Portrait of George Borrow

William MacOubrey

William MacOubrey became George Borrow’s son-in-law and lived at Oulton with Borrow for the last few years of Borrow’s life.

This is an earlier version of the article that was published in the George Borrow Bulletin: it contains known issues and will be brought into line with the Bulletin version in due course.

William MacOubrey married Henrietta Clarke in 1865 and hence was George Borrow’s son-in-law.  Whilst William MacOubrey is a very unusual name, in the following attempt to reconstruct William’s life it’s possible that some of the items may not relate to “our” William MacOubrey.  As always, further information is always very welcome!

William MacOubrey was probably born in 1797, in Saul, which is a mile from Downpatrick, County Down, Ireland, and about twenty miles from Belfast.  His father was John M. MacOubrey, a surgeon, who would have been born around 1770. [1]

William had a younger brother, John, who was born in Saul around 1809. [4]  It’s via John the brother that William’s life can often be inferred, and so John’s life is also given mixed in below.

No record has been found of what William did when he reached 16 (i.e. around 1816) but as his brother John went to Trinity College, Dublin in 1825 when he was 16 years old [5], it’s almost certain that William would have gone there also around 1816.  William was a good Latin scholar by the age 25 and so would have received a good education.

As William’s father was a surgeon William was probably intended for the medical profession.  As such, in 1824 William took a doctorate in medicine at Edinburgh University, then as now a very prestigious medical institution.  William was in the last class where a medical degree took one year: the following year’s intake had to study for three years, so the scope of William’s training was probably fairly limited.  At the end of his course he had to write a thesis in Latin and William selected the topic of Jaundice.  William’s thesis, Dissertatio medica Inauguralis, De Ictero, is available from Project Gutenberg and appears a typical student thesis, but in good quality Latin.  William gained his M.D. in 1825 and his name appears in the list of graduates in The Caledonian Mercury of August 4, 1825 (as “William MacOubrey of Ireland”).  The paper notes William was examined “in Dr. Hope’s class room ... on Monday”.

The Belfast Commercial Chronicle, June 28, 1826, in giving the result of the quarterly examinations held in Trinity College lists a William MacOubrey given a “premium” for “answering in classics,” [6] but why would “our” William, who was a good Latinist, still be studying after the medical degree?

The MacOubrey family were affluent, as can be seen in the following advertisement in the Belfast News-letter for March 13, 1829:


The Flour, Corn, and Wind Mills of Saul, One Mile from Downpatrick, and near the Qugile Quay, in a fine Wheat Country.  These Mills are ready for Work, being lately repaired, at great expense; they have a large supply of Water, a good Dwelling-House, Walled Garden, and Four Acres choice Meadow Land.  The situation is well adapted for a Distillery, and should any other buildings be found necessary, a Lease for ever can be given, adjoining the Mills.—Apply to


On June 25, 1829 a William McOubrey (joined?) Freemason lodge No. 367, in Downpatrick, and something happened (left?) on October 27, 1829.  Our William was certainly a freemason of many years standing, and even ended up lecturing on Freemasonry.

William or his father appears to have been at the installation of the Rev. William Crozier, of Clonmel, on September 21, 1832.  From the Northern Whig:

[Rev. Fletcher Blakely, who had given a toast to “civil and religious liberty”] ... begged leave to propose—“Our friends of the medical profession.”

Doctors M’Cutcheon and Macoubrey returned thanks.  The latter said, it was nothing new to find members of this profession foremost among the asserters of the liberty of mankind; and whilst struggling for the best interests of their species, in common with their clerical brethren, foremost also, among the victims of persecution and obloquy.  He made some touching allusions to Locke, Harvey, and the martyred Servetus.

William was a deeply religious man with a very real belief in a God intimately involved in the destiny of man.  He was almost certainly a member of the Orange Order (then a secret Protestant and political society) and his family and upbringing would have drilled into him the “key” historic Protestant events in Ireland, and even late in life he would refer to them.  Like Borrow, he had the Protestant’s hatred of Roman Catholicism (see later on Trident), although so did a good deal of England in the early nineteenth century.

In 1835 John the brother received his B.A. from Trinity College, Dublin: he’d be around 26 years old.

On April 30, 1836 William MacOubrey, “eldest son of John M., Downpatrick, Down, apothacary” was admitted to the Middle Temple to train for the law. [7]  Quite what would have prompted this is unclear: William would be about 36 years old at the time and had possessed a medical degree for the last 11 years.  Possibly the medical line wasn’t paying, or perhaps he and John (his brother) were thinking of a future career together: they both went to the Middle Temple.  There’s no record of John entering the Middle Temple, but would have been around 1837.

William’s father died on September 18, 1838, with a brief notice appearing in the Belfast Commercial Chronicle of September 27, 1838:

At Downpatrick, on the 18th instance, John Macoubrey, Esq. Surgeon, aged 68.

The probate, if it existed, has been lost, but presumably William and John received some of the family’s estate, and with William’s medical degree and forthcoming legal qualifications he could have been set for an affluent middle-class life.

By 1838 John had married a Mary Thompson, daughter of Isaac Thompson, Esq., Garden Hill, Belfast, possibly in Ireland as no trace appears in the English records.

At Downpatrick Petty Sessions, in a libel trial, the Belfast Commercial Chronicle, March 11, 1839, has:

“Rev. Samuel C. Nelson and Dr. Macoubrey were also examined as to the inuendos, and believed they were meant to apply to Mr. M‘Cune.”

