Blackley, William Lewery (DNB12)

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BLACKLEY, WILLIAM LEWERY (1830–1902), divine and social reformer, born at Dundalk on 30 Dec. 1830, was second son of Travers Robert Blackley, of Ashtown Lodge, co. Dublin, and Bohogh, co. Roscommon. His maternal grandfather was Travers Hartley, M.P. for Dublin city 1776-1790, and governor of the Bank of Ireland. Blackley's mother was Eliza, daughter of Colonel Lewery, who was taken prisoner by the French at Verdun. In boyhood (1843-5) Blackley was sent with his brother John to a school at Brussels kept by Dr. Carl Martin Friedlander, a Polish political refugee, whose daughter he subsequently married. There he acquired proficiency in French, German, and other foreign languages. In 1847 he returned to Ireland, entered Trinity College, Dublin, graduated B.A. in 1850, M.A. in 1854, and took holy orders. In 1854 he became curate of St. Peter's, Southwark; but an attack of cholera compelled his retirement from London. From 1855 to 1867 he had charge of two churches at Frensham, near Farnham, Surrey. He was rector of North Waltham, Hampshire (1867-83), and from 1883 to 1889 of King's Somborne with Little Somborne (to which was added Upper Eldon in 1885). In 1883 he was made honorary canon of Winchester.

Meanwhile Blackley, who was an energetic parish priest and was keenly interested in social questions, carefully elaborated a scheme for the cure of pauperism by a statutory enforcement of thrift which had far-reaching results at home and abroad. In November 1878 he contributed to the 'Nineteenth Century' an essay entitled 'National Insurance a Cheap, Practical, and Popular Way of Preventing Pauperism,' and thenceforth strenuously advocated a scheme of compulsory insurance, which the National Providence League, with the earl of Shaftesbury as president, was formed in 1880 to carry into effect. Blackley at the same time recommended temperance as a means of social regeneration. His views reached a wide public through Ms writings, which included 'How to teach Domestic Economy' (1879), 'Collected Essays on the Prevention of Pauperism' (1880), 'Social Economy Reading Book, adapted to the New Code' (1881), 'Thrift and Independence; a Word for Working-men' (1884).

Blackley's scheme provided that all persons between eighteen and twenty should subscribe 10l. to a national fund, and should receive in return 8s. a week in time of sickness, and 4s. a week after the age of seventy. The plan was urged on the House of Lords by the earl of Carnarvon in 1880 (Hansard, cclii. 1180), and was the subject of inquiry by a select committee of the House of Commons from 1885 to 1887. The majority of the boards of guardians in England and Wales supported the proposals; but the commons' committee, while acknowledging Blackley's ingenuity and knowledge, reported adversely on administrative and actuarial grounds (2 Aug. 1887). At the same time the friendly societies, which Blackley had censured in his 'Thrift and Independence' (pp. 75 and 80), regarded the principle of compulsion as a menace to their own growth, and their historian and champion, the Rev. John Frome Wilkinson, sharply criticised Blackley's plan in 'The Blackley National Providence Insurance Scheme; a Protest and Appeal' (1887). Blackley's plan, although rejected for the time, stimulated kindred movements in the colonies and in foreign countries, and led directly to the adoption of old age pensions in England by legislation in 1908, while the national insurance scheme which received parliamentary sanction in 1911 bears some trace of Blackley's persistent agitation (Quarterly Review, July 1908; Herbert Paul, Modern England, iv. 372).

In 1887 Blackley, who was director of the Clergy Mutual Insurance Company, made proposals to the church congress which led to the formation of the 'Clergy Pension Scheme' and of a society for 'ecclesiastical fire insurance.' In the autumn of 1889 Blackley, whose active propagandism brought him constantly to London, became vicar of St. James the Less, Vauxhall Bridge Road. There he enlarged the schools, and built a parish hall. and a vicarage. He died after a brief illness at 79 St. George's Square, on 25 July 1902. He married on 24 July 1855 Amelia Jeanne Josephine, second daughter of his Brussels tutor, Dr. Carl Martin Friedlander, by whom he had issue one son, who died in infancy, and two daughters, who with his widow survived him. Brasses were put up in Blackley's memory in the churches of St. James the Less, North Waltham, and Frensham.

Blackley, whose Irish humour and eloquence made him an attractive platform speaker, was an accomplished linguist and a capable parochial organiser. His published writings, besides sermons, review articles, short stories, and the works mentioned in the text, are:

  1. 'The Frithiof Saga, or Lay of Frithiof,' a translation in original metre from the Swedish of Esaias Tegnér, bp. of Wexio, Dublin, 1857; American edit. New York, 1867; illustr. edit. 1880.
  2. (with Dr. Friedlander) 'A practical dictionary of the German and English languages,' 1866 (pocket edition, 1876).
  3. 'Word Gossip,' 1869, a series of familiar essays on words and their peculiarities.

He was also editor (with [James Hawes) of the 'Critical English [New] Testament,' an adaptation of Bengel's 'Gnomon,' 1866, 3 vols. His 'Collected Essays' (1880) was re-issued in 1906, under the title of 'Thrift and National Insurance as a Security against Pauperism,' with a prefatory memoir by his widow, who zealously aided in propagating his views of social reform.

[Memoir by widow prefixed to re-issue of Collected Essays, 1906; The Times, 26 July 1902; Charles Booth, Pauperism and the Endowment of Old Age, 1892, pp. 182-7; Charity Organization Review, Sept. 1892; Journal of Institute of Actuaries, Oct. 1887, xxvi. 480-8; Frank W. Lewis, State Insurance, a Social and Industrial Need, 1909; private information.]

W. B. O.