Stephen REAY (1782–1861)
Mrs Eleanora REAY, née Hargreave (1790–1861)
St Giles section: Grave not yet located, but possibly Row 33, Grave J25

See the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for the full career of Stephen Reay, orientalist

Stephen Reay was born at Montrose in Scotland on 29 March 1872, the only son of the Revd John Reay. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1802 and was ordained at Chester Cathedral in 1806. He served as a curate in Shotwick, Cheshire, and then in Haslingden, Lancashire, where he met his future wife.

After a period in Scotland, he returned to his studies, and on 26 May 1814 at the age of 32 he was matriculated at the University of Oxford by St Alban Hall (now part of Merton College), obtaining his B.A. in 1817. In 1818 he wrote a pamphlet, "Observations on the defence of the Church Missionary Society against the objections of the Archdeacon of Bath" under the pseudonym “Pileus Quadratus”.

In June 1828 he was elected one of the Sub-Librarians of the Bodleian, where he was in charge of the oriental books.

Eleanora Hargreave was born in Haslingden, Lancashire on 13 February 1790. Her parents were George Hargreave of Hoddlesden and Mary Hart of Ulverstone who were married in 1783. She must have met her future husband when he was curate of Haslingden, but had to wait about twenty years until he was able to marry.

Stephen Reay married Eleanor Hargreave on 17 April 1832, and brought her down to live in Oxford. Eleanor was 42 at the time of the marriage, and they had no children.

On 19 March 1840 Reay was elected Laudian Professor of Arabic, and in 1841 he obtained his B.D.

At the time of the 1841 census Stephen & Eleanora Reay were living at the south end of St John Street, which was in St Mary Magdalen parish. Two independent middle-aged ladies, Mary and Sarah Windle, were staying with them, and they had one servant.

By 1846 the couple had moved to 46 St Giles’s Street, where they remained for the rest of their lives. At the time of the 1851 census they were on holiday in Torquay with Eliza Hargreave (59), Eleanora’s sister.

Because of poor health Reay retired from the Bodleian Library with a pension in 1860, but held on to his professorship. Both he and his wife died the following year.

† Mrs Eleanora Reay née Hargreave died at 46 St Giles’s Street at the age of 70 on 1 January 1861 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 8 January (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church).

Eleanora’s private papers can be seen in the Bodleian Library.

Stephen Reay outlived his wife by only nineteen days.

† Stephen Reay died at 46 St Giles’s Street at the age of 78 on 20 January 1861 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 29 January (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church).

The following short obituary appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 26 January 1861:

DEATH OF THE LAUDIAN PROFESSOR OF ARABIC. — The Rev. Stephen Reay, Laudian Professor of Arabic, died at his residence, St. Giles’s, in this city, on Monday last, aged 70. The deceased Professor was Sub-Librarian of the Bodleian, and formerly Vice-Principal of St. Alban Hall. Mr. Reay succeeded Dr. Wyndham Knatchbull as Professor of Arabic in 1840.

He died intestate, and his wealth at death was £8,000. The following obituary appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine of April 1861:

Professor Stephen Reay.

Jan. 20. At his residence, 46, St. Giles’, Oxford, aged 78 years, the Rev. Stephen Reay, B.D., Laudian Professor of Arabic.

So very excellent a person would amply deserve a notice in these pages, even if his Academical position did not point him out as one who ought not to be allowed to depart without such commemoration. He was the only child of the Rev. John Reay and Isabella More his wife, and was born at Montrose, N.B., on Good Friday, March 29, 1782: his father, John Reay, (descended from an old and respectable Scottish family,) having been ordained (Dec. 21, 1779) by Dr. Robert Lowth, Bishop of London, to the English Chapel at Montrose. John was a man of learning and sterling sense, as a few of his letters which have been preserved shew. But his healthy piety and excellent feeling arc even more conspicuous. The letters alluded to were addressed by the father (from his cure) to the son while pursuing his studies at the University of Edinburgh, where he was the pupil of Dalziel and of Dugald Stewart. Having graduated at Edinburgh in March 1802, Mr. Reay was ordained in Chester Cathedral, (Sept. 21, 1806,) and on the same day was licensed to the curacy of Shotwick, in Cheshire, where his paternal uncle and namesake had a cure. Thence, he migrated into Lancashire, and became curate of Haslingden; at which place he exercised his ministry for several years. From thence he returned to Scotland.

Some notion of the singularly desolate character of this locality may be obtained from the description of it which a former incumbent (the Rev. Mr. Thelwall) sent to his friends, who had requested him to tell them something about Haslingden, and the people among whom he had gone to dwell. “I have gotten the heathen,” he said, “for mine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for my possession.”

