Okes, Richard (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


OKES, RICHARD (1797–1888), provost of King‘s College, Cambridge, was son of Thomas Verney Okes, a surgeon in extensive practice at Cambridge. Of his twenty children, Richard was the nineteenth, and was born at Cambridge on 26 Dec. 1797. Porson was a visitor at the house, and took a kindly interest in young Richard. Educated on the foundation at Eton, where he was contemporary with William Mackworth Praed, Lord Derby (the future premier), Pusey, and Shelley (who was some years his senior), he became in due course a scholar and fellow of King's; was Browne's medallist in 1819 and 1820, was appointed assistant-master at Eton in 1823, and lower master in 1838. During the years of his mastership, and afterwards at Cambridge, he was a conspicuous figure in the school and college world, and innumerable anecdotes grew up round his marked and vivid personality. Many school generations of Etonians carried away a lively recollection of his dry and caustic wit, his shrewd remarks, his slow and deliberate speech, his inimitable Latin quotations, drawn chiefly from familiar sources, such as Horace or the Eton Latin grammar, his curious punctiliousness about minutiæ of school discipline, usages, and phraseology. He was a successful tutor, having at times as many as ninety pupils, and impressed his colleagues, as well as the boys, with a strong sense of his painstaking accuracy. During the latter part of Dr. Keate's headmastership he took much interest in the improvement of geographical studies by the introduction of Arrowsmith's ‘Atlas' and compendium, to which he contributed most of the illustrative notes. On his election to the provostship of King's in 1850, one of his first acts was to abandon the privilege which entitled members of King's College to take the B.A. degree without examination. The wisdom of this reform has been proved by the success of King's men in the tripos lists. His provostship coincided with the introduction of great changes in the university, the result of two successive university commissions, and with the establishment of the new governing body of Eton, of which he became a member. Though conservative in principle and feeling, he took part loyally in the introduction and conduct of reforms, and presided over the college with much dignity and kindliness for thirty-eight years. The year following his appointment as provost he filled the office of vice-chancellor, but after the expiration of his year of office he could never again be induced to serve. He was the editor of a new series of ‘Musæ Etonenses' for 1796–1833, which he enriched with sketches of the authors written in Latin, full of felicitous and witty phrases. The heraldic window in the school museum at Eton was his gift in conjunction with Dr. Hawtrey. He died at Cambridge on 25 Nov. 1888, and was buried in King's College Chapel.

[Personal information from old pupils and colleagues.]

J. J. H.