John Lister

1795 - 1810

Marlene OliveiraPublished on 10 June 2024  · Last updated on 10 June 2024
Cover image: Jamie Davies on Unsplash 

A brief introduction

John was the third son of Jeremy and Rebecca Lister and Anne Lister’s second surviving younger brother. He was born at Skelfler House (Lister 19th century - SH:7/ML/B/30), near Market Weighton, on the 3rd of February 1795. Supposing that his parents followed the same model used for his siblings, it is likely that he spent some time under the care of a wet nurse. John was baptized at Market Weighton on the 20th of February 1795 and his godparents were his uncle James of Shibden Hall, and his uncle Joseph of Northgate and his wife Mary Fawcett (Church of England 1795; Lister 19th century - SH:7/ML/B/30). His mother often mentions John in some correspondence to his aunt Martha Lister of Shibden Hall, to whom he frequently asks to be remembered as “a very good boy” (Lister 6 Oct 1799 - SH:7/LL/314). However, the youngest of the Lister boys proved to be a lively and willful character, loved by family and friends alike. 

Also known as: Master John Lister

John Lister at a glance

Birth: 3 February 1795, Skelfler House, near Market Weighton

Death: 24 January 1810, Ellen Royd, Halifax

Burial place: Lister Vault, Halifax Parish Church, Halifax

Eye color: Unknown

Hair color: Unknown

a black cursive signature written in yellowed paper reading "John Lister"
a black cursive signature written in yellowed paper reading "John Lister"
John's signature can be found in a few letters to family. Image courtesy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service Calderdale (SH:7/ML/12 and SH:7/LL/344, respectively). 

A great pickle

Young Master John Lister created a reputation for himself from a young age. When he was just a little over four years old, his mother referred to him in correspondence as remaining “as much of a pickle as ever” (Lister 20 Jun 1799 - SH:7/LL/311). At the time, Rebecca Lister remarks to Aunt Martha of Shibden Hall that John is “rather better reconciled to school” after Marian returns home, presumably after some time spent with her wet nurse (Ibid.). In the same letter to Martha, Rebecca also recounts an episode in which John took centre stage:

"one day when Mr Pool threatened to put him in a black hole, he told him he might then, but he shou’d never do it again -"

Rebecca Lister to Martha Lister, 20 June 1799 (SH:7/LL/311)

Despite his penchant for getting himself in trouble with his school masters, John seemed to enjoy pastimes that were typical of boys his age, such as looking for bird nests. In a letter to her mother in 1804, Anne Lister shares some information for John and Sam regarding some nests she was aware of: 

"I daresay Sam and John when they have a Holiday often go to look for Bird Nests, tell them that I know where there is a Thristle [Thistle] and a Bulsfinch [Bullfinch] there is a Magpyes [Magpie’s] Nest in the yew tree, which is the first I have found in the Garden. —"

Anne Lister to Rebecca Lister, 3 May 1804 (SH:7/ML/9)

John’s bird-catching hobby is further evidenced in a letter to his uncle James Lister of Shibden Hall, in which he notes:

"We go a bird catching to Cravens Pond about three miles from Weighton. (...) John Birkett has made me a cage, of a wooden box, for put my Birds in."

John Lister to James Lister, 8 July 1804 (SH:7/LL/338)

In another letter to his uncle James of Shibden Hall, John expresses his interest in seeing a ship and hopes that he’ll grow to become a sailor.

"I had long had a promise of going to Hull but then cou’d not be made convenient, however I am to see a ship the first opportunity that offers - I get a very nice ride behind Samuel Dean on Wednesday, and got a great treat to my supper for I bought three eggs with three half-pennys. (...) so it helped to make up for my disappointment. I hope to be a sailor if all happens well."

John Lister to James Lister, 20 September 1804 (SH:7/LL/340)

In Anne Lister’s journals preceding 1810, it’s not uncommon for readers to come across passages that briefly mention John. In journal entries from 1808 and 1809, there are several mentions of John's tutors and his attending church with other Listers. His sister’s journals also preserve more mundane notes, such as this this:

"John and I got each of us a wooden sword from our neighbour the joiner –"

Anne Lister, 24 June 1809 (SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0032)

Given the lack of sources including more information about these wooden swords and their uses, it’s impossible to tell whether the Lister siblings sparred amongst themselves or played with other children. However, it’s safe to say that, as far as swords were concerned, this was a shared interest between then eighteen-year-old Anne Lister and her younger brother. An interest in sword fighting would, no doubt, be useful in case John realised his dream of becoming a sailor. 

