Austin Dobson collection

Biographical and Historical Notes

Austin Dobson

English poet, author, and civil servant (Henry) Austin Dobson (1840-1921) was one of several authors employed at the English Board of Trade in the latter half of the nineteenth century, in addition to Edmund Gosse (1849-1928), William Cosmo Monkhouse (1840-1901), and Samuel Waddington (1844-1923), who contributed to its description as a "nest of singing birds."

Dobson's tenure at the Board of Trade lasted from 1856 until his retirement in 1901, during which the majority of his work was conducted in the marine department; he was appointed a principal clerk in 1884. Dobson's literary career began in the 1860s with the publication of his poetry in various magazines, including Anthony Trollope's St. Paul's Magazine. Trollope was influential in encouraging the young poet's work, and Dobson dedicated his first volume of poetry, Vignettes in Rhyme (1873), to Trollope. Dobson's poetry, which showed a fondness for French verse forms such as the triolet and the rondeau, enjoyed a popularity that kept many of his volumes running through numerous editions.

Dobson ceased writing much new verse in the mid-1880s and turned his attention to prose work. Dobson was considered a leading authority on eighteenth-century literary and artistic figures such as Oliver Goldsmith, Horace Walpole, William Hogarth, and Henry Fielding. He authored volumes on Fielding, Hogarth, Samuel Richardson, and Goldsmith, and his reputation as a biographer and essayist led to his writing many prefaces and introductions to new volumes on these figures, as well as shorter entries for the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB). Dobson even wrote the DNB entry for his friend and Board of Trade colleague Cosmo Monkhouse.

In 1868, Dobson married Frances Mary Beardmore (d. 1927), daughter of prominent engineer Nathaniel Beardmore (1816-1872), who also wrote children's fiction under the pen name Franc Mari. The couple had ten children, all of whom survived their father.


Gwynn, S.L. Revised by Nilanjana Banerji. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. doi: 10.1093/ref:odnb/32845. Accessed 14 October 2011.

Alban and Christopher Dobson

Austin Dobson's youngest son Alban Dobson (1885-1962) went on to manage his father's literary estate and authored several volumes on his father, including A Bibliography of the First Editions of Published and Privately Printed Books and Pamphlets by Austin Dobson (1925); Austin Dobson: Some Notes by Alban Dobson (1928); and Catalogue of the Collection of the Works of Austin Dobson, 1840-1921 (1960) and edited the Complete Poetical Works of Austin Dobson (1923); An Anthology of Prose & Verse (1925); and Selected Poems (1949).

Like his father, Alban Dobson enjoyed a successful career as a civil servant. He served as the secretary of the International Whaling Commission from 1949 to 1959 and Fisheries Adviser, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries from 1946 to 1954. Alban Dobson's son, Christopher Dobson (1916-2005) succeeded Charles Clay as Librarian of the House of Lords in 1956, serving until his retirement in 1977. Christopher Dobson also took an active interest in his grandfather's literary works and legacy.

Alban Dobson donated the majority of his personal collection of Austin Dobson's books and manuscripts to the University of London Library (now the Senate House Library) in 1946, to which significant portions of the collections of Christopher Dobson and other family members have been added. Alban Dobson published a catalog of the collection in 1960.


Obituary of Alban Dobson. The Times. 21 May 1962.

Scope and Content Note

The Austin Dobson collection comprises approximately six linear feet plus oversize material of correspondence, manuscripts, proofs, contracts, royalty statements, artwork, photographs, wills, genealogies, periodicals, clippings, scrapbooks, copper plates, and printed ephemera. The collection documents the work and life of English author and civil servant (Henry) Austin Dobson (1840-1921) and the management of Dobson's estate and literary legacy by his youngest son, Alban Dobson (1885-1962) and his son, Christopher Dobson (1916-2005), primarily during the period between the author's death in 1921 and Alban Dobson's death in 1962.