Clearly Dr. Macoubrey here could not have been William’s father and it seems very unlikely there would be another Dr. MacOubrey in Belfast, so perhaps William had by now established a practise in or near Belfast, despite studying for the bar in London.

On June 7, 1839, William was called to the bar [7], with his brother John being  called around September 1840.  Whilst John appears in the 1841 census as a Barrister, living in Mayfair, aged 30, there’s little evidence that William ever practised law much, although he did refer to himself as a Barrister.

John, after being called, didn’t immediately practise law either and instead became editor of the Wiltshire and Gloucester Standard.  John’s first daughter, Mary Thompson MacOubrey, was born August 12, at Malmesbury (Bristol Mercury, August 24, 1839).  By 1842 John was a barrister at Preston (Preston Chronicle May 21) with his name appearing many times in that newspaper.

A William MacOubrey (joined?) Freemasons lodge 1009 (Seaford / Clough, County Down, Northern Ireland—a few miles from Downpatrick), on December 28, 1846.  On the same Freemason register just a few names above William is a John MacOubrey (joining?) on January 26, 1837 and something happening on the June 27, 1837 (leaving)?

The newspapers for the 1840’s do have references to a William MacOubrey active in Newcastle, County Down, but whilst the context might imply a medical man, the title M.D. isn’t given so it probably isn’t “our” William MacOubrey.  E.g. The Newry Telegraph, May 10, 1842, has:

Near Castlewellan.


Begs to inform the Public, that he has taken the above Concern, and he hopes by a strict attention to the comfort and convenience of persons using them, that they will merit a continuance of the distinguished support with which they have been hitherto honoured.

A fresh supply of the Strongest Salt Water is obtained every Tide.

There are separate Baths for the Trades’ and Working classes.

N.B.—There are some excellent Houses still vacant in Newcastle, fit for the immediate reception of any Nobleman’s or Gentleman’s families; and any person required either HOUSES, or LODGINGS, in Newcastle, by forwarding a letter, pre-paid, to Wm. Macoubrey, may depend on the best information in his power to obtain.


Newcastle Baths, near Castlewellan,
County Down.

May 1, 1842.

The Newry Telegraph of January 19, 1843, reports that at a meeting at Newcastle, on 16th January, where there was an appeal for help for those affected by the recent snow storm, a William MacOubrey gave 10s.  Lastly, the Newry Telegraph, August 12, 1845:


A desirable residence for any Nobleman’s or Gentleman’s Family,

Newcastle, Country Down

consisting of Two Drawing-Rooms, with folding doors ... Apply to Mr. William Macoubrey, the Baths, Newcastle, Castlewellan.

Until it can be proven the above is not our William, it could be seen as a possible business venture for someone who needed money and wasn’t making enough as an M.D. or barrister.


William and John attended the Easter Quarter Sessions in Preston in 1842.  E.g. Preston Chronicle, April 9, 1842: “The following legal gentlemen composed the bar:—Mr. J. Addison, ... Mr. M‘Oubrey, Mr. W. M‘Oubrey, Mr. Clarke ...”  Later in the year, (Preston Chronicle, May 21), William had disappeared: “The Bar.—The following learned gentlemen were present in court: ... Mr. J. Mc Oubrey.”  It’s only John in the same paper on July 2 and August 27, so whilst John was making his career in the area, William was doing something else.

On October 2, 1842 John’s first wife (Margaret) died, [9] but his career had to continue and he was back at the bar in Preston in the newspaper of December 3, 1842 and February 18, 1843.  After this there follow lots of references to “Mr. M‘Oubrey ... of the Northern Circuit”: it’s likely they all refer to John.  The same newspaper occasionally has “Mr. J. M‘Oubrey” making it explicit.  E.g. Preston Chronicle, August 12, 1843.

March 1, 1844 saw William and John attended the opening of Manchester Borough Sessions where they were listed as “gentlemen of the bar,” [2] so William was known as a legal man and attended in that capacity.  But by May there was again only one “Mc. Oubrey” listed in the Preston Chronicle (certainly John).  Meanwhile, in August William was defending a case of manslaughter in Liverpool: William didn’t get the defendant acquitted, but managed to get transportation for life instead of the death penalty. [3]

The London Medical Directory of 1845 doesn’t list a MacOubrey so if he was practising medicine in London he was keeping it quiet.

John’s career was progressing well, and The Morning Chronicle, September 27 1845, lists him as counsel to the Tunbridge Wells, Brighton and Hastings Junction Railway Company.  John was again at the bar in Preston in 1846 (Preston Guardian January 10, 1846) and on the September 16, 1847 John married again and as he was now a person of note The Cheltenham Chronicle, September 23, 1847, gave some extra details:

Sept. 16, at St. James’s, Paddington, John MacOubrey, Esq. of the Middle Temple and Northern Circuit, barrister at law, formerly editor of the Wilts and Gloucester Standard, to Clara, second daughter of Thomas Carlisle, Esq. of Hyde Park Place, West London.

Note that John was living in London, but most of his work was in the North, so he was travelling a lot between home and work.

