User:Rich Farmbrough/DNB/P/r/Priscilla Lydia Sellon

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{{subst:Quick infobox|Priscilla Lydia Sellon|1821|1876|}} Priscilla Lydia Sellon (born 1821 died 1876), foundress of Anglican sisterhoods, born in 1821, was daughter of William Richard Baker Sellon, commander R.N. The latter was a son of Thomas Smith, receiver-general to the dean and chapter of St. Paul's, by Sarah, daughter of William Sellon, and sister of Baker John Sellon Smith assumed in 1847, on inheriting the property of his aunt, Sophia Sellon, the name and arms of his mother's family. Miss Sellon lost her mother early in childhood, and was trained by her father in habits of independence. The want of employment for women impressed her in youth, and, learning printing, she advocated it as an industry for her sex. She was just about to leave England on New Year's Day, 1848, when she was arrested by an appeal from Bishop Henry Phillpotts, in response to which she began working among the poor in the three towns of Plymouth, Devonport, and Stonehouse. She was alone for some time, but gradually other ladies joined her in the work, and she became the foundress of the Society of Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Trinity, Devonport. Schools and orphanages were established by her, and she took blocks of houses for poor tenants, enforcing among them simple rules of conduct. In this way she spent a considerable portion of her own means, while, with her father's concurrence, the property, valued at several thousands of pounds, to which she was entitled at his death was appropriated to the endowment of the society.

Dr. Pusey took a warm interest in the scheme, and acted as spiritual director of the sisterhood. This circumstance was in itself sufficient to evoke hostile criticism. During 1848 complaints were made against Miss Sellon in the local press, and the bishop deemed it necessary, as visitor of the orphans' home, to institute a public inquiry into her actions (15 February 1849). He came to the conclusion that she had committed some imprudent acts, but on the whole he warmly espoused her cause. She had worked devotedly during the cholera epidemic of 1848, and in the spring of 1849 she had a serious illness. Robert Stephen Hawker addressed to her in 1849 a sympathetic tract, entitled 'A Voice from the Place of S. Morwenna in the Rocky Land', and she herself issued in 1850 'A few Words to some of the Women of the Church of England'. During 1852 the printing-presses at Plymouth and Devonport teemed with pamphlets for and against her, and the bishop thought it necessary to resign the post of visitor to her society (cf. his Letter to Miss Sellon, 1852). Miss Sellon wrote a reply to one of her opponents, the Rev. James Spurrell, which passed through seven editions; her father published a pamphlet contradicting the alleged acts of cruelty, the second edition of which came out in 1852 (Davidson, Bibliotheca Devoniensis, and supplement; Worth, Three Towns Bibliotheca).

The sisterhoods continued to flourish, and branches were established in many centres of population. Some of the sisters went out to the Crimea, and in 1864 Miss Sellon organised an establishment of missionary sisters of the church of England to work in the Pacific. In 1866 and 1871, when epidemics of cholera and small-pox raged in London, the members of her societies worked with great vigour. Her exertions told upon her health, and, after suffering from paralysis for fifteen years, she died at West Malvern on 20 November 1876.[DNB 1][DNB 2][DNB 3][DNB 4][DNB 5][DNB 6][1]


  1.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain

    W. P. C.

    (1897). "Sellon, Priscilla Lydia (DNB00)". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 51. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 0. 

DNB references[edit]

These references are found in the DNB article referred to above.

  1. Guardian, 29 November 1876, pages 1550 and 1557
  2. Tract of Commander Sellon
  3. Liddon's Life of Pusey, iii. 192
  4. Times, 24 November 1876, page 1, 25 November page 9
  5. Men of the Time, 8th ed. In 1869 Miss Sellon was described under the name of Miss Melton in 'Maude, or the Anglican Sister of Mercy
  6. edited by Miss E. J. Whately', and in 1878 there was published 'Augusta, or the Refuted Slanders of 30 Years ago on the late Miss Sellon and her Sisters, once more refuted and dedicated to Miss Whately, by MA H. Nicholl'.

External links[edit]


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