Hudson, William Elliott (1796–1853), lawyer and patron of Gaelic scholarship, was born 18 August 1796, probably at his family's country residence, then known as Fields of Odin, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin. It was later called The Hermitage: Robert Emmet (qv) walked with Sarah Curran (qv) in its grounds and from 1910 it housed St Enda's, the school founded by Patrick Pearse (qv). Hudson's father, Edward Hudson (d. 1821, aged 79) from Cork, had a dental practice in Grafton St., Dublin; he was perhaps the first practitioner in Ireland to be accorded professional status and social prominence. He encouraged his nephew Robert Blake in his pioneering work on tooth formation. Edward Hudson was an amateur artist, with liberal views but, unlike his cousin and namesake Edward Hudson (qv) of Philadelphia, he was never a United Irishman. He married (1787) Frances Barton; Edward G. Hudson (1791?–1851), their eldest son, became dean of Armagh. There were two other sons and four daughters.
William Elliott Hudson was the second son. Educated by Mr Cotton in Dublin, he entered TCD (October 1811) and graduated BA (1816) after a successful academic career. He entered King's Inns, Dublin, in 1818, and was called to the bar the same year. On the Munster circuit he was very popular and successful; however, when he stood as a liberal candidate for Monaghan county at the general election of 1835, he received only 66 votes, and never afterwards sought political prominence. In 1826 he wrote an article advocating a universal alphabet; in 1832 he published a useful Treatise on the elective franchise and the registration of electors, with an appendix of relevant legislation and thirty-three maps of electoral boundaries. In 1836 he was appointed assistant barrister for Co. Carlow, and shortly afterwards was made taxing officer in the court of common law, a post he held until, on account of ill-health arising from a series of strokes, he retired with a pension shortly before his death.
Around 1843, during the agitation over the Repeal Association founded by Daniel O'Connell (qv), Hudson was outraged by the dismissal of magistrates who had been sympathetic to repeal; he sought to join the association, proposing to resign as taxing master, but was dissuaded by O'Connell. One of Hudson's closest friends was Thomas Osborne Davis (qv), who on his deathbed (1845) is said to have described Hudson as the best man and best Irishman he had ever known. Hudson had been involved with Davis in literary endeavours; he composed tunes for six of the songs in The spirit of The Nation (1843) and gave £300 towards its publication. In 1845 he was one of the founders of the Celtic Society and heavily subsidised its activities, paying the salaries of the editors of Irish-language texts. He oversaw all its publications, and wrote an introduction to Leabhar na gCeart. He contributed to the expenses of the Archaeology Society, of which he was in 1840 a founder member, and in 1853 founded with John O'Daly (qv) the Ossianic Society, for the preservation and publication of early Irish texts. Hudson was also associated with a literary periodical which he took over in 1842; formerly known as The Citizen, it had been failing until Hudson acquired it, and using his resources it had a new lease of life for one year as the Dublin Monthly Magazine. Like his brother Henry (qv) and other relatives, Hudson had considerable musical talent, and had as a young man tried to help the eccentric Dr Russell in his search for the ‘Great A of nature’, a note which Russell claimed was heard in thunder, the sea, and other natural sources. Hudson was elected MRIA 12 April 1841; late in life he gave £200 to the Academy's planned dictionary of the Irish language, and would have given £1,000 if his death had not intervened. None the less, his will provided further benefactions for the RIA; he left to the library 800 books, many of them rare; a file of issues of the Nation newspaper; and several MSS in Irish. He died 23 June 1853; he had become a catholic in January 1853, having attended mass regularly after the death (1851) of his brother, the Church of Ireland dean of Armagh. Hudson was buried in Ardnageehy churchyard, near a Hudson family home in Glenville, Co. Cork. A bust of him by Christopher Moore, in the possession of the RIA, was photographed and used as the frontispiece of the Transactions of the Ossianic Society.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).