Meanwhile William had become a convert to homœopathy and at the AGM of the English Homœopathic Association, July 19, 1848 (held in Hanover Square Rooms), William was elected to the committee and also gave a speech. [16]

On September 9, 1849 a David Richard Pearce was taken ill with what turned out to be cholera, [15] and his brother, Charles Thomas Pearce, an unqualified medical man and homœopathist, started to treat him and refused to allow him food or drink.  Charles falling ill himself, on the September 13th he sent for William (they no doubt knew each other) and William “prescribed medicine.”  David died on the 18th whilst under William’s care, and the coroner’s inquest found that death was caused by starvation at Charles’ orders, whilst under the care of William.  Charles was prosecuted for manslaughter but William, the doctor prior to David’s death, was not, nor was he summoned to the trial at the Old Bailey (being a barrister has advantages!)  During Charles’ trial for manslaughter medical testimony said that a cholera case should not be given food, and the restriction on food could not have caused the death, so Charles was acquitted.  William had a lucky escape.

On December 22, 1849 William joined the Lodge of Prudent Brethren (No. 169), which was a Freemason lodge meeting in London. [12]  The entry notes he joined “from Ireland” so it might be a membership transfer.  William remained a member until 1858 and so would have had useful connections in the London area.

William was still on the English Homœopathic Association committee in 1850 [14] and it’s clear from this that William had achieved a reputation and status in homœopathic circles and was a personal friend of some of the leading English advocates.

Neither William, John nor his wife Clara appear in the 1851 census of England.

The Era, February 23, 1851 reports that at the Globe Lodge of Instruction (No. 23) “at Brother Young’s, the Prince of Wales Tavern, Exeter Street, Belgrave square ... A lecture on Freemasonry was given by Brother Macoubrey, Lecturer to 169.”  There were lots of senior masons at that meeting, and so William was probably also considered a senior mason to have been invited to lecture. [13]

The Downpatrick Recorder, May 8, 1852, reporting on the Poor Law Union meeting, has: “Mr. Miller—The article of soap linament would require whiskey to make it; he must think that it was a very expensive article, for when he once got a sprained knee, whilst out hunting, Dr. Macoubrey charged him 15l. for soap linament in curing it.”  This would certainly be our William MacOubrey and is the first positive evidence that he’s practising in Belfast (as later he advertises he does).  Like his brother John, he’s living in London, but working a great distance away (and in London also).

On January 23, 1854 William married Catherine Mary Jane Evans, [17] seventeen years his junior, at St. Luke’s church, Finsbury, Islington.  William’s address is given as 4 Commercial Place, City, London.  Catherine’s address is Milton Street [became Balcombe street], St. Mary le Bone [i.e. Marylebone] and her father is David Evans, Gent.  There’s no record of their having any children.  Given the details on Catherine’s probate (below) after their marriage William and Catherine lived in Albert terrace, Richmond Road, Dalston and then in Tachbrook street, Pimlico.  During this year the Post Office Directory lists William as an M.D. at 10 Sloane Square, Chelsea.

Although John regularly appeared in the Post Office Directories for London as a lawyer in 1852, 1853, 1857–1859 and 1862, there are very few references to William, and none as a lawyer.  Perhaps William had given up on the legal career and was concentrating on medicine instead?

The Times has an interesting article (July 7, 1854) where William was one of the doctors consulted by a Mr. Baker who was the victim of dental malpractice.  Originally Baker had gone to Dr. Epps (a homœopath and known to William), who passed him onto a Mr. Hayes of Conduit street (a dentist) who then referred him to William.  Referrals by fellow-medics (they all lived in the same area) indicates not only the respect William was held in, but also one way he obtained paying patients.

The British and Foreign Homœpathic Medical Directory and Record for 1855, lists William MacOubrey, 3 Swan Street, Chelsea.  Meanwhile, the Post Office Directory listed William as M.D. but at 34 Westbourne Place, Eaton Square!

Although it could be John, The Morning Chronicle, February 7, 1856 has a Mr. M‘Oubrey, barrister, defending a Mr. Collyer, surgeon of Towcester, Northamptonshire, in a bankruptcy case at the Insolvent Debtors Court (London).  Further insolvency cases with “Mr. M‘Oubrey, barrister” were reported by the same newspaper, 8 and 11 March.  However, in a similar insolvency case reported April 8, it’s certainly John, not William involved.  More London cases with a M‘Oubrey take place this year, in one of which the prosecutor says he worked for the press (which John had done in the past).

It’s likely that around this time (winter 1856) William started his essay on the Brutus legend as given by Geoffrey of Monmouth, possibly in response to Professor Christmas’ lectures or newspaper reports of King Lear.  Although unfinished and unpublished, it reveals a very scholarly man, freely citing medieval and classical Latin writers, with a strong background in Welsh history (through the writings of Gerald of Wales).  A transcription of this essay with two poems is available on our website.

The Daily News of October 3, 1857, under a heading of Proclamation of Outlawry, says that Mr. Kemp, principal bailiff made a proclamation of outlawry on 3 September:

“The following names were ‘proclaimed’ at the Sheriffs’ Court, Red Lion square, on Thursday:—... Wm. MacOubrey and his wife at the suit of Richard [other papers have Thomas] Richards.”

The Morning Chronicle of September 4, 1857 also reported this adding that Wm. MacOubrey’s wife was Catherine Mary Jane (late Evans).  William and Catherine were being pursued through the courts for debt.  This might explain why William was moving regularly and keeping out of the directories: he probably didn’t want the creditors to find him.  Certainly neither William nor Catherine were well off.

Catherine died November 27, 1858 at Tachbrook street, leaving effects of under £100 to William, who according to the probate had moved to 31 Little Moorfields, City of London.  In the probate William was described as a “Doctor of Medicine” [18].