The also collection highlights the long history of civil service in the Dobson family, from Austin Dobson's work at the Board of Trade in the nineteenth century to Alban Dobson's successful career in the Ministry of Agriculture and Christopher Dobson's appointment as Librarian in the House of Lords in 1956. The collection is arranged into five series: I. Austin Dobson; II. Austin Dobson literary estate; III. Alban Dobson; IV. Dobson family; and V. Material removed from cataloged publications.

Series I. comprises works by and possessions of Austin Dobson and includes incoming and outgoing correspondence; material related to the publication of Dobson's works; material compiled by Dobson for personal and professional reference; and artwork, photographs, and realia.

Series II. consists of material pertaining to the management of Austin Dobson's literary estate during his lifetime and his artistic legacy maintained by his son Alban and grandson Christopher Dobson. The series includes correspondence with publishers, contracts, royalty statements, and general material concerning Dobson's literary estate, including copyright information, general sales figures, and the division of Dobson's estate, beneficiaries of which acquired both physical property as well as publication rights to particular works.

Series III. comprises material pertaining to Alban Dobson (1885-1962), youngest son of Austin Dobson, who managed his father's literary estate and worked to preserve the author's legacy after his death. The series includes correspondence; material pertaining to works by Alban Dobson on his father; Alban Dobson's own library; and scrapbooks and clippings compiled by Alban Dobson.

Series IV. contains material related to other members of the Dobson family, including the wills of Austin Dobson's wife, Frances Mary Dobson (d. 1927), and Alban Dobson's wife, Katharine Jean Selby Dobson (d. 1936). Also included in this series is an extensive genealogy of the Dobson and Selby families compiled by Alban Dobson for his children, which traces the families to the eighteenth century. Later notes were added by Christopher Dobson.

The Austin Dobson collection includes a number of volumes from the libraries of various Dobson family members. The volumes have been removed and are cataloged within DELCAT. Series V. consists of loose items that were removed from several of the volumes. Material is arranged according to the title of the volume from which it was removed. Additional tipped-in material may also be found within many of the volumes and is noted in the inventory.

The Austin Dobson collection is very much a family effort. After his death, Austin Dobson's literary estate was managed and carefully cared for by his youngest son, Alban Dobson and by his grandson Christopher Dobson (1916-2005). Many notes in the hands of Alban and Christopher Dobson can be found throughout the collection and are often signed with their initials (ATAD and CSAD, respectively). Alban Dobson prepared an extensive genealogy of his and his wife's families for his children, which can be found in Series IV. The management of Austin Dobson's literary estate and the endurance of his legacy comprise a large part of the present collection, and includes correspondence with publishers, agreements, royalty statements, material pertaining to Austin Dobson's copyright, Alban Dobson's publications on his father and his work, and material pertaining to further projects and publications. Alban Dobson's bibliographic efforts to catalog not only his father's work but also his own library are present within the collection. The disbursement of Austin Dobson's estate also figures highly into the collection, and many of Dobson's relatives who acquired his effects are referred to by their initials (and are referred to as such in other instances, as well.) A list of Dobson's relatives most often referred to (with initials) follows:

Frances Mary Beardmore Dobson (FMD), d. 1927. Wife of Austin Dobson.

The couple's ten children, in order of their birth:

George Francis Clement Dobson (GFCD), b. 1869

Arthur Austin Greaves Dobson (AAGD), 1870-1925

Augusta Mary Rachel Dobson (AMBD), 1872-1923

Grace Lissant Beardmore Dobson (GLD), 1873-1953. Went by "Lissant"

Margaret Bernard Dobson (MBD), b. 1874

Dorothy (sometimes Dorothea) de Brissac Dobson (D de BD), b. 1876

Mildred Eaton Dobson (MED), 1877-1952

Reverend Cyril Comyn Dobson (CCD), 1879-1960

Bernard Henry Dobson (BHD), 1881-1945

Alban Tabor Austin Dobson (ATAD), 1885-1962

Christopher Selby Austin Dobson (CSAD), 1916-2005

James Murray Dobson (JMD), 1847-1924. Brother of Austin Dobson