Sarah Windsor Tomlinson

One of Sarah's educational books ( front page)

Sarah Windsor Tomlinson (1809-1872) was a British author of notable 19th Century books such as ‘First Steps in General Knowledge’. 

Sarah Windsor was born in Salisbury into modest circumstances on 28 December 1809 to Mary (née Tubbs) and Daniel Thomas Windsor. She was baptised at St Clement’s Church, Fisherton Anger. The family lived and owned a house at St Ann’s Street and later in The Close. The meadowland around Windsor Street/Road, were owned by her maternal and paternal grandparents, and are named after her father or brother who were land proprietors (in 1840-78). There was no school for girls until 1833 in Fisherton Anger, so she was educated at home by her sister, Maria. She also trained in Sunday School teaching and parochial work at St. Thomas’s Church, Salisbury, under the guidance of Rev. Mr. Capel, then Rector of Wareham, and Mrs. Capel, the then officiating minister of St. Thomas’s, and in her early twenties, had a role teaching two daughters of a lady in North Wiltshire. 

painting ofSt Clements Church where Sarah was baptised
St Clements Church where Sarah was baptised

Maria and husband, the Rev. Lewis Tomlinson, ran a large day and boarding school in Winchester Street and Brown Street in Salisbury. Sarah married Lewis’s brother Charles Tomlinson (schoolteacher),1 in Salisbury in June 1839. In 1841 Sarah and Charles were living in Winchester Street with family, several scholars, and servants. 

Charles regularly gave lectures at Salisbury Mechanics Institute and Salisbury’s Institute of Literacy and Science.2 After a few years, they moved to London, for Charles’s work as a scientist and scientific writer. 

Sarah had been born into Georgian England where women had little personal freedom, and religion was central to life. She lived through an age of social change and intellectual questioning, where natural theology3 was mainstream. The Victorian era was a time of several scientific discoveries. There were challenges to faith from science, philosophy, and Biblical criticism.4 Sarah must have engaged in such debates, especially as Sarah and Charles worked together on articles for the Saturday Magazine5, covering diverse subjects such as nature, travel, science and history for the ordinary person. 

Title Page of Sarah's book Sketches and Rural Affairs
Title Page of Sarah's book Sketches and Rural Affairs

She also wrote books on a number of topics throughout her life. Several of Sarah’s books were published by The Committee of General Literature and Education under the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,6 for example the book series “First Steps in General Knowledge (1846)”;7 “Lessons Derived from the Animal World (1847)” and “Sketches of Rural Affairs (1862). First Steps in General Knowledge” is a conversation between children and an adult which does not stint on objective science and attributes these to the Divine Creator. It has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, as part of the knowledge base of civilization, symbolic of the dichotomy, and was still in print with 13 editions by 2010. 

In 1842, Charles was appointed as a lecturer of experimental science at King’s College. For 25 years Sarah managed the many duties associated with hosting boarding students from the college as well as managing the household. The couple hosted parties with eminent artists, scientists, and writers in attendance, and one can imagine that deep debates took place.


Education, particularly of the working class, was important to Sarah and was a main theme in Sarah and Charles’ lives. In 1866 Sarah became a lady superintendent8 to a parochial mission in London (possibly the Training College for Lay Workers in Stepney). In this role she promoted literacy among new mothers. She wrote “The Sisters”, which instructed young women of poor means to become trained as governesses or seamstresses. 

Sarah and Charles would visit the local workhouse or poorhouse to attempt to better the lives of those living there. It was during this time, while ill, she wrote “Tales for Mission Rooms, by a Lady Superintendent” (1873), a collection of short stories supporting Christian morals and values. 

Sarah died on 17 October 1872 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery in London. 

Sarah clearly thought education was important in a time before state schooling and used her faith and passion to improve literacy and to guide young people. In terms of her legacy, her twelve books are available online, but are otherwise out of print in the UK

Researched and written by Heather Sheeley, edited by S. Ali.  



1 He became a notable experimental scientist, author and member of the Royal Society, who regularly lectured at Salisbury Mechanics Institute and Salisbury Literary and Science Institute. He is credited with many significant discoveries.

2 Salisbury and Winchester Journal. Articles, Announcements, and letters to the editor: 28th Aug 1866, 16th Feb 1856, Saturday 24 December 1853, Monday 11 May 1835, Monday 05 October 1835, Monday 17 February 1834, Monday 27 February 1837, Monday 03 November 1834, Monday 02 February 1835, and his obituary; Saturday 17 March 1900

3 ‘Natural theology is a type of theology which provides arguments for the existence of a deity based on reason and ordinary experience of nature’ -Definition from Wikipedia 

4 At the beginning of the nineteenth century in Britain, religious faith and the sciences were generally seen to be in harmony. More on this can be found at the following link:

5 The Saturday Magazine 1823 -1845 then became Parkers London Magazine and Catalog Record: The Saturday magazine | HathiTrust Digital Library

6 The SPCK was an Anglican mission society, which still operates today. It conducted a number of activities including helping local parish groups set up schools, providing teacher training. It has been argued that the modern concept of primary and secondary schools came from these schools.

Relevant information can be found at the following links:

7 This book is a conversation between children and an adult which does not stint on objective science and attributes these to the Divine Creator. 

8 Parochial missions were a type of specialist mission aimed at preaching to Catholic followers. The role of lady superintendents within parochial women’s associations was to oversee the mission. 

More about parochial women’s associations can be found here:



Wikipedia, Sarah Windsor Tomlinson. 

Post Office Directory of Wiltshire, 1859

Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. 776/778 Messrs Parker Bullen Solicitor’s Deeds and associated conveyancing papers. Fisherton Anger. Two deeds of a plot of land in Fisherton Anger, adjoining the Salisbury-Wilton Road includes a site location. Tubb and Windsor families. 1808 and 1848.

Ancestry, Census Salisbury 1841, 1851, 1861, Births, Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths and Burials Salisbury.

Ancestry Census Hornsey 1871. 

Google Books.

Robson, John,1990, ‘The Fiat and Finger of God: The Bridgewater Treatises’, Lightman, Bernard, and Frank Turner ed., Victorian Faith in Crisis: Essays on Continuity and Change in Nineteenth-Century Religious Belief. 

Royal Society, 2004, The life and work of Charles Tomlinson FRS: a career in Victorian science and Technology. 

Tomlinson, Sarah Windsor, 1846, First Steps in General Knowledge. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London.

Sarah Windsor Tomlinson
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