The Belfast News-letter of January 6, 1860 contains the first advertisement found by William:

Homœopathic Dispensary, 21, [19] Church Street
(Corner of North Street),
Open Every Day (Sunday exception) from Eleven till Two o’clock
Physician, W. Macoubrey, M.D.

By now it’s becoming clear that William is leading a double life: sometimes in London and sometimes in Belfast: like his brother John he’s a major commuter.

John’s second wife, Clara, died on January 28, 1861, at Wimbledon, aged 36, leaving John with a young family to look after.  The announcement of the death appeared in various papers (e.g. Morning Chronicle, January 31, 1861).  John was back at the bar in Lancaster by April of that year (Preston Guardian, April 13, 1861).

Another intriguing reference to William appeared in the Belfast News-letter, April 18, 1864, when J. L. Porter wrote that he’d seen “Dr. M‘Oubrey’s photographic views of Sinai and Palestine” in Belfast.  It’s not clear from the letter whether William had acquired the views, or taken them himself in Palestine.  If the latter, then presumably around 1863 William had been on a tour of the Holy Land.  Either way it shows William’s religious side. [18a]

At some point over the next few years William met Henrietta Clarke, George Borrow’s step-daughter, and from later reports, they cared very much for each other.  Quite how they met is unknown, but they didn’t live too far apart, and may have met at one of the many social events in Kensington/Chelsea, or possibly it was in a medical context.

Just a few weeks before William married Henrietta Clarke, another advertisement appeared in the Belfast News-letter, June 8, 1865:

Consumption, Asthma, and all other Diseases of the Chest and Heart.


W. Macoubrey, M.D., of 134, Sloane Street, London, [20] will be at home for Consultation at No. 20, College Square East, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., from the 1st to the 14th of every Month, when Patients may have the advantage of his treatment for the above diseases by new end specific remedies, especially those administered directly to the Lungs, by Inhalation, which have hitherto in Belfast, as well as in London, been attended with unexampled success.

In ordinary cases patients experience immediate relief.

To those who will do him the honour to call upon him, Dr. Macoubrey will be happy to show certificates of success, attested by Divines and others of such standing as to be amply satisfactory.  Belfast, 16th May, 1865.

So not only do we now see that William was in Belfast on the 16th May 1865 when he wrote the above, but intended to spend the first half of each month in his Belfast home of 20 College Street, and the rest in London, at his practise in 134 Sloane Street, despite his forthcoming marriage.  A major commuter!  The above advertisement ran more or less weekly, last appearing on the June 30, 1866 and so after the marriage either Henrietta also became a monthly commuter, or, more likely, didn’t see much of her husband.

Henrietta Clarke was also making arrangements about two weeks before her marriage to William: the Norwich solicitor John Pilgrim drew up a marriage settlement that would ensure Henrietta received the interest payments from her £1,300 loan to George Borrow: i.e. she would be financially independent of William. [20a]

On June 28, 1865 William married (by license [21]) Henrietta at (old) Saint Mary Abbott’s church, Kensington.  On the document he’s a “Doctor of Medicine”, a widower, and a parishioner of Chelsea.  It’s worth pointing out that William was around 65 and Henrietta 47 whereas Borrow, William’s father-in-law, was 62.

Clement Shorter says that “husband and wife lived on most affectionate terms” and evidences many letters that he had destroyed!  Whatever the contents of those letters, it must imply that William and Henrietta were regularly separated, possibly with Henrietta visiting the Harvey’s in Bury St. Edmunds, and William attending his practise in Belfast. [22]

Knapp says of the marriage: “we find the bride and groom shortly after in Sydney Street, Brompton,” but gives no source.

Meanwhile, Perry’s Bankrupt Gazette, February 17, 1866, under Meetings at the Country District Courts of Bankruptcy lists in 1866: MacOubrey J. barrister.  A meeting would be held at 11 a.m. on the 19th at Turner’s office, Liverpool.  Things had clearly gone wrong for John.  John is listed as discharged from bankruptcy in the same publication on April 7, 1866 (the discharged listed on the March 27).

William makes a rare appearance in the 1866 Post Office Directory: he’s a physician, 134 Sloane street, Chelsea. [8]

In July 1866 George and Mary Borrow “visited” Henrietta at Belfast, and stayed in lodgings at 2 College Street. [23]  Mary remained in Belfast, no doubt to spend time with her daughter, but George later went off on his Scottish Tour, rejoining the family in Belfast on 21st August.  However, William probably wasn’t in Belfast at this time, as Mary wrote to George:

. . . still all alone at present the doctor not having had opportunity to leave London at present . . . he wrote and explained to his wife why he did not see her before she left ... [24]

So whilst Knapp says Henrietta lived in Belfast, it looks much more likely that she lived in London, and accompanied Mary and George to Belfast, in the hope of being joined by William later.

The following year, back in London, William was advertising again.  The Standard for April 18, 1867 has: [25]

Observations on the TRUE MODE of Treating Consumption, Asthma, Gout, and Rheumatism, without the aid of colchicum, mercury, or any other mineral.  By William MacOubrey M.D.

The Pamphlet, with testimonials as to cures effected, may be had by applying to Grosmith’s, 25 Wellington street, London: or to Messrs. Stanesby and Co., 179 Sloane street, S.W.; or to Dr. Macoubrey, 60 Burton crescent, W.C., London, if by letter enclosing a stamp.