John's education 

Even though John attended school when he was four or five years old, it is only in 1805 that we have a more direct observation regarding his education. In April of that year, John’s father, Captain Jeremy Lister, wrote to his brother James at Shibden Hall and entrusted him with the task of finding a suitable school for the Lister boys:

"It is high time Sam[ue]l and John went out somewhere to school I should like them to be with Mr Knight if a proper place could be met with for them to Board if that cannot be accomplished I have some thoughts of Hipperholme, and I will thank you to make some inquiries which may be thought the most eligible place there for Board &c"

Letter from Jeremy Lister to James Lister, 25 April 1805 (SH:7/JL/106)

James Lister eventually found a school for his nephews, which was neither Mr Knight’s nor located at Hipperholme. Instead, the Lister boys were sent to a school in Thornton-le-Dale, near Pickering, where they stayed from, at least, from the summer of 1805 onwards.

Thornton-le-Dale is a pretty little village in North Yorkshire, merely 5 km from Pickering (Wikipedia 2005). The picturesque town has a little stream running alongside the main street with a few bridges of wood and stone crossing it, retains a very old thatched cottage (Beck Isle or Thatched Cottage, which is Grade II listed), and also features pretty gardens (Ibid.).

A few houses and bushes next to a small river
The village of Thornton-le-Dale, near Pickering, North Yorkshire. Photo by Clare Wilkinson (CC BY 2.0 DEED). 

In 1805, the idyllic Thornton-le-Dale would be just as charming. Coincidentally, John and his brother Samuel were headed to the north side of town and one of its older buildings: the Grammar School. Completed in 1670, the Old Grammar School of Thornton-le-Dale was built alongside twelve almshouses (Whitworth 2012). These buildings were erected thanks to an endowment left by Elizabeth, Lady Lumley, then a great benefactress who died without leaving issue (Dean and Chapter of Westminster 2024). The school had space for two hundred students and continued to serve its educational purpose until the 20th century (Wikipedia 2005). 

a yellow stone building with old ornate georgian windows
The Old Grammar School in Thornton-le-Dale, near Pickering, North Yorkshire. Image courtesy of Keith Fox via British Listed Buildings

A few letters survive in the Shibden Hall collection from John’s and Sam’s time at Thornton. Some of these include the Lister lads’ observations regarding Thornton and some of their schoolmasters.

On the 12th of August, John writes to his sister Anne to relay his observations:

"Dear sister

It is with great pleasure I take up to write. I am happy to inform you that we are very well. I haver shone my letter to Mister Macerich. I like Thornton very well. We have got a Master Sharp from Driffield. Master Cammage desires you will give his love to is Mama and Papa. I am very sorry to inform you that I have no money. 

W/ no more at present from your affectionate Brother John Lister. 

I like Thornton very well. I think Sam is very unmanerd [sic]"

Letter from John Lister to Anne Lister, 12 August 1805 (SH:7/ML/12

cursive text written in yellowed paper reading: "I like Thornton very well. I think Sam is very unmanerd"
Extract from John's letter to Anne Lister. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/12). 
black cursive text written in yellowed paper reading: "Mon 12 August 1805 Miss Lister The Manor School York" and showing the Pickering post office stamp
The external sheet of John’s letter, showing the Pickering stamp and directing the letter to his sister, who was then a boarder at the Manor School, in York. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/12).

Despite deeming Sam’s antics less than proper and being essentially penniless, John continued to have a positive outlook on Thornton. A few days later, in a letter to his uncle James of Shibden Hall, John writes:

"I am happy to inform that we are both very well. I like Thornton very Mr Mason is very good temper[e]d I am going to begin Ovid." 

