Henry Austin Driver and family: Letters and Papers

Scope and Content

The collection covers much of H.A. Driver's life and career, although not all aspects and periods are fully illustrated. Other family members are featured, but the papers concerning them tend to be fragmentary and allusive.

The collection comprises two boxes. The first holds 24 bundles of letters and papers and two travel journals, all relating to Driver or to members of his family (1-26). The greater part of the family correspondence dates from the second and third decades of the nineteenth century. There is a little material from the 1830s onwards, and a few eighteenth century papers, both of Driver's family, as well as that of his wife Mary (17). The papers relating to Driver's children date mainly from the second half of the nineteenth century. They include business correspondence of his eldest son, Alfred George (21), and a small number of letters or copies of letters from Driver's three children in Australia, illustrating their impressions of the country and of each other (16/7-10). The correspondence of Driver's brother Thomas mentions the Anglo-American war of 1812-1815, as well as and providing descriptions of life in Bermuda and a detailed account of a visit to Demerara in 1822 (4/52). There are also a few letters and poems of Thomas Driver, senior (19).

Correspondents outside the family include H.A. Driver's childhood friends in Cambridge, Samuel Peed (11) and Joseph Ingle (12), and his London friends William Churchill (13) and George Ringer and his sister Henrietta (14). There is also correspondence between Driver and the poet Thomas Moore (15/2), the painter Henry Aston Barker (15/6), the Egyptologist Samuel Sharpe (15/31), and the architect Sir Charles Barry (15/37). In addition to the letters, there are numerous mementos and family souvenirs (22-24).

The second box holds MSS of most of Driver's literary works (mainly poetic), dating from the 1830s and 1840s, including The Arabs (29) and Harold de Brun (31), and his draft novel on the Fine Arts (45-51), which includes chapters on architecture and sculpture. There are also lectures and notes for lectures delivered to the Islington Literary and Scientific Society (35-44).

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Austin Driver (1790-1862) was born in Cambridge on 6 December 1790, the second son of Thomas Driver (d. 1821), perfumer, of Market Street, and his wife Charlotte (d. 1843), ne Hunter. Driver's early employment was in an office in Cambridge. In 1810 or 1811 he moved to London, where he worked as a clerk for the firm of Marsh and Creed, Navy Agents, moving in 1815 or 1816 to the mercantile house of William Mitchel. After Mitchel's bankruptcy in 1826 Driver set about forming his own business as a stationer. In this capacity he received the Freedom of the City of London in 1841, but went bankrupt in 1853. He died in 1862 and was buried in Highgate cemetery.

Driver achieved a modest reputation in his own day as a poet in the traditions of Byron and Thomas Moore. Two of his poetic works were published, The Arabs in 1825 and Harold de Burun in 1835. In addition, he published in 1838 a pamphlet entitled Byron and the Abbey, in which he urged the need for a monument for the poet whom he admired greatly. In the 1840s he attempted to set his hand to an historical discussion of the Fine Arts, cast in the form of a novel which consisted almost entirely of long, didactic speeches by the main protoganists. This was not completed. Towards the end of his life he wrote a poem entitled Bella Italia!, praising the Italian struggle for freedom and unification, which also remained unpublished. Driver's publications brought him a degree of fame. The appearance of The Arabs prompted invitations to him from the publisher Samuel Maunder to contribute to Richard Dagley's anthology Death's Doings (both editions), and his later works brought him commissions from Marguerite, Countess of Blessington. Driver was also an active member of the Islington Literary and Scientific Society (later called the Islington Literary and Scientific Institution).

In 1815 Driver met Mary Ingle, second daughter of John Ingle, a farmer, of Shepreth. After a prolonged and fluctuating courtship they were married in London in 1826. Most of their married life was spent in Islington. There were at least six children of the marriage. The eldest, Alfred George, entered the stationery business, working for some years for the firm of Waterlow and Sons and later holding a partnership in the firm of Drake, Driver and Leaver, Ltd. Three of the younger children emigrated to Australia in the 1850s. Mary Driver died in 1874 and was buried in Highgate cemetery.

H.A. Driver's eldest brother, Thomas O'Brien Mills Driver, is also featured in the collection. He was born in Cambridge on 4 February 1789. In 1806 he went to London to work, and in 1810 he was employed by the firm of Marsh and Creed, Navy Agents. In 1813 he current employer, Alexander Thomson, recommended him to William Gray, Agent for Victualling His Majesty's Ships in Bermuda, whither Thomas went in 1813-14. He worked there until the 1830s, at which time he returned to England. He entered into partnership in 1817 with a member of the prominent Bermudian merchant family of Musson. Their auctioneering business did not prosper, and it had collapsed by 1824. Thomas Driver was a painter and won a small reputation for his work.

Frederick William Driver, the youngest of the Driver brothers, was born in Cambridge on 17 July 1794. By 1812, he had also moved to London, although his uncertain health and the national economic difficulties of the years after 1815 impeded his chances of regular employment. In 1826 he married Frances Baker of London; by 1839 the family were living in Truro, Cornwall. Later they lived in London.

The collection also features Mrs. Charlotte Driver's brother Thomas, who was in partnership in London with William Loder Browne, and whose wife Catherine (or possibly Katherine) was probably a sister of Thomas Driver, senior. H.A. Driver and his brothers spent much time with both families in London, especially prior to the collapse of the firm of Browne and Hunter in 1819. H.A. Driver also corresponded for several years with another of the Hunter sisters, Mrs. E.C. Garrett, who lived at Barrington, Cambridgeshire, with her husband, until the latter's death in 1816, after which she moved to Strood in Kent to run a school with the help of Mary Patterson, daughter of the third Hunter sister.


H.A. Driver sorted most of the correspondence and some of the other papers in the collection into bundles, which he wrapped and labelled. Some of the remaining papers were sorted roughly at a later date, apparently 1903, but were still in some disorder. Where possible the original bundles, as arranged by Driver, have been retained, but rearrangement has been necessary for much of the collection.

Access Information

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Purchased 1978.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives.

Other Finding Aids

Additional Manuscripts Catalogue.

Family Names

Geographical Names