Hoult was the son of the John Hoult and his wife Alice (née Welsby). He was brought up in the Stanley area of Liverpool and educated privately, before being apprenticed to a shipbroking business in Liverpool on a salary of £60 per year. When he was 21 he set up his own shipbroking business, and later became an owner of steamships through his company, Joseph Hoult & Co, in Castle Street, Liverpool.
In 1896 Hoult was appointed by the Board of Trade committee to inquire into the manning of merchant ships. The inquiry had been prompted by the shipwreck in 1894 of the under-manned vessel Port Yarrock, which foundered in Bantry Bay with the loss of 20 lives. Its remit was to advise whether the law needed to be changed to allow the detention of undermanned ships. In their report later that year, the majority of the committee recommended legal controls, but Hoult and the other ship-owners on the committee submitted a minority report which opposed legal control. They claimed that any such Law would disadvantage British ships against their foreign competitors, and would be too rigid as improvements in propulsion and navigation technology reduced the necessary levels.
In 1897 Holt was elected as a member of the council of the British Empire League. In December of that year, he told the annual dinner of the Liverpool Shipbrokers' Benevolent Society that British business had been hampered by too much regulation, and called for the abolition of light dues.
At the 1900 general election, Hoult was elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Wirral division of Cheshire. The seat had been held by the Conservatives since its creation in 1885, and Hoult's predecessor Edward Cotton-Jodrell had been returned unopposed in 1886 and 1895. However, Hoult's majority of 1,005 votes (9% of the total) was less than a third of that won by his predecessor in 1892; in a growing electorate, the number of Conservative votes had remained static while the Liberal vote grew. At the next election, in 1906, Hoult was defeated by the Liberal candidate William Lever (later Viscount Leverhulme). He did not stand for Parliament again, although his name was mentioned as a possible candidate in the Liverpool Kirkdale by-election in 1907.
In May 1913, Hoult was one of a group of British ship-owners who established a mutual form of war insurance for ships. The Liverpool and London war Risks Association (Limited) covered the risks of British shipowners so long as Britain was neutral in any conflict, and the insured ships did not breach that neutrality.
In the same month he contributed £1,000 towards the establishment of a Liverpool Flying Corps, the total cost of which was estimated at £40,000 for equipment alone. However, the project was abandoned in June, when the executive committee of the project reported that neither the War Office nor the Admiralty would guarantee the local facilities which would be needed. The Secretary of State for War, Col. J. E. B. Seely was slow to respond to the proposal, but visited Liverpool in July to announce that any such venture should be organised centrally.
On 8 March 1915, as the German U-boat Campaign moved into a phase of unrestricted attacks on the merchant shipping of Britain and her allies, The Times newspaper published a letter from Hoult commending one of his sea captains who had vowed that he would try to ram and sink any U-boats he encountered. He noted that two British captains had already claimed to have sunk one U-boat each, and offered a reward of £500 apiece for the next 4 U-boats sunk by British merchant ships or trawlers. Others wrote to The Times offering to supplement Hoult's offer. On 10 March, a further £105 was pledged. On 12 March, the idea was criticised by the ship-owner Lord Inverclyde, who pointed out that ramming a u-boat endangered the ship and invalidated its insurance. The offer was further increased on the same day by an offer of £100 per U-boat from the French owners of Perrier mineral water, and by 24 March the total had reached £2,000 per submarine.
- Debrett's House of Commons, and the Judicial Bench. London: Dean & Son. 1901. p. 75. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
- "Obituary: Mr. Joseph Hoult". The Times. 19 October 1917. p. 3. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "Mr. Joseph Hoult's Patriotic Gift". The Times. 28 December 1915. p. 10. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "The Manning Committee". The Times. 23 April 1896. p. 10. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "The Manning Of Merchant Ships". The Times. 27 June 1896. p. 18. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "The Engineering Dispute". The Times. 6 December 1897. p. 12. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- Craig, F. W. S. (1983) . British parliamentary election results 1885–1918 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 237. ISBN 0-900178-27-2.
- "Election Intelligence. Liverpool (Kirkdale Division)". The Times. 5 September 1897. p. 5. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "Shipping Lines And War Insurance. Details Of The New Mutual Scheme". The Times. 22 May 1913. p. 18. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "Advance of Aviation: Liverpool Flying Corps". The Age. 9 May 1913. p. 5. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
- "Liverpool Flying Corps Scheme Abandoned". Flight. 26 June 1913. p. 668. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
- "Colonel Seely On Aerial Defence. The Liverpool Proposal". The Times. 19 July 1913. p. 6. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "Submarines: an offer". The Times. 8 March 1915. p. 9. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "The Pirates". The Times. 10 March 1915. p. 11. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "Submarines: an offer". The Times. 12 March 1915. p. 9. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "An Offer To Merchant ships". The Times. 12 March 1915. p. 10. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "Submarines. The Offer Completed". The Times. 24 March 1915. p. 9. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- "The Loan In Brief". The Times. 16 January 1917. p. 9. Retrieved 29 August 2012.(subscription required)
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Joseph Hoult
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