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George Whitaker, Anglican clergyman and educator, was born 9 October 1811 at the Manor Farm, Bratton, Wiltshire, England. He was from a large Baptist family, the eighth child of Philip Whitaker, a farmer, and Anne (née Andrews). His siblings included Alfred (b. 1799), Joshua (b. 1801), Edward (b. 1802), Philip (b. 1803), Emma (b. 1805), Anne (b. 1807), John (b. 1810), and Edwin Eugene (b. 1814).
He attended Frome Grammar School and Charterhouse School and matriculated at Queens’ College, Cambridge 4 July 1829 as a pensioner. He graduated in 1833 with a first class Classical Tripos, with honours in classics and mathematics. He was made a Classical Fellow in 1834, a lecturer in classics in 1835, and received an M.A. in 1836. He became a member of the Church of England, and was baptised at Bratton Parish Church 11 October 1832. He was ordained deacon on 4 June 1837 and priest on 27 May 1838, both instances by the Bishop of Ely.
He left Queens’ College in 1840 upon his appointment as vicar to the college living of Oakington, Cambridgeshire. He married Arundel Charlotte Burton, the daughter of the Rev. Richard Burton, a Baptist missionary, at the Parish Church of St. Saviour, Bath, Somerset 22 October 1844. They had at least eight children, of which George Herbert (b. 1847), Bertha (b.1848), Ernest (b. 1849), Emma (b. 1850), Agnes (b. 1853), Margaret Ann (b. 1856), and Edith Dora (b. 1861) were known to have survived.
In 1851 Whitaker was selected to become the first Provost and Professor of Divinity at the University of Trinity College, Toronto by a panel of four eminent clergymen working at the behest of Bishop John Strachan, known as the Trinity College Committee in London. He arrived in Toronto in November of that year, and his appointment was officially confirmed on 8 December.
Whitaker became involved in the ongoing controversy between the high and low factions of the Anglican Church when his theological teachings were attacked in 1860 by Benjamin Cronyn, Bishop of Huron, on the grounds that they were anti-Protestant. While the accusations were rebuffed, Whitaker and Trinity College remained central in the various factional disputes throughout the 1860s and 1870s.
Whitaker was a candidate for coadjutor bishop to John Strachan in September 1866, but withdrew his name, leading to Alexander Neil Bethune’s election. On 1 October 1875, Bethune appointed Whitaker archdeacon of York. He was a candidate for coadjutor bishop to Bethune in February 1878, but Bethune was ultimately forced to call off the election due to Evangelical lay opposition. In February 1879, upon the death of Bethune, Whitaker was again an unsuccessful candidate in the election to the Bishopric of Toronto. At the beginning of Michaelmas Term of that same year, he announced that he had been offered by the Bishop of Salisbury the rectorship of the parish of Newton Toney, Wiltshire, a living in the gift of his alma mater, Queen’s College. Whitaker left Toronto for England 30 May 1881, and the Rev. Charles William Edmund Body took up the Provostship in October.
George Whitaker died suddenly 27 August 1882 at Devany House, The Close, Salisbury at the age of 70. He is buried at the Parish Church of St. Andrew in Newton Toney, Wiltshire.
[Sources: Headon, C. F. "Whitaker, George" in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 11 (Toronto, 1982), Reed, T. A. (ed.) A History of the University of Trinity College, Toronto, 1852-1952 (Toronto, 1952), Reeves, M. E. “George Whitaker (1811-1882): A Forgotten Native of Bratton” in Wiltshire Archaeological, Magazine, 72/73 (Devizes, 1980): 135-139, Westfall, W. The Founding Moment: Church, Society, and the Construction of Trinity College (Montreal & Kingston, 2002)]