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William Frederick Wakeman was a Dublin-born antiquary and artist. Having been taught drawing by George Petrie, while still a teenager he secured employment as a draftsman in the topographical section of the Ordnance Survey. He served as an assistant to John O’Donovan between 1839 and 1842. In this role he travelled extensively in counties Clare, Galway, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford, sketching antiquities, such as castles, monasteries, round towers, and stone crosses that had been noted by O’Donovan. He also sketched many antiquities in County Dublin, including some in Swords, Lusk, St Doulough’s, Howth, Kilbarrack, Clontarf, Finglas, Kilmainham, Ballyfermot, Donnybrook, Tallaght, Kiltiernan, Carrickmines, Clondalkin, Palmerstown and other places. Many of the drawings prepared by Wakeman are preserved in the Ordnance Survey drawings collection in the Royal Irish Academy library. Most are pencil sketches; just two are watercolours.

Once the Ordnance Survey project was terminated in 1842, Wakeman’s later artistic endeavours included book illustration. He prepared woodcuts used to illustrate George Petrie’s An inquiry into the origin and uses of the round towers of Ireland, comprising remarks on the ecclesiastical architecture of Ireland (1845). William Wakeman was also responsible for half of the illustrations in Sir William Wilde’s Descriptive catalogue of the antiquities … in the museum of the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1862). He later worked on additional cataloguing of museum artefacts in the Royal Irish Academy, itemising finds from crannogs (unpublished, RR/66/N/3, 3a). (Those museum artefacts are now in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.) He also made hundreds of illustrations of archaeological artefacts for the journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland (later the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland).

Some of Wakeman’s own antiquarian researches were published in Archaeologia Hibernica: a handbook of Irish antiquities, pagan and Christian, especially such as are easy access from the Irish metropolis (1848), which he illustrated himself. This handbook proved very popular, and was used extensively for educational purposes by the Commissioners for National Education. In later years Wakeman believed he should have been acknowledged and remunerated for this. A second, enlarged edition of Archaeologia Hibernica was published in 1891. A third edition, edited by John Cooke was published posthumously in 1903. Other artists made drawings based on illustrations published in Wakeman’s Archaeologia Hibernica (see RIA, MS 3 D 2 (25)).

Serving the growing tourist market as the rail network expanded, Wakeman prepared illustrated travel guidebooks, including his Dublin: what’s to be seen, and how to see it, with excursions to the country and suburbs (1853) and Lough Erne, Enniskillen, Belleek, Ballyshannon and Bundoran, with routes from Dublin to Enniskillen and Bundoran, by rail or steamboat (1870; 1877). His Archaeologia Hibernica, too, took account of ‘easy access from the metropolis’.

Wakeman’s research on the antiquities of Inishmurray, County Sligo, was published for the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in an illustrated volume: A survey of the antiquarian remains on the island of Inismurray (Inis Muireadhaigh) (1893). A collection of his original drawings of Inishmurray and other places in County Sligo can be found in Sligo County Museum.

William Wakeman’s original antiquarian sketches in the Royal Irish Academy library are mainly to be found within the Ordnance Survey drawings collection. This collection has been digitised and the sketches are catalogued individually on the RIA Library’s online catalogue of prints and drawings, where thumbnail images of individual sketches can be viewed.

A small portion of William Wakeman’s correspondence survives among the papers of Revd James Graves (1815–86) in the Academy (part of RIA, MS 23 O 39).

Further reading

Fionnuala Carson Williams, ‘Wakeman, William Frederick’, in Dictionary of Irish Biography (9 vols, Cambridge, 2009), vol. 9, pp 694–6 (

Peter Harbison, ‘Wakeman’s Archaeologia Hibernia’, Irish Arts Review, 30:2 (2013), pp 119–121.

Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (

Niamh NicGhabhann, ‘‘Wakeman, William Frederick’, in Nicola Figgis (ed.), Art and Architecture of Ireland, volume II: Painting, 1600–1900 (New Haven: Yale University Press for the Royal Irish Academy and the Paul Mellon Centre, 2014), pp 483–4.

George Petrie, An inquiry into the origin and uses of the round towers of Ireland, comprising remarks on the ecclesiastical architecture of Ireland, anterior to the Anglo-Norman invasion. Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, XX (1845); reissued as a separate publication by Hodges Figgis (Dublin, 1845).

John Waddell, Foundation myths: the beginnings of Irish archaeology (Bray, 2005).

William Wilde, Descriptive catalogue of the antiquities … in the museum of the Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 1862).

Royal Irish Academy online catalogue of Prints and Drawings

National Library of Ireland. Sources for the history of Irish Civilization