The following information was supplied by Celia Moss in England who is distantly related (second cousin, 5 times removed) to Joseph Jackson Lister and has been researching the Listers in order to establish the many links between their family and her own Quaker ancestors, the Lucas family.

People in Ellen Alexander's letter


The Mary Lister to whom Ellen Alexander wrote in 1840 was the eldest child of Joseph Jackson Lister and Isabella Harris, and thus the eldest sister of Joseph (later Lord) Lister, the famous surgeon. Mary was born in 1820 at Upton House in Essex, making her 20 years old at the time of the letter. She later (1851) married Rickman Godlee, a Quaker barrister of Lincoln's Inn, and they had six children. The second child, later Sir Rickman John Godlee, became a distinguished neurosurgeon and wrote the principal biography of his uncle Lord Lister. Another son, Francis Godlee, founded a successful cotton milling firm and later financed the first telescope for Manchester Unversity's Astronomy department; the present Godlee Observatory at Manchester is named in his honour.

The Isabella to whom Ellen Alexander gives her kind love in the last paragraph was Mary's sister, Isabella Sophia Lister, who would have been 17 years old at the time of writing. Nearly thirty years later she was to be one of the earliest patients (some say the first patient) on whom her younger brother Joseph performed major surgery using his pioneering antiseptic technique. One feels that this must have required great courage on both sides.

Joseph Jackson Lister, the father of these two girls, was an impressive person and at least as interesting as his famous son Joseph. He was immensely versatile — a successful businessman, an acclaimed scientist, a sound Latin scholar and a competent artist — and also found time to guide and finance the careers of many of the next generation.


The Jane Ransome who spent a day with Mary Lister and whose father was ill was almost certainly the youngest daughter of James Ransome, head of Ransome's Engineering at Ipswich. She was the same age as Mary Lister, being born in 1820.

The Ransomes were a very extensive Quaker family, originally from Norfolk, that produced creative people over many generations. The Ipswich engineering clan dominated many engineering sectors in England until well into the twentieth century, their innovations including the steam plough, railway components and precision equipment for the Greenwich Observatory; another branch of this family patented the rotary kiln for the manufacture of cement, and in the next generation developed reinforced concrete; yet another branch founded the manufacturing chemist William Ransom plc, which is still trading. Even the famous children's author Arthur was a member of this family.

Last modified 11 December 2002