Blacketts and literature

Submitted by alkirtley on Thu, 11/21/2019 - 16:29

The most illustrious connection, athough hardly a direct one, between the Blacketts and literature stems from Edward Blackett, who married Agnes Lilburne around 1602. Agnes was the great-aunt of John Lilburne, who married Isabel Quiney, the great-niece of William Shakespeare. (Agnes Lilburne was also the 4xgreat-aunt of US President Thomas Jefferson, as shown in Links to Presidents of the USA.) There are, however, a number of other literary connections, where the connection is somewhat more direct.

Christopher Blackett (1751-1829) of Wylam, Northumberland (see Railway Blacketts) established The Globe, a London newspaper, in 1803, which continued in existence until 1921 when it merged with the Pall Mall Gazette.

Image removed. Hurst and Blackett, a London publishing house, was founded in late 1852 by Henry Blackett and Daniel William Stow Hurst (1802-1870), and acquired the publishing business of Henry Colburn in January 1853. Daniel Hurst had been employed by Henry Colburn, and Henry Blackett may have provided the capital for the venture, as he had come into possession of his share of his father’s estate on attaining the age of twenty-five in May 1850. (He may also have acquired additional assets on his marriage in July 1852 to Ellen Selma Mayor, the daughter of a hop merchant.)

Henry was the eldest son of the second marriage of John Blackett (1785-1832), a wealthy ship-broker, and descended from the Northumberland Blacketts (see Can You Help Us?). Henry’s grandfather, John Blackett (1757-1831), was a successful merchant, who moved into ship-building in Limehouse, London and fell on hard times in the depression of the 1820s/1830s. John junior seems to have been a wealthy man in his own right as in 1820 he lent several thousand pounds to his father. (In December 1832, shortly after the death of John junior, his widow sued her father-in-law’s executors for the return of the money and other sums owing.)
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It was previously believed that Hurst & Blackett had been co-founded in 1812 by Henry’s father, John Blackett. This was supported by the fact that for some time Hurst & Blackett described themselves as “Publishers since 1812.” Moreover, John Blackett was associated with Henry Allnutt of Maidstone, Kent, a relative of his wife’s, who was a paper manufacturer and later became a publisher himself. However, the will and codicil of John Blackett contain no reference to publishing interests, and “Publishers since 1812”, which replaced the original mention of “Successors to Henry Colburn” on Hurst & Blackett’s title pages, seems more likely to signify the date when Daniel Hurst believed Colburn had commenced publishing.

The business expanded rapidly and Hurst and Blackett continued publishing throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century. Early in the 1930s they acquired the British rights to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” for just £350. They also published three volumes of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret, each containing two stories. The firm was later subsumed into Hutchinson, which itself is now a subsidiary of Random House, a division of the media company Bertelsmann.

Hurst and Blackett are said to hold the record for the shortest ever exchange of correspondence between a writer and his publisher. In 1862 Victor Hugo, then on holiday, was anxious to know how the British sales of “Les Miserables” were progressing, and sent a telegraph consisting only of a “?” The reply from Hurst and Blackett read simply “!”.

At least four of Henry’s sons became publishers. Spencer Collinson Blackett (1858-1920), Henry’s 4th son, became a successful publisher in his own right, publishing works by, amongst others, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard. However, according to “Kegan Paul: A Victorian Imprint” by Leslie Howsam (Kegan Paul International 1998), Spencer Blackett’s later experience as business manager of Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.for around ten years from 1895 was rather less successful, and his expensive six months tour of Canada, Ceylon, New Zealand, Australia and the United States produced little in the way of sales. It is not clear exactly when Spencer Blackett left the business, but he died in 1920 at Brookwood railway station in Surrey, dying intestate with assets of only £20.
In 1950 Spencer Collingwood’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Eily Dennison, married Francis Hugh Blackett, who became Sir Francis Hugh Blackett, 11th Bt. in 1994. Elizabeth had died in 1982, however, and never enjoyed the title of Lady Blackett.

