Halley, Robert (DNB00)

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HALLEY, ROBERT, D.D. (1796–1876), nonconformist divine and historian, the eldest of four children of Robert Hally (sic), was born at Blackheath, Kent, on 13 Aug. 1796. His father, originally a farmer at Glenalmond, Perthshire, of the ‘antiburgher’ branch of the secession church, had married as his first wife Ann Bellows of Bere Regis, Dorsetshire, and settled at Blackheath as a nurseryman. Halley received most of his early education at Maze Hill school, Greenwich, and in 1810 began life in his father's business. His mind being drawn towards the ministry, he entered (18 Jan. 1816) the Homerton Academy under John Pye Smith, D.D., and remained there six years. Among his fellow-students was William Jacobson [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Chester. Halley's first charge was the pastor- pastorate of the independent congregation at St. Neots, Huntingdonshire, which he accepted on 18 May 1822. He was ordained on 11 June, but was careful to disclaim 'the presbyterian notions' of ordination. On 4 July 1826 he was invited to become classical tutor in the Highbury College (opened 5 Sep.) For this post he was well fitted, both by attainment and character, and his influence on his pupils was both genial and bracing. In 1834 his able reply to James Yates on points of biblical criticism gained him the unsolicited degree of D.D. from Princeton College, New Jersey. After thirteen years of collegiate work he returned to the active ministry, succeeding in 1839 Dr. M'All at Mosley Street Chapel, Manchester. Next year (1840) he was offered, but declined, the principalship of Coward College, then located in London. He acquired in Manchester a position of great influence. During the bread riots of 1842 his voice calmed and changed the counsels of a hungry and dangerous mob. In June 1848 his congregation removed to a new chapel in Cavendish Street. He travelled in the East in 1854, and next year presided as chairman of the 'congregational union of England and Wales.' In 1857 Halley succeeded John Harris, D.D. (1802-1856) [q. v.], as principal and professor of theology at New College, St. John's Wood, London; this important position he filled with marked distinction till 1872. He suffered pecuniary loss by the failure of the Bank of London, and in 1866, and again on his retirement, his friends made presentations to him, which together nearly reached the sum of 6,000l. He retired to Clapton, but his last days were spent at Batworth Park, near Arundel, Sussex. On 25 June 1876 he preached for the last time. He died on 18 Aug. 1876, and was buried on 24 Aug. in Abney Park cemetery. He married in March 1823 Rebekah (d. September 1865), daughter of James Jacob, timber merchant at Deptford, by whom he had three sons and three daughters. His sons Robert and Jacob John followed their father's calling; his youngest son, Ebenezer, a surgeon. died in New Zealand in 1875.

Halley was a man of transparent simplicity of character, combining a warm attachment to evangelical religion with real catholicity of spirit. Even among opponents he made no enemies. His permanent reputation will rest on his admirable survey of the religious history of Lancashire. On occasion of the bicentenary of the uniformity act of 1662 the project of compiling county histories of nonconformity was suggested in many of the local unions of congregationalists. Several works of various merit were produced. Halley's excels them all, not only from the range of its subject, but from its breadth of treatment and the naturalness and frequent beauty of its style. Halley's work lacks that minuteness of local information which David's 'Essex' (1863) Browne's 'Norfolk and Suffolk,' (1877), or Urwick's 'Herts' (1884), but he alone rises above the nonconformist annalist and deserves a place among church historians.

He published: 1. 'The Prosperity of Churches promoted by Social Prayer,' &c 1831, 8vo. 2. 'The Sinfulness of Colonial Slavery,' &c., 1833, 8vo. 3. 'The Improved Version . . . a Creed,' &c., 1834, 8vo (a very temperate and cogent criticism, exhibiting real scholarship and quiet humour, in reply to the Rev. James Yates, a defender of the unitarian version of the New Testament). 4. 'An Inquiry into the Nature of the . . . Sacraments,' &c., 1844-51, 2 vols., 8vo; 2nd edition, 1854, 2 vols., 8vo (being the 'congregational lecture' for 1843 on baptism and for 1850 on the Lord's supper). 5. 'Baptism the Designation of the Catechumens,' &c., 1847, 8vo (a defence of No 4, vol. i.) 6. 'Memoir of Thomas Goodwin, D.D.' [q. v.] prefixed to Goodwin's 'Works,' 1861, 8vo, vol. ii. 7. 'The Act of Uniformity; a Bicentenary Lecture,' &c., 1862, 8vo. 8. 'The Book of Sports; a Bicentenary Lecture,' 1862, 8vo. 9. 'Lancashire: its Puritanism and Nonconformity,' &c., 2 vols., 1869, 8vo; 2nd edition, 1872, 8vo. Posthumous was 10. 'A Selection of his Sermons,' appended to 'A Short Biography &c., 1879, 8vo, by his son, Robert Halley, M.A., of Arundel. Also several tracts. He was a frequent contributor to the 'Eclectic Review,' and declined an offer of its editorship.

[Short Biography, 1879; Report of the Senatus of Associated Theological Colleges, 1887, p. 52; Halley's works and private letters.]

A. G.