Among the heathen of Haslingden, however, Mr. Reay found a lady who was in the best and truest sense of the word a Christian. Eleanora, daughter of George Hargreave, Esq., of Hoddlesdon Hall, (and afterwards of Haslingden) became his wife, in 1832. It would be a wrong to the memory of so excellent a person to withhold the praise which was so justly her due. She was of a truly munificent spirit, and excelled in the art of doing good in secret. The whole business of her life seemed to be to care for the friendless, and to provide for those who had need; practising denial towards herself alone. The extent of her charities was even surprising; but it was rarely that she confessed them even to those who knew her best. With this lady Mr. Reay lived in great happiness for twenty-nine years, surviving her only nineteen days. One of his latest acts was singularly characteristic of the spirit which equally influenced them both. Immediately after his wife’s death, be directed that all her charitable subscriptions for the ensuing year might be paid, as if she were yet living.

Mr. Reay is found to have graduated at Oxford, from St. Alban Hall, — B.A. Oct. 22,1817; M.A. March 4,1823; B.D. Nov. 18, 1841. He was for several years Vice-Principal to Dr. Winstanly, who presided over the Hall from 1796 to 1823; and often spoke in later years of the learning of his Principal, and of the encouragement he had received from him in the study of Hebrew. Mr. Reay was appointed Laudian Professor of Arabic in 1840, an office which he held until the time of his death.

The only occasion on which Mr. Reay is ever known to have been an author, was when in 1818 he published a pamphlet, entitled, “Observations on the defence of the Church Missionary Society against the objections of the Archdeacon of Bath, [the Rev. Josiah Thomas,]—By Pileus Quadratus,” — an excellent production. He also edited the Hebrew text of the history of Joseph, for the use of students of Hebrew.

By residents in Oxford during the last quarter of a century, Professor Reay will chiefly be remembered in connexion with the Bodleian Library, where he held the office of Under-Librarian ever since the year 1828, under Dr. Bandinel, who was his coetanean, and who outlived him by only a few weeks. For a short period he was also curate of St. Peter-le-Bailey in Oxford; and is remembered there not more for his piety and learning, than for his kindness of heart and courtesy of manner. No one in truth who knew Mr. Reay intimately, could fail to be struck by the exceeding Christian courtesy which never forsook him. But those who knew him best, knew also how many of the yet brighter Christian graces were his, — profound humility, and habitual acquiescence in the Divine will, and a most unfeigned love of goodness, in whatever shape. If a character could be drawn by a single word, guilelessness would express that of Mr. Reay; and when a short inscription had to be written for his coffinplate, the loftiest of the Gospel beatitudes, — “Blessed are the pure in heart,” — suggested itself irresistibly. He was, in truth, a most genuine Christian character. He was never heard to utter an unkind word of anybody. He never could be got to assent to an ill-natured observation. The present writer would often playfully offer satirical comments on their mutual acquaintance; and give his aged friend the opportunity, if he pleased, of expressing dislike. But he can never remember an instance where Mr. Reay assented. His common resource was to feign himself “rather deafer to-day than usual;” and, (on whichever side one might happen to he,) one received a hint that he never was “able to hear with that ear.” He was very firm in his opinions; and those whom he honoured with his friendship knew well with how firm and faithful a person they had to do. Not that he was a party man. Strife and division were an atmosphere specially hateful to him: but his old fashioned Churchmanship, while it detested Popery, abhorred Infidelity, and even Indifferentism, yet more. His was the Churchmanship which loves with fewest professions of loving; and which proves its attachment by its obedience, and its habitual use of every Christian privilege. Mr. Reay was one of the little band of ancient friends whom the late venerable President of Magdalen College used to assemble round his dinner table on Sunday; and very sincere was the regard which subsisted on either side. In the 2nd volume of his Opuscula, at p. 95, Dr. Routh commemorates a literary obligation, which, (he says,) “humanitati debeo viri reverendi Stephani Reay, e bibliotheca Bodleianâ; cujus facilitatem, verecundiam, eruditionemque omnes agnoscunt.”

For several years past, Mr. Reay had shewn signs of failing health; and his visits to his delightful little study in the Bodleian (overlooking Exeter garden) became less and less frequent. The present writer will ever especially picture him as he appeared since his wife’s death, sitting in his chimney corner; silent, but very sorrowful; and calmly anticipating the summons which he felt must soon come to himself, and for which he humbly longed. His tall thin figure seemed more than ever bowed beneath the burthen of his years; and his venerable features wore an expression of resigned grief which it was affecting to witness. The excessive coldness of the season conspired to accelerate his death….

He took to his bed on Saturday, Feb. 19, and had a slight apoplectic seizure on the same evening from which he never at all recovered. He died the day following, at about noon, like one taking his rest in sleep; drawing each breath at longer intervals, as the wave of life ebbed away: so that it was impossible to note the exact instant at which he entered into rest.

His remains were interred in the Cemetery called that of St. Sepulchre, Oxford; in a vault where less than three weeks before had been deposited the remains of his wife. That resting-place they had prepared for themselves in their lifetime, — close to the door of the Cemetery chapel, and on the east side of the gravel path.

Eleanora’s sister Eliza Hargreave continued to live at 46 St Giles’s Street, and can be seen there at the time of the 1871 census with her companion Ellen Audland and two servants. She died at the age of 81 in 1872 (death registered Headington district fourth quarter), but her burial is not recorded in the St Giles’s register, so it probably did not take place at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery.


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