William Carus Wilson

William Carus Wilson (seated), from The Children's Friend, 1864.

William Carus Wilson (7 July 1791 – 30 December 1859) was an English churchman and the founder and editor of the long-lived monthly The Children's Friend. He was the inspiration for Mr Brocklehurst, the autocratic head of Lowood School, depicted by Charlotte Brontë in her 1847 novel Jane Eyre.

Early lifeEdit

He was born at Heversham as William Carus.[1] While he was a child his father (also called William) inherited an estate at Casterton, near Kirkby Lonsdale in Westmorland and took on the surname Wilson (which was a condition of the bequest). His father served as one of Cockermouth's two MPs in the 1820s.[2]

He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. in 1815.[3] Although refused orders that year owing to his excessive Calvinism,[4] he was ordained the following year and returned to the Lune valley, becoming Vicar of Tunstall, a small village in Lancashire. Some years later he became Rector of Whittington on the other side of the River Lune and was succeeded by Henry Currer Wilson at Tunstall. He founded Holy Trinity Church, Casterton, in the early 1830s, donating the land on which it stands.[5] He was also chaplain to The Prince Augustus Frederick.[6]

"Mr Brocklehurst" and Charlotte BrontëEdit

In 1823 he established at Cowan Bridge the Clergy Daughters' School for low-cost education of daughters of poorer members of the clergy. This school later moved to Casterton where it continued as the independent Casterton School, and subsequently (from 2013) the preparatory department of Sedbergh School. One of Sedbergh School's three girls houses is named Carus after Carus Wilson, following the arrival of pupils from Casterton Senior School. The author Charlotte Brontë was a pupil at Cowan Bridge in 1824/25 and attended Sunday services at Tunstall church. She featured the school in Jane Eyre as "Lowood". She based her character Robert Brocklehurst on Carus Wilson. Brocklehurst is presented as a hypocrite:

"He attests to his morality and charity and that all men, and especially young girls should be brought up in a way that teaches them humility and respect for their betters and he uses God and the Bible to make his points. He threatens his "wards" with hell and damnation if they don't walk the line that he pretends to walk himself... his charitable actions are no more than a cover for what he believes will get him into heaven and a means to promote his superiority, his family and their wealth." (Suzanne Hesse)[7]

In the year of Jane Eyre's publication Carus Wilson reportedly took legal advice with a view to suing for defamation, but desisted on receiving a letter of explanation and apology from the author.[8] However, the novel was published as the work of the pseudonymous Currer Bell, and it is not clear how many of its first readers of the book would have been in a position to make the connection between Lowood and Carus Wilson's foundation. In a letter to her publisher W.S. Williams, Charlotte describes overhearing an elderly clergyman talk about reading Jane Eyre and saying "Why, they have got Cowan Bridge School, and Mr. Wilson here, I declare! and Miss Evans." She says, "He had known them all. I wondered whether he would recognise the portraits, and was gratified to find that he did, and that, moreover, he pronounced them faithful and just. He said, too, that Mr. Wilson 'deserved the chastisement he had got.'"[9] The connection between Lowood and the Clergy Daughters' School was made explicit in The Life of Charlotte Brontë published in 1857 after Brontë's death. The following year Carus-Wilson's son William Wilson Carus-Wilson wrote his 20-page Refutation of the Statements in 'The Life of Charlotte Bronte' published by Joseph Whereat at the Gazette Office in Weston-super-Mare.


Carus Wilson established and edited The Friendly Visitor (in 1819)[10] and most notably The Children's Friend, "the first penny periodicals that ever appeared in England of the kind".[6] The latter, which he founded in 1824, was to survive him until 1860.[11] It ceased publication 1930.[11]

Carus Wilson addressed the high mortality rate and perceived sinfulness of his youthful readers, often describing the deaths of pious children as examples to emulate.[12]

He was the author of a number of other religious works, including copies of his sermons. He even published on the subject of architecture:[13] given that he included elevations it has been suggested that he had some specialist help from George Webster, the presumed architect of the church at Casterton.[14]

Mission to soldiers and later lifeEdit

As the eldest surviving child, he late in life inherited the family estates, following his father's death in 1851.[2]

An article about Carus Wilson which appeared some years after his death in The Children's Friend celebrated his efforts in later life to address drunkenness among British soldiers through personal visits to barracks and the distribution of tracts by mail. "He invited soldiers to regard him as their friend, and consult him when needing advice."[15] He also provided Bibles to French soldiers who fought in the Crimean War.[6]

In retirement, he was a Lecturer at St. John's Church, Newport, Isle of Wight.[16] In this church there is a marble monument to his memory, with the inscription: "Erected by the Non-commissioned Officers and Privates of the British Army in token of their love and gratitude."[6] It depicts a weeping soldier reading his Bible.[16] There is also a memorial to him at Holy Trinity Church, Casterton, where he is buried.


Carus Wilson was one of ten children, born to evangelical parents.[2] His brother Edward (1795–1860) was also a churchman.[2] In 1815 he married Anne Neville (who died a month before him), the daughter of Major-General Charles Neville. He had seven sons and six daughters; twelve of these thirteen are recorded as surviving into adulthood.[6]

His many grandchildren include the geologist Cecil Carus-Wilson.


  1. ^ Juliet Barker, 'Wilson, William Carus (1791–1859)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 2 July 2014 (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d "WILSON, William Wilson Carus (1764–1851), of Casterton Hall, Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmld". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
  3. ^ "Carus-Wilson or Wilson, William Carus (CRS810WC)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. ^ The Oxford Companion to the Brontes. Oxford.
  5. ^ "Holy Trinity Church, Casterton". Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d e Carus Wilson, Herbert; Harold L Talboys (1899). Genealogical memoirs of the Carus-Wilson family; being an account (1320–1899) of the families of Carus of Kendal; Carus of Halton, co. Lancs.; Carus of Melling and Kirkby Lonsdale; Wilson and Carus-Wilson of Casterton, co. Westmorland; and Carus-Wilson of Penmount, co. Cornwall. Hove, Sussex: Privately published.
  7. ^ Hesse, Suzanne. "The Victorian Ideal: Male Characters in Jane Eyre and Villette". Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  8. ^ Herbert, Ian (25 May 2006). "Revealed: why Brocklehurst's inspiration threatened to sue Brontë". The Independent (London). Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  9. ^ Letter from Charlotte Brontë to W.S. Williams, dated 4 January 1848 in Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle, by Clement K. Shorter, entire text online at gutenberg.org, page found 2010-08-30.
  10. ^ Carus Wilson, William (January 1824). "Address to the Reader". The Children's Friend. 1 (1): 1.
  11. ^ a b Laurel Brake; Marysa Demoor (2009). Dictionary of Nineteenth-century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Academia Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-90-382-1340-8. Retrieved 23 October 2016.
  12. ^ Lam, Siobhan. "A tradition of befriending children: Rev. Wilson and Children's Friend". Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  13. ^ Carus Wilson, William (1842). Helps to the Building of Churches, Parsonage Houses, and Schools. Kirkby Lonsdale and London: A. Foster and G. Seeley. pp. 39–40. William Carus Wilson.
  14. ^ Taylor. The Websters of Kendal: A North-Western Architectural Dynasty
  15. ^ "Rev. W. Carus Wilson, M.A.". The Children's Friend. New Series. 4: 95–96. June 1864.
  16. ^ a b "St. John's Church History". Retrieved 27 October 2013.