Vere Foster

Philanthropist, educationalist and social reformer.

Vere Foster was born in Copehagen in April 1819, where his diplomat father represented the British government as minister plenipotentiary. He was actively involved in Irish society for several decades before settling in Belfast for the last 30 years of his life.

A member of the Anglo-Irish gentry, Foster was educated at Eton and Oxford and followed his father into the diplomatic service, during which period he was posted to Brazil and Uruguay. On his return to England in 1847, Foster visited Ireland for the first time, probably in connection with famine relief on the family estates. Using his own wealth, Foster spent several years promoting and assisting emigration, and travelled to America himself in 1850-51.

Foster was also involved in education in Ireland, where a network of national schools had been recently established. He agitated for improved wages and conditions for teachers, and developed the ‘Vere Foster copy-books’ to improve and standardise the teaching of writing. The immense popularity of these texts drew him to the Belfast printing firm Marcus Ward and Company, and into personal friendship with John Ward, one of the firm’s owners.

In 1867, Foster settled permanently in Belfast where he continued to work as the president of the Congress of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation. He fundraised for the Royal Belfast Hospital (later the Royal Victoria Hospital), and helped to establish a school of art in the town, while continuing to promote emigration.

Having exhausted most of his personal fortune on his philanthropic projects, Vere Foster died in December 1900. He is buried in Belfast City cemetery.

Further Reading

The Oxford Companion to Irish History (2002) by SJ Connolly; Vere Foster: English Gentleman, Irish Champion 1819-1900 (2001) by B Colgan; A Dictionary of Irish Biography (1998) by H Boylan; Dictionary of Ulster Biography (1993) by K Newmann; Vere Foster 1819-1900: An Irish Benefactor (1971) by M McNeill. Some of his papers are also held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.