Around 1841 James Blacket (1808-1877) established himself as a bookseller in Newbury, Berkshire and by 1854 was described as a “printer, bookseller, stationer and stamp distributor.” In 1859 he set up The Newbury Advertiser, but the paper survived only 9 months. In 1866 his eldest son, Walter James Blacket (1842-1916), took over the business, and in 1867, in partnership with a journalist, Thomas Wheildon Turner, founded The Newbury Weekly News, which is still published to this day (2012), with wider printing interests, all under its holding company Blacket Turner and Co. Ltd. Walter’s two brothers both went into the printing and stationery business, and Blackett Press Stationers Ltd., set up by Edmund Ralph Blacket (1843-1933) in Bath, Somerset, was still in existence in 2015. Walter’s youngest brother, Frederick Blackett, was married to Helen Jane Read, the 1st cousin 1xremoved of Sir Herbert Edward Read, the distinguished War Poet (see Wikipedia entry).

In July 1919 William Cameron Blackett of Massachusetts, USA became a co-founder, along with Clayton Holt Ernst and Ormond E. Loomis, of The Torbell Company, publishers of The Open Road (see Wikipedia article), a magazine for boys. “Torbell” was derived from the initials of the magazine and the surnames of the founders, viz. T[he]O[pen]R[oad]B[lackett]E[rnst]L[oomis]L[td]. The name of the magazine was changed to The Open Road for Boys in 1925 and by 1940 its circulation had reached 301,000. It finally ceased publication in the 1950s.

Julian Fenwick Platt, a 3xgreat-grandson of Alice Blackett, founded in 1999 Third Millennium Information Ltd., a fine art publishing house. In 2004 they published under their Third Millennium Publishing Ltd. imprint “The Ship that Came Home” by A. W. Purdue, a history of the Blackett dynasties of north-east England.

Image removed. Matthew Blackett, a native of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is the publisher, creative director and co-founder of Spacing Magazine, and in 2007 was named Editor of the Year by the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors.


Several Blacketts have been published authors. In addition to those mentioned in The famous Blacketts, the following are examples of some of the Blacketts who have seen their works published:

“Two Years in an Indian Mission” by Herbert Field Blackett was originally published in 1884 and was reprinted in both hard and soft back in 2007 and 2010.

William Stephens Blackett was the author of “Researches into the Lost History of America – Or the Zodiac Shown to Be an Old Terrestial Map in Which the Atlantic Isle is Delineated”, published in 1884. The previous year he had published his research purporting to show that Stonehenge was built by the inhabitants of the lost city of Atlantis. His writings do not, however, seem to have provided him with a sufficient income to give up his job as a gas collector in London.

Richard Blackett, who is the Andrew Jackson Professor of History at Vanderbilt University in the United States, has written a number of books under the name of R. J. M. Blackett, chiefly focussing on the history of slavery, including “Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War”.

Mary Dawes Blackett (full name Mary Ann Dawes Blackett, who died in Vauxhall, now part of south London, and was buried at St. Mary’s, Lambeth on 8 Aug 1792) was a female poet and writer. Her works included a poem entitled “Suicide” published in 1789 and “The Monitress; or, the oeconony of female life”, a collection of published letters written to her only daughter Catharine. She may have been married to a Thomas Blackett of Bloomsbury, London, but this is not certain (see Roman Catholic Blacketts in Can You Help Us?)

In 1882 “The Life of Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian Hero and Patriot” by Howard Blackett was published. (The preface by “H. Blackett” is dated 20 June 1882). It was reprinted in 1883, 1885, 1888 and 1890. (Nb. We have found no record of a Howard Blackett of the right age to be this author. One possibility is that it could be the pen name of Mary Maria Howard, born 1843 in Cartworth, Yorkshire, who married James Blackett in Victoria, Australia in 1860, where she had several children before returning to England between 1867 and 1870. The assumption of a male pen name would probably have helped her at the time to find a publisher for a work of non-fiction. However, other than the combination of surnames, we have found no evidence in support of this possibilty.)

