William Hutchinson was born in 1715 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Following his father's death he was compelled at the age of eleven to seek employment as a cabin boy on a Newcastle collier working the coal trade from North East England to London. Huchinson served his time as a ‘forecastle man’ on board an East Indiaman in 1738–9, and making the voyage to China; he was also mate of ‘a bomb's tender in Hyères Bay’ with the Royal Navy about 1743.

His later experiences included a time cruising in the Mediterranean, in the employ of Fortunatus Wright, merchant and privateer. A privateer or "corsair" was a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign vessels during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend treasury resources or commit naval officers. They were of great benefit to a smaller naval power or one facing an enemy dependent on trade: they disrupted commerce and pressured the enemy to deploy warships to protect merchant trade against commerce raiders. The cost was borne by investors hoping to profit from prize money earned from captured cargo and vessels.

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