Sue Young Histories

Rosa and Stephen Hobhouse and Homeopathy

April 10, 2009

Stephen Henry Hobhouse 1881 - 1961, and Rosa Waugh Hobhouse, a husband and wife team** **who wrote _Life of Christian Samuel Hahnemann, founder of homeopathy_.

The Hobhouses used the publishing house of Charles William Daniel.

Stephen and Rosa Waugh Hobhouse were colleagues of Richard Haehl, who also wrote a biography of Samuel Hahnemann.

Stephen Hobhouse was a conscientious objector, and therefore he was imprisoned during WW I, where he met Fenner Brockway. Together, they wrote English prisons today, the resulting reforms of this book can still be felt today.

Stephen Hobhouse was born into a wealthy, liberal family and educated at Eton and Oxford. As the eldest son, he was expected to inherit and follow in his father’s footsteps. However, Stephen renounced his inheritance, and influenced by Tolstoy, Stephen and his wife Rosa adopted povery and went to live in Hoxton.

Rosa and Stephen joined the Quakers and became politically active. As a conscientious objector, Stephen ended up in prison in 1916.

From Stephen Henry Hobhouse was born in PitcombeSomerset, England. He was the eldest son of Henry Hobhouse (1854–1937), a wealthy landowner and Liberal MP from 1885 to 1906, and Margaret Heyworth Potter. Both sides of his family included a number of reformers and progressive politicians:

  • His paternal cousin Emily Hobhouse (1860–1926) was known for bringing attention to British concentration camps in South Africa during the Second Boer War. Her views greatly influenced Stephen.
  • His maternal great-grandfather Richard Potter (1778–1842) was a radical Liberal Party MP.

Stephen Hobhouse was brought up as a member of the established Church of England. He was educated at Eton, where he won prizes in both academics and sports, and at Balliol College, Oxford.

The Second Boer War broke out when he was 18. He originally supported the war but his views were soon challenged by his cousin Emily. “Thus, no doubt, it was that my mind was prepared for the awakening”. What he regarded as an awakening came from a 1902 reading of a pamphlet by Leo Tolstoy. This tract had a profound influence on him and he became an ardent lifelong pacifist.

He worked as a civil servant for seven years in the Board of Education. During the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913, he resigned his post to go to Constantinople as a volunteer with a Quaker relief mission that helped refugees.

In April 1915, Hobhouse married Rosa Waugh (1881–1961). He met her at a dinner party for Christian activists. She was also an activist, and spent three months in jail for distributing pacifist pamphlets. Rosa was also a prolific author on her own. Together they wrote a biography of Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. Both Hobhouses were firm believers in homeopathy, and Steven even translated articles for the Homeopathic Journal.

As eldest son of a wealthy family, Stephen stood to inherit a large fortune, but, influenced by Leo Tolstoy here too, he renounced his inheritance. He and his wife adopted a lifestyle of poverty, living in Hoxton, then a slum district in East London. At the same time they joined the Quaker Society of Friends and became active in Quaker service. 

Hobhouse was conscripted in 1916. He was granted an exemption at a tribunal in August 1916, conditional upon him joining the Friends Ambulance Unit, but, as an absolutist or unconditionalist conscientious objector, refused to accept the decision or to appeal against it. He ignored a notice to report to a barracks, was arrested by the civil police, brought before a magistrates’ court, and handed over to the military. He refused to put on military uniform, was court-martialled and sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour.

Hobhouse was placed in solitary confinement because he refused to obey the “Rule of Silence” forbidding prisoners to speak to one another. He wrote to his wife: “The spirit of love requires that I should speak to my fellow-prisoners, the spirit of truth that I should speak to them openly” By mid 1917 his health, after 112 days in jail, followed by a second jail sentence, was declining rapidly. (His health had always been frail: he had had nervous breakdowns and scarlet fever.) His wife was very angry about the treatment he got in prison. Some said that he never recovered his health entirely. In 1917 Hobhouse wrote:

Nearly every feature of prison life seems deliberately arranged to destroy a man's sense of his own personality, his power of choice and initiative, his possessive instincts, his concept of himself as a being designed to love and serve his fellow-man. His very name is blotted out and he becomes a number; A.3.21 and D.2.65 were two of my designations. He and his fellows are elaborately counted, when-ever moved from one location to another, in the characteristic machine-like way. He is continually, of course, under lock and key, ignored except as an object for spying.

