Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whitaker, Thomas Dunham

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WHITAKER, THOMAS DUNHAM (1759–1821), topographer, born at Rainham on 8 June 1759, was son of William Whitaker (1730–1782), curate of Rainham, Norfolk, by his wife Lucy, daughter of Robert Dunham, and widow of Ambrose Allen. In 1760 his father removed to his ancestral house at Holme, in the township of Cliviger, Lancashire, and the boy was in November 1766 placed under the care of the Rev. John Shaw of Rochdale. In November 1774, after spending a short time with the Rev. W. Sheepshanks of Grassington in Craven, he was admitted of St. John's College, Cambridge, and went into residence in October 1775. He took the degree of LL.B. in November 1781, intending to enter the legal profession, which purpose was set aside on the death of his father in the following year, when he settled at Holme. He was ordained in 1785, but remained without pastoral charge until 1797, when he was licensed to the perpetual curacy of Holme, having rebuilt that chapel at his own cost in 1788. He completed his degree of LL.D. in 1801. In 1809 he attained the great object of his wishes in becoming vicar of the extensive parish of Whalley, Lancashire. The rectory of Heysham, near Lancaster, was presented to him in January 1813. He resigned it in 1819. On 7 Nov. 1818 he became vicar of Blackburn, which benefice he retained, together with Whalley, until his death. When settled at Holme he instituted a sort of local literary club. He devoted much attention to improving his estate there, taking especial delight in planting. He received the gold medal of the Society of Arts for the greatest number of larch trees planted in one year. He had great influence with the people of his parishes, and on several occasions exerted it with good effect in quelling disturbances, particularly at Blackburn in 1817. For his 'patriotic services' he was presented with a public testimonial in April 1821.

He died at Blackburn vicarage on 18 Dec. 1821, and was interred at Holme, his coffin being made out of a tree of his own planting, hollowed out by his own directions. He married, 13 Jan. 1783, Lucy, daughter of Thomas Thoresby of Leeds, and left several children, of whom one, Robert Nowell Whitaker, succeeded him at Whalley vicarage (cf. Foster, Lancashire Pedigrees). There are portraits of Whitaker by W. D. Fryer, engraved in his 'Craven' and 'Whalley,' and by James Northcote, engraved in 'Loidis and Elmete,' and a smaller copy in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' February 1822. A bust was executed by Macdonald. A monument raised by public subscription was placed in Whalley church in 1842. His library was sold at Sotheby's in 1823, and his coins and antiquities, with the exception of his Roman altars and inscriptions, which he bequeathed to St. John's College, Cambridge, were dispersed in 1824.

Towards the end of last century Whitaker projected the first of his topographical works, which long had great fame on account of their scholarship and literary charm. His works were:

  1. 'History of the Original Parish of Whalley and Honour of Clitheroe, in the Counties of Lancaster and York,' 1801, 4to; 2nd edit. 1806, 3rd edit. 1818; 4th edit, (enlarged by John Gough Nichols and Ponsonby A. Lyons), 1872-6, 2 vols. 4to.
  2. 'History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven,' 1805, 4to; 2nd edit. 1812; 3rd edit, (by Alfred William Morant) 1878, 4to.
  3. 'De Motu per Britanniam Civico annis 1745 et 1746,' 1809, 12mo, being an account in Latin based on John Home's 'History of the Rebellion of 1745.'
  4. 'Life and Original Correspondence of Sir George Radcliffe, Knt., LL.D., the Friend of the Earl of Strafford,' 1810, 4to.
  5. 'The Sermons of Dr. Edwin Sandys, formerly Archbishop of York, with a Life of the Author,' 1812, 8vo.
  6. 'Visio Will'i de Petro Plouhman … or the Vision of William concerning Piers Plouhman,' 1813, 4to.
  7. 'Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, edited from the edition of 1553,' 1814, 4to.
  8. 'Loidis and Elmete, or an Attempt to illustrate … the Lower Portions of Airedale and Wharfdale,' 1816, fol. (uniform with No. 8). An appendix was published in 1821.
  9. 'The History of Richmondshire, in the North Riding of Yorkshire,' 1823, 2 vols. fol. This was a portion of a projected history of Yorkshire, to be completed in about seven folio volumes. It is the least satisfactory of his topographies, though the most pretentious. A series of thirty-two beautiful plates, after J. M. W. Turner, add to the value and distinction of the work. Some of this artist's early drawings appeared in Whitaker's first book.

Whitaker re-edited Thoresby's 'Ducatus Leodiensis ' (2nd edit, with notes and additions, 1816). He also projected, but did not finish, several other works, including a history of Lonsdale (1813), new editions of John Whitaker's 'History of Manchester' and Horsley's 'Britannia Romana,' and even a new edition of Tim Bobbin's ' Lancashire Dialect ' [see Collier, John].

He published ten occasional sermons and a political speech, and wrote at least twenty-eight articles in the 'Quarterly Review' between 1809 and 1818.

[Memoir, by J. G. Nichols, prefixed to 4th edit, of History of Whalley, 1872; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes and Illustr. of Lit.; Gent. Mag. 1822, i. 83, 105, 312; Allibone's Dict. of Authors, iii. 2679; Boyne's Yorkshire Library, 1869. Wilson's Miscellanies (Chetham Soc.) contain several of Whitaker's letters. An early manuscript commonplace book by Whitaker is in the Chetham Library, Manchester.]

C. W. S.