Blackley, William Lewery (1830–1902), clergyman, social reformer, and linguist, was born 30 December 1830 at Dundalk, Co. Louth, second son of Travers Robert Blackley, physician, and Eliza Blackley (née Lewery). From 1843 to 1845 he was educated in Brussels by Dr Carl Martin Friedlander, a Polish political refugee, and acquired there a proficiency in continental languages. In 1846 he returned to Ireland and entered TCD; he graduated BA in 1851 (MA, 1854), after which he was ordained an anglican minister. He became curate of St Peter's, Southwark, London, but an attack of cholera forced him to leave London and from 1855 to 1889 he was rector of several parishes in the home counties. In 1883 he became honorary canon of Winchester cathedral.
Strongly interested in social issues, especially the relief of poverty, he maintained that the existing optional system of reliance on friendly societies had failed to provide adequately for the working classes; he was also a stern critic of the incompetence and corruption of many friendly societies. In November 1878 he wrote an article for the Nineteenth Century advocating a compulsory scheme of national insurance to be administered by the Post Office. He proposed that all persons between 18 and 21 should subscribe £10 to a national fund in small weekly installments and receive in return 8s. a week in times of sickness and a pension of 4s. a week after the age of 70. Attempting to place his proposals firmly in the self-help tradition, he argued that compulsory national insurance would diminish both pauperism and poor rates and compel everyone to provide for themselves rather than allowing the feckless to sponge off the thrifty. A National Providence League, presided over by the earl of Shaftesbury, was formed in 1880 to publicise the scheme and press for its adoption. Blackley's proposals were, however, strongly resisted by the friendly societies, which regarded government competition and the principle of compulsion as serious threats to their interests. The scheme was investigated by a house of commons select committee into aged dependency (1885–7) which turned it down because of concerns about the principle of compulsion, and claims that the proposed contributions would be insufficient to fund the proposed benefits.
In 1887 Blackley became a director of the Clergy Mutual Insurance Company, and helped to introduce a pension scheme for the anglican clergy. He was an effective public speaker and appeared on numerous public platforms advocating self-help and temperance. He wrote several pamphlets offering advice to the poor: How to teach domestic economy (1879), Collected essays on the prevention of pauperism (1880) (reissued as Thrift and national insurance (1906)), Social economy reading book (1881), and Thrift and independence; a word for working-men (1884). His proposals influenced the adoption of social insurance schemes abroad, particularly in Germany, where his work was reportedly read by Bismarck, and in New Zealand. His ideas also contributed to the introduction in Britain and Ireland of old age pensions in 1908 and national insurance in 1911.
An accomplished linguist, he published The Frithiof saga (Dublin, 1857), a translation from the Swedish of a work by Esaias Tegner; The practical German dictionary (1866) (with Freidlander); and Word gossip (1868). He was joint editor, with James Hawes, of the Critical English New Testament (1866).
In 1889 Blackley became vicar of St James the Less, Vauxhall, where he enlarged the schools and built a parish hall and a vicarage. He died 25 July 1902 in London.
He married (24 July 1855) Amelia Jeanne Josephine Friedlander, daughter of his Brussels tutor; she was an active advocate of his social reforms, and continued to promote them after his death. They had two daughters, and a son who died in infancy.