Wolverhampton BTW

Mary John Knott

Knott, Mary John née Abell, 1783—1853

by Benjamin Colbert

Mary Knott was born on 7 November 1753 in Cork, the daughter of Richard Abell (d. 1801). Having lost her mother at an early age, Mary Knott filled the role of care-giver for numerous siblings and, later, nursed her father through his final illness. After her father’s death in 1801, she attended Suir Island School in Clonmel, a girl’s finishing school founded by the Quaker minister Sarah Tuke Grubb (1756-90; ODNB) and her husband, Robert Grubb (1743-97), imbibing its values of religious rectitude and charity (Ahern 345). After finishing her studies, Mary Knott remained at the school as an assistant.

In 1805, Mary Knott removed to Dublin, staying with relatives. She married John Knott, of Dublin, in 1809 (‘Obit.’; Smith 2:72). In the years following, she became known for her charitable work in the abolitionist movement and on behalf of children, prisoners, and women with criminal pasts who sought improvement through Christian penitence. She joined the Prison Committee in 1820 and visited female inmates. In 1827, she helped establish the Liberty Infant School as well as a shelter for discharged female prisoners. Knott also published a number of accounts of women from such backgrounds, including The Life of Anne ––, a Penitent Female (c. 1830-35), Memoir of Jane Kenny, an Infant School Child (c. 1830-35), and The Life of a Thief, Related by Herself (1835). ‘All these tracts have been in great request’, reported The Baptist Magazine in 1835 (‘Brief Notices’ 468).

In November 1833, Mary Knott suffered a fall down stairs in her home when her gown caught a nail, and she suffered injuries to her head, hand, and knee. She retired to the countryside for six weeks to recover, perhaps visiting for the first time the spa town of Kilkee, where she had a relative. Her travel account of that place, Two Months at Kilkee (1836), concerns a subsequent visit in the summer of 1835, again for the purposes of improving her health. This work, too, reflects her charitable interest in the poor, but also reveals new sides to her character: her concerns for animal welfare, her delight in scenery, and her wide-ranging interests in, for example, local culture, geology, and maritime subjects.

Knott’s obituary in the Annual Monitor dates a slow decline in her health from the injuries sustained in her 1833 fall, but her final illness appears to have affected her breathing. She died at Dublin on 13 February 1853.


Ahern, Michael. ‘The Quakers of County Tipperary 1655-1924’. Diss. Maynooth University, 2003. Print.

‘Brief Notices of Recent Publications’. The Baptist Magazine 10, 3rd ser. (Nov. 1835): 467-68. Print.

[‘Obituary’.] The Annual Monitor for 1854. Or Obituary of the Members of the Society of Friends in Great Britain and Ireland. For the Year 1853. London, 1853. 63-82. Print.

Smith, Joseph. A Descriptive Catalogue of Friends' Books, or Books Written by Members of the Society of Friends, Commonly Called Quakers, from the First Rise to the Present Time, Interspersed with Critical Remarks, and Occasional Biographical Notices. 2 vols. London: Joseph Smith, 1867. Print.


Title Published
Two Months at Kilkee 1836

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