Eldest son of William Rathbone IV and Hannah Mary (née Reynolds).
m. (9 March 1812) Elizabeth (1790 - 24 Oct 1882), daughter of Samuel Greg of Quarry Bank, Cheshire and Hannah (née Lightbody). Six children:
- Elizabeth (1813-1899) m. John Paget)
- Hannah Mary (24 Nov 1816 - 31 Dec 1872) m. (2 Jan 1838) John Hamilton Thom
- William Rathbone VI (11 Feb 1819 - 6 Mar 1902)
- Agnes (1821-1862)
- Samuel Greg (17 May 1823 - 1903)
- Philip Henry (8 May 1828 - 1895)
William V set up in partnership with his brother, Richard, as commission merchants in 1809, and was an active partner in the firm (later Rathbone Brothers) until his death. William Rathbone V was elected a Liberal councillor for Liverpool in 1835 and Mayor of Liverpool in 1837, and fought for many causes: a newspaper report on his death listed among them, "Roman Catholic emancipation, parliamentary reform, municipal reform, freedom of the West Indian slaves, the repeal of the corn laws, the penny postage scheme, national education..." An active supporter of the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, he took a strong stand against bribery and other forms of corruption in municipal elections.
He and his wife Elizabeth supported Kitty Wilkinson's work during the cholera epidemic in 1832 to establish a system of washing infected clothing and bedding, which led to the introduction of public baths and wash-houses in Liverpool in 1845. He was committed to the provision of popular education, opening the Liverpool Corporation Schools to all sects so that children of any denomination could benefit from them, despite heated opposition. He was also responsible for the distribution of the New England relief fund for the Irish famine, 1846-1847.
He numbered amongst his friends and correspondents Father Theobald Mathew, Cambridge professor William Smyth, William Scoresby the Arctic explorer and Joseph Blanco White. After his death at Greenbank, over 1000 mourners attended his funeral.
Elizabeth became secretary of the Bible Society on its establishment in Liverpool, and was also an important influence on the movement to reform standards in the Liverpool Corporation Schools. Her ideas on Forster's Education Bill (Education Act 1870) were later remembered by Forster as, "the most valuable suggestions I received during the passage of the Bill" (William Rathbone VI, A Sketch of Family History during four generations (1894). Elizabeth numbered amongst her friends and correspondents, Father Theobald Mathew, Lady Byron, the Arctic explorer William Scoresby and the social reformer Dorothea Dix.
William Rathbone V and Elizabeth Greg in the Rathbone papers
The papers of William Rathbone V (RP V) date from 1803-1868 and include:
- RP V.1 - General correspondence (85 items)
- RP V.2 - Deeds (8 items)
- RP V.3 - General papers
- RP V.4 - Papers of Joseph Blanco White (57 items)
Papers of Elizabeth Rathbone (RP VI) date from 1804-1876 and include:
- RP VI.1 - General correspondence (482 items)
- RP VI.2 - Personal Papers (40 items, including diaries and notebooks, and draft of her will