Elizabeth Whately 1795-1860

This week we have a guest post by a great friend of the Library, Mr Cliff Webb.

The strength to scholars of a specialised reference library such as Lambeth Palace Library lies not so much in the high spots, the medieval books of hours and other illuminated manuscripts, important as they are. It is in the depth of coverage – the accumulation over many years of so many germane items in one place where lies its greatest value. However, such a collection can never be complete. Books (and editions of books) unknown to the great series of short title catalogues, printed and online, of books printed before 1800 continue to turn up. For the nineteenth century, our bibliographical knowledge is still more incomplete and it is never surprising to find new items or ones known only by one or two copies.

One of my pursuits is finding such items for Lambeth which fit the Library’s parameters. A recent example is Conversations on the Life of Jesus Christ. For the use of children. By a mother. London: John Harris, 1828, 12mo., vii, 136p. (see below).

Elizabeth Whatley’s Conversations on the Life of Jesus Christ



Our title went through three editions, of which the captioned is the first, of which the only other copy known is in the Osborne collection at Toronto Public Library. A second edition of 1833 is held by Trinity College, Dublin and a third of 1838 is in the British Library. No other copies seem to be known.

The book is in interlocutory form, between the mother and a daughter named Jane. Though anonymous, the author can be identified as Elizabeth Whately. Though her husband and two of her daughters are in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Elizabeth is not, possibly because she hid her authorship under a cloak of anonymity.

She was born as Elizabeth Pope, daughter of William Pope by his wife Mary Heaton (née Willis), on 7th October 1795 and was baptised on 22nd December of that year at Hillingdon, Middlesex where her father was the incumbent. She was married by her brother William Law Pope at Cheltenham, 3rd July 1821, to Richard Whately of St Mary Oxford.

Richard Whately (born 1 February 1787, died 8 Oct 1863) was educated at Oriel College, Oxford, and ordained in 1814. On marriage he had to resign his fellowship and was made rector of Halesworth, Suffolk. In 1825 he returned to Oxford on his appointment as the principal of St Alban Hall. Briefly Drummond Professor of Political Economy, he was appointed (it would seem to universal surprise) archbishop of Dublin in 1831, a preferment he retained until his death. He has a fine monument in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Whately wrote on logic and political economy, as well as extensively on various religious matters and was very interested in education. He was a leading member of what is now known as the Noetic group, centred at Oriel College, who combined freethinking and rationalism with a firm belief in scriptural authority. He was an eccentric character, fond of punning and causing offence by his bluntness of speech and views in advance of his time, advocating free speech even for atheists, combined education for Anglicans and Catholics, and state support for the Catholic clergy of Ireland. He championed homeopathy and investigated hypnotism.

Elizabeth Whately is a far more shadowy character. She had six children (not five as in DNB) (Elizabeth) Jane (1822-93), Edward William (1823-92), Mary Louisa (1824-89), Henry (c1825-), Henrietta (1827-1908) and Blanche (1829-60). The family naturally lived in the archiepiscopal palace at Redesdale House, Kilmacud, just outside Dublin, but in 1841 they were visiting Brighton, presumably on holiday and were recorded in the census of that year. Elizabeth Jane, always known as Jane, is in DNB, edited her father’s commonplace book and wrote extensively. She is doubtless the Jane of her mother’s book. Mary Louisa was a missionary in Egypt for over 30 years. Elizabeth Whately became ill, went to Hastings in a vain attempt to recover her health but died there on 25th April 1860.

Most of her writings were anonymous. The Library hitherto contained over 100 works by the archbishop, and his daughter’s edition of her father’s commonplace book, but nothing by his wife. The following is a provisional bibliography, excluding Conversations on the Life of Christ:

  1. Reverses, or Memoirs of the Fairfax Family. By the author of Conversations on the Life of Christ, etc., London: B. Fellowes, 1833. This is another children’s book: “The little Tale now offered to young people was written for the Author’s own children, and with a view (beyond mere amusement) to the improvement and correction of their moral tendencies”.
  1. The second part of the History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. In : Fox (Lady M.) Friendly Contributions, etc.
  1. English Life, social and domestic, in the middle of the nineteenth century, considered in reference to our position as a community of professing Christians. London: Longman Rees Orme Brown Green and Longman, 1847. Reprinted in: The Edinburgh Review or Critical Journal, Vol.LXXXVIII, Jul-Oct 1848, Edinburgh: Adam Black, 1848.
  1. Quicksands on Foreign Shores. Edited by the Author of English Life, social and domestic. In: Truths. Great Truths popularly illustrated no.1, London: Blackader, 1854.
  1. The Roving Bee: or, a Peep into many hives. By the author of Quicksands on Foreign Shores. London: J. Nisbet & Co., 1855.

The compilation of the above bibliography has enabled copies of Reverses, English Life (which was written in response to the Irish potato famine, which Richard Whately spent much of his own money to trying to relieve) and Quicksands also to be secured for the Library.

A link with the 21st century is that Kevin Whately of Morse and Lewis fame, is a descendant of Richard and Elizabeth through their son Edward.

Inscription from Mrs Gunson to E.F. Spedding


One mystery remains. The inside front cover of the book contains an inscription to E.F. Spedding from a Mrs Gunson (see above). I have been unable to identify either of these. Possibly a reader can supply further information.


Cliff Webb.

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