So there’s 60 Burton Crescent to add to the multitude of addresses for William and now Henrietta.  The London Evening Standard, October 16, 1867 (and The Times October 26 and November, 1, 7, 15, and 18) have another of William’s advertisements:

Gout, Rheumatism, Neuralgia.—Specific Remedies the Only Means of Relief or Cure.—The ordinary practice is a delusion, and the drugs employed ruinous to the patients and their offspring. Under these circumstances, Dr. Macoubrey calls attention to his treatment, and pledges himself to relieve in a few minutes any case of Gout, Rheumatism, Neuralgia, or any disease of the nerves, without the use of colchicum or mercury. Consultation daily, from twelve to four, personally or by letter. Address, William MacOubrey, M.D., 34, Upper Berkeley-street, Portman-square, London, W, (near the Marble Arch).

There’s clearly something going on here given the number of addresses advanced so far: successful doctors don’t move every few months.

Even more intriguing is a report in the Belfast News-letter, August 9, 1869 where various presentations were being given to John W. Perceval Maxwell and among them “By the tenantry on the estates of David Stewart Ker, Esq., in the County of Down—viz., Downpatrick Clough, and Portavo—Joseph Perry, William M‘Coubrey, John Robinson, treasures.”  Downpatrick was associated with the MacOubrey family and so this could be another man, but as mentioned before the name is far from common. [26]

The 1871 Law List has a listing for both John and William (page 100):

Date of Call

MacOubrey John, the chambers, 20, cable-st., Liverpool, sp. pl., north. circ., Lancashire, Liverpool, Cumberland, and Westmoreland sess.

M. 20 Nov. 1840

MacOubrey Wm., sp. pl. and conv.

M. 7 June 1839

I.e. William was down as a “special pleader” and doing conveyance.  This doesn’t imply he was practising, but does show what areas of law he was/had practised.

William cannot be found in the 1871 UK census but perhaps he and Henrietta (who also cannot be found) were in Ireland at the time?

At some point William and Henrietta took up residence at 50 Charlotte Street [27] (near) Fitzroy Square, London (near Goodge Street underground station). [29]  The Internet speculates the return was after Mary Borrow’s death in January 1869.

William, by now an old man, was still involved in medical matters and on October 19, 1870, attended an anti compulsory vaccination meeting at Marylebone Vestry Hall, London.  On the committee was William’s friend, Charles Peace (see earlier) and William seconded a motion, telling the meeting that “vaccination never did prevent small-pox ... and Jenner knew it.” [28]  William also related a number of cases which seemed to prove that vaccination was, as he put it, “a fraud”.  All of which shows William not only was against vaccination, but had continued to study contemporary cases and was quite wrong in some medical matters.

John’s second daughter, Margaret Elizabeth, married a W. Philpott of H. M. Customs, Liverpool (report April 2, 1872, Belfast News-letter.)  The Philpott’s came from Cork so the Irish roots were still there for the MacOubrey brothers.

The Homœopathic Medical Directory of 1874 lists William working in conjunction with Charles Pearce (see earlier):

Pimlico Homœopathic Dispensary,
3, Victoria Bdgs, Victoria Station.
Medical Officers.—Drs. C. T. Pearce and Dr. Wm. MacOubrey.

Not only were William and Charles friends for many years, but it’s clear William never prospered financially, and wasn’t working at the age of 74 for the fun of it.

In 1876 William published his drama: Drake, or, The transfer of the trident, a national drama.  At sixty-nine pages it was a substantial work and perhaps caused a bit of friction as Borrow was known to avoid “literary men.”  See below for a short summary and where to obtain a copy.  No reviews or notices of it have been found.

Knapp says that William and Henrietta later moved to Oulton to look after George Borrow, then an old man, but does not give a date, presumably after 1876.  Given William’s belief in homœopathy perhaps he tried it on Borrow, whom Dr. Hake later claimed to be a hypochondriac.

In the 1881 census William and Henrietta were living with George Borrow at Oulton Cottage, Oulton, Suffolk and William’s age was given as 66 (!), born Saul, Ireland.  William’s profession on the census return is written as “Barrister not practising” but “Barrister” is crossed out.  Perhaps when asked for his occupation he’d said Barrister, and then pointed out he no longer worked as such.

Henrietta appears to have kept a diary on and off, and as Clement Shorter notes, in her 1881 diary, on July 26th she wrote: [30]

George Borrow died at three o’clock this morning.

With Borrow’s death there would have been the funeral to arrange (his body was taken by train to London, and thence to Brompton Cemetery where he was buried in Mary’s grave), the tombstone to arrange (Henrietta no doubt specifying the inscription), and then the will to sort out etc.  William no doubt helped with his legal training and possibly was present at the funeral (woman not attending at that period).

Eventually life settled back down again and William and Henrietta, both old people, lived at Oulton Cottage for the next three years but William’s health was failing.  In Henrietta’s words: [31]

. . . he sunk simply from age and weakness . . .

. . . I was his nurse by night and by day, administering constant nourishment, but he became weaker and weaker, till at last ‘the silver cord was broken’ . . .

William MacOubrey died at Oulton cottage on August 24, 1884 and was buried in Oulton churchyard on the 30th, next to Ann Borrow’s grave.  Again the funeral and other arrangements would have been for Henrietta to organise, and his gravestone reads:

In loving memory of WILLIAM MACOUBREY, Barrister at Law of the
Middle Temple who died August 24th 1884 at Oulton Cottage in the 87th
year of his age [32]

In the probate William left an estate of £111 to Henrietta (who herself would leave a probate of thousands, so she was the richer of the pair).  The probate lists him as “M.D. Barrister-at-Law”.  Henrietta must have been responsible for that statement, showing that as far as she was concerned, William must have practised as a barrister at some point.

