Thackeray Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Thackeray Surname Meaning

The place-name Thackray in north Yorkshire was the source for four Yorkshire surnames:

  • Thackray being the largest in number
  • Thackeray being the most well-known
  • and Thackrah and Thackery being two other less known names.

The name derived from the Old Norse elements thak, meaning “thatching reeds,” and vra, meaning a “nook” or “corner.”  The earliest documented appearances of the surname were Johannes and Robertus de Thakwra in the Yorkshire poll tax records of 1379.

Thackeray Surname Resources on The Internet

Thackeray and Thackray Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire)
  • to America, South Africa, India and Australia

EnglandThe surname spelling in Yorkshire was becoming Thackwray by the 16th century.  “In the court at Ilkley in 1522, James Thackwray was fined for taking greenwood in 1522 and William Thackwray was fined for cutting wood in 1571.”  

North Yorkshire.  One family line, sometimes Thackwray, began with William Thackray at Fewston in the Harrogate district of Yorkshire around the year 1630.  And there was another line from another William Thackray at Weston Otley recorded around the same time.

Nearby at Hampsthwaite in Nidderdale parish was the Thackeray/Thackwray family of yeoman farmers.  They were the ancestors of William Thackeray the famous Victorian writer.  His line ran through:

  • the Rev. Thomas Thackeray, the Headmaster at Harrow School, and William’s father Richmond Thackeray, a high-ranking member of the East India Company in Calcutta.
  • and his daughter Anne, later Lady Ritchie, who became the custodian of his literary legacy.

Leeds and Hull.  The name also spread further south in the West Riding, into the Leeds area.  The spelling here was often Thackrah. William Thackrah, for instance, was baptized at Mill Hill in Leeds in 1732.  Charles Thackrah, born in Leeds in 1795, was a pioneer in the field of occupational medicine.

The main spelling here by the 19th century, however, was Thackray.  Charles Thackray was a pharmacist who opened a chemist shop in Leeds in 1902.  In less than a century the corner shop grew into one of Britain’s leading medical companies.  In recognition his grandson Paul Thackray opened the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds in 1997.

Meanwhile there were some Thackerays in Hull where Thomas Thackeray was the mayor in 1604 and 1624. Later Thackerays appeared at Sculcoates, a Hull suburb.

America.  There were two notable early Quaker families in America from Yorkshire with the Thackara and Thackray names:

  • Thomas Thackara from Leeds who arrived with his wife Esther in New Jersey in 1681.  
  • and James Thackwray from Stockton who came to Bucks county, Pennsylvania in 1720.

South Africa.  William Thackwray from Wetherby was with his family one of the pioneer British settlers in South Africa in 1820.  He was allocated land in the Eastern Cape.

The years 1828 and 1829 were disaster years for him. His son John Thackwray died during an elephant hunt in 1828.  Another son William was killed by Hottentots in 1829, just after his father William had died.  Joseph and James were the two surviving sons.

Australia.  Elizabeth Thackery from Manchester was the last known survivor of the First Fleet when she died in 1856. She arrived in 1788 and was generally known throughout her long lifetime as the first convict female to land in Australia.

In 1810 she married Samuel King, a soldier who had arrived with the First Fleet.  They settled in the Derwent valley and were married for forty-six years.

India.  Thackeray is also an Indian surname.  It was first adopted by the Indian writer Keshev Sitaram who became known as Prabodhankar Thackeray.  His son the politician Bal Thackeray made the name even more well-known in India.

Thackeray and Thackray Surname Miscellany

Four Yorkshire Surnames – Thackray, Thackrah, Thackeray, and Thackery.  The numbers in Yorkshire in the 1881 census were as follows:

  • Thackray – 1,100
  • Thackrah – 232
  • Thackeray – 203
  • and Thackery – 123.

Thackray has been by far the main spelling in the Leeds area.  Thackwray had become more or less obsolete by this time.

The Ancestors of William Thackeray

In Yorkshire (in Hampsthwaite in north Yorkshire)

  • Walter Thackeray.  Yeoman farmer who died in Hampsthwaite in 1618.
  • – Robert Thackeray
  • — Thomas Thackeray (1628-1670)
  • — Timothy Thackeray (1662-1722).  Parish clerk at Hampsthwaite

In the London area

  • —- Rev. Thomas Thackeray (1693-1760).  Headmaster at Harrow School and Archdeacon of Surrey.
  • —– William M. Thackeray (1749-1813)

In Calcutta

  • —– Richmond M. Thackeray (1781-1815) arrived in India in 1798, married Anne Becher, and died of fever.