Letter from John Lister to James Lister, 15 August 1805 (SH:7/LL/344)

Samuel and John continued to attend boarding school at Thornton in 1806. This is further evidenced by a letter sent to Anne Lister. In this letter, Samuel informs Anne that the two boys arrived safely at Thornton on the 27th of January of that year and also relays some news about his life in Thornton (Lister 14 Feb 1806 - SH:7/ML/14). 

It is unclear when the Lister boys left school for the last time and returned to their family home and no evidence has thus far emerged to establish a more clear timeline of their schooling in Thornton-le-Dale. However, in his pedigree notes, James Lister recorded memoranda stating that his brother Jeremy and his family moved back to Halifax on the 15th of February 1806 (Lister 19th century - SH:7/ML/B/30). It is possible, though not confirmed, that both Lister boys had also returned home by the end of 1806 as, in December of that year, Eliza Raine wrote to Rebecca Lister and asked to be remembered to her “dear John & his brother” (Raine 30 Dec 1806 - SH:7/ML/A/3). In Halifax, the Listers would settle at Ellen Royd, which was a property near today's Akroyd Park.

An extract from an old map showing the layout of a house, outbuildings, and a garden with a pond from a top-view perspective. The label reads "Ellen Royd".
A section of an Ordnance Survey map from 1849 showing Ellen Royd. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (CC BY 4.0 DEED).
A renovated brown stone house with white windows
A house that is thought to be the Listers’ still survives in Halifax. Photo by Jude Dobson. 

In 1807, Eliza Raine wrote to Rebecca Lister to relay news and added:

"Mr Lund tells me John has forgotten his old wife, how quickly time and absence erased the remembrance of a few individuals, especially in the minds of youth, tell him I forgive him, but that it is most dreadful for a husband to forget his wife -"

Letter from Eliza Raine to Rebecca Lister, 1 October 1807 (SH:7/ML/A/7)

In Halifax, John continued his education and was tutored by several people. According to his sister Anne, he was attended by Mr Farrar, the drawing master, and also by a Mr “De Boo”, who was a French master (Lister 19 December 1808). Yet, some things never changed, and John continued to be “a pickle”. In a letter from November 1809, his friend JA Hunter writes: 

"Dear John

D. Michell gave me your letter this morning and the ruler which I got and all and I am sure I am very much obliged to you. First time I see you I will give you such a thumping as you never had in your lyfe for writing such abominable poucke."

Letter from JA Hunter to John Lister, 28 November 1809 (SH:7/LL/349)

One can only wonder about John’s reaction to this letter, especially considering how his friend counterpoints John’s opinion of a Lydia Wilkinson, whom John seems to have in good enough regard but his friend thinks not worth more than “a pin head” (Hunter 28 Nov 1809 - SH:7/LL/349). Only about a handful of John’s letters survive. Yet, he seems to have attended to his friend’s wishes and did not burn this one (Ibid.).

John's illness and death 

At the end of December 1809, Anne Lister received a letter from her sister Marian, which, among other things, relayed news from home and included a note about John’s health:

"Since my Fathers return from Weighton, John has been very poorly he is not yet quite well.."

Letter from Marian Lister to Anne Lister, 31 December 1809 (SH:7/ML/20)

Nevertheless, Marian adds that the family went to Shibden Hall on Christmas Day 1809 and that both John and Sam sent their love (Lister 31 Dec 1809 - SH:7/ML/20). 

A fortnight later, on the 15th of January 1810, Anne receives another letter, this time from her father, with news of John’s declining health. In her journal, Anne wrote:

"after dinner read my father’s letter which mentioned John’s dangerous illness and desired me to come home by the mail at night about 1⁄4 before 12 took leave of my friends at Mr Duffins and set off"

Anne Lister, 15 January 1810 (SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0035)

When Anne arrived home in Halifax, she found John unwell but still in good enough spirits: 

"Got home a little before 7 found dear John extremely ill but perfectly sensible and strong enough to talk a little and ask me how I had gone on at York amongst other things he said ‘I’m afraid they have spoilt you’ poor dear fellow he was not long to fear so –"

Anne Lister, 16 January 1810 (SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0035)

John’s condition remained precarious in the days that followed and, on the 20th of January 1810, Anne thought he might not survive for much longer (Lister 20 Jan 1810 - SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0035). To avoid leaving John alone, Anne, Sam, and Jeremy Lister took turns sitting at the younger Lister’s bedside (Ibid.). 

