Perry, John 1670 - 1733

Nationality:
English; British

(1669/70-1733), hydraulic engineer and writer

John Perry was born at Sinklow farmhouse in Rodborough, Gloucestershire. He joined the Royal Navy in his teens and was commissioned lieutenant in April 1689. While serving with the Montague in January 1690 he lost his right arm after remaining at his post for over an hour with an undressed wound during combat with a French privateer off Ushant. Over the next two years Perry designed a dry dock for large ships at Portsmouth Dockyard, constructing a powerful engine to pump water from it, and made a technically proficient dam gate which was tested in August 1691. Although the results are not clear, his efforts secured him the captaincy in February 1692 of the Owner's Love fireship, whose activities he described in eleven letters to the Navy Board.

In the same year he appears as commander of the fireship Cygnet, attached to the man-of-war Diamond, the commander of the latter being Captain Wickham. While the two vessels were cruising about twenty leagues off Cape Clear, on 20 Sept. 1693, they were attacked by two large French privateers, and compelled to surrender. Due to their actions they were sentenced to ten years imprisonment with a £1000 fine for dereliction of duties. At the Marshalsea prison Perry wrote A Regulation for Seamen (1695).

In April 1698 Lord Carmarthen and the navy's surveyor-general introduced him to the visiting tsar of Russia, who recruited him for hydraulic engineering projects. In 1716 Perry secured a contract to stem the breach in the Thames Embankment at Dagenham. Perry's book An Account of the Stopping of Dagenham Breach (1721), graphically describes his epic feat of engineering and his outstanding technical success in surmounting two breaches. In 1724 Perry moved from London to Rye, where he was appointed engineer to the planned new harbour works. Perry spent over eighteen months in Dublin between 1713 and 1726, planning to improve its harbour. In 1727 Perry was paid for his recommendations to make the Yorkshire Ouse navigable as far as York. From 1724 until 1729 when he settled in Spalding, Lincolnshire, as engineer to the Adventurers of Deeping Fen.

Perry was elected an honorary member of the Spalding Gentlemen's Society. 'Some account of the works done by Captain Perry' (1796), a substantial and fully indexed manuscript by its treasurer, Thomas Hawkes, documents more of Perry's activities during his last years. He died, unmarried, aged sixty-three, on 11 February 1733 and was buried two days later in Spalding's parish church where he was commemorated by a monumental inscription.