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Special Collections & Archives logo : William Rathbone VI (11 Feb 1819 - 6 Mar 1902)

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William Rathbone VI (11 Feb 1819 - 6 Mar 1902) & Emily Rathbone (17 July 1837 - 19 March 1918)

"one of the grandest old men whom Liverpool has ever claimed as a son" (Liverpool Post, 7 Mar 1902); "one of God's best and greatest sons" - Florence Nightingale, 8 Mar 1902, on card sent with funeral wreath

Portrait of William Rathbone VI

Portrait of Emily Rathbone, nee Lyle


Eldest son of William Rathbone V and Elizabeth (née Greg).

m. 1. (1847) Lucretia Wainwright Gair (c.1823 - 27 May 1859) daughter of Samuel Stillman Gair of Liverpool

  • William Gair Rathbone VII (28 July 1849 - 1919)
  • Elizabeth Lucretia (Elsie) (15 Nov 1851 - 1920)
  • Thomas Ashton (22 Oct 1856 - 23 Sept 1895)
  • Henry Gair (12 Oct 1857 - 1945) m. 5 Dec 1894 Katherine McKim (d. 29 July 1927)
  • Edward Lucretius (Ted) (19 May 1859 - 9 Sept 1886)

m. 2. (6 Feb 1862) Esther EMILY Acheson Lyle (c.1863 - 19 Mar 1918), daughter of Acheson Lyle, Lord Lieutenant of Londonderry and Ellen, daughter of F.J. Warre and Eleanor.

  • Emily Evelyn (Evie) (1865 - 1953) m. (20 Oct 1888) Hugh Reynolds Rathbone
  • Cyril Charles (27 July 1866 - 11 Jan 1868)
  • Acheson LYLE Rupert (8 Nov 1867 - 1923)
  • Bertram Eric (Bertie) (30 Nov 1871 - 1917)
  • Eleanor Florence (12 May 1872 - 2 Jan 1946)
  • Francis Warre (Frank) (12 Nov 1874 - 1939) m. Edith Bertha Hampshire

William VI became a partner of Rathbone Brothers and Co., general merchants, in 1842 after some time spent with Nichol, Duckworth and Co. in Liverpool, and Baring Brothers in London; and remained a partner until 1885. He regarded wealth and business success chiefly as a means to the achievement of public and philanthropic work; as he wrote in his Sketch of Family History, a man's surplus wealth, after meeting the reasonable living expenses of himself and his family, should be regarded as:

"a trust for which he owes an account to himself, to his fellow-men, and to God; it is not an absolute freehold which he may use solely for personal enjoyment and indulgence"

In 1859 his appreciation for the services of a nurse, Mary Robinson, engaged to care for his dying wife, Lucretia, prompted him to campaign for a system of district nursing to enable the poor to benefit from similar care; his involvement of Florence Nightingale led to a close friendship.

In 1862, the Liverpool Training School and Home for Nurses was established, from which basis a district nursing system was implemented in Liverpool through the 1860s and spread throughout the country. William VI's involvement with this scheme also made him aware of the poor state of the workhouse hospitals, and he did much to assist in the reform of the nursing in workhouses. In 1888-1889 he was honorary secretary, and then Vice-President of the Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute for Nurses.

He was elected a Liberal MP for Liverpool in 1868, and sat for the city until 1880; was returned as MP for Carnarvonshire from 1861-1885, and for North Carnarvonshire from 1885-1895. He was closely involved in the formation of University College, Liverpool (1882), founding a Professorship in English with his two brothers, and serving as president of the college in 1892. He also played an important part in the establishment of the University College of North Wales in 1884, and served as president from 1891. He was made Freeman of the City of Liverpool on 21 Oct 1891 and died on 6 Mar 1902 at Greenbank.

Emily actively supported her husband's work in the establishment of District Nursing in Liverpool, acting as a Lady Superintendent of district nurses, and initiating a schools' nursing service in the city in 1895. Her sister, Augusta Lyle, became the second wife of William VI's younger brother Samuel Greg Rathbone.

See Books by William Rathbone VI

Emily Acheson Rathbone, Records of the Rathbone family, 1913


William Rathbone VI and Emily Lyle in the Rathbone papers

The papers of William Rathbone VI (RP IX) date from c. 1824-1904 and include:

  • RP IX.1-7 - General Correspondence, i.e.
  • RP IX.1 - Early correspondence (108 items, 1820-1838)
  • RP IX.2 - Letters from Heidelberg University (67 items, 1838-1840)
  • RP IX.3 - Letters to WR VI whilst away from home (109 items, 1840-1849)
  • RP IX.4 - Later family correspondence (221 items, 1849-1909)
  • RP IX.5 - Files of public correspondence (5 items, 1858-1901)
  • RP IX.6 - Letters on public affairs (418 items, 1856-1902)
  • RP IX.7 - Letters from various correspondents (238 items, 1855-1905)
  • RP IX.8 - Deeds and Accounts (87 items)
  • RP IX.9 - General Papers (100 items, including private journals)
  • RP IX.10 - Obituaries (73 items)

Papers of Emily Rathbone and the Lyle family (RP X) date from 1813-1914 and include:

  • RP X.1 - General Correspondence (240 items)
  • RP X.2 - Deeds and accounts (49 items, including papers concerning Emily's charitable donations and subscriptions
  • RP X.3 - Personal papers (17 items)

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