Henry Ellis (librarian)

Sir Henry Ellis (November 29, 1777 – January 15, 1869) was an English librarian and antiquarian, for a long period principal librarian at the British Museum .

Early years

Born in London, Henry Ellis was educated at the Mercers ‘School , and at Merchant Taylors’ School , where his brother, the Rev. John Joseph Ellis, was assistant-master for forty years. Having gained one of the Merchant Taylors’ exhibitions at St John’s College, Oxford , he matriculated in 1796. [1]


In 1798, through his friend John Price , Ellis was appointed one of the two assistants in the Bodleian Library , the other being his future colleague in the British Museum Henry Hervey Baber . He was a fellow of St John’s till 1805. In 1800 he was appointed a temporary assistant in the library of the British Museum, and in 1805 he became assistant-keeper of printed books under William Beloe . The theater of prints which cost Beloe his appointment in the following year, and Baber became his assistant. [1]

Ellis’s promotion coincided with a period of increased activity at the museum. The printed catalog of the library at That Time Was comprised in two folio volumes, full of inaccuracies, goal Provided with a manuscript supplement, and to a considerable extent revised and corrected in manuscript by Beloe’s predecessor Samuel Harper . Ellis and Baber begins their work of reconstruction in March 1807, and completed it in December 1819. Ellis had meanwhile been moved to the manuscripts department (1812), accepted (1814) the then almost sinecure office of secretary to the museum Same year became secretary to the Society of Antiquaries of London . During the forty years for which he held the post, he only missed two meetings.

In 1827 Joseph Planta , the principal librarian, died, and Ellis, who had had many years of experience. When two names for the vacancy were submitted to the Crown, Henry Fynes Clinton , protected of Archbishop Charles Manners-Sutton , was placed before Ellis. Ellis intrigued successfully for the post, it is said by the royal physician, Sir William Knighton , and enlisting his good offices with the king. He was appointed on 20 December 1827. In 1832 he was made a Knight of Hanover , an honor which he shared with John Herschel , Frederic Madden , and others; And he was knighted in 1833. [1]

In the face of reform

The museum was at a low ebb in the 1830s. William Cobbett campaigned against it, and Benjamin Hawes used a complaint from an ex-employee as a pretext to set up a parliamentary inquiry. [3]

Ellis told the parliamentary committee of 1835 that if the museum were not closed for three weeks in the autumn, “the place would be positively become unwholesome”, and it would never be open to Saturdays when the most mischievous part of the Population was abroad “. The committee’s conclusions were enough to force the trustees to change management practices. They devolved the heaviest of the principal librarian’s duties on the secretary, who became the most important officer in the museum. [1]

Josiah Forshall took on the position of secretary in 1837, who took control, with Madden and Anthony Panizzi under him. [3] Ellis, though seemingly unconscious of any change in his position, was virtually superseded as chief officer; And when the committee of 1848-9 was united to the offices of the secretary and principal librarian, Panizzi was the real ruler of the museum. [1]

Later life

Ellis shared the secretary position at the Society of Antiquaries from 1848 with John Yonge Akerman , who took over in 1853. [4] He was director of the Society from 1853 to 1857. [1]

Ellis at his post until February 1856, when he resigned to a pension, and lived thirteen years more close to the museum. He died at his house in Bedford Square 15 January 1869. [1]


A pillory , illustration from Ellis’s Observations on Popular Antiquities(1842).

In 1798 Ellis published at the age of twenty-one his History of St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch, and Liberty of Norton Folgate . As an antiquarian, his contributions to Archaeologia were numerous. [1] In 1813 he edited John Brand ‘s Popular Antiquities , has work going back to Henry Bourne . [5]

The others each in four. He also drew up, as secretary, guides to the departments of the British Museum. [1]

Ellis completed portions of the British Museum catalog, from A to F and from P to R inclusive, Baber doing all the rest. He was assisted by Thomas Dampier ; Panizzi is a member of the Panizzi family. [1]

For Rees’s Cyclopædia , Ellis contributed articles on Antiquities and other subjects, but the topics are not known.


  1. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k   ” Ellis, Henry (1777-1869) “. Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885-1900.
  2. Jump up^ “Library and Archive Catalog” . Royal Society . Retrieved 30 November 2010 .
  3. ^ Jump up to:a b Borrie, Michael. “Ellis, Henry”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. Doi : 10.1093 / ref: odnb / 8696 . (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. Jump up^ Banerji, Nilanjana. “Akerman, John Yonge”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. Doi : 10.1093 / ref: odnb / 264 . (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. Jump up^ Sweet, RH “Brand, John”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. Doi : 10.1093 / ref: odnb / 3254 . (Subscription or UK public library membershiprequired.)

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