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

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LONSDALE, JOHN (1788–1867), bishop of Lichfield, born on 17 Jan. 1788 at Newmillerdam, near Wakefield, was the eldest son of John Lonsdale (1737–1800), vicar of Darfield and perpetual curate of Chapelthorpe. His mother's name was Elizabeth Steer, and his ancestry was Yorkshire on both sides. He was educated at Eton under Dr. Goodall, who pronounced him the best Latin scholar he had ever had. He removed in 1806 to Cambridge, and became fellow of King's in 1809. When he gained the university scholarship, he was said to write the best Latin since the age of Augustus. He had intended to be a barrister, and commenced reading law, being admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1811, but, like his illustrious contemporary Thirlwall, he speedily forsook the bar for the church, and was ordained in October 1815. In the next month he married, and was shortly afterwards appointed chaplain to Archbishop Manners-Sutton and assistant preacher at the Temple. In 1822 the archbishop gave him the rectory of Mersham in Kent, which he quitted in 1827 for a prebendal stall at Lincoln; thence he passed in 1828 to the precentorship at Lichfield, afterwards exchanged for a prebend at St. Paul's. In the same year he became rector of St. George's, Bloomsbury, where he remained until 1834. In 1836 he was chosen preacher of Lincoln's Inn, and obtained the rectory of Southfleet, near Gravesend; in 1839 he was elected principal of King's College, London, a post which upon its creation had been previously offered to and declined by him. The college prospered greatly under his administration, and the hospital was chiefly founded by him. In 1840 he was elected provost of Eton, but declined the appointment in favour of Francis Hodgson [q. v.], who had been nominated by the crown, but refused by the fellows on the ground of insufficient academical qualification. In 1842 he was made archdeacon of Middlesex, and in October 1843 was raised to the see of Lichfield, being consecrated 3 Dec. He was unwilling to accept the offer, but on consulting the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London found it had been made on the recommendation of them both.

There was but one opinion of Lonsdale's episcopate during his time—that he was the best bishop the diocese had ever had, and, if equalled by any successor, was not likely to be surpassed. He was a perfect model of justice, kindness, humility, and shrewd sense, and his undeviating attention to diocesan duty he almost carried too far. His absorption in strictly episcopal labours, combined with his extreme aversion to display, prevented his taking that leading part as a ruler of the church at large for which he was qualified by his abilities, and even more by his prudence and moderation. In intellectual power he was inferior to no prelate of his time except Thirlwall, over whom he had the advantage of a wider knowledge of the world. His acquaintance with ecclesiastical law was accurate and extensive; and, belonging to no party, he deserved and obtained the confidence of all. It is perhaps the highest possible eulogium that his episcopate, although contemporaneous with exciting ecclesiastical crises, should have been almost entirely uneventful except as regards church extension, which was prosecuted on a scale previously unexampled. The most critical episode of his incumbency was the controversy attending the establishment of Lichfield Theological College, which was fortunately composed by him. Although his sympathies were rather with the old high church school, he usually took the more liberal side of any pending question; he energetically protested against the removal of F. D. Maurice from his professorship, and severely condemned the existing law on marriage with a deceased wife's sister, though he had not the courage to vote for its repeal. He died suddenly, on 19 Oct. 1867, of the rupture of a blood-vessel on the brain, occasioned by the fatigue of excessive letter-writing after a trying diocesan meeting. The universal sorrow of the diocese found expression in various memorials, including a monument in the cathedral. His last sermon, preached the day before his death, with a few others of earlier date, and a selection from his Latin verses, are appended to the biography of him by his son-in-law, Lord Grimthorpe. Beyond a few occasional publications, Lonsdale only prepared for the press ‘The Four Gospels, with Annotations’ (1849), in conjunction with Archdeacon Hale.

Lonsdale married in 1815 Sophia, daughter of John Bolland, M.P., who died in 1852, and had issue: (1) James Gylby [see below]; (2) John Gylby, canon of Lichfield; (3) Fanny Catherine, married Edmund, first Lord Grimthorpe; (4) Sophia, married the Rev. William Bryans; (5) Lucy Maria.

Lonsdale, James Gylby (1816–1892), the bishop's eldest son, born at Clapham on 14 Oct. 1816, was educated at Laleham School under the Rev. J. Buckland, brother-in-law of Dr. Arnold of Rugby, and at Eton, where, in March 1834, he won the Newcastle scholarship, Lord Lyttelton, who was afterwards senior classic at Cambridge, being medallist. On 29 Nov. 1833 he was elected open scholar of Balliol College, Oxford, graduating B.A. in 1837 with a first class in classics and a second in mathematics, was fellow of his college from 1838 to 1864, tutor in 1840, and taking holy orders in 1842. He inherited his father's aptitude for classical composition, and as a college tutor was highly esteemed alike by colleagues and pupils. From 1865 to 1870 he held the professorship of classical literature at King's College, London. He was rector of South Luffenham, Rutland, from 1870 to 1873, and of Huntspill, Somerset, from 1873 to 1878, both livings being in the gift of his college. With his friend Samuel Lee, Latin lecturer at University College, London, he published prose translations of ‘Virgil’ (1871) and ‘Horace’ (1873) in the ‘Globe’ series. He died at Bath 30 April 1892. A tablet has been erected to his memory in Balliol College chapel.

[Life of Bishop Lonsdale by Edmund Beckett Denison (Lord Grimthorpe), with a photographed portrait 1868; private information.]

R. G.