william wilberforce (1759-1825)

William was born in Hull on August 24th, 1759 - ten years before James Watt patented the steam engine. He was born in the family home, Wilberforce House, in High Street, Hull, and was brought up with all the advantages that wealth and position bring. His grandfather had been a Baltic merchant and an alderman of the town; his father a wealthy merchant also. However, when William was just nine years old his father died.

At the age of seven, William went to the Hull Grammar School, but after his father's death he was sent to London, into the care of his uncle, William Wilberforce, of Wimbledon and St. James' Place. Here, he became influenced by his aunt's interest in John Wesley and the early Methodist movement. Unsettled by this, William's mother brought him back to the family home.

At the age of seventeen, he entered St. John's College, Cambridge and it was here that he first met William Pitt, who later became Britain's youngest ever Prime Minister.

In 1780, after leaving Cambridge, William stood for election to Parliament as member for The Borough of Kingston-upon-Hull, which is one of the oldest in the United Kingdom, having had two members serving in Parliament as far back as 1305. William was, as we now say, 'duly elected' with a poll of 1126. The second member returned, Lord Robert Manners, received 673 votes. William held this position until 1784 when, although again being chosen to represent Hull, he was also returned as one of the Knights for the Shire for the County of York, and it was for this that he took his seat in Parliament. His replacement as representative for Hull was Walter Stanhope.

In the House of Commons, William supported the Tory government led by William Pitt.

In 1784, increasingly interested in social reform, William agreed to a request by Lady Middleton to try to use his influence in Parliament to bring about an end to the trade in human beings as slaves.

The first Bill to abolish the slave trade presented to Parliament was defeated by 163 votes to 88; and between the years 1791-1805 similar Bills were put before Parliament no less than eleven times, but were either rejected by the House of Commons, or thrown out by the Lords.

William refused to give up, and in December 1806 the Bill was passed by the Lords, and subsequently, on February 23rd, 1807, carried in the House of Commons by 283 votes to 16. The Bill received the Royal assent on March 25th.

In 1832 William's health began to fail, and he died in London on July 29th, 1833, aged 74. William had chosen a vault at Stoke Newington for his burial, but a parliamentary requisition to his sons for his interment at Westminster Abbey, signed by 38 members of both Houses, ensured that his body was laid to rest in the north transept of the Abbey on August 5th, 1833, close to the bodies of Pitt, Fox and Canning.

Although the Bill had been passed in 1806, it wasn't until 1833, shortly after William's death, that Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which gave all slaves in the British Empire their freedom.

At a public meeting in Hull on August 12th 1833, it was decided to erect a column in commemoration of his career and connection with the town.

The first stone of the monument was laid on August 1st 1834 and in November, later that year, the statue of William was gently positioned on top. The column, which rises to a height of 102 feet (31.09 metres), and originally cost 1,250, was erected at the corner of St. John's Street, near to what is now known as Monument Bridge. In 1935, the column was moved to its present location, which at that time was the eastern boundary of Queen's Gardens, but is now the forecourt to Hull College.

The original architect was a Mr. Clark, of Leeds; Messrs Myers and Wilson were the builders. Nine years later, 1842, a similar monument would be erected in London's Trafalgar Square in memory of Admiral Nelson. Of course, being in the capital, William Railton's column had to be taller, and stands at 145ft.

William Wilberforce is often described as a philanthropist. Dictionaries define this word in the following way : A lover of mankind, one who shows love or goodwill to their fellow men.

This was William Wilberforce.