Webb, Alfred John (DNB12)

WEBB, ALFRED JOHN (1834–1908), Irish biographer, born in Dublin on 10 June 1834, was eldest son of Richard Davis Webb, a printer in Abbey Street, by his wife Hannah Waring of Waterford. He was of Quaker family, and his father was a zealous worker in the anti-slavery movement and for social reform generally. In youth Alfred started a fund for the victims of the Irish famine of 1846–7. He was first sent to a day school kept by Quakers in Dublin, and later to Dr. Hodgson's High School, Manchester. On leaving this place he was apprenticed to his father's trade. About twenty he was sent to Australia, partly to benefit his health by change of climate, and partly for purposes of business. The business came to nothing, and he went off to the gold-fields. Recalled to England, he worked his passage home as a deck hand on a sailing vessel, although he had ample money for his journey (Freeman's Journal, 1 Aug. 1908). On his return to Ireland he resumed work in his father's printing office, becoming manager and proprietor. Interesting himself in Irish affairs, he was one of the earliest advocates of the home rule movement, which Isaac Butt [q. v.] inaugurated in 1870. He was a supporter of the united Irish party under Parnell, but left that leader in 1887. In 1890 he was returned as anti-Parnellite M.P. for West Waterford, and remained its representative until 1895. For many years he was one of the treasurers of the party funds. He died on 30 July 1908 near Hillswick in the Shetland Isles, while on a holiday. He was buried at the Quaker burial ground at Temple Hill, Blackwick, co. Dublin. He married Elizabeth, daughter of one of the Shackletons of Ballitore. She predeceased him in 1906. He had no children. Webb was an enthusiastic traveller. Indian politics occupied his attention, and he visited that country more than once—the last time in 1898, when he was president of the Indian National Congress. Much of his leisure was devoted to literature. His chief work was ‘A Compendium of Irish Biography,’ Dublin, 1877, which, inadequate as it is, is so far the best separate work of its kind in existence. He was a frequent contributor of travel sketches and political and general articles to the ‘Freeman's Journal,’ the ‘Irish Monthly,’ and the New York ‘Nation,’ and also published ‘The Opinions of some Protestants regarding their Irish Catholic Fellow-Countrymen’ (3rd edit. 1886); ‘The Alleged Massacre of 1641’ (1887); and ‘Thoughts in Retirement.’

[Freeman's Journal, 1 Aug. 1908; The Times, 1 Aug. 1908; Annual Register, 1908, p. 132; Brit. Mus. Cat.; information from his sister, Miss Deborah Webb.]

D. J. O'D.