Wallis, John (1714-1793) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 59
Wallis, John (1714-1793)

by George Simonds Boulger
1904 Errata appended.

WALLIS, JOHN (1714–1793), county historian, the son of John Wallace or Wallis of Croglin, Cumberland, was born at Castlenook, South Tindale, in the parish of Kirkhaugh, Northumberland, in 1714. He matriculated from Queen's College, Oxford, on 3 Feb. 1732–3. He graduated B.A. in 1737, and proceeded M.A. in 1740. Having taken orders, he held a curacy for a few years apparently in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth. He afterwards became curate of Simonburn, Northumberland, where he indulged his taste for botany, and collected during more than twenty years materials for his history of his native county. In 1748 he published, by subscription, ‘The Occasional Miscellany, in Prose and Verse’ (Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1748, 2 vols. 8vo). It contained several sermons and two poems, ‘The Royal Penitent: or Human Frailty delineated in the Person of David,’ in about four hundred rhyming couplets, and ‘The Exhortation of the Royal Penitent,’ a paraphrase of Psalm cvii. Wallis's chief work, however, was ‘The Natural History and Antiquities of Northumberland, and so much of the County of Durham as lies between the Rivers Tyne and Tweed, commonly called North Bishoprick’ (London, 1769, 2 vols. 4to). The first volume, which is the more complete, deals with the minerals, fossils, plants, and animals of the county, the plants being named according to Ray, and including cryptogams. ‘Unfortunately for his reputation as a correct man of science,’ says Mr. N. J. Winch (Transactions Natural History Society of Northumberland, ii. 145), ‘two or three of the most remarkable plants which he supposed he had discovered growing with us were not the species he took them for.’ The second volume deals with the antiquities, arranged in three tours through the county. On the death of the rector of Simonburn in 1771, the living was given to James Scott (1733–1813) [q. v.], the once celebrated Anti-Sejanus, for political services, who proved ‘a proud and overbearing superior, who had more regard for his spaniels than his curate’ (Hodgson, op. cit. p. 73). Wallis, being compelled to leave his curacy, was received into the family of his college friend Edward Wilson, vicar of Haltwhistle. In 1775 he acted as temporary curate at Haughton-le-Skerne, and in the same year was appointed to Billingham, near Stockton, where he remained till midsummer 1792, when increasing infirmities obliged him to resign. In 1779 Thomas Pennant [q. v.] had tried in vain to secure some preferment for his brother antiquary from the bishop of Durham (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. viii. 745); but throughout his life Wallis never had anything better than a curacy of 30l. a year (ib. p. 743). About two years before his death a small estate fell to him by the death of a brother, and Bishop Shute Barrington [q. v.] allowed him an annual pension from the time of his resigning the curacy of Billingham. Wallis then removed to the neighbouring village of Norton, where he died on 19 July 1793. He left a small but valuable collection of books, mainly on natural history. His wife Elizabeth, whose fifty-six years of married happiness is said to have become almost proverbial in their neighbourhood, survived until 1801 (Winch, op. cit. p. 145). Some of Wallis's letters to George Allan [q. v.] are printed in Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes’ (viii. 759–60).

[Gent. Mag. 1793, ii. 769; Hutchinson's History of Cumberland, ii. 367; Brewster's History of Stockton, 2nd edit. 1829; James Raine's Memoir of the Rev. John Hodgson, i. 140, ii. 197; works cited above.]

G. S. B.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.273
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
145 ii 21-22 Wallis, John (1714-1793): for Simondburn read Simonburn