W. T. Stead (1849-1912) was a Northumbrian-born Nonconformist journalist who first made his name as the radical editor of the Northern Echo. The founder (together with George Newnes) of what Matthew Arnold dubbed "the new journalism" (Roger Ellis 408), he became assistant editor of the Pall Mall Gazette in 1880, and its editor in 1883. In this capacity, and with a stable of contributors including Meredith, Wilde and Shaw, he became "the conscience of the wealthy" (Baylen). "A man of vast energy, strong moral convictions, and a gift for self-promotion" (Mitchell 756), he conducted one of his most famous campaigns on behalf of child prostitutes, under the title of "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" (1883). In order to show how easy it was to purchase a child for sexual purposes, he did so and then had himself arrested — and, obiously annoying the powers that be, he ended serving time in prison for "abduction and criminal assault" (White 443).
After he and his wife Emma had had six children in as many years of marriage, he prided himself on his abstinence (Roger Ellis 408), and was seen by the sexologist Havelock Ellis as one of those Victorians whose enormous energy came from repression. In his Impressions and Comments, Havelock Ellis bracketed him with other eccentric Englishmen who make up
an uncomfortable race of men, but in many ways admirable; we should be proud rather than ashamed of them. Their unreasonableness, their inconsiderateness, their irritability, their singular gleams of insight, their exuberant energy of righteous vituperation, the curious irregularities of their minds, — however personally alien one may happen to find such qualities — can never fail to interest and delight. [Part 2]
As a campaigning journalist, Stead is credited with having promoted "the modernisation and efficiency of British industry and the reform of the British medical profession" (Baylen). However, his last years were unhappy ones, with financial problems after the failure of a new newspaper enterprise, and the death of his eldest son. Stead went down with the Titanic, having last been seen (according to different reports) helping women and children into the lifeboats (Baylen), or just standing on the deck, apparently in prayer (Mitchell 757). A spiritualist and pacifist, he was on his way to talk on world peace at a conference in New York.
Baylen, Joseph O. "Stead, William Thomas (1849-1912). Newspaper Editor and Spiritualist". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Viewed 23 August 2007.
Ellis, Havelock. Impressions and Comments (1914-24). Viewed 23 August 2007.
Ellis, Roger. Who's Who in Victorian Britain. London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1997.
Mitchell, Sally. "Stead, William Thomas (1849-1912)." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia. New York & London: Garland, 1988. 756-57.
White, Jerry. London in the Nineteenth Century: "A Human Awful Wonder of God." London: Cape, 2007.
"The W. T. Stead Resource Site." Viewed 24 August 2007.
Last modified 30 August 2007