We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Blakey, Robert [pseud. Palmer Hackle] (1795–1878), radical and historian of philosophy, son of Robert Blakey (c.1774–1796), mechanic, and his wife, Elizabeth Laws (b. 1773), was born in Manchester Street, Morpeth, Northumberland, on 18 May 1795. His father died when he was nine months old. When he was six, he was taken charge of by his grandmother, also Elizabeth Laws (c.1728–1818), a staunch Presbyterian. ‘She awakened within me that love of knowledge which has been to me, not only a cold sentiment, but a positive passion from my earliest recollections’ (Memoirs, 46). From his eighth year he worked almost full time for his uncle, market gardening and making ‘corve rods’. In February 1809 he moved to Alnwick, where he became a furrier, learned fishing and shooting, and became a radical in the mould of William Cobbett. His minister, the Revd David Paterson, gave him private tuition which, with his own extensive reading, made him unusually well educated.

In 1815 Blakey returned to Morpeth, selling rabbit fur to hat makers throughout much of England and Scotland. He opened two hat shops and speculated in property. On 11 June 1822 he married Mary Gibb (1791–1858), daughter of Henry and Isabella Gibb of Alnwick. They had six children, of whom four survived—Mary (1823–1895), Isabella Elizabeth (1824–1901), George (1827–1890), and Robert (1828–1855). Blakey ‘had at times very indifferent health, and I have known him laid up for months, and never out of doors’ (Haslam). He wrote pamphlets and squibs on the Morpeth poor-law fraud (1818–21), contributed to Cobbett's Register, the Black Dwarf, Durham Chronicle, and Tyne Mercury, was elected to Morpeth town council in 1835, and became mayor in November 1836. His most important achievements were the founding of the Morpeth Mechanical and Scientific Institution (1825) and the new corporation schools (1837–8), which anticipated by thirty years the Cowper-Temple clause of 1870 on religious teaching in schools. Cottage Politics (1837) contains his charges of cruelty against the Morpeth guardians, with their replies. In 1841, in the Newcastle Journal, he detailed two appalling cases of their interference in medical treatment, but also admitted making errors in his original accusations.

In 1838 Blakey purchased the Northern Liberator, the only Chartist newspaper to attract extensive advertising. He and Thomas Doubleday wrote the leaders, and in 1839 Blakey bought a new press and doubled its size, after which it enjoyed an average circulation of over 2400. His sub-editor, Thomas Devyr, inserted his own ‘Address to the middle classes’ in the first enlarged issue. The government charged Blakey and his printer, John Bell, with seditious libel. Bell went to prison for six months, but Blakey's case was twice postponed because of illness. His account of what happened is confused, but the case was evidently compromised, and Blakey closed down the Liberator in December 1840. The home secretary was privately delighted (Napier, 2.148) and on 25 February 1841 Blakey was merely bound over. The prosecution and closure cost him severe worry and financial loss, made worse by the failure of The Politician (June–July 1841).

In philosophical speculation Blakey was an orthodox follower of the intuitive school. His literary career began in 1820 in the Newcastle Magazine. He published An Essay on Moral Good and Evil in 1831. History of Moral Science (2 vols., 1833) established him as a scholarly writer, but after 1834 philosophy gave way for a time to politics and business. In 1840 he moved to London, and in 1841: ‘I went to France with my wife and family. Here I resolved to devote all my time and energies to philosophical literature’ (Memoirs, 115). They moved to Belgium, constantly short of money, but in 1843–4 Blakey made £300 from ghost-writing, and with a friend wrote Hints on Angling under the pseudonym Palmer Hackle (1846). He returned to London and brought out his principal work, History of the Philosophy of Mind (4 vols., 1848), dedicated to Prince Albert. In 1849 Leopold, king of the Belgians, awarded him a gold medal.

In 1849 Blakey became professor of logic and metaphysics at Queen's College, Belfast. He made a good start, but then missed a whole academic year due to illness, and in October 1851 was dismissed, technically for neglect of duty. During his illness he published Historical Sketch of Logic (1851) and, after he recovered, The Angler's Complete Guide to the Rivers and Lakes of England (1853), Rivers and Lochs of Scotland (1854), and History of Political Literature (2 vols., 1855), the unpublished third and fourth volumes of which are held in manuscript in the British Library of Political and Economic Science. In 1856 he was elected PhD by the University of Jena.

