Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turnbull, William Barclay David Donald
TURNBULL, WILLIAM BARCLAY DAVID DONALD (1811–1863), archivist and antiquary, born in St. James's Square, Edinburgh, on 6 Feb. 1811, was the only child of Walter Turnbull, sometime of the West Indies, afterwards of Leven Lodge near Edinburgh, and Torry-burn, Fifeshire. His mother was Robina, daughter of William Barclay, merchant, of Edinburgh. He first studied the law as apprentice to a writer to the signet, and shortly after attaining his majority he was admitted an advocate in 1832. In 1834 he founded a book-printing society which was named the Abbotsford Club in honour of the residence of Sir Walter Scott, and Turnbull continued to act as its secretary until his removal from Edinburgh. His parents were members of the established church of Scotland, but he became an episcopalian, being a very liberal contributor to the erection of the Dean Chapel; and afterwards in 1843 he was received into the Roman catholic church (Browne, Hist. of the Tractarian Movement, 1861, p. 73).
In 1852 he removed to London in order to study for the English bar, to which he was called, as a member of Lincoln's Inn, on 26 Jan. 1856. In 1858 he edited for the Rolls Series ‘The Buik of the Cronicles of Scotland; or a metrical version of the History of Hector Boece; by William Stewart’ (3 vols.). In August 1859 Turnbull was engaged as an assistant under the record commission, undertaking the examination of a portion of the foreign series of state papers. He completed two valuable volumes of calendars, which describe the foreign series of state papers for the reign of Edward VI (1860, 8vo) and for that of Mary (1861, 8vo). The fact that he was a Roman catholic, however, aroused the antagonism of the more extreme protestants, and a serious agitation arose against his employment. He was warmly supported by Lord Romilly, the master of the rolls, but, finding his position untenable in the face of constant suspicion and attack, he resigned on 28 Jan. 1861 (Fraser's Magazine, March 1861, p. 385). He subsequently brought an unsuccessful action against the secretary of the Protestant Alliance for libel (July 1861). The Alliance continued the persecution, and its ‘Monthly Letter,’ dated 16 March 1863, contained a list of documents stated to be missing from the state papers, the insinuation being that they were purloined by Turnbull; but a letter from the master of the rolls to the home secretary, officially published, shows that there was absolutely no foundation for the charge. From the time of Turnbull's resignation ill-health and anxiety broke down a frame that was naturally vigorous, and he died at Barnsbury on 22 April 1863, and was buried in the grounds of the episcopal church at the Dean Bridge, Edinburgh.
He married, 17 Dec. 1838, Grace, second daughter of James Dunsmure of Edinburgh, who survived him. There is a portrait of Turnbull, a folio plate in lithography, drawn by James Archer, and printed by Fr. Schenk at Edinburgh.
He formed a very extensive and valuable collection of books, which was dispersed by auction in a fourteen days' sale in November 1851. Another library, subsequently collected by him, was sold in London by Sotheby & Wilkinson, 27 Nov.—3 Dec. 1863 (Herald and Genealogist, ii. 170).
For the Abbotsford Club he edited: 1. ‘Ancient Mysteries,’ 1835. 2. ‘Compota Domestica Familiarum de Bukingham et Angoulême,’ 1836, and emendations to the same volume, 1841. 3. ‘Account of the Monastic Treasures in England,’ 1836. 4. ‘Mind, Will, and Understanding, a Morality,’ 1837, being a supplement to the ‘Ancient Mysteries.’ 5. ‘Arthour and Merlin, a metrical romance,’ 1838. 6. ‘The Romances of Sir Guy of Warwick and Rembrun his son,’ 1840. 7. ‘The Cartularies of Balmerino and Lindores,’ 1841. 8. ‘Extracta è variis Chronicis Scocie,’ 1842. 9. ‘A Garden of Grave and Godlie Flowers: by Alexander Gardyne, 1609; The Theatre of Scotish Kings, by A. G., 1709; and ‘Miscellaneous Poems, by J. Lundie,’ 1845.
Other old authors edited by Turnbull were: 10. ‘The Blame of Kirk-Buriall, by William Birnie,’ 1836. 11. ‘The Anatomie of Abuses, by Philip Stubbes,’ 1836. 12. ‘The Romance of Bevis of Hamptoun,’ 1837. 13. ‘Horæ Subsecivæ: by Joseph Henshawe, D.D., Bishop of Peterborough,’ 1839. 14. ‘Legendæ Catholicæ, a lytle boke of seyntlie gestes,’ 1840. 15. ‘The Visions of Tundale,’ 1843. 16. ‘Domestic Details of Sir David Hume of Crossrig,’ 1843. 17. ‘Selection of Letters of Mary Queen of Scots, translated from the Collection of Prince Labanoff,’ 1845. 18. ‘Sir Thomas More's Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation,’ 1847. 19. ‘An Account of the Chapter erected by William [Bishop] titular Bishop of Chalcedon; by William Sergeant,’ 1853.
For the ‘Library of Translations’ he translated from the French, 20. Audin's ‘History of the Life, Writings, and Doctrines of Luther,’ 2 vols. London, 1854, 8vo.
For the ‘Library of Old Authors’ he edited 21. ‘The Poetical Works of Richard Crashaw,’ 1856. 22. ‘The Poetical Works of William Drummond of Hawthornden,’ 1856. 23. ‘The Poetical Works of Robert Southwell,’ 1856.
His genealogical works are: 24. ‘The Claim of Molineux Disney, Esq., to the Barony of Hussey, 1680,’ Edinburgh, 1836, 8vo. 25. ‘The Stirling Peerage,’ 1839. 26. ‘Factions of the Earl of Arran touching the Restitution of the Duchy of Chatelherault, 1685,’ Edinburgh, 1843, 8vo. 27. ‘British American Association and Nova Scotia Baronets,’ 1846. 28. ‘Memoranda of the State of the Parochial Registers of Scotland,’ 1849.
He formed considerable collections for a continuation of William Robertson's ‘Proceedings relating to the Peerage of Scotland’ (1790), and a folio manuscript volume containing a portion of this continuation was purchased by Mr. Boone at the sale of Turnbull's library in 1863 for 4l. 12s. Another of his projects was a Monasticon for Scotland, for which he obtained a numerous subscription list.[Gent. Mag. 1863, i. 805; Times, 24 April 1863, p. 12, col. 4; Tablet, April and May 1863, pp. 262, 285, 300, 301; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 515, 552.]