“Visions of Terror” by Michael Blackett, published in 2002, “The River Styx” by Michael R. Blackett, published in 2006, and “Run, Dad, Run!”, a children’s book by Dulcibella Blackett, published in 2003, are unusual for Blackett authors in that they are works of fiction.

Tom Blackett, the former deputy chairman of Interbrand, has had several marketing books published covering brand management.

Matt Blackett (see Blacketts and music) is co-author of The History of Yamaha Guitars, published in 2006.

Image removed. Rev. John Blacket (1856-1935), who spelled his name with one “t”, was the author of eight books on philosophy and history, the latter largely focussing on the first 30 years of settlement in South Australia. His first book, “A South Australian Romance”, published in 1898, is now regarded as an important historical work on early South Australia.

Marion Blackett-Milner (1900-1998), the sister of Lord Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett (see A Nobel Prize for a Blackett) was a psychoanalyst and the author of a number of books on art and psychoanalysis. Her most noted work was “The Hands of the Living God”, published in 1969, detailing the story of the treatment of a very ill patient who communicated her emotions through the medium of drawing when unable to express herself in words.

Mark Blackett-Ord is the author of “Hell-Fire Duke”, published in 1982, the story of the Duke of Wharton, founder of the notorious Hell-Fire Club. He also writes and edits publications covering the law of partnerships.

Professor Adelle Blackett has had many articles on economics and labour relations published, and is the author of “Social Regionalism in the Global Economy”.

Jacqueline W. Blackett is the author of “Holistic Guide to Health and Self-Awareness” and “50 Q & A on Family Health and Welfare Issues”.

In 1961 Lady Teresa Lorraine Onslow, the 6xgreat-granddaughter of Diana Blackett, married Auberon Waugh, the noted author and journalist. He was the son of the author Evelyn Waugh, whose works included “Scoop” and “Brideshead Revisited.”
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In 1913 Mary Isabel Blacket, a granddaughter of Edmund Thomas Blacket Image removed.
(see Architecture), married Sir Gordon Clavering Trollope, grandson of the novelist Anthony Trollope, one of the most successful authors of the Victorian era. Although his novels declined in popularity after his death, the latter half of the 20th century saw a major revival of interest, and several of his works have been adapted for television, including The Pallisers series and the Barchester Chronicles. Until 1867 Trollope combined his writing with holding down a senior position with the British Post Office and was responsible for the introduction of the Post Office’s first pillar box, which came into use for the collection of mail in 1852 in St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands. The box was painted green, rather than the currently-used “pillar box red”.

Image removed. In 1945 Diana Evelyn Legh, a 7th great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Blackett married John Wodehouse, 4th Earl of Kimberley, a third cousin 3xremoved of Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P. G. Wodehouse, the novelist, best known for his “Jeeves and Wooster” short stories. Born in Guildford, Surrey, P. G. Wodehouse moved to France and during World War II was interned for a time by the German occupying forces in Upper Silesia, now in Poland. (He famously remarked “If this is Upper Silesia one wonders what Lower Silesia must be like.”) He finally settled in the USA and became an American citizen.

Despite all of the above contributions to literature by Blacketts and their descendants, however, the prize for having the biggest effect on popular literary culture is due to Hill Blackett (1892-1967). For his role in the creation of the “soap opera” please see the final paragraphs of Blacketts in politics.

Blacketts also appear as characters in fiction. In addition to Nancy Blackett in Arthur Ransome’s “Swallows and Amazons” (see A Blackett female pirate), the Blackett family, headed by Herbert Blackett, feature in E. H. Young’s “Chatterton Square”, published in 1947 and republished several times since.

“The Country of the Pointed Firs”, a novel by Sarah Orne Jewett, published in 1896, features an eighty-six-year-old Mrs. Blackett, the mother of the narrator, and her son William. The novel is considered to be the masterpiece of the author, who is regarded as one of the leading American writers of her day.

