Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gisborne, Maria

GISBORNE, MARIA (1770–1836), friend of Shelley, daughter of an English merchant at Constantinople named James, was born in 1770, apparently in England. When she was eight years old, her mother, who had been left in poverty, resolved to rejoin her husband, and sailed for Constantinople, where she was not welcome. James persuaded her to return to England by the promise of an annuity, but had his daughter stolen and concealed until her mother's departure. He then brought her up carefully. She showed a talent for painting, and grew up a beautiful and accomplished woman. Jeremy Bentham met her at her father's house in 1785, accompanied her on the violin, and said that she was the only woman he had met who could keep time. She soon afterwards married William Reveley, an architect who had been travelling in Greece to make sketches for Sir Richard Worsley. He contributed views in the Levant to the Museum Worsleyanum (1794), and in 1794 edited the third volume of James Stuart's 'Antiquities of Athens.' The marriage was imprudent; and the Reveleys returned to England, where they lived on an income of 140l. a year. She was the mother of two children before she was twenty. Reveley was a strong liberal, and became a friend of William Godwin and Holcroft. About 1791 Reveley received his first professional fee as an architect, 10l., for giving some help to Bentham in his Panopticon scheme (see Bentham, Works, iv. 78, 80, 83). Reveley died on 6 July 1799 from the rupture of a blood-vessel on the brain. Within a month Mrs. Reveley received an offer of marriage from Godwin, whose children she had taken into her house upon the death of the first Mrs. Godwin. She refused Godwin, and in May 1800 married John Gisborne. Gisborne had been in some commercial pursuit. They went to Rome in 1801, and took with them her son, Henry Willey Reveley, who was educated in Italy, became an engineer, married a sister of Copley Fielding, the painter, in 1824, and settled in Cape Town, and ultimately in Western Australia. The Gisbornes were living at Leghorn about 1815, where Gisborne tried to set up a business, and upon its failure settled down as a quiet student. They paid occasional visits to England, during one of which, in 1820, Shelley wrote his beautiful 'Letter to Maria Gisborne.' The Shelleys were known to them through the Godwins, and Mrs. Gisborne introduced Shelley to Calderon. The Gisbornes afterwards returned to England and settled at Plymouth. Mr. Gisborne was buried there 16 Jan. 1836, and Mrs. Gisborne on 23 April following.

[Dowden's Shelley, ii. 206, 228, 275, 319, 331; Paul's Godwin, i. 81, 135, 162, 239, 362, ii. 314; Bentham's Works, x. 154, 251.]

L. S.