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William Brodie Gurney

William Brodie Gurney

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William Brodie Gurney was a famed English shorthand writer and philanthropist of the 19th century.


Gurney was the younger son of Joseph Gurney (1744–1815), shorthand writer, who died at Walworth, Surrey, in 1815, by a daughter of William Brodie of Mansfield.
He was the grandson of Thomas Gurney (1705–1770), who created the Gurney shorthand system, or Brachygraphy, and brother of Sir John Gurney
John Gurney (judge)
Sir John Gurney KC was a British barrister and judge. Born into a family of noted stenographers, he was educated at St Paul's School and was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple on 3 May 1793. After distinguishing himself in a libel trial, Gurney became junior counsel in a variety of state trials...


Born at Stamford Hill
Stamford Hill
Stamford Hill is a place in the north of the London Borough of Hackney, England, near the border with Haringey. It is home to Europe's largest Hasidic Jewish and Adeni Jewish community.Stamford Hill is NNE of Charing Cross.-History:...

, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, on 24 December 1777, he was taught by Mr. Burnside at Walworth
Walworth, London
Walworth is an inner-city district in the London Borough of Southwark. Walworth probably derives its name from the Old English "Wealhworth" which meant Welsh farm. It is located south east of Charing Cross and near to Camberwell and Elephant and Castle.The major streets in Walworth are the Old...

 in 1787, and afterwards by a Mr. Freeman. He received adult baptism at Maze Pond Chapel, Southwark
Southwark is a district of south London, England, and the administrative headquarters of the London Borough of Southwark. Situated east of Charing Cross, it forms one of the oldest parts of London and fronts the River Thames to the north...

 on 1 August 1796. Adopting the profession of his father and his grandfather, he commenced practice as a shorthand
Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed or brevity of writing as compared to a normal method of writing a language. The process of writing in shorthand is called stenography, from the Greek stenos and graphē or graphie...

 writer in 1803, and between that date and 1844 he took down in shorthand many of the most important appeal
An appeal is a petition for review of a case that has been decided by a court of law. The petition is made to a higher court for the purpose of overturning the lower court's decision....

s, trials
Trial (law)
In law, a trial is when parties to a dispute come together to present information in a tribunal, a formal setting with the authority to adjudicate claims or disputes. One form of tribunal is a court...

, courts-martial
A court-martial is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of...

, addresses, speeches, and libel cases, a number of which were printed as volumes from his notes. In pursuit of his calling he frequently visited Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 and Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 and many parts of England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. He reported the impeachment of Lord Melville
Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville
Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville PC and Baron Dunira was a Scottish lawyer and politician. He was the first Secretary of State for War and the last person to be impeached in the United Kingdom....

 in 1806, the proceedings against the Duke of York
Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany
The Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany was a member of the Hanoverian and British Royal Family, the second eldest child, and second son, of King George III...

 in 1809, the trials of Lord Cochrane
Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald
Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, 1st Marquess of Maranhão, GCB, ODM , styled Lord Cochrane between 1778 and 1831, was a senior British naval flag officer and radical politician....

 in 1814 and of Arthur Thistlewood
Arthur Thistlewood
Arthur Thistlewood was a British conspirator in the Cato Street Conspiracy.-Early life:He was born in Tupholme the extramarital son of a farmer and stockbreeder. He attended Horncastle Grammar School and was trained as a land surveyor. Unsatisfied with his job, he obtained a commission in the army...

 in 1820, and the proceedings against Queen Caroline
Caroline of Brunswick
Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was the Queen consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom from 29 January 1820 until her death...

. In 1802, in conjunction with his father, he was appointed to take notes of evidence before the committees of the Houses of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

 and Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

, and in May 1813 he was formally appointed shorthand writer to the houses of parliament
Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons...

, his emolument being two guineas
Guinea (British coin)
The guinea is a coin that was minted in the Kingdom of England and later in the Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom between 1663 and 1813...

 a day for attendance, and one shilling a folio for the transcript of his notes (MATTHIAS LEVY, Shorthand, 1862, pp. 86–94). He is mentioned as a famous shorthand writer in Byron's
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, later George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, FRS , commonly known simply as Lord Byron, was a British poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement...

 Don Juan
Don Juan (Byron)
Don Juan is a satiric poem by Lord Byron, based on the legend of Don Juan, which Byron reverses, portraying Juan not as a womanizer but as someone easily seduced by women. It is a variation on the epic form. Byron himself called it an "Epic Satire"...

, canto i. st. clxxxix.

Religious & philanthropic interests

Gurney joined with his friend, Joseph Fox, in 1795 and opened a Sunday school at Walworth, of which he in the following year became the secretary. In 1801 he commenced the Maze Pond Sunday school, an establishment almost akin to a ragged school
Ragged school
Ragged Schools were charitable schools dedicated to the free education of destitute children in 19th century England. The schools were developed in working class districts of the rapidly expanding industrial towns...

