Rathbone, William (DNB00)

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RATHBONE, WILLIAM (1757–1809), merchant, eldest son of William Rathbone (1726–1789), by his first wife, Rachel (Rutter), was born at Liverpool in 1757. The family came originally from Gawsworth, Cheshire, and founded the firm of William Rathbone & Son at Liverpool in 1746. His father, a member and preacher of the Society of Friends, had taken an active part in the movement for the abolition of slavery initiated by Thomas Clarkson [q. v.] Rathbone, who was well educated and a good classic, became an important public man in Liverpool, advocating with zeal and eloquence a liberal policy in local and national affairs. He was prominent in 1792 in efforts to avert the war with France, and in that year and in 1809 led a movement against the monopoly of the East India Company. He was conspicuous as a promoter of municipal reform. To his exertions was largely due the formation of a body of opinion in Liverpool opposed to the slave trade (abolished 1807); his father seems to have been among his converts. Later he gave evidence before parliament in favour of free trade with the United States. It is worth noting that the first consignment of cotton grown in the States and imported thence (eight bales and three barrels) was made in 1784 to the firm of Rathbone. Previously nearly all cotton had come from the eastern West Indies, and the consignment was seized at the custom house as an evasion of the navigation laws, on the ground that cotton was not grown in America.

Educated as a Friend, Rathbone had always been opposed in some points to the strictness of the society's discipline, objecting especially to the exclusion of members for mixed marriages, and for the voluntary payment of tithe. He held also that a wide latitude in doctrine was compatible with Friends' principles; hence from 1792 he had become a subscriber to the Unitarian Book Society of London. This produced a remonstrance (31 Aug. 1793) from Job Scott, an Irish Friend. About 1795 a doctrinal controversy, turning on the infallibility of scripture, arose among Friends in Ireland, in which Abraham Shackleton [q. v.] took the side of heterodoxy. The difference was fomented by the preaching of Hannah Barnard (d. 1828) from New York, and the heterodox party was known (1802) as the ‘Barnard schism.’ Rathbone published, on 30 March 1804, a ‘Narrative’ of the proceedings, admitted to be ‘correct in regard to documentary facts’ (Hodgson). For this publication he was disowned by Hardshaw (St. Helens) monthly meeting at Manchester, on 28 Feb. 1805, on the ground that he had expressed opinions contrary to Friends' doctrine of the immediate teaching of Christ, and the reverence due to the scriptures. He did not appeal, nor did he join any other religious body, though occasionally worshipping with the unitarian congregation at Benn's Garden, Liverpool, under Robert Lewin, of which his intimate friend, William Roscoe [q. v.], the historian, was a member. He died at his residence, Greenbank, near Liverpool, on 11 Feb. 1809, aged 52, and was buried in the Friends' burying-ground at Liverpool. He married on 17 Aug. 1786, Hannah Mary (d. June 1839), only daughter of Richard Reynolds (1735–1816) [q. v.], and left four sons and a daughter. His son William is noticed below; another, Richard, married Hannah Mary Reynolds [see Rathbone, Hannah Mary].

He published:

  1. ‘A Narrative of Events … in Ireland among the … Quakers,’ &c., 1804, 8vo (anon.).
  2. ‘A Memoir of the proceedings of … the Monthly Meeting of Hardshaw … in the case of … a publication entitled A Narrative,’ &c., 1805, 8vo.

William Rathbone (1787–1868), eldest son of the above, was born at Liverpool on 17 June 1787. He was at school at Hackney under Thomas Belsham [q. v.] till 1803, and afterwards at Oxford under a private tutor, Theophilus Houlbroke. He inherited his father's public spirit, and became eminent in Liverpool as an educationist and philanthropist. He was an early advocate for Roman catholic emancipation. On 13 Jan. 1836 a public presentation was made to him in recognition of his services in the cause of parliamentary and municipal reform. He was mayor of Liverpool in 1837. His interest in education was free from party bias; he secured the advantages of the corporation schools on terms satisfactory to all denominations, including the Roman catholics. In 1844 he presided at a meeting held in Liverpool to vindicate the action of Daniel O'Connell. During the Irish famine of 1846–7 he was placed in sole charge of the distribution of the fund for relief (between 70,000l. and 80,000l.) contributed by the New England states. This brought about his close intimacy with Theobald Mathew [q. v.] He was a correspondent of Channing. Joseph Blanco White [q. v.] was his guest in his last days, and died under his roof. Few men have exercised a more extensive or a wiser benevolence, and ‘his munificence was as delicate as it was widely spread.’ A unitarian by conviction, he remained in connection with Friends till his marriage, when he was disowned, but reinstated, and did not finally withdraw till 1829. He retained through life many of the characteristics of the society. Unlike his father, he had a taste for art. He had considerable power of speech, and a quaint humour. He died at Greenbank on 1 Feb. 1868, after an operation for calculus, and was buried in the borough cemetery, Liverpool. A mural monument to his memory was placed in Renshaw Street Chapel, and a public statue erected in Sefton Park, Liverpool. He married, in 1812, Elizabeth (d. 24 Oct. 1882, aged 92), eldest child of Samuel Greg, and sister of Robert Hyde Greg [q. v.], Samuel Greg [q. v.], and William Rathbone Greg [q. v.] His eldest child, Elizabeth, married, in 1839, John Paget, the London magistrate, author of ‘Paradoxes and Puzzles,’ 1874. His second daughter, Hannah Mary (1816–1872), married, 2 Jan. 1838, John Hamilton Thom [q. v.] His eldest son is William Rathbone, at one time M.P. for North Carnarvonshire.

[Memoir (by William Roscoe) in Athenæum, March 1809, pp. 260 sq. (reprinted, with notes, in the Monthly Repository, 1809, pp. 232 sq.); Tribute to the Memory of Mr. William Rathbone, 1809; Brooke's Liverpool 1775–1800, 1853, p. 243; Hodgson's Society of Friends in the Nineteenth Century, 1875, i. 29 sq.; Unitarian Herald, 7 Feb. 1868 pp. 45 sq., 14 Feb. 1868 p. 54; Inquirer, 15 Feb. 1868 pp. 108 sq., 22 Feb. 1868 pp. 123 sq.; Athenæum, 15 Feb. 1868, p. 255; Lawrence's Descendants of Philip Henry, 1844, p. 45; Jones's Heroes of Industry, 1886, p. 37; Evans's Hist. of Renshaw Street Chapel, 1887, pp. 35, 165; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1894, ii. 1686; private information.]

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