"John gradually weaker and worse my father and I sat up with John he had a very bad night and was so much worse that I wrote to SH [Shibden Hall] and Northgate to say we did not think he could continue many hours wrote the same account to ER [Eliza Raine] Sam and I went to bed at 5 in the afternoon and got up at one next morning and sat with John my father going to bed when we got up –"

Anne Lister, 19 and 20 January 1810 (SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0035)

On the 21st of January, Anne recorded in her journal that John suffered “a violent attack of his complaint which lasted about an hour”, but then the boy settled and slept (Lister 21 Jan 1810 - SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0035). A day later, both Mr Knight and Aunt Mary Lister of Northgate called on the Listers at Ellen Royd to see John (Ibid.). His state seemed to remain stable and Anne noted that she and Sam stayed at John’s bedside and that he had “a pretty good night” (Ibid.). Throughout his illness, other family members had also called at the Listers to see John, among whom were his uncles James and Joseph (Lister 25 Jan 1810 - SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0036).

The 23rd of January started with some hope for the Listers:

"At a little after nine oclock the Doctors gave more hopes and thought poor John so much better that they thought there was no need of coming again till evening since I got home they have always been 3 times at least every day my father began to have hopes of John"

Anne Lister, 23 January 1810 (SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0035)

Yet this was short-lived. Anne recorded in her journal entry of the 23rd of January 1810 that, once the doctors had left the Lister household, John’s health took a turn for the worse and “at about two he continued getting worse all day but from 4 till near 5 when I was with him whilst the rest were at dinner he was quite rational and I thought rather better” (Lister 23 Jan 1810 - SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0035). However, John’s improvement was not to last and he died in the early hours of the 24th of January 1810. Anne, who had been sitting at his bedside, recorded John’s last moments in her journal:

"from 1 till about 1⁄2 past 2 after taking 2/3 of a tumbler of cold water John slept very composedly breathing very well and seemed quite easy between 1⁄2 past 2 however and 25 minutes to 3 his breath changed to be more deathly so much so that I immediately felt it at my chest his breathing became intermittent and he frothed a little at the mouth which caused a little rilling but this was immediately dissipated by wiping his mouth which only needed wiping two or three times this intermission of his breathing I judged from 4 to 5 seconds waiting some time and finding John no better we called up my father at 7 minutes to three he got up to see the last moments of our dear death seemed to have no agonies for him he closed his own eyes and mouth and died with his hands across his breast – Alas dear boy! Snatched in the bloom of years from carnal evils in a world like this John leav’st to us below a world of tears to gain thy self a world of lasting bliss John would have been 15 the of February following – ever to be remembered and ever to be regretted John who died without a struggle or a groan at 5 minutes after three"

Anne Lister, 24 January 1810 (SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0035 and SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0036)

Though seemingly no surviving official record from this period includes information about the cause of John’s death, both Eliza Raine and James Lister recorded in their own records John’s accepted cause of death. In her journal, Eliza attributes John’s death to “an inflammation of the brain” (Raine 24 Jan 1810 - SH:7/ML/A/14). Similarly, whilst recording family deaths in his pedigree notes, James Lister also attributed John’s demise to “an inflammation or water in the brain” (Lister 19th century - SH:7/ML/B/30). 

A newspaper excerpt reading: “On Wednesday last, Master John Lister, second son of Jeremiah Lister, Esq. of Ellenroyd, near Halifax.”
John’s obituary in the Leeds Mercury of the 27th of January 1810. Image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. 


“On Wednesday last, Master John Lister, second son of Jeremiah Lister, Esq. of Ellenroyd, near Halifax.”