In London

  • —— William M. Thackeray (1811-1863) the famous writer.  He returned to London after the death of his father.

Note that the family name in Hampsthwaite was sometimes spelt Thackwray.  Joseph and Thomas Thackwray, father and son in this family, held the parish clerkship office there between 1725 and 1804.

The Thackray Medical Museum.  The Thackray Medical Museum, founded by Paul Thackray, is situated on the outskirts of Leeds in a former Victorian workhouse building.  It commemorates the work of his grandfather Charles Thackray whose small corner shop in Leeds shop grew into one of Britain’s principal medical companies, manufacturing drugs and medical instruments and pioneering the hip replacement operation.

The museum opened in 1997 and won “the Museum Award of the Year” in the following year.

Reader Feedback – Two Notable Early Quaker Families in America  

Thomas Thackara

Thomas Thackara was a native of Leeds who was imprisoned In York castle for his beliefs.  He was a weaver by trade and ended up in Dublin due to persecution.  He with his family and friends sailed in 1681 from Dublin to West Jersey on the basis of a deed from William Penn.  He was a member of the first Legislature of Burlington and became the first Judge of Gloucester county.

His wife Esther, having made the long and dangerous journey from Ireland to New Jersey, drowned in the Delaware river eight years later in 1689.  She was in a canoe when a large sturgeon leaped into the canoe, tipping Esther out.

James Thackwray

James Thackwray was noted as being at a Quaker monthly meeting in Stockton in 1719 shortly before emigrating in 1720. He settled in Bucks county, Pennsylvania where he died in 1779.

Warren Thackwray, South Africa  (

Reader Feedback – William Thackwray in South Africa.  William Thackwray had a younger sister Margaret (later Margaret Greenwood) who also came to South Africa and whose letter written in 1826, in which she requested bringing her husband and ten children to South Africa, gave some family history.

She herself was born in Wetherby, Yorkshire in 1784, the son of John a laborer.  William had been born five years earlier in 1779.   He left the Wetherby area to pursue an apprenticeship as a wheelwright and master carpenter.  He married Dorothy Pownall from Cheshire in 1801.  Thier first son John was born a year later.  The family subsequently moved around as William sought work opportunities, first in Salford near Manchester and then in Sheffield before leaving for South Africa in 1820.

I am descended from one of their sons Joseph Ebenezer Thackwray.  He moved north from Grahamstown to Cradock where he raised his family and was buried.

Warren Thackwray, South Africa  (

John Thackwray’s Death in South Africa During an Elephant Hunt.  John Thackwray stopped to visit his old friend George Wood on his way to an elephant hunt in the nearby Ecca Forest in February 1828.  When he was there his Hottentot after-rider came to tell him that he had located a herd of elephants in the forest.

A few hours later his broken body was brought back to the Woods’ house to wait for transport to Grahamstown.  He had been killed by an elephant. It seems he had shot the elephant which had fallen.  But when John and a Hottentot went up to it, it suddenly sprang up and caught him with its trunk and began to run away, with John firmly caught up in the trunk. He was found soon after, quite dead.

Why Bal Thackeray in India Had an English Surname.  It was Bal Thackeray’s father Keshev Sitaram who took the English surname Thackeray.  Keshav’s father had previously adopted the surname Panvelkar according to the old family tradition. While admitting his son to school in the early 1900’s, he gave him the surname Thakre, which was apparently their traditional Marathi family name prior to the Dhodapkar of his grandfather.

Keshav then anglicized this surname’s spelling in order to convey his admiration for the Calcutta-born British author of Vanity Fair.  And when Keshav Thackeray launched a fortnightly magazine named Prabodhan (meaning enlighten), he became famous as Prabodhankar Thackeray.

His son Bal Thackeray continued the literary tradition by working first as a cartoonist for The Free Press Journal and then by starting his own cartoon weekly.  In 1966 he launched the Shiv Sena party in Maharashtra, a Hindu right-wing Marathi ethno-centric party, which he led until his death in 2012.  His fiery speeches and editorials from his newspapers made him a combative local politician.

Thackeray and Thackray Names

  • Charles Thackrah, a surgeon from Leeds, was an early 19th century pioneer in the field of occupational medicine. 
  • William Thackeray was a famous Victorian writer, best-known for his novel Vanity Fair which came out in serialized form in 1847. 
  • Bai Thackeray was a fiery Indian politician in the state of Maharashtra until his death in 2012.

Thackeray and Thackray Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Thackeray and Like Surnames

These are the names of some literary giants.  If you are interested in the name behind the literary figure, please click on the surname below.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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