After 1849 the Blakeys lived in Glasgow, but were at Moffat when Mrs Blakey died in 1858. Blakey returned to London and on 10 December 1859 married Charlotte Esther Aldous, née Reynolds (c.1799–1878). In 1860 the former Chartist agitator was awarded a pension from the civil list, ‘in consideration of his exertions to aid and promote the study of philosophy’ (The Athenaeum, 11 Aug 1860). He lived for several years at Walford, near Ross-on-Wye, but returned to London in 1873–4. He died on 26 October 1878 at his home, 20 Blomfield Road, Maida Hill, Paddington, and was buried at Kensal Green. Twenty-five of his works appeared between 1831 and 1879. Most can still be read with profit, and his fishing books continue to be of use, if sometimes only as a contrast to modern times—the upper Spey, Blakey notes, is so full of fish that ‘one grows absolutely tired of the sport’ (Blakey, Rivers and Lochs of Scotland, 134). Hints on Angling is mentioned in the eighth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica but, contrary to report, Blakey was not a contributor. His Angling, or, How to Angle and where to Go (1854) published at 1s. was constantly reprinted and came out in a new edition in 1898, while History of Political Literature was republished by Kennicat as recently as 1970. Blakey never finished his memoirs, which must be used with caution, but they mention many contemporaries, from Jack Mitford to Cardinal Newman. Unfortunately his papers and portrait are lost. His daughter Isabella married George Adam Bell of Brooklyn; they had four sons, and their granddaughter Madeline Bell Gilbert had children of her own in New York in 1920. Blakey's last known descendants in Britain were Elizabeth Lewis, née Sinclair (b. 1897), and Arthur Reginald Sinclair Lewis (b. 1918).

Roger Hawkins

Sources  

Memoirs of Dr. Robert Blakey, ed. H. Miller (1879) · Men of the time (1862) · R. Hawkins, The life of Robert Blakey, 1795–1878 (2003) · R. Blakey, ‘The Poor Law Amendment Bill—to Lord Viscount Howick’, Newcastle Journal (10 April 1841) · C. J. Haslam, Newcastle Weekly Chronicle (23 Nov 1878) · T. A. Devyr, Newcastle Weekly Chronicle (7 Dec 1878) · T. A. Devyr, The odd book of the nineteenth century, or, ‘Chivalry’ in modern days, a personal record of reform—chiefly land reform, for the last fifty years (privately printed, New York, 1882) · T. W. Moody and J. C. Beckett, Queen's, Belfast, 1845–1949: the history of a university, 2 vols. (1959) · W. F. P. Napier, The life and opinions of General Sir Charles James Napier, 2 (1857), 148 · Reports of the presidents of the Queen's colleges (G. and J. Grierson for HMSO, Dublin, 1851) · The Athenaeum (11 Aug 1860), 203 [citation for civil list pension] · Presbyterian baptismal register, Northumbd RO, M1266 · Universitätsarchiv Jena, Bestand M, Nr 451 [MS notes on Blakey's candidature, citation 30 Nov 1856] · Northern Liberator (3 Aug 1839); (17 Aug 1839); (29 Feb 1840); (7 March 1840); (14 March 1840); (8 Aug 1840) [contemporary reports of Blakey's prosecution] · Newcastle Journal (27 Feb 1841) · Gateshead Observer (26 Dec 1840); (27 Feb 1841) [contemporary reports of Blakey's prosecution] · The Times (12 Feb 1841) · Tyne Mercury (2 March 1841) [contemporary reports of Blakey's prosecution] · Morpeth town council minute book, Northumbd RO, NRO 990/A1 · lease of garden to Blakey's house, Northumbd RO, ZBS 2/60 · census returns for Lambeth, 1841, TNA: PRO, HO 107/1056/3, fol. 18 · census return for Moffat, Dumfries, 1851, TNA: PRO, ED 5, p. 28, schedule 130 · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1878) · Littlebury's directory of Herefordshire (1867) · Manchester Examiner (5 April 1872) · W. Senior, notes and memorandum, in R. Blakey, Angling, or, How to angle and where to go, rev. W. Senior, new edn (1898) · grave register for All Souls' cemetery, Kensal Green, grave no. 26,406/3/2 [General Cemetery Co. letter] · The Athenaeum (2 Nov 1878), 562 · Newcastle Daily Chronicle (29 Oct 1878)

Archives  

King Edward VI High School, Morpeth, King Edward VI Grammar School trustees' minute book and accounts · King Edward VI High School, Morpeth, William Woodman's solicitor's daybook · Newcastle Central Library, anonymous letters to Tyne Mercury on electoral corruption of freemen of Morpeth · Newcastle Central Library, tracts, probably by Blakey, in the Morpeth poor law dispute, 1818–21, L942.82 M817M · Northumbd RO, Morpeth, Morpeth Records Centre, assignments of Blakey's leases on 4 May 1840, BMO/D2/51, BMO/D2/52 · Northumbd RO, Morpeth, Morpeth Records Centre, leases of Blakey's hat shop in Bridge Street and of Tenter Close, BMO/D1, 167–8 · Northumbd RO, Morpeth, Morpeth Records Centre, papers on the Morpeth poor law fraud and dispute, 1818–21, EP28/70/1–14 · Northumbd RO, Morpeth, Morpeth Records Centre, squibs on Morpeth Mechanical and Scientific Institution, ZAN M16/B2, 323 · TNA: PRO, assizes papers, ASSI 44–156 part 1 [indictments of Blakey, Bell, Devyr, and others in 1840–41] · TNA: PRO, assizes papers, ASSI 41/16 [court minute book for 3 Aug 1840]


Wealth at death  

under £200: probate, 7 Dec 1878, CGPLA Eng. & Wales