For some time I have been interested in Richard Waller (d. 1715), a fellow of the Royal Society who served as Secretary and also as Vice-President under Newton’s presidency. He was an accomplished draughtsman – his botanical drawings can be found at the Royal Society, and his fossil drawings were recently rediscovered together with his friend, Robert Hooke’s drawings in the British Library. When Hooke died in 1703, his papers were entrusted to Waller, and parts of them were edited by Waller and published as Hooke’s Posthumous Works (1705). Waller is known to have had an extensive library, and often shared reading material with Hooke.
In 1685, Waller married Anne Blackwell (1669-1744), a daughter of the Bristol vintner Jonathan Blackwell (d. 1676), known for the construction of the Christmas Steps in that city. None of Waller’s children survived to adulthood. Waller’s estate, including the library and a house in Northaw, Hertfordshire, passed to his widow Anne, who in turn left everything to her younger brother, Jonathan Blackwell, who was also an FRS (nominated by Waller, though there is no evidence that he was scientifically active).
The gardener’s son
This younger Jonathan Blackwell (1671-1754) never married, but later in life adopted his neighbour’s (the widow of Sir William Leman (d. 1741) of Northaw) gardener’s son, Samuel Killican, when the gardener died. Blackwell left everything to Killican on condition that he assumed the name of Blackwell when he came of age. Blackwell died in May 1754; according to the Gentleman’s Magazine, he had left a fortune of £200,000. After a lawsuit by George Parker, the second Earl of Macclesfield (Parker’s first wife was Blackwell’s niece, Mary Lane, namely daughter of Elizabeth Blackwell and Ralph Lane FRS, (also nominated by Waller)) and President of Royal Society, challenging the will in vain, a private bill was passed through parliament in 1755 and the gardener’s son became Samuel Blackwell (c. 1733-1785). He soon quit Hertfordshire and purchased properties in Gloucestershire, William Strip Park and then Ampney Crucis. In 1760, he married Anne Lennox Dutton (c. 1740-1821), daughter of James Lenox Dutton and Jane Bond, and elder sister of the first Baron Sherborne, James Naper Dutton. Samuel Blackwell became colonel of the Northern Battalion of the Gloucestershire Milita and MP for Cirencester (1774 to 1785).
Samuel Blackwell’s estate
I assume that Samuel Blackwell’s estate was passed down the male line. His grandson, George Graham, married Elizabeth Emma Eardley Wilmot (1810-91), eldest daughter of Sir John Eardley Wilmot, Bart, MP for North Warwickshire, in 1829. George Graham Blackwell dropped dead at the age of 37 in 1838, 30th of March. It was reported in Gentleman’s Magazine (May 1838) that “Mr Blackwell was in good health on the previous day, and was taken ill while hunting with Lord Moreton’s hounds.” In February 1839, “The whole of the valuable and extensive library” of Ampney Park, “the property of the late G. G. Blackwell, Esquire, Deceased” and “consisting upwards of 3000 volumes” was auctioned by one Mr Jefferies (better known for trading in cattle and agricultural goods in the area), at the King’s Head in Cirencester. From the auction catalogue (a copy has happily survived in Wiltshire and Swindon Archives), we know the library contained many scientific publications from Waller’s lifetime and before. Given that there appears to be no member of the Blackwell family that showed any active interest in scientific topics, it is safe to assume that these books were from Waller’s library.
The trail went cold at this point, however. I have been unable to locate any books that could be established as coming from Richard Waller’s library, apart from the books he donated to the Royal Society Library. There may be some rare books collections that have books with his inscription, “Ric: Waller”, but this kind of information on provenance is not always catalogued, especially if the name is not so well known as Isaac Newton or Robert Hooke.
A recent discovery
So imagine my surprise and delight, when I received an email, saying that a family had a copy of John Bate’s The Mysteries of Nature and Art with an inscription, “Ric: Waller”, and it turned out that it also had a bookplate of one “Samuel Blackwell.” The family has given me kind permission to photograph Waller’s signature and the bookplate.
This communication has inspired me to make a plea: if anybody has come across a book published before 1715 that bears this bookplate or inscription, I would be very grateful to hear about it.
There is of course the possibility that the auction at Cirencester did not go so well and some of the books were kept by the family, or that some books had earlier been transferred to other branches of the Waller-Blackwell family tree. George Graham Blackwell’s descendants include Kari and Elizabeth Emma Blackwell, both born in Norway and step-daughters of William Duppa Crotch, the naturalist. Waller’s sister Elizabeth married Alexander Pitfield (1659-1728, and another FRS!), whose descendants include, among others, Horace William Pitt-Rivers and Felton Lionel Hervey. It is also possible that most of the books were dispersed in 1839, but remain in private collections around Cirencester.