William Young Ottley

1771 - 1836


William Young Ottley (1771-1836), the collector, son of Richard Ottley and Sarah Elizabeth Ottley (nee Young) and elder brother of Warner Ottley (each of whom q.v.).

  1. Of William Young Ottley, the ODNB says: 'In 1833, Ottley became keeper of prints and drawings at the British Museum, a post that he accepted apparently for financial reasons, since the act abolishing slavery had reduced his income from the family's West Indian plantation.' This appears to be based on a statement by J. Allen Gere, which went further: 'His reason [for taking the British Museum position], an economic one, is much to his credit: in 1833, the Act abolishing slavery in the British colonies was passed, and though both his father's and mother's families derived their wealth from West-Indian estates, Ottley refused, on principle, to accept any compensation for the losses caused him by the freeing of his slaves.' This claim has been repeated in e.g. the television documentary The Mystic Nativity, made by Fulmar and broadcast in December 2009. There is no doubt, however, that William Young Ottley's means derived from slavery: he received £10,000 under the will of his mother Sarah Elizabeth Ottley which specified that it had come from the proceeds of the £20,000 of her marriage settlement, contributed equally by her father Sir William Young of Delaford and her husband-to-be Richard Ottley. Richard Ottley's own will stated that the £20,000 was to be invested in Tobago as part of the marriage settlement of Richard Ottley and Sarah Elizabeth nee Young. Warner Ottley and William Young Ottley both served as trustee's of the will of Drewry Ottley late of the Island of St Vincent (proved 27/08/1807), who was probably their half-brother. William Young Ottley himself, with Sarah Elizabeth Ottley, was shown as the owner of 17 enslaved people on Antigua in the 1817 Slave Registration.


See the will of his mother Sarah Elizabeth Ottley, widow of St Vincent, for more on this family, PROB 11/1698/219.

  1. ODNB online, Nicholas Turner, 'Young, William Ottley (1771-1836), writer on art and collector'; PROB 11/1466. London Gazette 17131 27/04/1816 p. 777. The Heraldic Register 1849-50 confirms that Warner Ottley was the fourth son of Richard Ottley of St Dunstan's Park Berkshire and his second wife Sarah Elizabeth Young; J. Allen Gere, 'William Young Ottley as a collector of drawings', British Museum Quarterly 18 (June 1953) pp. 44-53, pp. 51-52; T71/245 p. 186.

Further Information

Oxford DNB Entry

Legacies Summary

Cultural (1)

Painting by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1500. Brought to Britain from Italy by William Young Ottley; purchased by the National Gallery in 1878 from a different... 

Relationships (4)

Son → Father
Son → Mother
Notes →
Sarah Elizabeth Ottley left to William Young Ottley in 1825 £10,000 of the £20,000 given to her by her father Sir William Young of Delaford and her husband Richard Ottley under her marriage...