The digital world

Until recently, for those people with an interest in Priscilla’s books who live in countries outside of the Great Britain, access has been limited by the availability of individual editions held in library collections. For my own research (and after some effort) I was fortunate to locate and physically examine all but one of Priscilla’s books held in libraries in Wellington, New Zealand. Helpfully the digitisation of many of Priscilla’s books now makes research of this kind infinitely easier for people who live in far flung parts of the world. But it is important to remember that while a digital copy can provide access to the words on a page it cannot replicate the physical experience of handling a book published over 200 years ago or the sensation of fear mixed with anticipation as you carefully open a folded map to reveal the contents.

Published in: on July 31, 2011 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  


Of Priscilla’s three children, her eldest son Edward (1774 – 1854), would be the child who would become well known in his own right. He grew up in London and would have been a witness to his father’s financial incompetence that effectively drove his parents back to Tottenham. Unfortunately, it was a trait that he would also inherit.  He married Susannah Crush at the age of 17 and two years later the first of their 10 children a daughter Catherine was born. Edward had a number of farming and business ventures but in wheeling and dealing he often came out on the losing side of the ledger. In his early adulthood, as the number of children increased, Priscilla’s caring concern was probably interpreted as interfering. But when things were going badly it would always be Priscilla who would take in the grandchildren and support poor Susan.  

Like his mother Edward was interested in writing, His most significant work was Ireland, Statistical and Political, published in 1812 it was a two volume publication the result of four years research. The inclusion of a folded map of Ireland inside the cover is not entirely unexpected. But his politics was more radical than his mothers. He rejected Quakerism,  became involved with a number of reforming initiatives and associated with people such as James Mill and Francis Place. Some stability in his life came when he went into business as a land agent in 1814. The broken-down Susan died in 1816 but it is clear Edward had lost interest in the relationship years before. He remarried in 1822 to Frances Davis the daughter of the headmaster of Macclesfield Grammar School.

As a young man Edward was impulsive and directionless. It is not unsurprising that  his son exhibited similar traits. As a child Edward Gibbon Wakefield (EGW) would test the patient Priscilla to her limits and as he grew older he considered elopements with wealthy young women to be a career option. In historical terms, the son would gain a far greater renowen than the father but the key to understanding EGW lies in his early life experiences and his relationships with his father, mother and grandmother.

Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 5:07 am  Leave a Comment