Nat Gould

His life and books

Timothy Hollis 1709-1790

Timothy Hollis
Born: 1709 London
Died: 1790 London
John Hollis 1666-1735
Hannah Sandford 1667-1740
Isaac Hollis 1701-1774
Samuel Hollis
Jacob Hollis
Mary Hollis
Hannah Hollis
Anne Hollis
Elizabeth Hollis

Timothy Hollis was born in 1709, the son of John Hollis 1666-1735 and his wife nee Hannah Sandford 1667-1740. He was baptised on 20 March 1709 at Holy Trinity Minories church in the City of London.

He lived in the street called St Mary Axe in the city, and was visited there on 2 March 1762 by the canal pioneer James Brindley (1), who was in London while the Bridgewater canal bill was passing through Parliament (2). Probably he had been summoned there by Timothy Hollis to discuss the Don Navigation (3) between Sheffield and Rotherham. Although better communication from Sheffield to the east coast had been planned in the early years of the eighteenth century, it was not until 1751 that the connection from the coast to a wharf at Tinsley was completed (4).

The Hollis family maintained their Yorkshire link not only through their cutlery business, but also in mamaging their charitable Hollis Hospital in Sheffield. They were interested in canals there, and the Hollis Hospital received substantial benefit from canal shares they had donated (5). Hollis Hall had been founded in 1703 by Thomas Hollis 1634-1718 in a disused chapel called New Hall and an adjoining house that he converted into sixteen houses for widows of cutlers or others connected with the trade. A school was also established. A substantial addition was made in 1726 by Thomas Hollis 1659-1731, the founder's son, and John Hollis 1666-1735. It was further improved in 1732 by the founder's grandson Thomas Hollis, and subsequently by Timothy Hollis and Thomas Brand later known as Thomas Brand Hollis. The charity then possessed considerable property in houses and land, and annuities financed by funds in bank and other stocks, as well as four shares in the Don Navigation and its branch the Dearne and Dove Navigation (6). By 1751 each share in the Don Navigation yielded £100 per annum, and in 1832 one was sold by auction for £2,420 (7). James Brindley was involved in this inmproved waterway access. In June 1762, soon after his visit to Timothy Hollis at St Mary Axe, he was consulted by the Don Navigation management about constructing swivel bridges at Goole, and resumed his work there in the following September (8).

By 1783 Timothy Hollis had moved to Great Ormond Street, then in a suburb of the City of London (9).

He was unmarried and childless. He died on 14 December 1790.

His Will is dated 13 August 1774 and has eleven Codicils. A twelfth Codicil was discovered after probate was granted.

An appreciation published under the name Julian in the Gentleman's Magazine said of him:

"Lest by universal silence such a character as the late Timothy Hollis should sink into oblivion, one, who had the happiness to know him, is at length induced to mark the progress of his virtues for general instruction. The publick have lost, in Mr. Timothy Hollis [who died at his house in Ormond-street, Dec. 14, 1791, aged 82.] an excellent citizen, who was consistent even in these times of general dereliction of principles; he was from conviction a Dissenter, not from the mean spirit of party, but from reflexion and sentiment, thinking that every one has a right to exercise his own private judgement in all matters, both civil and religious, that concern his happiness and peace of mind; he was a dissident of the first order—he was an Unitarian. From incontestible principles he maintained, that all power is from the people, and all dominion a trust, and may be resumed at the will of those who gave it; he, therefore, claims the name of a Revolution Whig. He abhorred the assertion, that the English Government had a right to bind the Americans in all cases whatever. He smiled at the idea of conquering a people united as one man, and thought it absurd to call the determined resistance of a whole nation rebellion; for, agreeable to Sidney, "a general opposition is not rebellion," but assumes a nobler name, sovereignty. He, therefore, rejoiced exceedingly at the revolution of America, as a glorious event, tending to spread universally the principles of general liberty, both, civil and religious, and to exhibit to the world a government where dominion does not lurk from hand to hand, but is dignified by public choice, where each directs the sword he wears; and that now an asylum exists, before unknown, for the injured and oppressed, and where the long hands of tyrants cannot reach.

It was but natural for the nephew of Thomas Hollis [who died 1718], the generous and liberal benefactor to Harvard College, to love America, triumph in her prosperity, and more so, as that people maintained principles so congenial with his own.

Having acquired an ample fortune, he enjoyed it by being liberal to the learned and ingenious, for he was a great encourager of all proposals which tended to promote knowledge, truth, and liberty. He was a generous friend to the injured and distressed; even the undeserving partook of his bounty, endeavouring to reclaim them by his benevolence,—for he had an eye for pity, and a hand open as Heaven for melting charity: he did not think, with the minute philosophers of the day, that "the poor and oppressed must be taught their consolation in the final portions of eternal justice."

