William BARNES (1801-1886)

Poet and Philologist

Compiled by Michael Russell OPC for Dorchester September 2016

Statue to William BARNES which stands outside of St Peters Church in Dorchester

William BARNES (1801-1886) biography has already been written and this link is to the brief account of his life given on the Dorset County Museum website where it is possible to access an on on-line copy of 'The Life of William Barnes' published in 1887 by his daughter Lucy Emily Baxter (who wrote under the name of Leader Scott). I have relied heavily upon this first hand account concerning his connection with Dorchester.

The purpose of this document is to provide more background in relation to the time he lived in Dorchester and links to other relevant documents on this site:-

DORCHESTER 1818-1823

William BARNES, according to his daughters account, first came to Dorchester in 1818 when he became an engrossing clerk with the firm Thomas Coombs and Sons, Solicitors in Dorchester. They were based in South Street and the Company was run by Thomas COOMBS the Elder (1777-1852) who had married Emma Dowland the year before Barnes arrival. Thomas Coombs was an influential man in Dorchester and Barnes employed as a clerk to the Magistrates so he was immediately immersed in the politics of the Corporation as it set about running the town. Thomas Coombs status was to continue to grow and in 1839 he was elected Mayor of Dorchester by which time he was also Steward to the Duchy of Cornwall. He was to become a close friend of Barnes for the rest of his life.

While fulfilling his clerkly duties, Barnes and a friend, William CAREY (afterwards a lawyer at Calne), lodged together in apartments above John HAZARD's pastry cook's shop in South Street, and the spare time of the two young men passed in reading and studying. The Rector of St Peters Rev. Henry John RICHMAN (1756-1824), soon found out his new parishioners passion for learning and kindly gave him evening lessons in the classics, placing his library at Barnes disposal and laying the foundations of that classical knowledge which underlies all his philological studies. Barnes must have been greatly distressed by the tragic death of the Rector in 1824 when during a violent storm both he and his wife were killed when the chimney stack of their house fell through the roof onto the bed they were sleeping in.

His daughter records:-

"One day not many months after young Barnes arrived at Dorchester, he was walking up the High Street, when the stage coach drew up with a great dash and clatter of the hoofs of steaming horses. William Barnes paused to see the passengers alight. From the seat behind the driver a family party descended; first a portly, matronly lady, and then the lithe figures of two young girls, one of whom, a slight elegant child of about sixteen(1), sprang easily down with a bright smile. She had blue eyes and wavy brown hair and wore a sky blue "spencer" (which was a name our grandmothers gave to a jacket) and at sight of her the incipient poet felt his heart suddenly awakened to poesy. He has often told his children that the unbidden thought came into his mind "that shall be my wife".

I do not know how long it was before he discovered that her name was Julia MILES, and that her father , an excise officer, was to be quartered at Dorchester, but that the first bright vision grew into a reality in his life is shown by its stirring the water of the spring of poesy to its first flow in some lines, "To Julia", published in the Weekly Entertainer of the year 1820, page 159 which we give not because they are in any way adequate to his more mature genius, but because they are the very first expression of his soul in verse."

    "To Julia"

    "When the moonlight is spread on those meadows so green,
    Which the Frome's limpid current glides by,
    To mark its calm progress, to gaze on the scene,
    May delight the poetical eye.

    "To one who in some remote climate has pass'd
    A long absence from all he loved here,
    How sweet the first glance of the land, as at last
    To his own native isle he draws near.

    "But by far more delightful and sweet'tis to gaze
    On thy bright azure eyes as they dart
    From under those tremulous lids their bright rays
    And glances for glances impart.

    "The smile of the Muse may the poet beguile,
    Or the smile of gay Nature in spring;
    To others Dame Fortune's precarious smile
    Its many enjoyments may bring.

    "I would envy no poet with thy smile if blest,
    Nor at Fortune's dire frown e'er repine,
    For Muse's nor Fortune's smile ne'er yet possess'd
    Aught to rival the sweetness of thine.

