Burrell, William

SUBJECT AREA: Ports and shipping
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b. c.1570 England
d. 1630 near Huntingdon, England
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English shipbuilder and Chief Shipwright to the East India Company.
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Born into comfortable circumstances, Burrell chose ship construction as his career. Ability aided by financial influence helped professional advancement, and by his early thirties he possessed a shipyard at Ratcliffe on the River Thames. Ship design was then unscientific, shrouded in mystique, and it required patience and perseverance to penetrate the conventions of the craft.
From the 1600s Burrell had been investing in the East India Company. In 1607 the Company decided to build ships in their own right, and Burrell was appointed as the first Master Shipwright, a post he held for nearly twenty years. The first ship, Trade's Increase, of 1,000-tons burthen, was the largest ship built in England until the eighteenth century, but following a mishap at launch and the ship's subsequent loss on its maiden voyage, the Company reassessed its policy and built smaller ships. Burrell's foresight can be gauged by his involvement in two private commercial undertakings in Ireland; one to create oak forests for shipbuilding, and the other to set up a small ironworks. In 1618 a Royal Commission was appointed to enquire into the poor condition of the Navy, and with the help of Burrell it was ruled that the main problems were neglect and corruption. With his name being known and his good record of production, the Royal Navy ordered no fewer than ten warships from Burrell in the four-year period from 1619 to 1623. With experience in the military and commercial sectors, Burrell can be regarded as an all-round and expert shipbuilder of the Stuart period. He used intuition at a time when there were no scientific rules and little reliable empiric guidance on ship design.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
First Warden of the Shipwrights' Company after its new Charter of 1612.
Further Reading
A.P.McGowan, 1978, "William Burrell (c. 1570–1630). A forgotten Stuart shipwright", Ingrid and other Studies (National Maritime Museum Monograph No. 36). W.Abell, 1948, The Shipwright's Trade, Cambridge.
FMW

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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