Montgomery Manuscripts

Ref: MS 19, 25, 69, 172, 249

Title: Montgomery Manuscripts

Scope: Papers of, and relating to, James Montgomery (1771-1854), Sheffield journalist and poet

Dates: c.1800-1850
Level: Fonds
Extent: 4 boxes
Name of creator: Mary Anne Rawson

Administrative / biographical history:
The collection includes reminiscences of Montgomery, poems and manuscripts by him, printed works and illustrations. Also included is a scrapbook entitled “Negro’s album of the Sheffield Anti-Slavery Society, 1828”, and material by and about Montgomery assembled by Mary Anne Rawson (née Read).

James Montgomery was born at Irvine in Ayrshire on November 4th, 1771. His father, John Montgomery, was born in Ballykennedy, County Antrim, in 1733. He converted to the Moravian faith and became a minister, married a member of the Moravian community in 1768, and moved to Irvine to take charge of the Moravian congregation there just before James’ birth. He returned to Ireland in 1775, and in 1777 James was sent to a Moravian school at Fulneck, near Leeds. His parents travelled as missionaries to Barbados in 1783, where his father died of yellow fever in 1791, his mother having died the previous year. James left school to become apprenticed to a shopkeeper, but an attempt to make his way in London failed, and he returned to South Yorkshire, where he was appointed assistant editor to the Sheffield Register, to which he contributed extensively. Joseph Gales, the proprietor and editor of the Register, an ardent reformer, got into political trouble and absconded to America, enabling Montgomery to take over as editor. In an effort to disarm the hostility of the Government he changed the name of the Register to the Iris, and adopted a more moderate political line. In 1795, it became the property of Montgomery, who also entered into business as a general printer. Montgomery underwent two prosecutions for libel, instituted as a means of intimidating the Sheffield political clubs, each time being convicted and committed to York Prison. For some time, the Iris was the only newspaper in Sheffield, but Montgomery paid more attention to his poetry than to journalism, other newspapers came into existence, and eventually the Iris passed into other hands. The Wanderer of Switzerland of 1806, based on the French conquest of Switzerland, attracted public attention, and its success brought him a commission in 1809 from the printer Bowyer to write a poem on the abolition of the slave trade - The West Indies, which gained great popularity. Later poems included The World before the Flood (1812), Greenland (1819) and The Pelican Island (1826). He also produced numerous hymns, including “Angels from the Realms of Glory”, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” and “Songs of Praise the Angels Sang”. Montgomery lived in Sheffield for 62 of his 83 years, and in later years was accounted a local hero, having devoted himself to religious and philanthropic undertakings. He died on 30th April 1854, and was honoured with a public funeral. A monument designed by John Bell was erected over his grave in the Sheffield Cemetery, and now stands beside Sheffield’s Anglican Cathedral. (Notes on James Montgomery based the article by Richard Garnett in the Dictionary of National Biography).

Mary Anne Rawson (1801-1887) was, in the words of Mr. R.E. Wilson “a lady of much culture and charm”. She was the daughter of Joseph Read (1774-1837), a Sheffield businessman who also had interests in Chesterfield. The Reads, according to John Holland, “had long been endeared to Montgomery on the grounds of personal piety and general benevolence”. Joseph Read had been associated with Montgomery and John Pye-Smith in their efforts to disseminate liberal principles; and it was Read and his brother who had contributed towards Montgomery’s legal expenses at the time of his trial in 1795. Until financial misfortune overtook them in the 1830s, the Read family lived at Wincobank Hall. They then moved into a more modest residence in Sheffield itself; but after the death of her father, Mrs. Rawson was able to purchase the Hall and reinstate her family there. In 1828, she married William Rawson of Nottingham. Part of the Rawsons’ married life was spent in apartments in Nottingham Castle; and from Nottingham they paid visits to Ockbrook (near Derby) where Ignatius Montgomery, the poet’s brother was a Moravian minister. But William Rawson died prematurely in 1829, leaving Mary Anne with one daughter, “my Elizabeth” (1828-1862).

Mrs. Rawson was a person of great fortitude as well as charm. The tribulations of her life do not seem to have affected her naturally public-spirited turn of mind. For a time, she and her sister provided an income for the family by running a private school at Wincobank Hall. Later she helped to raise funds to build a school on the Hall grounds; at the opening of this in 1841 a hymn especially composed by Montgomery (“A children’s temple here we build”) was sung. Mrs. Rawson was also very active in Sunday School work, and supported a number of philanthropic concerns. Her connection with the Association for the Universal Abolition of Slavery has been discussed by Professor N.B. Lewis in a paper on “The Abolitionist Movement in Sheffield, 1823-1833”, and her feeling for the “missionary spirit” pervades the correspondence she had with Montgomery concerning the labours of their mutual friend George Bennet who served as a missionary in the South Seas. Mrs. Rawson was an enthusiastic advocate of the Ladies’ Hibernian School Society (founded in 1823 as part of a scheme for ameliorating the condition pf the lower classes among the Irish population), and supported Montgomery in his efforts on behalf of the chimney-sweeping boys, to whom he gave an annual breakfast at the Cutlers’ Hall.

To the Read family, James Montgomery appeared to be the perfect philanthropist, so comprehensive was his knowledge of the possible fields of endeavour, and so fervid the religious feeling behind his day-to-day transactions. Mrs Rawson was struck by his conscientiousness and consistency: “Most men in business satisfy themselves with giving their name and their guineas to a benevolent society. Not so Montgomery. He was not content to give the sanction of his name as a ‘sleeping member’ of a committee, but where he gave his name, he really worked, heart and hand”. As it happens, there were some points of difference between Mrs. Rawson and her revered friend, who once said that she had “such extreme notions – such extreme views”. She, for instance, was in favour of total abstinence, demanded the immediate abolition of slavery everywhere, and insisted on the removal of the death penalty. She was also uneasy when she discovered that certain of the Moravians were guilty of complicity over the question of the slave traffic. But in spite of these matters, her respect for the “Christian advocate” remained unabated.

The pages of Mrs. Rawson’s material about Montgomery throw light on three main aspects of his life – his private affairs, his public work and his literary interests. In the course of the material, Mrs. Rawson makes many references to Montgomery’s work as a zealous social reformer, practical philanthropist and platform orator. Convinced of Montgomery’s essential moral goodness, she strove to magnify all his works, and to minister – effectively, but without presumption – to his general physical and spiritual welfare. His death drew from her many sanctimonious expressions of regard for “dear Mr. Montgomery”: what, she wondered, would Sheffield do without the man who had been the moving spirit in so many worthy causes? For her the question was something more than a merely rhetorical one. She had lost a friend whose place could not be taken by any living person; her collection is a tribute to the fact that for many years she helped James Montgomery to overcome a few of the limitations placed upon him by his environment and provided him with some of the intellectual stimulus which only genuine friendship can call into existence. (Notes on Mary Anne Rawson based on the article written by E.D. Mackerness – “Mary Anne Rawson and the “Memorials of James Montgomery”’. Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society, Vol. VIII, Part 4, 1962).

  • Source: By donation and purchase from various sources
  • System of arrangement: As acquired
  • Subjects: Slavery; Journalists – Great Britain - Sheffield
  • Names: Montgomery, James, 1771-1854; Rawson, Mary Anne; Sheffield Register; Iris (Sheffield); Sheffield Anti-Slavery Society
  • Conditions of access: Available to all researchers, by appointment
  • Restrictions: None
  • Copyright: University of Sheffield and according to document
  • Finding aids: Listed