Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whytehead, Thomas

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WHYTEHEAD, THOMAS (1815–1843), missionary and poet, born at Thormanby in the North Riding of Yorkshire on 30 Nov. 1815, was the fourth son of Henry Robert Whytehead (1772–1818), curate of Thormanby and rector of Goxhill, by his wife Hannah Diana (d. 21 Nov. 1844), daughter and heiress of Thomas Bowman, rector of Crayke in Yorkshire. On the death of Henry Robert Whytehead on 20 Aug. 1818, his widow removed to York with her young family. After attending the grammar school at Beverley, and reading privately along with his elder brother Robert (1808–1863), Thomas was entered as a pensioner at St. John's College, Cambridge, in October 1833. His university successes were remarkable. In 1834 he was first Bell scholar, in 1835 and 1836 he won the chancellor's English medal with poems on the death of the Duke of Gloucester and ‘The Empire of the Sea.’ In 1835 he won the Hulsean prize, with an essay on ‘The Resemblance between Christ and Moses;’ in 1836 he obtained Sir William Browne's gold medal for Latin and Greek epigrams; on 4 Feb. 1837 he was placed second in the classical tripos, and in March he was chosen senior classical medallist. On 13 March he was elected to a fellowship at St. John's College, which he retained until his death. He graduated B.A. in 1837, and M.A. in 1840, and was admitted at Oxford ad eundem on 4 Dec. 1841. In December 1839 he was ordained to the curacy of Freshwater in the Isle of Wight. During 1841 he composed an ode for the installation of the Duke of Northumberland as chancellor of Cambridge University, which was set to music by Thomas Attwood Walmisley [q. v.], and performed at the senate house on 5 July 1842.

From childhood Whytehead had been remarkable for his earnest piety, and after long consideration he resolved to devote himself to mission work. In 1841 he accepted the post of chaplain to George Augustus Selwyn [q. v.], recently appointed bishop of New Zealand, and sailed on 26 Dec. 1841. He reached Sydney on 14 April 1842, but his health completely broke down, and, though he reached New Zealand, he died at Waimate, in the Bay of Islands, on 19 March 1843. He was unmarried. A memorial stone was placed over his grave at Waimate, and a marble tablet erected to him by his friend the Earl of Powis in the chapel of St. John's College, near the city of Auckland. In the new chapel of St. John's College, Cambridge, which was completed in 1869, a full-length figure of Whytehead appears on the roof of the choir (Willis, Architecture and Hist. of the University of Cambridge, 1886, ii. 335, 343).

Whytehead was a poet of some merit. The widely known hymn, ‘Sabbath of the saints of old,’ is one of seven hymns written by him for holy week. Almost his last act was to translate this hymn and Ken's lines, ‘Glory to Thee, my God, this night,’ into Maori rhyming verse. A collection of his ‘Poems’ was published in 1842 (London, 8vo). A second edition, entitled ‘Poetical Remains,’ with a memoir, including many of his letters, was prepared by his nephew, Thomas Bowman Whytehead, and appeared in 1877, with a preface by Bishop Howson (London, 8vo). In 1841 a series of epistles on ‘College Life: Letters to an Undergraduate,’ were published at Cambridge after his death in 1845, under the editorship of Thomas Francis Knox [q. v.] A second edition by William Nathaniel Griffin appeared in London in 1856. Whytehead's two prize poems were also printed in 1859, in ‘A Collection of the English Poems which have obtained the chancellor's gold medal,’ Cambridge, 8vo.

[Memoir prefixed to Whytehead's Poetical Remains, 1877; Pref. to College Life, 1845; Mission Life, 1873, pp. 375–90; Tucker's Life of Selwyn, 1879; Burke's Landed Gentry; Julian's Dict. of Hymnology, 1892; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Stock's Hist. of Church Missionary Soc. i. 430.]

E. I. C.