, and here he introduced the Scottish method of catechising
A catechism , i.e. to indoctrinate) is a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present...

 in the scriptures. On 13 July 1803 he was present at a public meeting in Surrey Chapel
Surrey Chapel
The Surrey Chapel was an independent Methodist and Congregational church established in Blackfriars Road, Southwark, London on 8 June 1783 by the Rev. Rowland Hill. His work was continued in 1833 by the Congregational pastor Rev. James Sherman, and in 1854 by Rev. Newman Hall. The chapel's design...

 schoolroom, when the "Sunday School Union" was established. Of this society he became successively secretary, treasurer, and president, and at the jubilee meeting in 1853 was one of the three surviving original subscribers. In 1805, with other persons, he commenced The Youth's Magazine, a cheap popular periodical, devoted to religious subjects. It was the earliest publication of the kind, and one of the most successful. For ten years Gurney was a joint editor of this work, for thirty years its treasurer, and until his death an occasional contributor exercising some general supervision. A large profit made on it was devoted to educational and missionary institutions. He was a member of the first committee of the London Female Penitentiary, formed in 1807, and was one of the lay preachers who for many years took the Sunday services in that institution.

In 1812, on the establishment of the Westminster auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society
British and Foreign Bible Society
The British and Foreign Bible Society, often known in England and Wales as simply as Bible Society, is a non-denominational Christian Bible society with charity status whose purpose is to make the Bible available throughout the world....

, he was elected a member of the first committee, and soon after became secretary. In connection with the baptist denomination he was treasurer of Stepney College from 1828, and of their foreign missions from 1835. Like his father he was warmly interested in the anti-slavery movement
Abolitionism is a movement to end slavery.In western Europe and the Americas abolitionism was a movement to end the slave trade and set slaves free. At the behest of Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas who was shocked at the treatment of natives in the New World, Spain enacted the first...

. Towards rebuilding chapels in Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

 and sending additional ministers there he was a liberal contributor, besides frequently receiving baptist missionaries into his own house. He purchased a residence at Muswell Hill
Muswell Hill
Muswell Hill is a suburb of north London, mostly in the London Borough of Haringey. It is situated about north of Charing Cross and around from the City of London. Muswell Hill is in the N10 postal district and mostly in the Hornsey and Wood Green parliamentary constituency.- History :The...

, Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...

, in 1826, when the Rev. Eustace Carey, who had recently returned from India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, came to reside with him. The house was then licensed as a place of worship, and during four years Carey and other ministers held Sunday evening services in the drawing-room. Gurney died at Denmark Hill
Denmark Hill
Denmark Hill is an area and road in the London Borough of Southwark. The road forms part of the A215; north of Camberwell Green it becomes Camberwell Road; south of Red Post Hill it becomes Herne Hill. Its postcode is SE5. Nearby streets whose names refer to different aspects of the same...

, Camberwell
Camberwell is a district of south London, England, and forms part of the London Borough of Southwark. It is a built-up inner city district located southeast of Charing Cross. To the west it has a boundary with the London Borough of Lambeth.-Toponymy:...

, on 25 March 1855. In March 1803 he married Miss Benham, who died at Muswell Hill in 1830.

Gurney died at Denmark Hill
Denmark Hill
Denmark Hill is an area and road in the London Borough of Southwark. The road forms part of the A215; north of Camberwell Green it becomes Camberwell Road; south of Red Post Hill it becomes Herne Hill. Its postcode is SE5. Nearby streets whose names refer to different aspects of the same...

 on 25 March 1855, and was buried in the family vault at West Norwood Cemetery
West Norwood Cemetery
West Norwood Cemetery is a cemetery in West Norwood in London, England. It was also known as the South Metropolitan Cemetery.One of the first private landscaped cemeteries in London, it is one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries of London, and is a site of major historical, architectural and...



Gurney was author of A Lecture to Children and Youth on the History and Characters of Heathen Idolatry. With some references to the effects of Christian Missions, 1848. He edited the fifteenth and sixteenth editions of his grandfather's Brachygraphy, 1824 and 1835. His son Joseph Gurney
Joseph Gurney
Joseph Gurney, , was a British shorthand writer and biblical scholar, notable for his publications and work with the Religious Tract Society.Gurney was the eldest son of William Brodie Gurney, and was born in London on 15 October 1804....

 followed in his father's steps as a shorthand writer and biblical scholar.

External links

  • Trial of Pedro de Zulueta, jun., on a charge of slave trading - shorthand report by Gurney, from the Internet Archive
    Internet Archive
    The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

  • Gurney works from Google Book Search
    Google Book Search
    Google Books is a service from Google that searches the full text of books that Google has scanned, converted to text using optical character recognition, and stored in its digital database. The service was formerly known as Google Print when it was introduced at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October...