Hensleigh Wedgwood

Hensleigh Wedgwood
Born (1803-01-21)21 January 1803
Tarrant Gunville, Dorset
Died 2 June 1891(1891-06-02) (aged 88)
Gower Street, London[1]
Resting place Stoke Minster (The Church of St. Peter ad Vincula)
53°00′15″N 02°10′53″W / 53.00417°N 2.18139°W / 53.00417; -2.18139
Nationality English
Alma mater Christ's College, Cambridge
Occupation Barrister, magistrate, Philologist
Known for Writing on English Etymology
  • Frances Emma Elizabeth Mackintosh
  • Catherine (Kitty) Allen
Children six

Hensleigh Wedgwood (21 January 1803 – 2 June 1891) was a British etymologist, philologist and barrister, author of A Dictionary of English Etymology. He was a cousin of Charles Darwin - whom his sister Emma married in 1839.[1]

Early life

Wedgwood was born at Tarrant Gunville in Dorset, the fourth son of Josiah Wedgwood II and Elizabeth Allen of Cresselly, Pembrokeshire.[1]

He was educated at Rugby School, then entered St John's College, Cambridge in 1820 but switched to Christ's College the following year.[2] Though he did well in maths, graduating as 8th wrangler, he finished bottom in the classical tripos at Cambridge in 1824, for which he was awarded the first "wooden wedge", equivalent to the wooden spoon,[1] and jokingly named for him.[3]


After leaving Cambridge, Wedgwood read for the chancery bar. In 1828, he qualified as a barrister, but never practiced.[1] Between 1831 and 1837, he served as a Police Magistrate and sat at the Surrey Magistrates court at Union Hall, Southwark.

A notable case that came before him during his tenure was that of James Pratt and John Smith in 1835, who he committed to trial after their arrest for homosexual acts. After their trial and conviction at the Central Criminal Court, the two became the last to be executed for sodomy in England. This was in spite of Wedgwood himself calling for a commutation of their death sentences in a letter to the Home Secretary.[4][5]

Wedgwood resigned from the Magistracy after deciding that one of his duties, the administrations of oaths, was inconsistent with the commandments of the New Testament. Between 1838 and 1849, he held the post of Registrar of Metropolitan Public Carriage.[1]

His main field of study Philology and Etymology. Publishing his Dictionary of Etymology in 1857. He was also a founding member of the Philological Society.[1]


Wedgwood became interested in spiritualism and attended séances. In 1874, he attempted to get T.H. Huxley involved in spiritualism by sending him an alleged spirit photograph. Huxley was not impressed and suggested the photograph had been produced fraudulently by the use of a second image placed on the plate inside the camera. Hensleigh refused to believe this explanation and considered the photograph to be genuine.[6]

Wedgwood was a member of the British National Association of Spiritualists and a vice-president of the Society for Psychical Research.[7]

Personal life

He married Frances Emma Elizabeth "Fanny" Mackintosh (1800-1889) in 1832, his first cousin, the daughter of Sir James Mackintosh and his second wife Catherine "Kitty" Allen.[1] They had six children:

Wedgwood died on 2 June 1891 at his house at 94 Gower Street, London.[1] He was buried at the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula, Stoke on Trent, now known as Stoke Minster.


A collection of around 550 books from his library is held by the library of the University of Birmingham. They were donated to the university by his daughter, Frances Julia Wedgwood.[8]

Partial list of works

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Herford, C.H.; Rev. John D. Haigh (2004). "Wedgwood, Hensleigh (1803–1891)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 9 May 2010.
  2. "Wedgewood (or Wedgwood), Hensleigh (WGWT820H)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. Bristed, Charles Astor (1852). Five years in an English university. G.P. Putnam. p. 253.
  4. Cocks (2010) p.38
  5. Upchurch (2009), p. 112.
  6. Browne, E. Janet. (2003). Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, Volume 2. Princeton University Press. p. 404. ISBN 978-0691114392
  7. Oppenheim, Janet. (1988). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-0521347679
  8. "The Hensleigh Wedgwood collection". University of Birmingham. Retrieved 31 May 2014.


External links

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