Lister, Thomas Henry (1800–1842), writer and civil servant
by Donald Hawes

Lister, Thomas Henry (1800–1842), writer and civil servant, was the eldest son of Thomas Lister of Armitage Park, near Lichfield, Staffordshire, and his first wife, Harriet Anne, the daughter of John Seale of Mountboone, Devon. His father was a cousin of the first Baron Ribblesdale (1752–1826). Lister was educated at Westminster School, London, to which he was admitted on 25 March 1814, and he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in May 1819. Although he matriculated in 1820, he left the university without taking a degree.

Lister was a refined and accomplished man who moved in aristocratic circles. In 1826 he published Granby, a novel set in English high society. It tells the story of its eponymous young hero's love for Miss Jermyn, whose parents disapprove of the relationship. But when Granby turns out to be the heir of Lord Malton, all is well. It is often regarded as the first full example of the ‘fashionable’ or ‘silver-fork’ novel, a genre also associated with Theodore Hook, Disraeli, Bulwer-Lytton, Mrs Gore, and Lady Blessington, among others. It was well received, with Sydney Smith in the Edinburgh Review of February 1826 going so far as to praise it as ‘a very easy and natural picture of manners, as they really exist among the upper classes’ (p. 396). When it was republished in 1838 as volume 11 of Henry Colburn's Modern Novelists, Lister was compelled to deny an assertion in the Quarterly Review of March 1826 that it owed much to Lord Normanby's Matilda (1825); it had, in fact, been completed four months previously. Two years later he published Herbert Lacy (1828), another ‘fashionable’ novel. He wrote a tragedy, Epicharis, based on the history of Piso's conspiracy; this was successfully staged at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, on 14 October 1829.

Lister married Lady Maria Theresa Villiers (1803–1865), the only daughter of the Hon. George Villiers, on 6 November 1830 [see ]. They had a son, Thomas Villiers (1832–1902), who became an assistant under-secretary for foreign affairs in 1873 and was made a KCMG in 1885. They also had two daughters, of whom the elder, Marie Thérèse Lister (1835–1863), married in 1859 Sir William G. G. V. Harcourt, and the younger, Alice Beatrice Lister (1841–1898), married in 1870 Sir Algernon Borthwick (later Lord Glenesk). In 1832 Lister published Arlington, the third and last of his ‘fashionable’ novels.

Lister held a number of official administrative posts. On 4 June 1834 he was nominated a commissioner for inquiring into the state of religious and other instruction which then existed in Ireland. He was given a similar responsibility on 19 July 1835, when he was one of those commissioned to investigate the opportunities for religious worship and the means of religious instruction in Scotland. On 19 August 1836 he was appointed the first registrar-general of births, marriages, and deaths of England and Wales. It was suggested that he owed this last appointment to the patronage of Lord John Russell, who was his brother-in-law. Nevertheless, he carried out his duties thoroughly and systematically, issuing his first annual report in 1839.

Meanwhile Lister continued his literary work. Between 1830 and 1841 he made twenty-one contributions to the Edinburgh Review. Dickens was delighted with his appreciative review in October 1838 of Sketches by Boz, Pickwick Papers, and the first instalments of Oliver Twist, in which Lister compared the young writer to Hogarth. He published The Life and Administration of Edward, First Earl of Clarendon (1837–8), which had a hostile reception in the Quarterly Review of October 1838 from John Wilson Croker, who thought that it was unjust in its judgements and inaccurate, but the biography was welcomed by others as a valuable contribution to historical knowledge. Lister issued An Answer to the Misrepresentations [in Croker's article] in 1839.

Lister died of lung disease on 5 June 1842 at Kent House, Knightsbridge, London, the mansion of his relative the earl of Morley, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery, Middlesex.

Thomas Henry Lister's half-sister, Harriet Cradock [née Lister] (1809–1884), novelist, was born on 18 June 1809 at Armitage, near Lichfield, the daughter of Thomas Lister and his second wife, Mary, daughter of William Grove of Honileigh, Warwickshire. Harriet Lister was a maid of honour to Queen Victoria for six years, from 1 July 1837, and was the only one to hold the post who was not the daughter or granddaughter of a peer. She left the queen's service to marry her cousin, the Revd Edward Hartopp Grove DD (1810–1886), on 9 July 1844. He took the surname Cradock in 1849, and was the rector of Tedstone Delamere in Herefordshire, canon of Worcester, and afterwards principal of Brasenose College, Oxford.

Harriet Cradock's first novel, Anne Grey, a Novel, Edited by the Author of ‘Granby’, appeared in 1834. It was sometimes attributed to Lister, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that its anonymity was reinforced by Lister's statement in the preface that ‘the writer is pleased to remain unknown’. The novel is not a ‘fashionable’ one, but a lively and unexaggerated tale of personal relationships in upper-middle-class English society. Harriet Cradock's other novels include Hulse House (1860), John Smith (1878), and Rose (1881). Among her miscellaneous works are The Calendar of Nature, or, The Seasons of England (1849), edited by her kinsman, Lord John Russell, and the letterpress for Views of Elf Land (1878), designed and executed by William Weird. She died on 16 June 1884 at her home, Cowley Grange, near Oxford.



DNB · Allibone, Dict. · GM, 2nd ser., 2 (1834), 207 · GM, 2nd ser., 4 (1835), 199 · GM, 2nd ser., 18 (1842), 323 · M. W. Rosa, The silver-fork school: novels of fashion preceding Vanity Fair (1936) · W. A. Lindsay, The royal household (1898) [H. Cradock] · Boase, Mod. Eng. biog. [Harriet Cradock] · W. Hughes, ‘Silver fork writers and readers’, Novel, 25 (1991), 328–47 · S. Smith, review of T. H. Lister, Granby, EdinR, 43 (1826), 395–406 · review, QR, 33 (1825–6), 474–90 · [J. W. Croker], review of T. H. Lister, The life and administration of Edward, first earl of Clarendon, QR, 62 (1838), 505–66 · Old Westminsters, vols. 1–2 · W. W. Rouse Ball and J. A. Venn, eds., Admissions to Trinity College, Cambridge, 4 (1911) · BL cat. · Wellesley index, vol. 1 · ‘Lewis, Lady Maria Theresa’, DNB · d. cert.


Bodl. Oxf., family corresp. |  BL, letters to Macvey Napier, Add. MSS 34614–34622, passim · Staffs. RO, letters to Lord Hatherton · TNA: PRO, letters to Lord John Russell, PRO 30/22 · V&A NAL, letters to Henry Colburn


I. W. Slater, lithograph, pubd 1834 (after J. Slater), BM · Finden, stipple, 1836 (after Wright), BM; repro. in T. H. Lister, Granby (1836) · Wright, engraving (after Finden), repro. in T. H. Lister, Granby (1838), vol. 11 of H. Colburn, Modern Novelists Series, frontispiece

Wealth at death  

£6981 16s. 9d.—Harriet Cradock: probate, 16 July 1884, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Thomas Henry Lister (1800–1842): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/16768
Harriet Cradock (1809–1884): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/53704