Resounding Names From Kent
It is widely known that Kent's heritage is abundant in resounding names, which include pioneering scientists, inventors, remarkable artists, as well as activists for political or social reform. Whether their strengths resided in scientific ingeniousness, cognitive abilities, human values, ambition to ascend or plain unbridled courage, their lives and achievements will always be remembered and serve as examples.
Algernon Sidney (1623-1683). Political theorist. The great-nephew of Sir Philip Sidney, who had been a devout activist in the favour of Protestantism and had died in a military campaign. Algernon Sidney, born in London but raised at Penshurst Place in Kent, was the same type of political philosopher and outspoken theorist. During the English Civil War, he took part in the military campaign designed to overturn monarchy. He reached the rank of Colonel and was later part of the Long Parliament; he is remembered, among other things, for his animosity towards Oliver Cromwell, whom he considered a despot. After Restoration, he lived abroad for some years, in exile, where he survived a few assassination attempts. He then returned to England, where he was arrested for his political views. His writings were confiscated as proof of his dissidence to absolute monarchy, which is why he was executed.
George Rooke (1650-1709). Admiral. Born at St Lawrence, next to Canterbury, he progressed through his naval career over three decades, from 1672 to 1690, advancing from volunteer to admiral. As the Admiral of the Fleet, he led the British naval forces through a few notable battles, at a time of fierce rivalry between Europe's most powerful states for expansion on foreign territories. In 1704 he established Britain's domination of Gibraltar. He is also known for an attack on the Spanish fleet, in 1702.
Kathleen Courtney (1878-1974). Suffragette and world peace activist. Born in Gillingham, Kathleen Courtney was raised within a wealthy family; therefore she centred her life on education and later on political activism. Her education focused on learning foreign languages, French and German, which would prove useful towards her endeavours as she often attended international events which supported her cause of women's suffrage. Her world peace activism started as an ideological opposition to the First World War and in 1915 she became part of the WIL (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom). Throughout the rest of her life she worked intensely to promote women's rights as well as humanitarian causes, and in 1945 she became chairman of the United Nations Association.
Francis Smythe (1900-1949). Mountaineer, botanist, photographer and author. Francis Sydney Smythe is remembered for his fascination for nature, which he manifested in his adventurous mountaineering and his interest in botany, collecting and photographing plants. He originally studied to be an electrical engineer and had a relatively brief career working as such, after which he began taking on mountaineering and nature exploration challenges, including Kamet and Mount Blanc. He even attempted climbing Mount Everest. As an author, he produced numerous volumes, 27 in total, mostly related to the geographical observations he made on his numerous journeys; he was very well documented in the field and he gave public lectures on geography-related subjects.
Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542). Poet. Thomas Wyatt was born at the beginning of the 16th century, near Maidstone, to an aristocratic family. His works are considered a stepping stone in English poetry as he created the sonnet, preceding William Shakespeare. Thomas Wyatt unfolded his literary career in a very turbulent time, during the reign of Henry VIII, and nearly lost his life due to a presumed affair with Ann Boleyn, whom Henry VIII was seeking to execute under false accusations of adultery. He was imprisoned for many months in the Tower of London, an experience which marked his life. He survived various charges, which were a popular part of the period's court life, and died in 1542 of natural causes. The same year, his son, also named Thomas Wyatt, lead a rebellion against Queen Mary I and lost his life.
Christopher Newman Hall (1816-1902). Priest and anti-slavery campaigner. Born in Maidstone, Reverend Christopher Newman Hall began his clerical life in 1841, when he obtained his degree as a theologian. He shortly began his campaign for supporting the cause of social justice, carried out through his activity at the Albion Chapel and subsequently at Surrey Chapel. He became widely known for his avant-gardist points of view and drew large crowds to both churches, gathering explicitly to hear his message. When the American Civil War began in 1861, he was a vocal supporter of the north, mainly motivated by the goal of abolishing slavery, and published a few writings on the subject. He is equally known in the USA for his fervent support and campaigning during the war.
Julius Brenchley (1816-1873). Explorer, author and naturalist. One of Maidstone's most prominent personalities, Julius Brenchley was born to a wealthy family and intended to pursue an ecclesiastical life, yet reconsidered after an extensive trip abroad in 1845. He developed a fascination with foreign nations and their cultures, which he maintained throughout the rest of his life. He contributed intensely to Maidstone Museum, to which he donated a large number of artefacts collected during his numerous trips. Je published two volumes inspired by his travel observations, A Journey to Great Salt Lake City (1861) and Jottings During the Cruise of HMS Curacoa among the South Sea Islands in 1865 (1873).