The daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant, unlike her three sisters Phoebe B did not marry into the moneyed society that surrounded her. Instead, she became an educator, with a wide circle of pupils drawn from all over Edinburgh in the mid-Victorian era, and engaged in benevolent works to improve the lives of the city’s people. This was drawn from a deep Christian faith. She lived with her bachelor brother, also an educator and teacher, but worked alongside him rather than keeping the house. He spent periods of time away working teaching in India, attempting to promote the work of the church in the country, while she stayed home and continued to work with the young people of the area – both educating the daughters of wealthy families and providing instruction for the poorer children of the district.
On her death at the age of 81, she left a trust of three hundred pounds a year to the support of “such indigent and infirm gentlewomen”, the recipients to be decided upon by female members of her extensive family. A portion of her estate was to be donated to hospitals, missions, asylums and sick societies in Edinburgh.
An obituary says that:
“More than half a century ago she was one of a chosen band of territorial visitors whom the late Dr William Robertson of New Greyfriars enlisted for service in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh.
“Her social and philanthropic work, both public and private, rested on the missionary basis of helping men and women to a higher as well as a happier life; while her educational zeal, alike in the communication of culture to the daughters of the well-to-do, and in the provision of elementary instruction and industrial training for the children of the poor, was ever hallowed by the desire to prepare the young at once for usefulness in this world and for citizenship in heaven.
“By the congregation of New Greyfriars’ and by its successive ministers and missionaries, Miss B was equally venerated and beloved. She held in that church a unique position of unobtrusive yet all-pervading influence – the outcome of a character in which there was a remarkable combination of strength and sweetness, decision and gentleness, righteousness and mercy, wisdom and zeal.”