Thursday, October 6, 2016


William Hone

Part of the magic of diving into family history is discovering the many individuals who have not only provided you with your DNA but whose lives have laid the cornerstones for where you are today.

The very simple question, ''I wonder where my son gets his artistic ability'' has lead me to a most delightful revelation. Discovering that I am the 5 x granddaughter of writer, editor, political satirist and bookseller William Hone has brought together many character traits I wondered why I had. I really do believe that the more you delve into your family history, the more everything makes sense.

As the 4 x granddaughter of William and Sarah Hone's eldest child, Sarah Burn, who left England for Australia with her three sons (including Allan, the artistic one), it is my great pleasure to provide information here about William Hone's descendants. Please feel free to email me, Tracey at:  (P.S If you have emailed me in 2017, some of my emails were deleted accidentally before I could reply so please email again.)

Portrait of William Hone by William Patten.
Oil on canvas. 1818.
Held by the National Portrait Gallery London.
Much has been written about William Hone. He was a writer, publisher, satirist, a champion of the people. As the founder of a savings bank for the ordinary man (albeit failed), William always thought of and fought for the underdog. He believed in the freedom of the press to report without fear of retribution. This did not endear him to politicians and the establishment of the day but he showed time after time that even if it makes you unpopular you must always do the right thing.

In carrying out research on William, I have relied heavily on Frederick Hackwood's ''William Hone. His Life and Times" as it uses Sarah Burn's recollections as a primary source. This has been a great joy as it provides a personal insight into my family. Ben Wilson's 2005 Biography "The Laughter of Triumph. William Hone and The Fight For the Free Press" also provides information for this site. 

Associate Professor Kyle Grimes from the University of Alabama (Birmingham) has created a wonderfully in depth website about William. His research has been invaluable in understanding the political and social context of William's life. William Hone, he says "arguably did more than any other writer, printer or publisher to shape British popular print culture in the early decades of the nineteenth century."  Professor Grimes' website can be found by clicking this link.

All of these works show that William was a kind, intelligent and resilient man. Among his friends were writers Charles and Mary Lamb as well as Samuel Coleridge. He was great friends and partner in crime with Illustrator George Cruikshank. Towards the end of William's life he met with Charles Dickens (who had started using George Cruikshank as his illustrator). After attending William's funeral, Dickens took an interest in the financial welfare of William's widow Sarah - a somewhat unusual act considering his later unflattering reflections on William's funeral.

Washington State University acquired the personal papers of William in 1927. More information about this can be found here. You can also visit Adelphi University's website on William.

There are many books available on William's life and career, however in this space I would like to concentrate on his family. Many writers have said that William, in his quest for freedom of the press and in his personal activist campaigns on the Reform of Insane Asylums and the Trial of Eliza Fenning, neglected his wife and children. From my own research I have found that his children, at least my forebear Sarah Burn, saw him as an affectionate and loving father. 

In a 1872 Letter to the Editor of the Australasian newspaper Sarah Burn talks about the assertion by Charles Dickens that no one attended William's funeral and that in death the public had forgotten him:

"I think it not out of place to add that a distinguished author in England has occasionally indulged in excursive and imaginative observations in reference to Mr Hone. There he can be combated by others of our family, but in this, the adopted country of myself and family, it is my privilege to release his memory from the shade of obloquy and protest against the promulgation of assertions inimical to the honourable repute of a parent whose mental qualities were equaled only by the tenderness of his domestic affections and consideration for the feelings of others".

Sarah Burn's letter provides us with a unique, personal account of William's true personality. 

"My father was gifted with a high sense of justice and truth, a brave energy, and force of character that knew no fear, and the greater the obstructions to his object, the more determined his perseverance. His exertions were frequently devoted to the relief of private wrong, as well as of public oppression. To his untiring persistence may be ascribed the release of the cruelly incarcerated lunatic W. Norris, who had been for years chained to an iron frame in a cell in Bethlem, followed by a general reform of treatment and the eventual dismissal of the governor, W.Haslam about 1813.

In his prolonged efforts to save the life of the unfortunate Eliza Fenning he was not so successful. She had been tried for poisoning the family of Mr Turner, a law stationer in Chancery Lane. While waiting sentence my father conversed with her in Newgate, and became so convinced of her innocence that he spared no exertions day or night on her behalf, collected a mass of evidence (which he afterwards printed - a volume of about 200 pages) in her favour, had a petition presented to the Secretary of State praying for reprieve but the judge who tried her, Sir Vicary Gibbs, recorder of London, a notoriously hard man, and an intimate friend of the Turners, had charged the jury vindictively against her, and he pursued the unhappy girl to the scaffold. Years after, Mrs Turner, when dying confessed herself to have been the murderess.

