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Edward Rushton (1756–1814)




Edward Rushton was born in Liverpool, on 13 November 1756. He was enrolled at the Liverpool Free School from the age of 6 until the age of 9. He left school and at the age of 11 he became an apprentice with Messrs. Watt and Gregson, a firm that traded in the West Indies.

Rushton quickly became an experienced sailor. At the age 16, he took the helm of a ship which the captain and crew were about to abandon and guided them safely back to Liverpool. Because of this event, he was promoted from his apprenticeship to the position of second mate. In addition, at the age of 17 he survived the sinking of a slave ship he was aboard while on the way back from Guinea.








Slave ship
Working with human cargo gave Rushton first-hand experience with the ways that slaves were treated, and caused him to become an abolitionist later in life. In 1773, the same year that he survived the ship sinking, Rushton was sailing to Dominica with human cargo when a highly contagious outbreak of ophthalmia struck many of the slaves. His contact with the slaves during the outbreak caused him to contract ophthalmia himself, and he became completely blind in his left eye and developed a cataract-like condition in his right eye.








Unable to sail because of his blindness, Rushton returned to Liverpool and moved in with his sister. He was supported financially by his father, and hired local boys to come read to him every week. He began to learn more about politics and philosophy, and started writing about these topics through dictation to the boys. His first poem, The Dismembered Empire, was published in 1782. In it, he criticised British rulers using the framework of the American War. He was married in 1784 to Isabelle Rain. His father tried to set him up to run a tavern and make some money, but he was unsuited to the work and continued to write. Rushton continued writing, using his first hand experience with the slave trade and other experiences at sea for inspiration.  Rushton later became the editor of the Liverpool Herald. However, this was short-lived due to his radical ideals. When Rushton's partner suggested that he retract a particularly radical editorial, Rushton resigned. He became a bookseller as well, but his outspoken views did nothing but gain him enemies. Rushton made no attempts to censor his radical beliefs about the French Revolution or the social unrest in Britain.



School for the blind



However, Rushton was able to make enough money from bookselling to live comfortably and educate his children. In the late 1780s, he became a member of the literary and philosophical society and began donating money to help blind paupers. This led to Rushton establishing the Liverpool School for the Indigent Blind, which opened in 1791, second only in the world to the Paris school. The School for the Blind was first established, on the east side of Commutation-row, where two contiguous houses were rented for the purpose. it is however most associated with the site on Hardman street which was later to become the headquarters of Merseyside Police and later still The Trades Union Centre. The white Portland stone extension dates from 1932 and sits at the corner with Hope Street opposite the Philharmonic Dining Rooms. It replaced the neo classical school church, designed by John Foster junior, which was built in London Road and moved to this corner site stone by stone in 1851.




The white Portland stone extension


The object of the school was to instruct the indigent blind in various trades; and to enable the scholars to learn some occupation or business.



In 1807, Rushton had an operation which allowed him to regain his sight. For the first time in 33 years, he was able to see his wife and children. In 1811, his wife Isabella and one of his daughters both died. Rushton died on 22 November 1814 of paralysis in Liverpool,





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Sources

Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool Records Office
Liverpool University
Wikipedia

Robert F Edwards
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