Joseph Whidbey was key in the planning and construction of Plymouth Breakwter during the Napoleonic Wars. He had previously made his name as being a competent mariner accompanying Vancouver to the Caribbean in the 1780s and on his journeys to the Pacific Ocean in the 1790s. However, his friendship with George Rennie would allow him to be given the task of overseeing much of the construction of the breakwater in Plymouth.
The lack of a safe harbour for the Channel Fleet was a constant concern for the Admiralty. In 1806 they assigned Rennie and Whidbey to survey Plymouth Sound and propose plans to make it safer for Royal Naval ships. Their plan for a detached breakwater across the rocky shoals in the centre of the sound was accepted in principle but postponed for financial reasons. Eventually, in 1811, orders were given for the commencement and in 1812 Whidbey was appointed superintending engineer at a salary of 1000 pounds p.a. During the project Whidbey lived at Bovisand Lodge opposite the breakwater. In 1814 he was made a freeman of the borough of Plymouth. Whidbey had many friends and, as Samuel Smiles said of him: 'His varied experience had produced rich fruits in a mind naturally robust and vigorous. ... He was greatly beloved and respected by all who knew him'. He retired in 1830 to Taunton and lived at St James House where he died on 9 October 1833. He never married and he was looked after both at Plymouth and Taunton by Henry and Catherine Oglan.
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