1759-1839. He was born in London on 10 December 1759, and was the elder brother of Rear-Admiral William Hanwell.
Joseph Hanwell entered the Navy at Chatham in November 1773 as a midshipman aboard the Ramillies 74, Captain Thomas Evans, transferring in January 1775 to the Carcass 8, Commander James Reid, which went out to Guinea and spent the summer on that coast. Following his return in September he joined the Milford 28, Captain John Burr, sailing for North America. In December 1776 he carried one of the Milford’s prizes into Halifax, but whist attempting to rejoin his ship in Boston Bay the tender on which he was a passenger went aground in Piscatoway Harbour during a snow-storm on Boxing Day and was wrecked. Taken prisoner by colonial forces, he was sent into the interior on parole before being exchanged at Rhode Island several weeks later and appointed to the frigate Unicorn 20, Captain John Ford. He was eventually able to rejoin the Milford in July 1777, by which time she was under the command of Captain Sir William Chaloner Burnaby.
With the Milford returning to Europe, Hanwell was present at the Battle of Ushant on 27 July 1778, and he remained with that frigate until October 1780 when he was appointed an acting lieutenant of the Dublin 74, Captain Samuel Uvedale. He was commissioned lieutenant on 8 February 1781, by which time Captain Archibald Dickson had assumed the command of the Dublin, and he remained with this ship until the end of the American Revolutionary War, serving at the second relief of Gibraltar on 12 April, in the Channel Fleet operations of June-November, the Channel Fleet campaign from April-August 1782, the third relief of Gibraltar on 18 October, and the subsequent action off Cape Spartel. The Dublin was paid off at Plymouth in February 1783, whereupon Hanwell saw a brief service aboard the Fortitude 74, Captain Hon. Peregrine Bertie, until she was paid off at Plymouth in April.
From September 1788 he had the troop ship Actaeon 44, voyaging to the West Indies from Portsmouth that month, and having been promoted commander on 21 October 1790 he escorted home the Jamaica trade to arrive at Spithead at the end of April 1791, prior to the Actaeon entering harbour to be paid off in the following month.
In November 1792 Hanwell was appointed to recommission the brig Scout 14 at Portsmouth, in which he went out to the Mediterranean to serve at Gibraltar. During April 1793 he returned home in escort of a convoy with the Lapwing 28, Captain Hon. Henry Curzon, and he was sent back to the Mediterranean in October with dispatches to join the fleet under Vice-Admiral Lord Hood at the occupation of Toulon. The Scout was next employed in the Corsican Campaign which commenced in February 1794, and in April, when ordered to anchor near a tower at Bastia, she sustained an attack by two French gun-boats and three batteries for the best part of an hour until the former scuttled back into port. Lord Hood rewarded Hanwell for his defence by posting him captain of the Romney 50 on 8 April, but he was superseded a month later on Admiralty orders as he was the junior of three captains seeking a command of just two vacant vessels on the station.
After returning home, Hanwell was unable to secure a further command and was instead bestowed with the meagre role of regulating the Quota men in Derbyshire and surveying the canals of that county, a role he then undertook in Aberdeenshire. During July 1799 he was given the task of seeking volunteers for the service in Jersey, from where he transferred at the end of 1800 to Exeter as the regulating captain, a position that was abolished in October 1801.
Returning at last, albeit briefly, to active service, he was the flag-captain to Rear-Admiral Thomas Macnamara Russell aboard the Majestic 74 in the North Sea from March 1805 until ill-health brought about his resignation in December 1806.
In February 1809 Hanwell was appointed to superintend the payment of ships at the Nore. He became a rear-admiral on 12 August 1812, a vice-admiral on 19 July 1821, and an admiral on 10 January 1837, and in retirement he lived at Wareham in Dorset, where in addition to serving as a councilman and magistrate he was three times elected mayor of the town.
Admiral Hanwell died suddenly on 10 November 1839 at the age of 79 at his residence in Wareham.
He married Jane Strong on 22 May 1787 with whom he had eight children, two of whom were lost whilst serving in the Navy. By April 1830 he was reported as having just one son, Joseph, who eventually rose to become a lieutenant-general in the Army.