Rathbone, William (DNB12)

RATHBONE, WILLIAM (1819–1902), philanthropist, born in Liverpool on 11 Feb. 1819, was eldest of six sons of William Rathbone (1787–1868) [see under William Rathbone (1757–1809)] by his wife Elizabeth Greg, and was the sixth William Rathbone in direct succession, merchants in Liverpool from 1730. After passing through schools at Gateacre, Cheam, and Everton, he was apprenticed (1835–8) to Nicol, Duckworth & Co., Bombay merchants in Liverpool. In October 1838 he went with Thomas Ashton (father of Baron Ashton of Hyde) for a semester at the University of Heidelberg, where he 'gained habits of steady work and study,' and acquired a knowledge of foreign politics. His high ideals of public duty were formed under the teaching of John Hamilton Thom [q. v.], who had married in 1838 his sister Hannah. From Heidelberg he made (in 1839) an Italian tour, and on his return obtained a clerkship in the London firm of Baring Brothers. In April 1841 the senior partner, Joshua Bates [q. v.], took him on a business tour to the United States; the impression of this visit, confirmed by two subsequent ones (his third visit, 1848, was with his first wife, whose parents were American by birth), made him an 'uncompromising free-trader.' At the end of 1841 he became a partner in his father's firm, Rathbone Brothers & Co. His philanthropic work began in 1849, when he acted as a visitor for the District Provident Society; in later life he said that in the House of Commons he was 'often far more tempted to take a low and sordid view of human nature than he had ever been in the slums.' His first experiment in district nursing was made in 1859, by the engagement for this work of Mary Robinson, who had attended his first wife in her fatal illness. He consulted Florence Nightingale [q. v. Suppl. II] about a supply of nurses, who suggested that Liverpool should form a school to train nurses for itself. Hence the establishment by Rathbone of the Liverpool Training School and Home for Nurses, which began work on 1 July 1862. By the end of 1865 Liverpool had been divided into eighteen districts, each provided with nursing under the superintendence of ladies, who made themselves responsible for the costs entailed; for about a year Rathbone himself took the place of one of the lady superintendents during her absence. Long after, a colleague remarked the Rathbone was 'the one male member of the committee who knew what the homes of the poor were actually like.' The reform of sick nursing in the workhouses was also achieved by Rathbone, who secured for this in 1865 the invaluable services of Agnes Elizabeth Jones (1832-68). For three years he bore the whole expenses. His nursing reforms were extended to Birmingham and Manchester, and to London in 1874, when the National Association for providing Trained Nurses was formed, with Rathbone as chairman of its sub-committee for organising district nursing. In 1888-9 he was honorary secretary and subsequently vice-president of Queen Victoria's Jubilee Institute for Nurses, to which the Queen had devoted 70,000l. out of the Women's Offering. Meanwhile, during the cotton famine of 1862-3, caused by the civil war in the United States, he did much, in conjunction with his cousin, Charles Melly, to raise to 100,000l. the Liverpool contribution to the relief fund, and brought wise counsel to its distribution.

His political action began locally in 1852, on the liberal side. He took a leading part in 1857 in procuring the Liverpool address upholding the findings of the commissariat commissions appointed after the Crimean war. Gladstone's election in 1865 for South Lancashire owed much to his energy. In November 1868 he was elected as one of the three members for Liverpool. Among other matters he took part in shaping the bankruptcy bill (1869). He was especially interested in measures for local government and in the licensing laws, opposing 'prohibition,' and demanding not more legislation but stricter administration. He commissioned in 1892 Mrs. Evelyn Leighton Fanshawe to report on temperance legislation in the United States and Canada (published 1893). For Liverpool he sat till 1880, when he contested south-west Lancashire, and was defeated, but was returned in the following November at a bye-election for Carnarvonshire, sitting for the county till 1885, and from 1885 for North Carnarvonshire. He followed Gladstone on the home rule question. In 1895 Rathbone retired from parliament. He was deputy-lieutenant for Lancashire.

In the foundation of the University College of Liverpool (opened in Jan. 1882) he was greatly interested; with his two brothers he founded a King Alfred chair of modern literature and English language; he was president of the college from 1892. He was also very active in the movement for establishing the University College of North Wales (opened Oct. 1884), of which he was president from 1891. He was actively concerned in the Welsh Intermediate Education Act of 1889. Liverpool gave him the freedom of the city on 21 Oct. 1891. In May 1895 he was made LL.D. by Victoria University.

Straightforwardness and pertinacity, with entire unselfishness, were leading features in Rathbone's character. With little of the bonhomie and none of the humour of his large-hearted father, seeming indeed to be a dry man, he had a tenderness of disposition which found expression rather in act than in word. Principled against indiscriminate giving, he was constantly liable to be overcome by personal appeal. A convinced unitarian in theology, he carried many traces of his Quaker antecedents. His manner of life was simple. He died at Greenbank, Liverpool, on 6 March 1902, and was buried in Toxteth cemetery. He married (1) on 6 Sept. 1847, Lucretia Wainwright (d. 27 May 1859), eldest daughter of Samuel Gair of Liverpool, by whom he had four sons, of whom two survived him, and one daughter; (2) in 1862, Emily Acheson (his second cousin), daughter of Acheson Lyle of Londonderry, who survived him with her two sons and two daughters.

Rathbone published:

  1. 'Social Duties … Organisation of … Works of Benevolence and Public Utility,' 1867.
  2. 'Local Government and Taxation,' 1875.
  3. 'Local Government and Taxation,' 1883 (reprinted from the 'Nineteenth Century')
  4. 'Protection and Communism … Effects of the American Tariff on Wages,' 1884.
  5. 'Reform in Parliamentary Business,' 1884.
  6. 'Sketch of the History and Progress of District Nursing,' 1890.

His bust, by Charles Allen, was presented to University College, Liverpool. Another bust, by Hargreaves Bond, was presented (1889) to the Liverpool Reform Club. A bronze statue by (Sir) George Frampton, R.A., was erected by public subscription in St. John's Gardens, Liverpool.

[The Times, 7 March 1902; Christian Life, 7, 12, and 29 March 1902; Memorials of Agnes E. Jones, 1871; Eleanor F. Rathbone's William Rathbone; a Memoir, 1905 (portrait); information from the Rev. J. Collins Odgers; personal recollection.]

A. G.