Interestingly The Lancet, in their column on “Wills of Medical Men”, April 25, 1885, p. 771, noted William’s death:

The will of William MacOubrey, M.D., barrister-at-law, formerly of 50, Charlotte-street, Fitzroy square, but late of Oulton, Suffolk, who died on August 24th last, was proved on the 13th ult. by Mrs. Henrietta Mary MacOubrey, the widow and sole executrix, to whom he leaves, devises, and bequeaths all his real and personal estate, to be at her own disposal.

John, William’s brother died on January 19, 1887, with a obituary appearing in the local papers etc.  There wasn’t a probate, but unlike William, it’s likely John was a well-off man.

William MacOubrey’s Works

The 1825 Thesis on Jaudice in Latin.

Being neither a medic nor having Latin, William’s 1825 thesis on Jaundice, Dissertatio medica Inauguralis, De Ictero, cannot be assessed by myself.  It is available from Project Gutenberg and appears a typical student thesis.  A proper Latinist has glanced at it and said it’s good quality Latin, not typical schoolboy Latin, but at only sixteen pages it was quite short: other students generally ran to at least twice the length.  One of William’s fellow-students, Patrick Macaughton, quoted Greek classical writers in his dissertation (i.e. Greek text) but William didn’t, so perhaps his classics didn’t stretch to detailed Greek, or perhaps he didn’t think it necessary.  Both William and Patrick’s dissertations were on Jaundice—a popular topic perhaps? they no doubt conferred.

Medical students at Edinburgh had to write a dissertation in Latin and then be examined on it, so William understood what he wrote, or he wouldn’t have passed the oral examination.

It’s important to remember that in 1825 medical knowledge was very limited and few illnesses could be cured.  Whilst William was certainly a “medical man” and would expect to earn a living in that profession, he really wouldn’t have been a lot of use if you were ill.

The Manuscript Works

A transcription is given on our website together with some notes.  The Brutus essay shows William was clearly a scholar and well read in mediaeval and classical Latin works.  Whilst some of the works he referenced would have referenced others, he did seem to be familiar with the underlying works themselves.  What’s perhaps more to the point: William’s view was the opposite to that held by academics and historians (i.e. wrong), and there is a underlying weakness in his reasoning and lack of systematic approach.  William was a classists at heart, not a scientist.

His manuscript poem on quaffing ale doesn’t really fit with anything known of him and was probably just poetic license.

The poem on Old England, exulting in England as the home of freedom, seeing off the French etc. is typical patriotic stuff for the nineteenth century, but again there are a few allusions that show someone with more than a passing knowledge of history.

Homœopathy Works

As seen above William wrote at least one pamphlet on homœopathy, but none of these appears to have survived with the national Libraries of Deposit never having had copies.  Perhaps the closest we can get to their flavour is a report of what William said at the Marylebone Vestry meeting in 1870 (available on Project Gutenberg).


[1]  On the January 23, 1854 marriage certificate to Catherine, William’s father is given as John Macoubrey, a surgeon.  Downpatrick comes from various cited documents, largely via John the brother.  Unsubstantiated Internet sources claim his mother was Margaret Nicholson and William was the eldest son.  The year of birth is calculated from the gravestone on the assumption Henrietta was correct.  The census of 1881 is obviously incorrect.

[2]  The report in The Manchester Times and Gazette, March 2, 1844, has:

Manchester Borough Sessions.—The sessions were opened yesterday, at the Borough Court, before Robert Baynes Armstrong, Esq., Recorder, and a full bench of magistrates.—The learned Chairman, in charging the grand jury ...  The following gentlemen of the bar were present:—Messrs. Brandt, Duck, Whigham, Marsh, Hilditch, Cobbett, Cross, Spink, Pollock, Sowler, Kennedy, Wm. M‘Oubrey, Yates, Griffin, Burke, Darbishire, J. M‘Oubrey.—The cases proceeded with during the day were of no public interest.

[3]  There’s a report in the Morning Chronicle, August 28, 1844.  An Owen Leonard, aged 60 and charged with the murder of Bridget Leonard, was defended by “Mr. W. M‘Oubrey” at Liverpool.

[4]  Most of the details given of John MacOubrey are taken from the report of his funeral in the Liverpool Mercury, January 19, 1887, which reads:

Funeral of Mr. John Macoubrey.—The funeral of Mr. John Macoubrey took place yesterday, at West Derby Cemetery, the Rev. Mr. Watson officiating.  Among the numerous friends at the graveside were Dr. Commins, M.P., Messrs. Devey, M‘Connel, Kinghorn, Williams, &c.  The deceased gentleman was the son of John Macoubrey, M.D., of Saul, county Down, Ireland.  He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he took his degree of B.A. in 1835, was called to the bar in 1840, and for some time followed literary pursuits, editing the Wilts and Gloucester Standard, and also the Blackburn Chronicle.  Mr. Macoubrey was prosecutor for the mint for Liverpool and Carlisle.  Since a very severe illness in 1878, which greatly injured his constitution, he had relinquished practice with the exception of regularly attending the local sessions and assizes.  The funeral arrangements were satisfactorily conducted by Mr. Thomas Price, Green lane, Stoneycroft.

