Manuscripts and Special Collections

Biography of Sir William Thomas Denison (1804-1871)

William was the third surviving son of John Denison (c.1759-1820), who as John Wilkinson had inherited the Ossington estate in Nottinghamshire.

He was part of a close-knit and distinguished family of nine sons and daughters, plus two daughters from his father's previous marriage. His siblings included John Evelyn Denison (1800-1873), later Viscount Ossington, Edward Denison (1801-1854), Bishop of Salisbury, and George A. Denison (1805-1896), Archdeacon of Taunton.

He was educated at Eton College, and by a private tutor, the Rev. C. Drury. He entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1819. An engineer, he worked for the Ordnance Survey in the early 1820s, before being commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1826. He was involved in the construction of the Rideau Canal in Canada between 1827 and 1831.

He returned to England in 1831, and in 1837 took charge of the works at Woolwich dockyard. He was knighted in 1846 and in the same year was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen's Land [Tasmania], then a penal colony.

In 1854 he was promoted to Governor of New South Wales, Australia, where he consolidated the colonial system of public works and education. He became Governor of Madras, India, in 1861. He retired in 1866 and returned to England.


He married in 1838 Caroline Lucy (1818-1899), daughter of Admiral Sir Phipps Hornby, and had:

  • Mary C. Denison (1839-)
  • Susan M. Denison (1841-), m James W. Breeks (1830-1872)
  • William Evelyn Denison (1843-1916)
  • Frank G. Denison (1844-)
  • Susan A. Denison (1845-1930)
  • Lucy E. Denison (1846-)
  • George C. Denison
  • Henry Phipps Denison (1848-1940), vicar of St Michael's, Kensington, 1896-1918 and prebendary of Wells, 1896-1940
  • Caroline E. Denison (1850-)
  • Ellen M. Denison (1851-1858)
  • James Edward Denison (1853-1892), clergyman, Vice-Principal of Cuddesdon College 1884-86
  • Charles Denison (1855-1858)
  • Alfred John Denison (1857-1943), m in 1903 Kathleen Louise Kelly (-1930), and had:
  • Katherine M. Denison

Archive Collections

Four collections held in Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham relate particularly to William T. Denison and his family:

  • (De Wm) Papers of Sir William T. Denison and his family: Includes a large amount of correspondence from Sir William T. Denison, his wife Caroline Lucy, and many of their younger children to the two eldest sons, William Evelyn and Frank George (who were studying in England) and other family members, describing their life in Van Diemen's Land, Sydney and Madras
  • (Os) Papers of John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington: Includes letters from William T. Denison to his brother John Evelyn Denison
  • (DL) Papers of Lee and Pemberton, Solicitors: Legal papers, accounts and correspondence concerning the trust arrangements arising from the death of Viscount Ossington, benefiting the family of William T. Denison
  • (Ne C) Letters from William T. Denison to the 5th Duke of Newcastle, 1852-54 and 1859-61 (Ne C 4555, and Ne C 11038-11044)

Other correspondence of William T. Denison is held in a number of different archive offices and libraries including the British Library, Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections and the National Library of Australia. Details of collections held elsewhere are available through the National Register of Archives.

Publications by Sir W.T. Denison

  • W. T. Denison, Varieties of vice-regal life, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1870)

Published Sources

  • A.J. Arbuthnot, 'Denison, Sir William Thomas (1804-1871)', rev. A.G.L. Shaw, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [available online to subscribers,]


Manuscripts and Special Collections

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