Mary Alcock

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Mary Alcock [née Cumberland] (c.1742—1798), was a British poet, essayist, and philanthropist.


Mary was the youngest child of Joanna Bentley (1704/5–1775) and Bishop Denison Cumberland (1705/6–1774). Richard Bentley, classicist and master of Trinity College, Cambridge, was her maternal grandfather, and Richard Cumberland (1732–1811), playwright, was her brother.

She spent her childhood in Stanwick, Northamptonshire, and Fulham. In 1762 the family relocated to the Kingdom of Ireland when Denison Cumberland's father was appointed chaplain to George Montagu-Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. It was there that she married, in or around 1770, though the identity of Alcock, her husband, has not been satisfactorily established.

Her husband's mental health would seem to have been fragile and the marriage was likely unhappy. She nursed her parents through long illnesses until their deaths and cared for her seven nieces after the death of her sister Elizabeth Hughes in 1770. A widow by the early 1780s, she moved to Bath, Somerset, where she was part of the literary circle of Lady Anne Miller (1741–1781). She engaged in various charitable activities.

Never robust, she died at the age of fifty-seven in Northamptonshire. Her niece Joanna Hughes edited her collected works after her death: some 183 pages of poems and essays. The collection received little critical interest though subscribers included Charles Burney, Elizabeth Carter, William Cowper, Hannah More, and various members of royalty.

Selected works[edit]

  • The Confined Debtor: a Fragment from a Prison (1775)
  • "The Air Balloon, or, Flying Mortal" (poem, 7 pp., pub. anon. 1784)
  • Poems … by the Late Mrs Mary Alcock (1799)


  • Blain, Virginia, et al., eds. "Alcock, Mary." The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1990. 13.
  • Ellis, Markman. "Alcock , Mary (1741?–1798)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 19 Jan. 2007.