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Digby, William (1849–1904), journalist and social campaigner, the third son of William Digby and his wife, Ann Drake, was born on 1 May 1849 at Walsoken, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. Mostly self-taught, Digby became an apprentice in the office of the Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser at the age of fifteen in 1864. He subsequently became chief reporter of the Sussex Advertiser, before leaving England in 1871 for Colombo to take up the post of sub-editor of the Ceylon Observer. There he advocated temperance and successfully campaigned for the abolition of revenue farming. Digby also advocated free trade, publishing The Food Taxes of Ceylon (1875), and was made an honorary member of the Cobden Club in 1878. As official shorthand writer for the legislative council, he prepared six volumes of the Ceylon Hansard (1871–6). He also published Forty Years of Official and Unofficial Life in a Crown Colony (2 vols., 1879), a biography of Sir Richard F. Morgan, acting chief justice in Ceylon. In 1874 Digby married Ellen Amelia, only daughter of Captain Little of Wisbech; she died in June 1878. The couple had one son, William Pollard, who became an electrical engineer.

In 1877 Digby moved to India and assumed the editorship of the Madras Times. He used his influence to call for the alleviation of the great famine in south India. Largely owing to his representations a relief fund was opened at the Mansion House in London, and £820,000 was subscribed. Digby was active as honorary secretary in India of the executive committee, which distributed relief through 120 local committees. He was made CIE on 1 January 1878. His Famine Campaign in Southern India (2 vols., 1878) is a graphic portrayal of the hunger and distress suffered by the local population. On returning to England in 1879, Digby married, in December, Sarah Maria (d. 1899), eldest daughter of William Hutchinson, a former mayor of Wisbech. He edited the Liverpool and Southport Daily News for a few months in 1880 before becoming, until 1882, editor of the Western Daily Mercury at Plymouth. From November 1882 until 1887 he was secretary of the newly founded National Liberal Club in London. He stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal for North Paddington in 1885 and South Islington in 1892.

In 1887 Digby became senior partner of William Hutchinson & Co., East India agents and merchants, a firm he established in conjunction with his wife's family. Meanwhile he pursued in the press and on the platform the campaign for extending self-government to Indians. In 1885 he published India for the Indians—and for England, setting out his ideas chiefly on Indian reform. In 1888 he founded, and until 1892 also directed, an Indian political agency in London, which distributed information on behalf of Indian interest groups in Britain. Digby also became, in 1889, secretary to the newly constituted British committee of the Indian National Congress, and edited the committee's journal, India (1890–92). In Prosperous British India (1901) he attacked the economic consequences of the empire, claiming to prove a steady growth of poverty among the majority of Indians under British rule. Digby died from nervous exhaustion at 50 Weymouth Street, London, on 24 September 1904, and was buried at Bromley Hill cemetery by the side of his second wife; they had a daughter and three sons, the eldest of whom, Everard, became editor of the Indian Daily News in Calcutta.

F. H. Brown, rev. Chandrika Kaul


E. C. Moulton, ‘Digby, William’, BDMBR, vol. 3, pt 1 · The Times (26 Sept 1904) · Biographical Magazine (July 1885) · Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser (24 Sept 1904) · Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser (27 Sept 1904) · Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser (20 Dec 1905) · WWW · personal knowledge (1912) · m. cert.


BL OIOC, corresp. and papers, MS Eur. D 767 |  Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Kimberley


J. C. Forbes, oils; presented 19 Dec 1905, National Liberal Club, London

Wealth at death  

£472 13s. 4d.: probate, 6 Oct 1904, CGPLA Eng. & Wales