he sent the Berry to New York when the American colonies were heading swiftly towards independence. He also built up a substantial property portfolio by continuing to purchase land, mainly in the Thorngumbald district. Although a dissenter by religion who seems to have avoided a great deal of the social whirl he held several important civic positions as his prominence grew. He was Sheriff of Hull in 1775, and later an Alderman and Mayor. He was also very much a part of Trinity House, being warden on no less than five occasions, playing a key role with William Hammond in establishing the Trinity House Navigation School in response to the demand for more competent masters as Hull’s fleet continued to grow in the later eighteenth century.

Perhaps his most prestigious charter – certainly in terms of honours – came when he sent three vessels to the Russian Turkish War in 1789 and assisted in procuring the services of a large number of other ships for charter as transports. The fleet sailed for the Baltic and later voyaged back through the North Sea en route for the Mediterranean and the Turkish fleet was subsequently heavily defeated in a series of land and naval battles. At the Treaty of Jassey in 1792 which formally ended the war, the Ottoman Empire recognised Russia’s earlier annexation of the Crimea. Standidge’s support during this conflict brought him a Russian knighthood as well as a fabulous imperial decoration, a Maltese Cross, set in topaz with a lock of Catherine the Great’s hair.

In November 1794 Prince William of Gloucester (later King William IV) visited Hull and was entertained at Standidge’s House down High Street and the following year he was knighted by King George III. Sir Samuel Standidge died in February 1801 at his High Street house and left more than £76,000 to his grandson, Sir Samuel Standidge Walton and he was buried in St Mary’s Lowgate. His old house, No.1 High Street still stands but with no clear apparent long term use, no plaque adorns the building to mark its illustrious former resident.

Select Bibliography

R.W. Haskins, A.M., ‘The Open North Polar Sea’ in The American Journal of Science and Arts (USA: 1858)

Arthur G. Credland, rev. Gordon Jackson, ‘Standidge, Sir Samuel (1725 – 1801)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2004)

Gordon Jackson, Hull in the Eighteenth Century (UK: University of Hull, 1972)

Gordon Jackson, The British Whaling Trade, (UK: A&C Black, 1978)

The Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1795

The Naval Chronicle, 1799 (UK: James Gold, 1799)

George Sydney Skeggs, Thorngumbald: That Village Yon Side of Hedon (UK: Highgate, Beverley, 1990)

John Tickell, The History of the Town and County of Kingston Upon Hull (Lee & Co., UK: Hull, 1796)

On-line References

Thorngumbald Village, East Yorkshire, England