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William Rathbone VI

William Rathbone VI -11 Feb 1819 - 6 Mar 1902

"one of the grandest old men whom Liverpool has ever claimed as a son

(Liverpool Post, 7 Mar 1902)"

William Rathbone VI was a merchant and businessman noted for his philanthropic and public work. He was an English Liberal politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1868 and 1895.

Rathbone was the eldest son of William Rathbone of Greenbank, Liverpool and his wife Elizabeth Greg daughter of Samuel Greg of Quarry Bank, Cheshire. He was a member of the noted Rathbone family. Rathbone spent some time with various companies in Liverpool and London and in 1842 became a partner in the family company Rathbone Brothers and Co., general merchants of Liverpool. He remained a partner until 1885. He is said to have regarded wealth and business success chiefly as a means to the achievement of public and philanthropic work. He was a Deputy Lieutenant and J.P. for Lancashire.

He wrote in his 'Sketch of Family History', a man's surplus wealth, after meeting the reasonable living expenses of himself and his family, should be regarded as:

"a trust for which he owes an account to himself, to his fellow-men, and to God; it is not an absolute freehold which he may use solely for personal enjoyment and indulgence"

Florence Nightingale
In 1859 his appreciation for the services of a nurse, Mary Robinson, engaged to care for his dying wife, Lucretia, his first wife, prompted him to campaign for a system of district nursing to enable the poor to benefit from similar care; his involvement of Florence Nightingale led to a close friendship. She advised him to establish a training home in Liverpool, which was completed by 1863. They subsequently wrote regularly to each other, sharing ideas and experiences, and mutual encouragement. Florence Nightingale had a profound impact on the early development of district nursing and also the foundation of the Queen’s Institute in 1887.

Liverpool Nurses 1914

In 1862, the Liverpool Training School and Home for Nurses was established, from which basis a district nursing system was implemented in Liverpool through the 1860s and spread throughout the country. William VI's involvement with this scheme also made him aware of the poor state of the workhouse hospitals, and he did much to assist in the reform of the nursing in workhouses. In 1888-1889 he was honorary secretary, and then Vice-President of the Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute for Nurses.

John James Audubon
His book of  illustrations 'The Birds of America'
 is on display at Liverpool Central Library.
Credit Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
The Rathbones lived in Greenbank House, the original House was built in the early 18th century on part of the Toxteth Park estate, which was at the time outside the Liverpool city boundary. In 1788 the house and estate were leased by the Earl of Sefton to William Rathbone IV and his family as a country retreat. Upon William’s death in 1809 the property was sold to his widow Hannah Mary, who carried out substantial alterations to the buildings in accordance with her husband’s wishes. Greenbank was initially the Rathbone’s summer home but eventually became central to their family life and it was here that they extended their hospitality to numerous public figures including American artist and ornithologist John James Audubon.

William Rathbone was elected a Liberal MP for Liverpool in 1868, and sat for the city until 1880. He was closely involved in the formation of University College, Liverpool (1882), founding a Professorship in English with his two brothers, and serving as president of the college in 1892. He was made Freeman of the City of Liverpool on 21 Oct 1891 and died on 6 Mar 1902 at Greenbank.

Family Life

William Rathbone married firstly Lucretia Wainwright Gair, 1823 – 27 May 1859, daughter of Samuel Stillman Gair of Liverpool in 1847. They had five children, but Lucretia died shortly after the birth of the fifth, Ted, was drowned in a sailing accident on Derwent water in 1886. Rathbone re-married on 6 February 1862 to Esther Emily Acheson Lyle 1832 – 19 March 1918, she was the daughter of Acheson Lyle of Derry. They had six children, including the campaigner and politician, Eleanor Rathbone and Emily Evelyn (Evie) (1865–1954) who married Hugh Reynolds Rathbone. Emily Rathbone actively supported her husband's work in the establishment of District Nursing in Liverpool, acting as a Lady Superintendent of district nurses, and initiating a schools' nursing service in the city in 1895.


Liverpool Record Office and Family History Service
The University of Liverpool
Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool Records Office
National Archives

Robert F Edwards

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