Rushton, Edward (DNB00)

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RUSHTON, EDWARD (1756–1814), poet, son of Thomas Rushton, born in John Street, Liverpool, on 13 Nov. 1756, received his early education at the free school of Liverpool, and before he was eleven was apprenticed to a firm of West India shippers. At the age of sixteen he showed great intrepidity by guiding his ship into harbour after the captain had given it up for lost. He afterwards joined as mate in a slaving expedition to the coast of Guinea. The brutal treatment of the captives induced him to remonstrate with the captain, who threatened to place him in irons for mutiny. A little later the whole of the cargo was seized with malignant ophthalmia, and Rushton lost his own sight by exposing himself in relieving the wretched negroes. On his return he incurred the displeasure of his stepmother, and was driven from home to subsist as best he could on an allowance of four shillings a week. This he managed to do for seven years, while paying threepence a week to a boy to come and read to him every evening. In 1782 he published a political poem, ‘The Dismembered Empire,’ condemnatory of the American war. This poem and his fugitive pieces brought him some reputation, which led his father to relent and to establish him and one of his sisters in a tavern in Liverpool. About this time Rushton excited enmity in his native town by his opposition to the slave trade. He published his ‘West India Eclogues’ in 1787, and afterwards gave assistance to Thomas Clarkson when collecting evidence on the subject. In 1797 he published ‘An Expostulatory Letter to George Washington on his continuing to be a Proprietor of Slaves.’ He relinquished his tavern to take up the editorship, as well as a share in the proprietorship, of the ‘Liverpool Herald,’ from which he withdrew in 1790, owing to some outspoken remarks of his on the arbitrary proceedings of the Liverpool press-gang. Then he became a bookseller. Again he suffered from the decided part he took in politics at the beginning of the French revolution. He was one of the founders of a literary and philosophical society in Liverpool, and originated the idea of making provision for the indigent blind, afterwards carried out by the establishment of the Liverpool Blind Asylum.

In 1806 he collected his scattered poems, a second edition of which, with additions, and including his letter to Washington and an essay on the ‘Causes of the Dissimilarity of Colour in the Human Species,’ was published in 1824, with a memoir of the author, by the Rev. William Shepherd [q. v.]

In 1807, after thirty-three years of blindness, his sight was restored through an operation by Benjamin Gibson of Manchester. He died of paralysis on 22 Nov. 1814, at his residence in Paradise Street, Liverpool, and was buried in St. James's churchyard. His wife, Isabella, died in 1811.

His son, Edward Rushton (1796–1851), was a printer and stationer, and a leading member of the reform party in Liverpool. Cobbett called him ‘Roaring Rushton,’ from his loud but fine voice, strenuous manner, and excitability of temper. At the suggestion of Canning he went to the bar, and was ultimately, in 1839, appointed stipendiary magistrate of Liverpool. He died on 4 April 1851, aged 55.

[Shepherd's Memoir; Procter's Literary Reminiscences, 1860, p. 141; Picton's Memorials of Liverpool, 1873, i. 426, ii. 166, 215; Bowker's Liverpool Celebrities, 1876; Bannister's Worthies of the Working Classes, 1854, p. 7.]

C. W. S.