Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shillitoe, Thomas

SHILLITOE, THOMAS (1754–1836), quaker, son of Richard Shillitoe, librarian of Gray's Inn (appointed 1750), was born in Holborn in May 1754. His parents soon after moved to Whitechapel, and in 1766 took the Three Tuns Inn at Islington, where Shillitoe acted as potboy. He was then apprenticed to a grocer, and at Wapping and Portsmouth saw much dissipated life. On returning to London he attended the Foundling chapel, and later joined the quakers, procuring a situation with one of the Lombard Street quaker banking firms. At twenty-four he left them, conscientiously objecting to their issue of lottery tickets. He now began to preach, and learned shoemaking. Settling at Tottenham, he by 1805 earned enough to bring in 100l. a year, retired from business, married (September 1807), and became an itinerant preacher. He frequently walked thirty miles a day, always without a coat, although sometimes in a linen smock, so as to work out his board at the farmhouses he visited. For the last fifty years of his life he was a vegetarian and teetotaler.

After many times travelling over Great Britain and Ireland, he set out in 1820 for the continent, visiting the principal towns of Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, and France. In every country he went first to the palace and to the prison, and was heard alike by kings, queens, princes, archbishops, and stadtholders. His message to those in authority chiefly concerned the observance of Sunday and legislation for temperance and morality. He was ignorant of any foreign language, and trusted to Providence for interpreters. His narrative of adventures is full of naïveté.

Shillitoe returned to England in April 1823, and the following year visited the bishop and police magistrates of London, privy councillors, and the home secretary, about Sunday observance. He had an interview with George IV at Windsor, and then went to Hamburg, saw the Duke of Cumberland at Hanover, the crown prince of Prussia at Berlin, the king at Charlottenburg, the king of Denmark at Copenhagen, and passed the winter in St. Petersburg. There he had two interviews with the Emperor Alexander, who discussed with him the position of the serfs and the substitution of the treadmill for the knout. Having returned to England and settled his wife at Tottenham, in July 1826 he sailed for New York. He was then seventy-two, his wife eight years older. In America he tried to heal the schism between the body of quakers and seceders calling themselves Hicksites.

He returned in 1829, and occupied himself in temperance work. In May 1833 he gave the presidential address to the British and Foreign Temperance Society in Exeter Hall. He was conducted by Sir Herbert Taylor to an interview with William IV and Queen Adelaide in September of the same year. Shillitoe died on 12 June 1836, aged 82, and was buried at Tottenham. His widow, Mary (born Pace), died at Hitchin in 1838, aged 92. The eldest son, Richard, a surgeon, of 56 Jewry Street, Aldgate, was the father of Richard Rickman Shillitoe, and of Buxton Shillitoe, both well-known doctors. A bust of Shillitoe is at Devonshire House, Bishopsgate Street. He wrote: 1. ‘A Caution and Warning,’ 1797 and 1798. 2. ‘An Address to Rulers of this Nation,’ 1808, 8vo. 3. ‘An Address to Friends,’ 1820. 4. ‘Affectionate Address to the King and his Government,’ 1832. 5. ‘Journal,’ 1st and 2nd edit. London, 1839, 8vo; reprinted as vol. iii. of Evans's ‘Friends' Library,’ Philadelphia, 1839, imp. 8vo. Several of his addresses on the continent were translated into German.

[Journals above mentioned; Life by W. Tallack, 1867; Smith's Catalogue, ii. 571–3; information from librarian of Gray's Inn; Robinson's Hist. of Tottenham, ii. 254; Friends Biogr. Cat. pp. 616–29; Life of William Allen, ii. 395, iii. 235; Patriot, 27 June 1836, p. 248; Registers, Devonshire House.]

C. F. S.