Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Reade, William Winwood

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READE, WILLIAM WINWOOD (1838–1875), traveller, novelist, and controversialist, eldest son of William Barrington Reade of Ipsden House, Oxfordshire, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Captain John Murray, R.N., was born on 26 Dec. 1838. Charles Reade [q. v.] was his uncle. He was educated at Hyde House, Winchester, and matriculated from Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 13 March 1856, but he left the university without a degree. He early showed a taste for the investigation of natural science, but this was interrupted by his university studies, and afterwards by an unavailing attempt to follow the example of his uncle, Charles Reade, and master the art of fiction. Subsequently M. Du Chaillu's theories, published in 1861, respecting the power and aggressive character of the gorilla so inflamed Reade's curiosity that, having raised money upon his inheritance, he started for Gaboon to ascertain the truth, and after five months of hunting, during which time he ascended the river higher than any of his predecessors, discovered its rapids, and visited the cannibal races, he was finally able to demonstrate to scientific men that the gorilla is an exceedingly timorous animal, almost inaccessible to European sportsmen in the thick jungles which it inhabits. He then visited Angola in south-western Africa, and afterwards ascended the Casemanche, Gambia, and Senegal, seeing something of Moslem life among the negroes, and also of the wild tawny Moors.

In these travels he became conscious of his ignorance, and after his return to England he recommenced the study of science. He entered as a student at St. Mary's Hospital, and in 1866 volunteered his services for the cholera hospital at Southampton. In 1869 he revisited the African continent under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society, Mr. Andrew Swanzy, a well-known merchant on the Gold Coast, providing the means. His first object was to open up the Assinie river, and to go as far as Coomassie, but the Ashantees prevented him. He then proceeded to Sierra Leone, and thence started to explore the sources of the Niger. He reached Faluba, where he was detained for three months in honourable captivity, and then sent back. Still undaunted, he started again, and this time he was allowed to pass. He succeeded in reaching the Niger, but as the source was {{SIC}inacessible}} owing to native wars, he went to the gold mines of Bouri, a country never previously visited by a European.

In November 1873 he returned to Africa as special correspondent of the ‘Times’ during the Ashantee war, and fought at the battle of Amoaful in the ranks of the 42nd Highlanders. From this third expedition to Africa he returned quite broken down in health, and he died on 24 April 1875.

His uncle, Charles Reade, observed that ‘the writer thus cut off in his prime entered life with excellent prospects; he was heir to considerable estates, and gifted with genius. But he did not live long enough to inherit the one or to mature the other. His whole public career embraced but fifteen years; yet in another fifteen he would probably have won a great name and cured himself, as many thinking men have done, of certain obnoxious opinions which laid him open to reasonable censure’ (Daily Telegraph, 27 April 1875).

He was the author of:

  1. ‘Charlotte and Myra. A Puzzle in Six Bits,’ London, 1859, 8vo; this, like his other efforts in the department of fiction, was severely criticised by the ‘Athenæum,’ ‘Saturday Review,’ and other papers (cf. Allibone, Dict. of Engl. Lit.)
  2. ‘Liberty Hall, Oxon.,’ a novel, 3 vols. London, 1860, 8vo.
  3. ‘The Veil of Isis, or the Mysteries of the Druids,’ London, 1861, 8vo; an attack on all religious beliefs, particularly the catholic religion.
  4. ‘Savage Africa: being a Narrative of a Tour in Equatorial Southwestern and North-western Africa; with Notes on the Habits of the Gorilla, on the Existence of Unicorns and Tailed Men; on the Slave Trade, on the original Character and Capabilities of the Negro, and on the future Civilisation of Western Africa,’ London, 1863, 8vo.
  5. ‘See-Saw: a Novel. By Francesco Abati. Edited [in fact written] by W. Winwood Reade,’ 2 vols. London, 1865, 8vo. Charles Reade describes this as a ‘well-constructed tale.’
  6. ‘The Martyrdom of Man,’ London, 1872, 8vo; 8th ed. London, 1884, 8vo; in this work the author does not attempt to conceal his atheistical opinions.
  7. ‘The African Sketch-book,’ with maps and illustrations, 2 vols. London, 1873, 8vo.
  8. ‘The Story of the Ashantee Campaign,’ London, 1874, 8vo.
  9. ‘The Outcast: a Novel,’ London, 1875, 8vo.

He also wrote introductions to Schweinfurth's ‘Heart of Africa,’ 1873, and Rohlf's ‘Adventures in Morocco,’ 1874.

[Private information; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1895.]

T. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.231
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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ii 7f.e. Reade, William W.: for 30 Jan. read 26 Dec.