Burial at the Halifax Parish Church

The days following John’s death were certainly busy with preparations for his burial. No full account of these events seems to survive, so the majority of the details of young Lister’s funeral are seemingly lost to time. However, even though she seemingly did not attend her brother’s funeral, Anne Lister recorded in her journal some basic details about it:

"between eleven and twelve poor John was interred in the family burying place at the old church his coffin was placed upon my Aunt Martha’s my two uncles my father and Sam were the mourners Richard Spencer William Green James Smith Thomas who lately lived at the Northgate his half brother Robert who now lives there the joiner and two of his young men breakfasted here and attended as bearers the corpse being carried the whole way the day was fine and rather frosty"

Anne Lister, 11 February 1810 (SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0036)

Per plans from the 1830s, the largest cluster of Lister graves in the Halifax Parish Church, now Halifax Minster, is located in the south aisle of the church, near the entrance to the Holdsworth Chapel. This burial place is also the final resting place of Jeremy Lister, James Lister of Shibden Hall, Joseph Lister of Northgate, and aunts Anne of Shibden Hall and Mary of Northgate, among other Listers of that or previous generations. John shares his grave with his aunt Martha of Shibden Hall, who died a few months before him, in August 1809, but the exact location of their grave inside the church is not currently known. 

an aisle in an old english church showing box pews, intricate screens, and stone walls and pillars. the image shows the aisle looking eastwards inside the church
The South Aisle of the Halifax Parish Church. Photo by Marlene Oliveira. 

After his death, John would mostly disappear from his sister's journals. However, in January 1826, as Anne and Marian Lister argued about family matters, he was mentioned again. As part of her argument, Marian Lister threatened to remove John’s remains from Halifax and have them reburied at Market Weighton, stating that he was born there and was “like her” (Lister 17 Jan 1826 - SH:7/ML/E/9/0051). After that argument, Anne Lister makes no other mentions of potentially reburying their brother and the matter seems to have been dropped altogether. No record has surfaced to indicate that Marian Lister had John reburied either, so it's safe to say that John's remains are very unlikely to have left the Halifax Parish Church and remain interred in the grave he shares with Martha Lister of Shibden Hall. 

Getting to know John Lister

John's strong opinions regarding his preferences are expressed by himself in some his letters, so here's a non-exhaustive list of what he liked and disliked.



Notable family members, friends, and acquaintances in John's circle

John Lister in other people's words

“give John a kiss for me, I very often think of him, and shall rejoice if it so happens that I see him here in their return”

Aunt Anne to Aunt Martha, 9 Apr 1799 (SH:7/LL/306)

“John is as much of a pickle as ever”

Rebecca Lister, 20 Jun 1799, (SH:7/LL/311)

“Mr Lund tells me John has forgotten his old wife, how quickly time and absence erased the remembrance of a few individuals, especially in the minds of youth, tell him I forgive him, but that it is most dreadful for a husband to forget his wife -”

Letter from Eliza Raine to Rebecca Lister, 1 October 1807 (SH:7/ML/A/7)

“Alas dear boy! Snatched in the bloom of years from carnal evils in a world like this John leav’st to us below a world of tears to gain thy self a world of lasting bliss”

Anne Lister, 25 Jan 1810, (SH:7/ML/E/26/1/0036)

Research about John's life and times

John’s funeral is mentioned in the article that studies the location of Anne Lister's grave (Where is Anne Lister?). 

John Lister in the archives

A few of John’s letters are part of the Shibden Hall collection, held at the Calderdale office of the West Yorkshire Archive Service. Some of these are part of Anne Lister’s correspondence (reference SH:7/ML) and others are indexed as part of the Lister family correspondence (reference SH:7/LL). John is also mentioned several times in a volume of Anne Lister’s earlier journals (SH:7/ML/E/26/1).



A debt of gratitude is owed to Jude Dobson for assisting in locating archival material that aided in cross-referencing information for this profile as well for her help in fact-checking some details. Thank you also to Lynn Shouls for kindly sharing some of her transcripts of Samuel Lister letters written during the period the Lister boys spent at Thornton. Special thanks to Clive Richardson, who created and maintains the All About Thornton website, for his kind assistance which was invaluable in clearing a misconception regarding the school the Lister boys attended in 1805 and also in identifying the right Thornton village it was located at. Thank you also to David Glover, for kindly assisting with initial queries regarding the Thornton school. Finally, thank you to the Calderdale team of the West Yorkshire Archive Service for their assistance regarding the usual copyright matters that preceded the publication of this profile.

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