Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wills, John

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WILLS, JOHN (1741–1806), benefactor of Wadham College, Oxford, the only son of John Wills of Seaborough, Somerset, was born at Seaborough in 1741. He matriculated from Hertford College, Oxford, on 18 March 1758, aged 17, graduated B.A. in 1761, becoming a fellow of the society in 1765. In the same year he proceeded M.A. He was preferred to the college rectory of Tyd St. Mary in 1778, and in 1779 was presented to the rectory of Seaborough by Adam Martin; five years later he rebuilt the parsonage of his native village. Wills was elected fifteenth warden of Wadham College on 7 July 1783, in succession to Dr. James Gerard. He took the degree of D.D. in the same year, and the office of vice-chancellor devolved upon him in 1792. After an uneventful headship he died at Wadham on 16 June 1806, aged 65.

In Wills Wadham found its greatest benefactor since its foundation. He left 400l. a year to augment the warden's stipend, at the same time bequeathing his books and furniture to his successor, Dr. William Tournay. He left 1,000l. to improve the warden's lodgings; two exhibitions of 100l. each annually to two fellows of the college, students of law and physic; two scholarships of 20l. each for the same faculties; stipends of thirty guineas yearly for a divinity lecturer and preacher, and annuities of 75l. and 50l. to superannuated fellows, besides a reading prize and minor benefactions. He also left an estate at Tyd St. Giles, worth about 150l. per annum, to the vice-chancellor for the time being, ‘in aid of the great burthens of his office;’ 100l. per annum to the senior Bodleian librarian; 100l. per annum to the theatre, and 100l. per annum to the Oxford Infirmary. After some private bequests he made the residue of his estate over to the college for the purchase of livings. Owing to Wills's liberality the Wadham gardens reached their present extent, the parterres and clipped yews and statuettes of Dr. Wilkins's time, as described by John Evelyn, giving place to the ‘romantic’ garden designed by Shipley. The portrait of Wills by Hoppner, in the hall at Wadham, was painted in 1793.

[Jackson's Wadham College, pp. 121, 147, 184, 187, 215; Gent. Mag. 1806, i. 589–90; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886.]

T. S.