Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wilberforce, Henry William

WILBERFORCE, HENRY WILLIAM (1807–1873), Roman catholic journalist and author, the youngest son of William Wilberforce [q. v.], was born at Clapham on 22 Sept. 1807. Robert Isaac Wilberforce [q. v.] and Samuel Wilberforce [q. v.] were his elder brothers. When nine years old Henry William was entrusted to the care of the Rev. John Sargent, rector of Graffham, Sussex, and at the age of fifteen he was transferred, with his brother Samuel, to the Rev. F. R. Spragge, who took pupils at Little Bounds, Bidborough, Kent. He was afterwards entered at Oriel College, Oxford, matriculating on 16 March 1826 and going into residence in Michaelmas term following. During a portion of four long vacations he read with John Henry (afterwards Cardinal) Newman [q. v.] In 1830 he graduated B.A., being placed in the first class in classics and in the second in mathematics. He was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn in 1831, but he continued to reside at Oxford, where he gained the Ellerton theological prize, and graduated M.A. in 1833. He was at one time president of the university debating society, called the ‘Union,’ and for several years took a prominent part in its debates.

At the suggestion of Newman, Wilberforce abandoned the study of the law and took holy orders. In 1834 he was appointed perpetual curate of Bransgrove, on the skirts of the New Forest; in 1841 he became vicar of Walmer, near Deal; and in 1843 he was presented by the lord chancellor, at the instance of the prince consort, to the well-endowed vicarage of East Farleigh, near Maidstone, which some years previously had been held by his brother Robert (Ashwell, Life of Bishop Wilberforce, i. 222). Seven years later he resigned his vicarage, and on 15 Sept. 1850 he and his wife were received into the Roman catholic church (Browne, Annals of the Tractarian Movement, 1861, pp. 175, 211).

In 1852 he accepted the office of secretary to the Catholic Defence Association, then lately founded in Dublin; and from 1854 to 1863 he was proprietor and editor of the ‘Catholic Standard,’ a London newspaper, afterwards called the ‘Weekly Register.’ He died on 23 April 1873 at his residence, Chester House, Stroud, Gloucestershire, and was buried in the Dominican monastery at Woodchester.

Wilberforce married, on 24 July 1834, Mary, fourth daughter of his former tutor, the Rev. John Sargent; by her he had issue five sons and four daughters (Foster, Pedigrees of Yorkshire Families); she died on 27 Jan. 1878; her eldest sister, Emily, was the wife of her husband's brother, Bishop Wilberforce.

He was the author of:

  1. The Parochial System: an Appeal to English Churchmen,’ London, 1838, 8vo.
  2. ‘Reasons for submitting to the Catholic Church: a Farewell Letter to his Parishioners,’ London, 1851, 8vo; 6th edit. 1855. This gave rise to considerable controversy.
  3. ‘Proselytism in Ireland,’ London, 1852, 16mo; being a correspondence between Wilberforce and the Rev. Alexander Dallas on the subject of the Irish church missions.
  4. ‘On some Events preparatory to the English Reformation,’ in Archbishop Manning's ‘Essays on Religion and Literature,’ 2nd ser. 1867.
  5. ‘The Church and the Empires: Historical Periods,’ London, 1874, 8vo, with portrait, and a memoir of the author by John Henry Newman, D.D.

[Memoir by Newman; Mozley's Reminiscences of Oriel, passim; Ann. Reg. 1873, p. 138; Ashwell's Life of Bishop Wilberforce, iii. 478; Bowden's Life of Faber, p. 369; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Tablet, 26 April 1873 p. 543, and 3 May p. 576; Times, 28 April 1873; Weekly Register, 26 April 1873 p. 264, and 3 May p. 284.]

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