Besides the above, the census, newspaper births columns etc. gives other details: in the 1852 Post Office Directory John is at 10 Farrars buildings, Temple and 47 Westbourne grove, Bayswater; in the 1861 census John was a visitor to Lancaster and practising barrister, widower, aged 47, born Ireland.  John appears to have been called to the bar November 1840 (there’s a correction to Maconbrey in Standard, November 28, 1840: In our publication on Wednesday, in the list of gentlemen called to the bar by the Hon. Society of the Middle Temple, forJohn Maconbrey,” readJohn Macoubrey,” Esq., B.A.)   Another birth was announced in the Freeman’s journal, September 14, 1841, this one taking place in Belfast (to the barrister).  Another daughter was born on December 12, 1849 in Liverpool (to the barrister).  In the 1871 census he lived at 93 ??? Rock Street, West Derby with daughters Edith, 21 and Constance, 16, and was aged 55, a widower, occupation: barrister.

Clearly there’s a problem with the census ages and dates as they give a date of birth around 1816, whereas John enrolled at Trinity, aged 16, in 1825, which gives the 1809 date.

[5]  John’s record in Alumni Dublineses reads: “MACOUBREY, JOHN, Pen. (Mr Neilson).  Nov. 7, 1825, aged 16; s. of John, Chirurgus; b. Down.  B.A. Vern. 1835.”  There’s no entry for William, nor his father.

[6]  The text is strange “M’Causland 4 William, Macoubrey, Croisthwaite, O’Flannagan” with other in the paragraph being similar.  If this is our William, then he perused an academic career for a long time.

[7]  The source is the Register of Admissions from archive.middletemple.org.uk.  The same entry finishes: “Called 7 June 1839” which is cited later.  Another source is the Monthly Law Magazine and Political Review, Volume 5, June to September 1839, which lists William MacOubrey of Middle Temple being called to the bar.

[8]  The London Post Office Directories for 1840 (1st edition) to 1879 were searched for MacOubrey with the results below.

1.  In the trades directory (under surgeons/physicians) only William appears only once, under  Physicians, in 1866: McOubrey Wm. 134 Sloane st. Chels SW

2.  The residents of Swan street and Westbourne place were also checked, but nothing found so that’s not noted.

3.  In the alphabetical sections (Commercial and Court) and trades (lists of counsel and Barristers at Law) the only MacOubrey’s shown are given below.  Where no entry is given the name was not found in that year’s directory.  × = No MacOubrey at all.


Alphabetical lists

Law Directory: Lists of Counsel:
Barristers at Law


× (commercial)

Mac Oubrey, John, esq. 10 Farrar’s buildings, Temple; residence, 45 Westbourne Grove, Bayswater; Northern circuit; Cumberland and Lancaster sessions


Mac Oubrey, John, barrister, 10 Farrar’s buildings, Temple [commercial]

MacOubrey John, 10 Farr.’s builds. Temp. [court]

Mac Oubrey, John, esq. 10 Farrar’s buildings, Temple; residence, 45 Westbourne Grove, Bayswater; Northern circuit; Cumberland and Lancaster sessions


× [commercial]

M‘Oubrey, Wm. M.D. 10 Sloane sq. Ches.



× (commercial)

M’Oubrey W., M.D., 34 Westbrn. pl. Etn. sq. [court]



MacOubrey John, barrister, 3 Brick court, Temple [commercial]

MacOubrey John, 1 Bristol gardens, Paddington, & 3 Brick court, Temple [court]

MacOubrey John, esq. 3 Brick court, Temple; residence, 1 Bristol gardens, Paddington; Northern circuit; Lancashire, Cumberland & Westmoreland sessions


MacOubrey John, barrister, 3 Brick court, Temple E.C. [commercial]

MacOubrey Jn. 1 Bristol gdns Padngtn W. [court]



MacOubrey John, barrister, 5 Brick court, Temple, E.C. [commercial]

Not checked


MacOubrey John, barrister, 2 Middle Temple lane, E. C. [commercial]

Not checked


M’Oubrey William, physician, 134 Sloane street, Chelsea [commercial, ditto court]


William is listed in The British and foreign homœopathic medical directory and record, 1853 / edited by George Atkin as: 53 Swan Street, Chelsea. [source Internet]

[9]  In The Standard, October 5, 1842, under Deaths: “Oct. 2, Margaret, wife of John Mac Oubrey, Esq., barrister-at-law, of the Middle Temple, and youngest daughter of Isaac Thompson, Esq., Garden Hill, Belfast.”

[12]  Source is United Grant Lodge of England, 1837-1862, Register of Admissions: London “B”, #116-1204, fols 1-180, page 57:

[1849 Decr 22] from Ireland, McOubrey, William.

No profession was given and most of the entry is blank.  He paid 5/ in the last, 1849 column,  Perhaps an initial membership?

[13]  Lodge 169, the Lodge of Temperance, seems to have covered the City of London, with meetings in the Barbican, London, Hoxton, Clerkenwell etc.  Lodge 23, (Globe Lodge of Instruction?), seems to have been slightly to the west, meeting in Fleet Street, Holborn etc.

[14]  The source is Homœopathy and its Principles Explained by John Epps, M.D., published 1850.  The English Homœopathic Association was instituted in 1845 with Lord Robert Grosvenor, M.P., as their president (when William is listed on the committee).  The committee was twenty-five people, mostly M.D.’s, and included John Epps the author of the book, and Charles Thomas Pearce.  However, whilst William is listed in the book as a medical member of the association, no address is given for him, unlike the other members, all of whom lived in London.

