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Edward Rushton (1756-1814)

Born in Liverpool on the 13th November 1756, son of a victualler, he attended, from the age of six, the Liverpool Free School where he stayed until the age of eleven. In similar fashion to many other local boys of his age he was apprenticed to a shipping company with West Indian interests. In young Edwards' case it was the firm Messrs Watt and Gregson. After distinguishing himself at sea he found, in 1773, himself to be the second mate on a slave ship. On a trip bound for Dominica, he became so disgusted by the brutal treatment of the slaves, that he was charged by the captain of mutiny.

His pity towards the slaves was rewarded with him becoming infected with ophthalmia, his left eye was completely destroyed, and his right so badly damaged that he became blind. When Rushton arrived home, his father took him to several of the leading medical men of the day, even the King's oculist, all to no avail. To add to his misfortune he was turned out of the family home, his father now having remarried to a woman who could not tolerate her new step-sons' presence. Fortunately, an aunt took him in and Rushton was to stay there for seven years. During that time he lived on an allowance of four shillings a week given to him by his father. Out of that scanty sum he paid a young boy threepence a week to read to him.

Edward Rushton's views on the slave trade were becoming widely known and during the early 1780s he formed his first association with men of similar outlook - William Roscoe, Dr. Currie, William Rathbone and the Unitarian minister William Shepherd. Around this time, his Father, probably trying to make amends for his earlier unkindness, established Edward and his sister in a tavern at 19 Crooked Lane. Rushton was not suited to the work, although he did have the help of his new wife Isabella, and moved on to become Editor of the Liverpool Herald. A year later, his uncompromising attitude caused him to leave the Herald. A short while later, he established himself as a bookseller at 44 Paradise Street, but yet again his outspoken views made him enemies and lost valued custom. It was now the period of Revolution in France and Rushton made no attempt to moderate his radical thoughts. Nevertheless, he refused help from his friends while his business floundered, being quite prepared to accept the consequences of voicing unpopular ideals. At length his business recovered and he was able to live out his life in relative comfort and give his children a good education.

With Roscoe and Currie, Rushton was instrumental in the thinking behind an institution for the indigent blind. Rushton described later how the idea originated;

"Early in the year 1790, I regularly attended an association consisting of ten or a dozen individuals who assembled weekly for the purpose of weekly discussion; and one evening, the conversation having turned on the recently established Marine Society, it was observed by a member of that body, Captain W. Ward, that the committee for the management of the Marine Fund had declined the acceptance of small donations. It immediately occurred to me that if an institution could be formed, in Liverpool, for the relief of its numerous and indigent blind, the small donations thus declined by the Marine Committee might be brought to flow in a channel, not less benevolent, and prove of essential service in the establishment of a fund for the benefit of that unfortunate description of the community."

The complete plan was ambitious from the very beginning. Not only did they intend to teach a member of the Blind persons' family to write and read music so as to help in the pupils' studies, but they also hoped to be so successful in their overall achievements as to be a model for other towns to follow suit and care for their blind in a similar manner.

The first building to be used by the school was quite unsuitable. Situated at 6 Commutation Row, opposite the potteries of Shaw's Brow (now William Brown Street), two houses recently erected were rented by the charity for the sole use of the school. They were much too small and by 1800 enough money had been raised to erect a purpose built school nearby on the site now occupied by the Odeon cinema on London Road. Designed by John Foster junior (later Architect & Surveyor to Liverpool Corporation) the school was now well and truly established and would stay on this site for the next 50 years.

Rushton, meanwhile, regained his sight in 1807 following an operation by Manchester surgeon Benjamin Gibson, thus enabling him to see his wife and children for the first time in 33 years. Sadly, his wife Isabella died a short time later in 1811 as well as one of his daughters.

Rushton died on 22nd November 1814 of paralysis and was buried in St.James' Churchyard. (Later re-interred in St James Cemetery) Although not a great poet or a man of advanced political opinions, he was still a remarkable man for his time and a fighter for the under-dog and for freedom in its many forms. A contemporary called him, "A man of high moral qualities, of great intellectual endowments and of the most inflexible strength of principle".

Source: © Mike Royden