Ashurst was a political reformer and, with his children, supported every progressive cause from the 1832 Reform Bill onwards, including Antislavery, Chartism, Poor Relief, the Postal Service, Feminism, the Peace Movement in Britain, and Nationalist Movements abroad.
Ashurst and his family were also dedicated followers of homeopathy and one of Ashurst’s closest friends was fellow reformer Dr. John Epps.
William Henry Ashurst was born in London 11 Feb. 1792. His father was rumoured to be the illegitimate son of the judge William Henry Ashurst, who young William was named after.
In 1810, aged nineteen, he married Elizabeth Ann Brown. They had five surviving children who also became reformers and activists:
- William Henry Ashurst, Junior (1819–1879), who was also a solicitor
- Elizabeth (1813 – 1850)
- Caroline (1816 – 1885), who married radical Liberal politician James Stansfeld M.P.
- Matilda (1818 – 1866), who married Joseph Biggs
- Emilie Ashurst Hawkes Venturi (1821 – 1893), who married Sidney Milnes Hawkes, and then Carlo Venturi.
In 1822 Ashurst, John Morris, and Sir Frank Crisp founded the law firm Ashurst Morris Crisp. Among their clients was millionaire Whig M.P. James Morrison, known as the “Napoleon of Shopkeepers,” who on his death in 1854 left a personal fortune second only to Nathan Rothschild.
In the late 1830s Ashurst played an instrumental role in postal reform, procuring the evidence for Rowland Hill‘s successful presentation on the matter to Parliament that resulted in the creation of the penny post in 1840.
Also in 1840 Ashurst attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention with daughters Elizabeth and Matilda. Ashurst and his wife raised their daughters in a progressive and emancipated environment and he was an outspoken advocate of the political and social equality of both sexes. That same year he publicly supported Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in her right to be seated at the American Convention in 1840.
Ashurst was friends with many of the most notable reformers of the age, including the philanthropist and factory owner Robert Owen and Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, who was introduced to Ashurst by Thomas Carlyle. Mazzini became an intimate friend and unofficial member of the Ashurst family. Inspired by Mazzini, Ashurst founded the Friends of Italy Society and the People’s International League in 1847.
Ashurst and his family were all advocates of homeopathy. He was on the Medical Council of the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square, and was a good friend and colleague of John Epps, who included a letter from Ashurst regarding homeopathy and the persecution of Dr Curie in his Diary in 1844:
Mr Ashurst, to whom I wrote on the subject of presenting a piece of plate to Dr Curie, writes as follows:
“My dear Doctor, – We owe so much (my family and I) to Homeopathy, and to you its expositor to us, that I can but desire to do anything which may be thought likely to extend the great good to others; and to support those who are attacked unjustly by people who think they have a vested interest in drastic, blisters, and blood-lettings; and in the consequent pecuniary depletions.”
Ashurst’s commitment to the cause of homeopathy was evident from his active involvement in the movement. He was a member of The Association for the Protection of Homeopathic Students and Practitioners (address 6 Old Jewry Street), and a member of the English Homeopathic Association that had been established in 1845.
As a longtime friend of William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott and other American abolitionists, Ashurst traveled to America to visit them in 1853. The journey impacted his health and the death of his wife Elizabeth soon after his return resulted in his own death on 13 October 1855.
Ashurst Solicitors is still in existence and in 2022 celebrated its bicentennial.