Jonas Hanway

Jonas Hanway (1712 – 1786) was a merchant and philanthropist. Making his wealth working with the Russia Company, his work as a philantropist made him a central figure regarding public policy on the poor.

Hanway was particularly concerned with expanding the population of Britain. He was elected governor of the Foundling Hospital in 1756 after his £50 donation, which amounts to about £10,000 today. Thanks to the House of Commons’ decision to subsidize the Foundling Hospital, Hanway oversaw the general admission period (1756-1760), when any child who was dropped off was admitted. While this attempt proved too costly to continue for long, Hanway was fully invested in the process, involving himself in a variety of concerns ranging from smallpox vaccines to the weight of coal buckets.

Hanway also heavily advocated for policy change. His advocacy in particular led to the passage of two Acts, both of which would become known as Hanway’s Act. The first one, passed in 1762, which required parishes to keep records regarding the children in their care, formed the foundation for later reform work. The second one, passed in 1767, stemmed from Hanway’s belief that London was deadly to children who lived in the workhouses. The new policy mandated by the Act relocated infants born in London workhouses to rural environments. While the system was later plagued by abuse, the act likely saved thousand of lives.



“Inflation.”, last modified January 8, 2018.

Taylor, James Stephen. “Hanway, Jonas (bap. 1712, d. 1786), merchant and philanthropist.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, last accessed January 21, 2018.

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