Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Williams, George (1814-1878)

WILLIAMS, GEORGE (1814–1878), divine and topographer, born at Eton on 4 April 1814, was son of a bookseller and publisher at that place. He was educated on the foundation at Eton, being in the first form, lower school, in the election for 1820, and was admitted scholar on 15 Sept. 1829. He had the montem in 1832 as captain of the school, and obtained 957l. (Stapylton, Eton Lists). On 14 July 1832 he was admitted to a scholarship at King's College, Cambridge, and was a fellow from 14 July 1835 to 1870. He graduated B.A. 1837, M.A. 1840, was admitted ad eundem at Oxford on 10 June 1847, and proceeded B.D. at Cambridge in 1849.

In 1837 Williams was ordained, and on 22 Sept. 1838 he was appointed by Eton College to the perpetual curacies of Great Bricet and Wattisham, which he held until Michaelmas 1840. He was appointed by Archbishop Howley to accompany Bishop Alexander as chaplain to Jerusalem, and was in that city from 1841 to May 1843. He then served as chaplain at St. Petersburg (1844–5), and it was through holding those posts that he became imbued with the desire of bringing together the Greek and Anglican churches. In 1846 he took up his residence at Cambridge, where he filled the post of dean of arts at his college until 1848, and of dean of divinity from 1848 to 1850. He contributed to the ‘Christian Remembrancer,’ the ‘Ecclesiologist,’ and the ‘Guardian.’

Williams was appointed warden of St. Columba's College at Rathfarnham, near Dublin, in 1850. The college was mainly kept in existence by the liberality of Lord John George de la Poer Beresford [q. v.], archbishop of Armagh, and when, in 1853, the warden joined with Archdeacon Denison, Dr. Pusey, and others in protests against the action of Bishop Gobat, the then bishop of Jerusalem, for attempting to seduce from their creed the adherents of the Greek church, the archbishop called upon him to resign. An angry correspondence then ensued on the position and principles of Williams, and the archbishop severed his connection with the institution, but Williams retained his post until 1856 (Correspondence relative to Warden of St. Columba's College, 1853; 3rd edit. 1854). From 1854 to 1857 he was vice-provost of King's College, Cambridge, and in 1858 he acted as pro-proctor to the university, but he incurred some unpopularity, and his nomination as proctor was rejected by the senate on 1 Oct. 1860, the nonplacets being 29 and the placets 26.

In 1858 Williams took temporary charge of Cumbrae College, and was appointed an honorary canon of that institution in 1864. He made ‘a long and arduous journey in Russia’ in 1860, with a view to spreading knowledge of the benefits available for foreign communities at English universities; and he printed in that year a French tract on the project to establish at Cambridge ‘des hôtelleries en faveur des étrangers’ of the Greek or Armenian churches, but the scheme proved abortive.

After a tour in the East with the Marquis of Bute and several years in residence at Cambridge, Williams was presented by his college on 9 Feb. 1869 to the important vicarage of Ringwood in Hampshire. He was Lady Margaret preacher at Cambridge in 1870, and was created honorary canon of Winchester Cathedral in 1874. One of the last deeds of his life was to send his signature to the clerical declaration against war with Russia. He died suddenly at the Church Farm, Harbridge, one of the chapelries of Ringwood, on 26 Jan. 1878, and was buried at Harbridge on 1 Feb. Williams was endowed with a noble presence and dignified voice. A reredos was erected in Ringwood church as a memorial to his memory, a ‘George Williams’ prize for distinction in the theological tripos was founded by his friends at Cambridge, and a bronze tablet, with a portrait-bust in relief, designed by W. Burgess, R.A., was placed in the third side-chapel on the south side of the nave of King's College chapel.

No English writer has surpassed Williams in accurate knowledge of the topography of Jerusalem. He brought out in 1845 a volume on ‘The Holy City; with Illustrations from Sketches by the Rev. W. F. Witts.’ A second edition was entitled ‘The Holy City; second edition, with Additions, including an Architectural History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by the Rev. Robert Willis’ (1849, 2 vols. 8vo). For this work he received from the king of Prussia a medal for literary merit.

Williams invited Dr. Ermete Pierotti to Cambridge, assisted him in preparing his work of ‘Jerusalem Explored’ for the press, and revised it during printing. The author was accused by Fergusson and others of plagiarism, and Williams defended him in ‘Dr. Pierotti and his Assailants,’ 1864. He published in 1846 a collection of ‘Sermons preached at Jerusalem in 1842 and 1843,’ and supplied the introduction to William Wey's ‘Itineraries to Jerusalem and Compostella,’ printed for the Roxburghe Club in 1857. His description of ‘The Holy Land: Travels in Palestine from Dan to Beersheba,’ announced in 1849 as ‘preparing for publication,’ never appeared.

Williams edited in 1868 ‘The Orthodox Church of the East in the Eighteenth Century,’ correspondence between the eastern patriarchs and the nonjuring bishops on the reunion of that church and the Anglican communion; and he edited, with a long introduction and an appendix of illustrative documents, for the Rolls Series, in 1872, two volumes of official correspondence of Bishop Beckington. He was one of the two cataloguers of ‘Monastic Cartularies’ for the catalogue of manuscripts at the Cambridge University Library, vol. iv., and he described the Baumgartner Papers in vol. v. Other miscellaneous writings included many articles in Smith's dictionaries of Greek and Roman geography, Christian biography, and Christian antiquities.

[Cambr. Univ. Cal. 1897–8, p. 555; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Academy, 2 Feb. 1878, p. 98; Guardian, 30 Jan. 1878, pp. 141, 151, 6 Feb. pp. 195–6; information kindly given by Mr. F. L. Clarke, bursar-clerk at King's College.]

W. P. C.