Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Synge, William Webb Follett

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SYNGE, WILLIAM WEBB FOLLETT (1826–1891), diplomatist and author, the son of the Rev. Robert Synge, M.A. (d. 1862), by his first wife, Anne (d. 1844), daughter of William Follett, was born on 25 Aug. 1826. After being educated almost entirely abroad, he on 26 June 1846 entered the foreign office; from 15 Sept. 1851 to 1 July 1853 he was attached to the British legation at Washington. On his return to England he devoted his leisure to literary work, beginning by writing in a journal called ‘The Press.’ His contributions to ‘Punch’ began during the Crimean war. On 26 July 1856 he was appointed secretary to Sir William Gore Ouseley’s special mission to Central America, and during his absence on that mission obtained the rank of assistant clerk at the foreign office on 7 Dec. 1857. While with Ouseley in Central America in 1859 he met Anthony Trollope, who disapproved of his politics (see West Indies and Spanish Main, pp.275, 292–4). He returned to work in London on 28 Feb. 1860. He was appointed commissioner and consul-general for the Sandwich Islands on 27 Dec. 1861, and in that capacity stood proxy for the Prince of Wales at the christening of the prince of Hawaii. In 1865 he escorted Queen Emma of Hawaii to England. On 30 Oct. 1865 he became consul-general and commissary judge in Cuba; but here his health, already impaired, gave way, and he retired from the service on 31 Oct 1868.

Settling first at Guildford, and then in 1883 at Eastbourne, Synge gave himself up to literature. He wrote regularly for the ‘Standard.’ In 1875 he published his first novel; in 1883 he began to contribute to the ‘Saturday Review.’ He died at Eastbourne on 29 May 1891.

Synge married, on 27 Jan. 1853, Henrietta Mary, youngest daughter of Robert Dewar Wainwright, colonel in the United States army. He left four sons, one of whom is in the foreign office, and a daughter.

Synge was a friend of Thackeray, and knew many of the writers of his time, both in England and America. Besides his contributions both in prose and verse to periodicals, the more noticeable of which are the poems, ‘Sursum Corda’ (Punch, November 1854) and ‘A Patriot Queen’ (Blackwood’s Mag. 1878), he published:

  1. ‘Olivia Raleigh,’ London, 1875.
  2. ‘Tom Singleton, Dragoon and Dramatist,’ 3 vols. London, 1879.
  3. ‘Bumble Bee Bogo’s Budget’ (‘Rhymes for Children’), 1888.

[Private information; Allibone’s Dict. of English Lit.; Foreign Office List, 1890.]

C. A. H.