One of my colleagues (STG) has brought my attention to yet another reason to go to Hull (or more precisely, something to do if you happen to be stuck in Hull): visit Wilberforce House and its museum.


Wilberforce, unfinished; by Sir Thomas Lawrence

William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian member of parliament who successfully agitated over many years for the suppression of the slave trade (1807) and the subsequent wholesale abolition of slavery in the British dominions (1833), was a native of Hull and represented that city in Parliament (an inheritor of the seat of Andrew Marvell, therefore), before getting himself elected as member for the county of Yorkshire.

Needless to say, Wilberforce received his education at Cambridge, at St. John’s College. He was a noted socialite at the university, and befriended William Pitt, among others, who guided his ambition to enter parliament. After completing his degree and taking his seat in Parliament, he developed a reputation, according to Madame de Staël, as the wittiest man in London, and Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, put it on record that the Prince of Wales would go anywhere to hear Wilberforce sing.

These are facts incongruous with the image of the pious and upright reformer, but his spiritual regeneration, the foundation of his social activism, came later. From the mid-1780s, in concert with a fellow graduate of St. John’s, Thomas Clarkson, Wilberforce worked to turn public opinion against slavery and to manoeuvre bills against the slave trade through parliament. Whether the Prince of Wales still liked to hear him sing at this point is unrecorded.