Blakiston, Herbert Edward Douglas 1862-1942, president of Trinity College, Oxford, and vice-chancellor (1917-20) of Oxford University, was born at St. Leonards, Sussex, 5 September 1862, the eldest of the six children of Douglas Yeoman Blakiston (1832-1914), by his wife, Sophia Matilda, youngest child of the Rev. William Dent, of Crosby Cote, Yorkshire. In 1881 he entered Trinity from Tonbridge School with an open scholarship in classics and proceeded to first classes in honour moderations (1882) and literae humaniores (1885). After visiting Italy as a private tutor and teaching at Clifton College he took holy orders, returning to Trinity in 1887 as fellow, chaplain, and lecturer in classics. There he was destined to reside for the next fifty-one years.
His father, ordained at the age of thirty-seven, had previously been an artist by profession—a fact which helps to explain Blakiston's keen interest in the arts, his willing service as a visitor of the Ashmolean Museum, and the nature of his bequests (mostly for the purchase of works of art) to his own college and university and to University College, Durham. It is also worth recording that difficult family circumstances, further complicated by his father's vainly protracted fight for the exemption of Easter offerings from income-tax (see Blakiston v. Cooper, a leading case reported at  A.C. 104), forced upon him from about 1877 the strictest lessons of thrift and caution, tending also to increase his natural shyness and restrict his sociability. These lessons were reinforced in 1908, when his parents' home, The Vicarage, East Grinstead, Sussex—apparently uninsured—was destroyed by fire; and the total extinction by 1916 of his whole family circle (his brothers, all by sudden death, in 1887, 1889, 1896; his mother, who had long relied on his spiritual and material support, in 1912; his father and both sisters in the next four years) not only had profound effects on his inner life but caused him from that date to centre all his interest and affection upon his college.
Blakiston held office as tutor from 1892 and as senior tutor and junior bursar from 1898 until his election as president in 1907. On the death of R. W. Raper [qv.] in 1915 he took over the duties of estates bursar, which he retained until 1938, when he resigned the presidency, wishing to retire while still active and alert. The college hastened to elect him an honorary fellow and looked forward, as he did, to a long-continued connexion; but on 28 July 1942 he was struck down by a motor-car near his house on Boars Hill and died, without recovering consciousness, next day. Trinity owed an immense debt to his able conduct of both bursarial offices—especially to his prudent finance in difficult times and to his share in promoting and providing the War Memorial library; but it owed still more to his maintenance of good traditions which the war might have broken and to his close watch on vital interests at the time of the Royal Commission on the university.
As vice-chancellor (1917-20) Blakiston brought to his task experience of university affairs gained as junior proctor (1899-1900) and as auditor (1903-17), together with a thorough knowledge of collegiate economy. It was this combination which enabled him to carry through his main work of constructive statesmanship—a financial statute dealing with problems which some years before Lord Curzon [qv.] as chancellor had handled less acceptably. His appointments as a curator of the University Chest (1922-32) and a delegate of the University Press (1922-37) were a tribute to his business capacity; but critics were not wanting who found him over-suspicious of external influences in fiscal as in other matters and too little aware—for he never married—of the post-war costs of family life.
Between the wars Blakiston attained more fully than before the recognized status of a character. An ocular weakness, a peculiar gait, and old-fashioned habits in dress combined to make him a noticeable figure. Anecdotes reflected also his brusquerie (an effect of shyness), his economies, his firm belief in gentry of estate and name, his anti-feminism, his sermons read from his own illegible manuscript, his horsemanship, his motoring, his irrepressible desire to score off pretentious persons—sometimes in the style of his early idol Macaulay—and his schoolboy gusto in recounting their discomfiture. Less widely reported were his shrewdness of judgement, his strong sense of justice, and essential kindness of heart. He lectured well, if somewhat dogmatically, on Cicero and Theocritus; and was a good composer, as shown by his contributions to Nova Anthologia Oxoniensis (1899) of which his colleague Robinson Ellis [qv.] was an editor; by some Latin inscriptions in the college; and by his Latin speeches as vice-chancellor. But his main publications were antiquarian rather than classical, and archaeology, more especially church architecture and organization, was among his keenest interests. His many contributions to this Dictionary reveal something of his literary style and much of his environment.
As the sole survivor of his family and a graduate in the school of thrift he amassed considerable means and his bequests were substantial. A portrait (posthumous, from photographs) by Allan Gwynne-Jones hangs in the President's Lodgings at Trinity.
The Times, 30 July 1942
Oxford Magazine, 5 November 1942
Oxford, Summer 1943
Contributor: T. F. Higham.