Image removed. “Mrs. Blackett: Her Story” by Emily E. S. Elliott (1836-1897), published in 1868 and reprinted in 1899 and 1909, is a charming story of a housekeeper, the widow of Tom Blackett, relating her life story to the young folk of the household. It had previously been issued as part of “Copsley Annals” in 1866 and Miss Elliott agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to its being published as a separate volume after many requests from her readers.

J. G. Farrell’s novel, “The Singapore Grip”, published in 1978, and adapted for a television series in 2020, centres around Walter Blackett, the head of the fictional firm of Blackett and Webb, British Singapore’s oldest and most powerful firm, and the impact of the Japanese invasion in World War II.

Admiral Sir James Blackett and Lady Blackett appear as characters in Nevil Shute’s “Landfall”, first published in 1940 and reissued in 1992 and Henry Blackett features in Michael Beashel’s “Unshackled”, published in 2009.

“Dead Fish”, a play by award-winning British playwright Gordon Steel, is a tragic-comic story of the Blackett family, who find themselves nearly torn apart when the eldest son refuses to follow his father into the steel industry.

Matthew Blackett, the son of a colliery owner, and a young officer under the command of the Duke of Marlborough in the early 18th century, is one of the main characters in “With Marlborough to Malplaquet” by Richard Stead and Herbert Strang, ( a pseudonym of two members of the Oxford University Press) written in 1908 and which can now now be read online.

Commander Roger Blackett of the Royal Navy is a leading character in J. S. Law’s “Tenacity”, a thriller published in 2015.

Stretching the “literary” connection somewhat, the long-running TV series “Z Cars” featured a character named “Sergeant Jim Blackitt”, played by Robert Keegan, who also played the same character, then retired, in the subsequent TV series “Softly, Softly”. And Beryl Blackett was a character played by Marjorie Rhodes in an episode of the TV series “Steptoe and Son”. (She was the lady friend of Albert Steptoe.) On the bigger screen, the movie “A Woman’s A Helluva Thing”, released in 2001, starred Angus MacFadyen as Houston Blackett, a men’s magazine owner.

Image removed. And stretching the family connection almost to breaking point, in 1837 Diana Bosville Macdonald, the 2xgreat-granddaughter of Diana Blackett married John George Smyth, the fourth cousin of Alice Pleasance Liddell. Alice Liddell, on whom “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was based, was the daughter of Henry George Liddell, who became close friends with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, also known as Lewis Carroll. A version of the story was originally told by Lewis Carroll to Alice, and he subsequently had an amended version published. Both that and the subsequent “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” were dedicated to Alice Pleasance Liddell.

Image removed. Eric Arthur Blair, who wrote under the pen name of George Orwell, attended St. Cyprian’s School in Eastbourne, Sussex, which had been established in 1899 by Cicely Ellen Philadelphia Comyn, a granddaughter of Ellen Anne Blacket, and her husband Lewis Chitty Vaughan Wilkes. George Orwell outlined his unhappy experiences of the school, and his unfavourable impression of Cicely and Lewis Vaughan Wilkes, in his essay “Such, Such Were the Joys”. It was considered libellous and an unfair account and publication in the UK was delayed until after the death of Cicely in 1967.

Of course, like most families, the Blacketts owned books, which would have contained their personal bookplates. Some of these have survived to this day. Bookplates, also known as ex-libris, have since the 15th century been used in books to declare ownership. Personal bookplates have been available to anyone owning a library and wishing to place in the books a printed design as a mark of ownership. We are fortunate to have in our possession some of the Blackett Bookplates bearing their name and coat of arms. The following bookplates and information have kindly been supplied by The Bookplate Society, an international society of collectors, bibliophiles, artists and others dedicated to promoting the production, use, collecting, and study of bookplates. The society achieves this through their publications, lectures, visits to collections, members’ auctions, social meetings, and exhibitions.

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We have not been able to identify all the owners of these bookplates. If you have information on them please contact us.