José Blanco White (top left) is, without a doubt, the best known of all Liverpool's Luso-Hispanic residents. Theologically and personally restless, his life and work illustrate the interconnectedness of Anglo-Hispanic cultural and family networks. He was born José Blanco Crespo in Seville in 1775, descended from an Irish Catholic family whose original family name, White, had been Hispanicized as Blanco. He trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood and was ordained in 1799 at the age of 24, but swiftly became disenchanted with the Church. Although he was involved with the Spanish resistance to Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808, White had no faith in the Spanish provisional government, and in 1810 he left Spain for England, where he settled among the large Spanish exile community in London. He became friendly with the powerful Hispanophile Henry Fox, 3rd Baron Holland, and began to publish articles, essays and translations for both English- and Spanish-speaking audiences. In 1826, he moved to Oxford and joined Oriel College, where he became close to John Henry Newman. White had converted to Anglicanism soon after his arrival in England, and when in 1831 another of his friends, Richard Whately, was appointed Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, White went to live with him in Ireland. By 1835, he had become unhappy with the Anglican Church and in January that year, he left Dublin for Liverpool, where he would spend the final six years of his life.
White lived in Liverpool for only six years, and he appears on the whole to have had limited contact with the city's other Hispanic residents. He did, however, enjoy a longstanding friendship with Clemente de Zulueta, a member of the extensive Basque merchant family with interests in Cadiz, London, Liverpool and - notoriously - Cuba. Clemente ran the Liverpool branch of the family business, and White stayed at his home at 56 Seel St during his first days in Liverpool. Within a fortnight of reaching Liverpool, White had attended his first Unitarian service at the chapel on Paradise St, where he was overwhelmed with emotion. He wrote to the Provost of his Oxford College, Oriel, on 27 January and again four days later, confessing that his religious convictions had changed, and he could no longer maintain his membership of the College. On 31 January, he declared:
I do not intend to leave Liverpool. The circumstance of its being a mercantile town, and my having only two or three persons who know me here, will keep me as much as possible out of the immediate contact of that intolerance, which would spare me only at the price of my honesty (Life, Vol. II: 92).
White's desire to avoid 'intolerance' reflects his history of leaving behind social and family ties on moving between churches. He now eagerly joined yet another social and religious circle, as he became a member of Liverpool's growing Unitarian congregation, which was patronized by the powerful Rathbone family. Despite the support and friendship he found in Unitarian circles, White's years in Liverpool were not happy. He was frequently unwell and moved house often, seeking better or quieter or brighter lodgings. Leaving Zulueta's house after a few days, he first took up lodgings at 25 Upper Parliament St, although he 'found them uncomfortable' and within six weeks had removed around the corner to 5 Chesterfield St, where on March 3 he was pleased to note in his journal that 'this is the twenty-fifth anniversary of my arrival in England: the first that has found me in a house of my own - solitary - but ... in peace' (Life, Vol. II: 105). Two days later, he wrote to a friend that,
I have taken a cheap house, which, by means of very little furniture, I have made habitable; and here I am, wishing for nothing but that I may be allowed to died in peace; not in peace from theological obloquy, for that I think it my duty to encounter, but free from the necessity of looking for another place of refuge (Life, Vol. II: 107).
Between 1836-1840, White resided at 22 Upper Stanhope St, from where, on 2 September 1840, he recorded in his journal his removal to Carlisle Cottage in Whitfield St, on the rural outskirts of the city:
Left the house (Upper Stanhope Street), accompanied by Mr Thom, and carried between three men. The rooms in the Cottage look cheerful, but I feel quite knocked up. The bird [his pet canary, Dickey] was very much frightened, though he was brought by Margaret [his servant] in a coach. The house is quiet: passed the night tolerably.
He remained at the Cottage until February 1841, when, in his final sickness, he was moved to Greenbank, the home of William Rathbone (now a University of Liverpool Hall of Residence), where he died on 20 May 1841. His friend and editor JH Thom records:
He remained some days longer, chiefly in the state of one falling asleep, until the morning of the 20th, when he awoke up, and with a firm voice and great solemnity of manner, spoke only these words:- "Now I die." He sat as one in the attitude of expectation, and about two hours afterwards - it was as he had said. On Monday the twenty-fourth of May he was interred, according to the instructions of his Will, in the burial-ground attached to Renshaw-street Chapel, Liverpool, in the 66th year of his age (Life, Vol. III: 310).
It is paradoxical, given his lack of any real connections with his countrymen during his time in the city, that White should be the beneficiary of Liverpool's only public commemoration of its Luso-Hispanic history. A monument to the Unitarian William Roscoe now stands in a small garden on the site of the Renshaw St chapel (second left); since 1984, it has also commemorated White, being adorned by an azulejo (decorative tile) presented by a delegation from White's birthplace of Seville (third left). In addition, Ullet Road Unitarian Church in Liverpool's elegant Sefton Park neighbourhood contains a tablet in White's memory, commissioned by his wealthy Unitarian correligionaries (bottom left).
The Life of the Rev. Joseph Blanco White: Written by Himself, with portions of his correspondence. London: J Chapman, 1845 [Full text available at The Internet Archive: Vol. I (1775-1832) / Vol. II (1833-1837) / Vol. III (1838-1841)]
Martin Murphy. Blanco White: Self-Banished Spaniard. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989 [The definitive biography of Blanco White; can be purchased second-hand or consulted in academic libraries].
Papers of Blanco White in the Special Collections & Archives of the University of Liverpool
Blanco White Family Collection at Princeton University Library.