Open main menu


BEILBY, RALPH (1744–1817), engraver, was the son of William Beilby, a jeweller and goldsmith at Durham, who, being unsuccessful in business there, removed to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Ralph became a silversmith, jeweller, and seal-engraver under his father, and acquired several useful arts and accomplishments. To the engraving of arms and letters on seals and silver plate he added engraving on copper, as there were at that time no engravers in the north of England. He executed heraldic engravings with extraordinary facility, and his plate of 'Thornton's Monument,' in Brand's 'History of Newcastle,' shows that he possessed considerable skill in engraving on copper. The celebrated Thomas Bewick was apprenticed to him in 1767, and ten years afterwards became his partner. This partnership was dissolved in 1797, and the business then devolved on Bewick alone. Beilby was distinguished for his literary and scientific pursuits, and was also a good musician. He was one of the earliest and most zealous promoters of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle. Beilby engraved the beautiful frontispiece to Gay's 'Fables' (Newcastle, 1779), and he was engaged with Bewick in executing the engravings for Osterwald's edition of the Bible (Newcastle, 1806). He wrote the descriptive part of the 'History of Quadrupeds,' illustrated by Bewick (1790; 8th ed. 1824), and of the first volume of the 'History of British Birds,' also illustrated by Bewick (1797; 8th ed.; 1847). Beilby died at Newcastle on 4 Jan. 1817, in the seventy-fourth year of his age.

[Cat. of Works illustrated by T. and J. Bewick, 2, 4, 6, 10, 13, 14, 18, 22, 28, 24, 31, 34; Sykes's Local Records (1833), ii. 380; Cat. of Printed books in Brit. Mus.]

T. C.