His knowledge and liberal sentiments were the result of his own inquisitive mind, which was never permitted to be indolent or base: this principle prompted him to survey his own beloved island every summer; and none better informed, or made more exact observations. His books of travels, natural history, philosophy, and tracts, religious and political, are numerous and most valuable. His Atlas is rich; and his collection of natural productions is large, curious, and rare.

The distribution of his great property reveals the good citizen; he was no aristocratic, but a man. He was without guile, and his private virtues were amiable; no one ever imputed to him a single vice: if he ever hesitated as to action, it was when he was in doubt, like desponding Brutus, dubious of right in evil days; but when he saw his way before him, no one more determined and fixed to his purpose. If only apprehensive of having done wrong from misconception, he was the first to seek forgiveness, as he was, in the like case, to grant it to others. If any weakness discovered itself, it was in not declaring openly his detestation of private delinquency; by which reserve the wicked are not discriminated to deter others: but even this arose from his general philanthropy. When surrounded by his friends and numerous aquaintance, the idea of the mild majesty of private life broke out in full force.

He was elated at the divine regeneration of the French nation, and wished success to their endeavours to establish a government free from tyranny and superstition, under which the equal rights of men are the chief objects of the State; and, by governors proving themselves the preceptors of mankind, human-nature may become more and more perfect, to the utmost extent of which their faculties are capable, which still remains unknown; and there is no doubt that, under the protection of Heaven, their noble efforts will be crowned with "the radiant splendours of majestic peace;" and future generations, thus enlightened, will esteem as folly all the present indignant subjugation of mind aud body to monarchical tyranny, and priestly superstition, which Is now pretended to be wisdom and religion, and will with astonishment pity the weakness of their ancestors. Through this glorious prospect opened to his view, he greatly lamented the supineness and apathy which prevail among all ranks and orders in this country with respect to the public welfare, and considered it as an omen of approaching ruin.

He left no legacies to charitable foundations, from considering the abuse and perversion of them, which experience shews, and thinking the people of the present day know what is best for their time; not but seminaries of learning at their beginning, and before they are rich, seem proper exceptions.

He bore with complacency and resignation his bodily disorders and pains. During the latter years of his life, he was almost deaf, blind, and helpless, more distressing to him who had a natural delicacy of sentiment. No one cultivated the pleasures of society more, by a table liberally spread, and open to all, undistinguished by name, nation, sect, or party,—the profligate and infamous only were excluded ; but this luxury he was in a great degree deprived of by his infirmities; yet he fanned the embers with his expiring breath, and was happy in obtaining what he wished,—to depart suddenly.

After having considered with the severest justice this excellent character, nothing remains but to keep his memory alive by imitating his example; and, for our consolation, to reflect that he is gone to the mansions of the spirits of just men made perfect, there to receive the reward of his virtues; and to join that illustrious assembly may be esteemed the greatest happiness (10)."


(1) "M[onday]1 of March 1762/T[uesday] at Mr Hollis, St Mary Axs": James Brindley's Notebooks Transcribed and edited by Victoria Owens (2013) page 81.

(2) Not as stated in James Brindley Canal Pioneer by Christine Richardson (2004)on page 47: "Brindley was ill for the first two weeks of the month [February 1762], eventually recovering and giving thanks at the church of St Mary Axe in the City of London." Saint Mary Axe was then a street and not a church - that had been demolished in 1561.

(3) History, and General Directory, of the Borough of Sheffield, with Rotherham, Chesterfield. and all the Villages and Hamlets within a Circuit of Ten Miles of the Capital of Hallamshire, etc. William White (1833) pages 49 to 52.

(4) ibid pages 50-51. That was still some three miles from the commercial and industrial centre of Sheffield, and the final link was not completed until 1819.

(5) ibid pages 109-110.

(6) Details of the several benefactions and of the property owned by the charity are given in Reports from Commissioners: Third Volume : Sessions 29 January-28 July 1828: volume XI (1828) pages 586-592.

(7) History, and General Directory, of the Borough of Sheffield, with Rotherham, Chesterfield. and all the Villages and Hamlets within a Circuit of Ten Miles of the Caputal of Hallamshire, etc. William White (1833) pages 50 and 109-110.

(8) James Brindley's Notebooks Transcribed and edited by Victoria Owens (2013) pages 69, 87 and 94. An account of this work is given in James Brindley Canal Pioneer by Christine Richardson (2004) pages 49-52.

(9) Codicil D dated 14 January 1783 annexed to his Will.

(10) Gentleman's Magazine volume 69 (1791) pages 306-308.