    "Dorchester 1820"

So it was in High East Street, Dorchester that Barnes fell in love with Julia MILES (1805-1852) as she stepped down from a 'Magnet' stagecoach in the cobbled yard of the Kings Arms Hotel . The 'Magnet' coach ran from Weymouth to London calling at the Kings Arms in Dorchester every morning at half past five, before running on to London via Blandford, Salisbury, Andover and Bagshot. Coaches returning to Dorchester arrived at the Kings Arms at eight in the evening. Julia was the daughter of James Camfield MILES (1773-1832) by his wife Isabella LEADER (1772-1853) and had been born in Essex at Saffron Waldon on 11th Feb 1805, so she was still very young when he first saw her. Her parents are said to have initially opposed him as a suitor, on the grounds of poverty, and even curtailed chaperoned meetings between them. They became engaged however in 1822 when Julia was seventeen and his poem "The Aquatic Excursion" was written in recollection of a happy hour spent with Julia on the river Frome shortly before he left Dorchester. He made many friends during this time including Edward Fuller with whom he studied French. They played music together, Fuller the flute and Barnes the violin. They also made a quartet at the house of Mr Zillwood(2) who was a good violinist and his sister Mary played well on the Forte Piano.


In 1823 Barnes left Dorchester to take up the post of schoolmaster in Mere Wiltshire.

When Julia reached the age of 21 and he had established himself as a successful schoolmaster, he applied for a marriage licence and they were duly married on the 9th July 1827 at Holy Trinity Church in Nailsea, Somerset. After marriage they returned to Mere and his role as schoolmaster taking Chantry House, which became a day and boarding school for boys and girls. Here their first three children were born.


On June 26th 1835 William Barnes left Chantry House and moved back to Dorchester living in a narrow house in Durngate Street where he established a Boarding School. By 1837 the house was not large enough so they moved to a roomy old house in South Street. Robert's Directory of Dorchester describes this as a Gentleman's Boarding school.


(1) Laura Liebe Barnes (1828-1918) born at Mere in Wiltshire on 25th Nov 1828, she was baptised at Holy Trinity Church Nailsea on 2nd July 1830. She remained a spinster, and is in the 1851 census living in St Peters South St, Dorchester , died 23rd Jan 1918 Dorchester

(2) Julia Eliza Barnes (1833-1918) born at Mere in Wiltshire she was baptised 1st Jan 1833 at Holy Trinity Church Nailsea, Wiltshire. She married Charles William DUNN (1830-1915) at Winterbourne Came 0n 29th Sep 1863 with her younger brother Egbert acting as one of the witnesses.

(3) Julius Barnes (1834-1837) born at Mere in Wiltshire he was baptised 30th June 1834 at Holy Trinity Church Nailsea, in Wiltshire. He died aged 3 years and was buried on 17th May 1837 at All Saints Church Dorchester

(3) Lucy Emily Barnes (1837-1902) born on 21st Jan 1837 at Dorchester she was baptised on 18th July 1837 at Holy Trinity Church Nailsea, Wiltshire. She married Samuel Thomas BAXTER in Florence Italy on 14th Apr 1868 where she died in 1902

(4) Isabel Barnes (1838-1906) born in Dorchester about 1838 she was baptised at St Peters Church in Dorchester as Isabel Barnes on 29th Dec 1840 with younger brother William. She married Joseph Richard SHAW (1833-1861) at St Peters Church on 21st June 1860.

(5) Revd. William Miles Barnes (1840-1916) born in Dorchester about 1840 he was bap St Peters Dorchester 29th Dec 1840 with elder sister Isabel. He studied at St John's College Cambridge where he was awarded a BA degree in 1863. He joined the church being ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Salisbury in 1865 and appointed curate of Tincleton in Dorset. His ordination as a priest, again by the Bishop of Salisbury, followed in 1866 when he was appointed Rector of Winterbourne Monkton. He married Emily Harriett LeCOCQ (1839-1895) at St Helier's on Jersey on 20th June 1867. His wife was buried at Winterbourne Monkton on 18th Feb 1895. He retired to Dorchester living in Weymouth Avenue where he died on 8th July 1916 probate of his estate of £9398.17s11d being granted to the Revd Arthur Hubert Barnes

(6) Egbert Barnes (1843-1873) bap St Peters Dorchester 3rd Jan 1844. He married Jane CREASY at Highworth in Wiltshire in 1866.

Reverend William BARNES Died 7th Oct 1886 leaving a Will and an estate of £922.10s5d.

Genealogical Notes:-    

(1). In fact Julia Miles was probably only fourteen as she was born in 1805.

(2) They are likely to have been children of William & Ann ZILLWOOD. Mary was baptised at Holy Trinity Church on 15th March 1812 and she had an elder brother William baptised in 10th Sep 1806


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