Of retiring habits, simple yet refined tastes and courteous manners, my father was essentially a gentleman and while he had an utter contempt of such as Mr Thackeray termed ''stuck-up people", he instinctively conceded to every rank of life its due proprieties. His society was courted for the attractiveness of his conversation, in which few excelled, and he numbered among his friends many eminent in art, sciences and the learned professions as well as in literature."

In the years before William's death Sarah Burn worked with him to compile his personal papers and information in order to put together a biography of his life. They were not successful in achieving this. In it's place, as their descendant, I do hope that this website serves in some way to honour the memory of William and the part he played in the right to a free Press.

Joseph Hone
The famous William Hone was the son of, not so unpredictably, William Hone Snr (1755-1831) and Frances Maria Stawell (1757-1833)William Hone Senior was born at Homewood Farm in Ripley, Surrey. He was the eldest son of a farmer and a member of a large family. The earliest record I have found of the Hone family comes from 1392 when a John Hone is mentioned in Bath. A Thomas Hone, of Clayhanger is mentioned in 1457.

After his father died, William Hone Senior moved to London and was apprenticed to a law stationer. After a serious illness, William Hone Senior moved from London to Bath to work as a corn merchant. He was a very religious man. In 1779 he married Frances Maria Stawell in Bath. 

William Hone (the famous one) was born in Bath on June 3 1780 followed by at least two more boys and a sister. We are certain there was Joseph, born in 1784, but we are yet to verify Judah (1789), Sarah (1796).

William's brother Joseph Hone (1784 - 1861) became a High Court Judge in Tasmania, Australia. Joseph's move to Australia was probably brought on by the reputation of William in London and an inability to get work. Joseph rose to hold esteemed roles in Government including Attorney- General, Commissioner of the Insolvent Court, Commissioner of the Caveat Board, Commissioner of the Court of Requests, Chairman of Quarter Sessions and Master of the Supreme Court. Joseph's portrait was taken by Frederick Frith between 1855 and 1860. Despite some assertions that he was unusual in his manner, there were many newspaper articles about Joseph on his passing, all saying what a wonderful public servant he was to Tasmania. Information about his home in Tasmania can be found by visiting this website

We are incredibly lucky to have made contact with David Evans, who is a William Hone descendant via Fanny Hone (who married Thomas Hemsley). David has graciously allowed us to reproduce his Hone family photos. The one of William, appears to be a photo of the Patten portrait. The photograph below of Sarah Hone was taken a few years before she died in 1864 (note the fashion of the time was to wear a very frilly bonnet over one's hair).

William Hone married Sarah Johnson (1781 - 1864) at St Anne's Westminster on July 19, 1800. Sarah was born in Southwark, London on November 30, 1781. Sarah was an only child and her father died when she was young. Her mother, also Sarah Johnson, owned the house they lived in (unusual for the time). The Hone and Johnson families had know each other for many years. Sarah the elder took William in as a boarder and his friendship with her daughter turned into a long and happy marriage.

William and Sarah had 12 children.

1. Sarah (1801 - 1883) married Jacob Henry Burn (died 1869) in 1822. (from which I descend)

2. Fanny (1803 - 1884) married Thomas Hemsley in 1826.

3. Matilda (1805 - 1884) never married.

4. William (1807 - 1827) never married.

5. Alfred (1810 - 1883) married Elizabeth Preece (1811 - ?) in 1835.

6. John (1812 - 1828) never married.

7. Emma (1814 - 1880) married Carl Hugo Hahn in South Africa in 1843.

8. Charlotte (1816 - 1817)

9. Rose (1818-1898) never married.

10. Samuel Parr (1820 - 1870) marriage to be verified.

11. Ellen (1822 - 1910) married Joseph Soul in 1855.

12. Alice (1825 - 1914) married 1. Jean -Baptise Lovati & 2. Henri-Auguste Fourdinois.

Thank you to Dr Tony Shaw who took this photo of William's headstone in Abney Park Cemetery London. The inscription on the headstone reads: "The family grave of William Hone, who was born at Bath on the 3rd of June, 1780 and died at Tottenham the 6th of November, 1842".

You can listen to UK playwrights Nick Newman and Ian Hislop talk about their play 'Trial by Laughter' which is based on William's blasphemy trial here. You can hear the entire play here. 

An obituary for William appeared in the Hobart Courier in 1843, with reference to Joseph Hone being his brother. 

NOTE:  I have created a page (on right) for each of William's descendants. Please be patient as I will update regularly.