COLSTON, EDWARD (1636–1721), English philanthropist, the son of William Colston, a Bristol merchant of good position, was born at Bristol on the 2nd of November 1636. He is generally understood to have spent some years of his youth and manhood as a factor in Spain, with which country his family was long connected commercially, and whence, by means of a trade in wines and oil, great part of his own vast fortune was to come. On his return he seems to have settled in London, and to have bent himself resolutely to the task of making money. In 1681, the date of his father’s decease, he appears as a governor of Christ’s hospital, to which noble foundation he afterwards gave frequently and largely. In the same year he probably began to take an active interest in the affairs of Bristol, where he is found about this time embarked in a sugar refinery; and during the remainder of his life he seems to have divided his attention pretty equally between the city of his birth and that of his adoption. In 1682 he appears in the records of the great western port as advancing a sum of £1800 to its needy corporation; in 1683 as “a free burgess and meire (St Kitts) merchant” he was made a member of the Merchant’s Hall; and in 1684 he was appointed one of a committee for managing the affairs of Clifton. In 1685 he again appears as the city’s creditor for about £2000, repayment of which he is found insisting on in 1686. In 1689 he was chosen auditor by the vestry at Mortlake, where he was residing in an old house once the abode of Ireton and Cromwell. In 1691, on St Michael’s Hill, Bristol, at a cost of £8000, he founded an almshouse for the reception of 24 poor men and women, and endowed with accommodation for “Six Saylors,” at a cost of £600, the merchant’s almshouses in King Street. In 1696, at a cost of £8000, he endowed a foundation for clothing and teaching 40 boys (the books employed were to have in them “no tincture of Whiggism”); and six years afterwards he expended a further sum of £1500 in rebuilding the school-house. In 1708; at a cost of £41,200, he built and endowed his great foundation on Saint Augustine’s Back, for the instruction, clothing, maintaining and apprenticing of 100 boys; and in time of scarcity, during this and next year, he transmitted “by a private hand” some £20,000 to the London committee. In 1710, after a poll of four days, he was sent to parliament, to represent, on strictest Tory principles, his native city of Bristol; and in 1713, after three years of silent political life, he resigned this charge. He died at Mortlake in 1721, having nearly completed his eighty-fifth year; and was buried in All Saints’ church, Bristol.
Colston, who was in the habit of bestowing large sums yearly for the release of poor debtors and the relief of indigent age and sickness, and who gave (1711) no less than £6000 to increase Queen Anne’s Bounty Fund for the augmentation of small livings, was always keenly interested in the organization and management of his foundations; the rules and regulations were all drawn up by his hand, and the minutest details of their constitution and economy were dictated by him. A high churchman and Tory, with a genuine intolerance of dissent and dissenters, his name and example have served as excuses for the formation of two political benevolent societies—the “Anchor” (founded 1769) and the “Dolphin” (founded 1749),—and also the “Grateful” (founded 1758), whose rivalry has been perhaps as instrumental in keeping their patron’s memory green as have the splendid charities with which he enriched his native city (see Bristol).
See Garrard, Edward Colston, the Philanthropist (4to, Bristol, 1852); Pryce, A Popular History of Bristol (1861); Manchee, Bristol Charities.