His mother, Margaret, was a supporter of the war — a war in which three sons served and the youngest Paul Edward was killed in March 1918. But she was determined to save Stephen’s life and to draw attention to the predicament of the roughly 1350 war resisters then in prison. She maintained that “absolutists” like Stephen should either receive a King’s Pardon or be released into civilian life. She produced a pamphlet, I Appeal unto Caesar: the case of the conscientious objectors, with an introduction by the eminent classicist and public figure Gilbert Murray, publicising the plight of the conscientious objectors. The pamphlet sold over 18,000 copies. Recent research by Jo Vellacott has revealed that the appeal’s author was actually Bertrand Russell.

Margaret conducted an active campaign, aided discreetly by the influential Alfred Milner, who was a family friend. His case was first raised in Parliament on 9 July 1917. The campaign eventually prevailed, and in December 1917 Stephen Hobhouse, along with some 300 other COs, was released from prison on grounds of ill health.

In prison Hobhouse met Fenner Brockway, a “fiery socialist” and fellow anti-war activist. After the war, they wrote English Prisons Today, sponsored by the Prison System Enquiry Committee. This book, which appeared in 1922, was a critique of the whole English prison system and initiated a wave of prison reform which has continued to this day.

Rosa Waugh Hobhouse wrote Life of Christian Samuel Hahnemann, founder of homepathy, The divine art of healing, An interplay of life and art, The life of Benjamin Waugh, Mary Hughes, Her Life for the Dispossessed, Story-making, Norse legends, Out of the Years, Poems, As Gems in Metal, Robin Hood and Other Tales of Old England, The records of Senelder, Sonnets and Other Verses, Perspectiveland; or Peggy’s adventures and how she learnt to draw, The Man with the Leather Patch and Five Other Tales, and various other collections of poems.

Stephen Hobhouse wrote Joseph Sturge, His Life And Work, English prisons today (Joseph Sturge) with Fenner Brockway, An English Prison from Within, The silence system in British prisons, Forty years and an epilogue, and many other works, including Margaret Hobhouse and Her Family,

Stephen Hobhouse was related to Sir John Cam Hobhouse as they had an ancestor in common, one Benjamin Hobhouse, born in 1682 (see A genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain vol 4, p 360). The Hon Sophia Hobhouse ? - 1916 married John Strange Jocelyn, 5th Earl of Roden 1823 – 1897).

One of the sons of Robert Jocelyn, 2nd Earl of Roden 1756 - 1820, (who was also half brother of Robert Jocelyn, 3rd Earl of Roden 1788 - 1870), Augustus George Frederick Jocelyn 1811 - 1887, Captain (later Major) 6th Dragoon Guards, was on the Committee of the Irish Homeopathic Society. (information supplied by Rhóda Uí Chonaire, Editor of the Irish Homeopathic Times 8.6.11)

Of interest:

Hermione Hobhouse was the biographer of Prince Albert.

John Cam Hobhouse, 1st Baron Broughton PC 1786 – 1869 known as Sir John Cam Hobhouse.{::}John Cam Hobhouse was a friend of Lord Byron, Francis Place,

Reverend Benjamin Waugh 1839 – 1908, father of Rosa Waugh Hobhouse (, was a Victorian social reformer and campaigner who founded the UK charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the late 19th century, and also wrote various hymns.

From Waugh was born, the son of a clergyman, in Settle, North Yorkshire and attended theological college in Bradford before moving to Newbury, Berkshire and then in 1866 to London.

Working as a Congregationalist minister in the slums of Greenwich, Waugh became appalled at the deprivations and cruelties suffered by children. Critical of the workhouse system, the Poor law and aspects of the criminal justice system as it affected children, he wrote a book (The Gaol Cradle, Who Rocks It?, 1873) urging the creation of juvenile courts and children’s prisons as a means of diverting children from a life of crime.

He also served on the London School Board from 1870 to 1876. He was also, from 1874 to 1896, editor of a religious periodical, The Sunday Magazine, in which he published several of his own hymns.

In 1884, he founded the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to children (echoing a similar initiative in Liverpool), launched at London’s Mansion House on July 8. The London body’s first chairman was veteran social reformer Earl Shaftesbury. It evolved to become the NSPCC some five years later (May 14, 1889), with Waugh as its first director and Queen Victoria as its first patron.

A house in Crooms Hill, Greenwich marks one of Waugh’s residences; 53 Woodlands Villas (today Vanbrugh Park) in the nearby Blackheath Standard area was another. He later retired, in 1905, to Westcliff in Southend, Essex, where he died three years later. A blue plaque in Runwell Terrace marks his residency there.


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