Digby, William (DNB12)

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DIGBY, WILLIAM (1849–1904), Anglo-Indian publicist, third son of William Digby of Walsoken, Wisbech, by his wife Ann Drake, was born there on 1 May 1849. Scantily educated at the British schools, Wisbech, he studied for himself, and from 1864 to 1871 was apprentice in the office of the 'Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser.' In 1871 he went out to Colombo as sub-editor of the 'Ceylon Observer.' There he advocated temperance and free trade, proved successful in his effort to abolish revenue farming, and publishing 'The Food Taxes of Ceylon' (1875) was elected in March 1878 an honorary member of the Cobden Club. As official shorthand-writer for the legislative council, he prepared six volumes of the Ceylon 'Hansard' (1871-6).

In 1877 he became editor of the 'Madras Times,' and persistently urged the need of alleviating the great Southern Indian famine. Largely owing to his representations a relief fund was opened at the Mansion House in London, and 820,000l. was subscribed. He was active as honorary secretary in India of the executive committee, which distributed relief through 120 local committees. He was made C.I.E. on 1 Jan. 1878, and in his 'Famine Campaign in Southern India' (1878, 2 vols.) faithfully described the visitation.

Returning to England in 1879 for domestic reasons, Digby edited the 'Liverpool and Southport Daily News' for a few months in 1880, and from that year to 1882 was editor of the 'Western Daily Mercury' at Plymouth. From Nov. 1882 till 1887 he was the energetic secretary of the newly founded National Liberal Club in London, and eagerly flung himself into political work. He contested unsuccessfully in the liberal interest North Paddington in 1885 and South Islington in 1892. In 1887 he established, and became senior partner of, the firm of William Hutchinson & Co., East India agents and merchants. Meanwhile he pursued in the press and on the platform with almost fanatical warmth the agitation for extending self-government among the natives of India. In 1885 he published 'India for the Indians and for England,' a book praised by John Bright in a speech at St. James's Hall on 25 Feb. 1885. In 1887 he founded, and until 1892 he directed, the Indian political agency, which distributed information about India to the English public. In 1889 he became secretary to the newly constituted British committee of the Indian national congress, and he edited the committee's organ, 'India' (1890-2). In 'Prosperous British India' (1901) he claimed to prove a steady growth of poverty among the Indian masses under British rule.

Digby died from nervous exhaustion at his home, Dorset Square, London, N.W., on 24 Sept. 1904, and was buried by the side of his second wife at Bromley cemetery. An oil-painting of him by John Colin Forbes, R.C.A., was presented to the National Liberal Club by friends and admirers on 19 Dec. 1905. He married (1) in 1874, Ellen Amelia, only daughter of Captain Little of Wisbech; she died in June 1878, leaving one son, William Pollard Digby, electrical engineer; and (2) in December 1879, Sarah Maria, eldest daughter of William Hutchinson, some time mayor of Wisbech; she died in January 1899, leaving a daughter and three sons, the eldest of whom, Everard, has been editor of the 'Indian Daily News,' Calcutta.

Besides many pamphlets and the works cited, Digby published 'Forty Years of Official and Unofficial Life in a Crown Colony' (Madras, 1879, 2 vols.), being a biography of Sir Richard F. Morgan, acting chief justice in Ceylon.

[Digby's books and pamphlets; Biographical Mag., July 1885; Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser, 24 and 27 Sept. 1904, and 20 Dec. 1905; personal knowledge.]

F. H. B.