[15]  Most of the details of the Charles Thomas Pearce case come from The Daily News, October 29, 1849, carrying the report of a trial for manslaughter at the Central Criminal Court (i.e. Old Bailey).  However, the case was important in Homœopathic circles (Charles being on the English Homœopathic Committee with William) and so John Eppes reports the whole trial in Homœopathy and its Principles Explained, pp. 243–320.  Also see The Monthly Homoeopathic Review, June 1, 1883 (volume 27), pp. 378–380 in Charles’ obituary.

[16]  William’s election to the committee and speech were reported in The Journal of Health and Disease, September 1848, page 65 and 70.

[17]  Catherine was baptised at St. Mary’s church, Islington on March 2, 1817, her parents being David and Mary of Ralton Street.  Her father’s profession was “mariner”.

[18]  The probate also says that William and Catherine were “formerly of Albert terrace, Richmond Road, Dalston, then Tachbrook street, Pimlico.”

[18a]  The letter reads: “Sir, I have had an opportunity of inspecting privately, Dr. M ‘Oubrey’s photographic views of Sinai and Palestine; and I have no hesitation in saying that they are the most beautiful and the most accurate I have ever seen.  They show the scenes through which the Israelites passed almost as clearly as if the real places were before the eyes.  Their exhibition at the present time is opportune; for they tend powerfully to establish the reality of those events recorded by Moses which have of late been called in question by Dr. Colenso and others.  Should the picture appear through the camera to as great advantage as they do on glass, the Belfast public have a rich treat before them.—I am, &c., J. L. Porter, Brandon Towers, April 16th.”

[19]  It’s actual given as 20 Church Street in this edition but the same advertisement in the Belfast Morning News, January 4, 1860, and then regularly for a number of months (e.g. still there on 24 September) had 21 Church Street which would seem to be the correct address.

[20]  Clement Shorter says that before his marriage to Henrietta William practised at 134 Sloane Street (see The Life of George Borrow, page 259) and this advertisement may have been his source.  Also in the 1862 Post Office Directory 134 Sloane Street was Johnstone Sheldon A & Co. homœopathic chemists, which might have included William.  134 was still Johnstone Sheldon etc. in the 1866 directory.

[20a]  Source is George Borrow: Oulton and Beyond by Ivan A. W. Bunn, pp. 146–7.

[21]  A marriage by license was unusual but not unheard of and was used in the case where neither party was resident in the parish.  I.e. neither William nor Henrietta lived in Kensington.  Quite why it was done this way is unclear: William and Henrietta would both have been protestants but perhaps William’s monthly commute meant he wasn’t considered a parishioner of Chelsea (i.e. Sloane Street).

[22]  William appears to have still been an active member of society in Belfast.  E.g. the Belfast News-Letter, September 18, 1860, in reporting on the Chemico-Agricultural Society of Ulster: “There were also present—Rev. George Smyth, Carmoney Globe; ... W. M‘Coubrey, M.D. ...”  The meeting was held on the 7th September “at the Laboratory.”

[23]  This comes from Knapp’s Life, Writings and Correspondence of George Borrow, volume 2, page 219.  When George and Mary arrived in Belfast to visit William and Henrietta, they “went into lodgings at No. 2, College Street”.  This seems to imply they didn’t stay with William and Henrietta, who would therefore not live at 2 College Street.

[24]  George Borrow: Oulton and Beyond by Ivan A. W. Bunn, p. 147.

[25]  The Life of George Borrow, page 259.  Clement Shorter says that William wrote “several printed pamphlets that bear his name” and the one in the advertisement may have been part of those, but none of them are listed on copac.  Shorter advances this statement because “some doubt cast upon the statement” that William was a Doctor of Medicine of Trinity College, Dublin.  Shorter had many letters etc. from William to Henrietta, the pamphlets etc. and so should have been able to form a solid opinion as to whether William MacOubrey was an educated man.

[26]  The slight name variation may be significant.  The Belfast news-letter, June 3, 1872 in an article on the County Down Grand Orange Lodge lists a William M‘Coubrey as being present.  The meeting was held in Newcastle (County Down) and this M‘Coubrey might therefore be the man of the baths.  Or our William might be back in Down.

[27]  In his book Bohemian Days in Fleet Street, page 45, William Mackay relates how he met Borrow “walking along the side-path with a copy of the Old Testament in Hebrew held close to his failing eyes” in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square: if Mackay was telling the truth Borrow might have been to visit Henrietta.

[28]  See Compulsory Vaccination, Report of the Public Meeting held in the Marylebone Vestry Hall, London, on Wednesday Evening, October 19, 1870 and published by the Marylebone anti-compulsory Vaccination League by Watson Brothers, 1870.  William’s arguments appears on pages 5–7 and is then cited as an authority on page 12.

[29]  This is the address given on the probate for William MacOubrey.  Shorter says it was 80 Charlotte street.  None of Borrow’s biographers give a date for this move back, but there’s some speculation it would have been after the death of Mary Borrow (January 30, 1869).  As Henrietta had the bulk of the money/property in the marriage, her wishes might have been uppermost, and of course her mother who she’d lived with for almost all her life, was buried in Brompton Cemetery.

[30]  Life of George Borrow, Shorter, p. 256

[31]  George Borrow: Oulton and Beyond by Ivan A. W. Bunn, p. 173.  The book contains many more details of their life at Oulton and is the source of other statements made.

[32]  George Borrow: Oulton and Beyond by Ivan A. W. Bunn, p. 4 but with instead of the 4/14th cited in book, the probate date of 24th has been used.