Poynter, William (DNB00)

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POYNTER, WILLIAM, D.D. (1762–1827), catholic prelate, born at Petersfield, Hampshire, on 20 May 1762, was sent by Bishop Challoner to the English College at Douay, where he became prefect of studies, was promoted to the priesthood, and took the degree of D.D. In 1793 he and the other seminarists were transferred by the French revolutionary authorities to the castle of Dourlens, and they were afterwards imprisoned in the Irish College at Douay. At last, on 25 Feb. 1795, they were sent to England, where they landed on 2 March. Poynter was nominated by Bishop Douglass to be vice-president of St. Edmund's College, near Ware, and he became president of that college in 1801, when Dr. Gregory Stapleton was made apostolic vicar in the midland district. Stapleton made Poynter his vicar-general.

He was appointed coadjutor to Dr. John Douglass [q. v.], vicar-apostolic of the London district, by papal brief, dated 3 March 1803, and he was consecrated bishop of Halia at St. Edmund's College on 29 May. He succeeded to the vicariate per coadjutoriam on the death of Douglass, 8 May 1812. Poynter was of a gentler disposition than John Milner [q. v.], and was adverse to the bold manner in which that controversialist carried himself towards his political opponents. While on a visit to Rome he drew up his ‘Apologetical Epistle’ to Cardinal Litta, prefect of the propaganda, dated 15 March 1815, in which he defended himself against certain charges brought against him and the other vicars-apostolic by Bishop Milner. The document was not intended to be made public, and was not actually published till 1820, when it was translated and printed, without the knowledge of Poynter, by Charles Butler, in his ‘Historical Memoirs of the English Catholics’ (vol. iv. appendix, note 1). Poynter suffered himself to be persuaded into becoming president of the ‘Catholic Bible Society,’ an institution founded in 1813 by the ‘Catholic Committee,’ and afterwards, in 1816, condemned by the holy see as ‘a crafty device for weakening the foundations of religion’ (Brady, Episcopal Succession, iii. 186). In 1823 he obtained from the holy see the appointment of Dr. James Yorke Bramston [q. v.] as his coadjutor, cum jure successionis. In conjunction with the other English and Scottish catholic prelates, he issued the famous ‘Declaration of the Catholic Bishops, the Vicars Apostolic, and their Coadjutors in Great Britain.’ He died in Castle Street, Holborn, London, on 26 Nov. 1827 (Gent. Mag. 1827, pt. ii. p. 571), and was buried in the church of St. Mary, Moorfields, where there is a monument to his memory, with a Latin inscription. The Rev. Lewis Havard preached the funeral sermon, which was printed. Poynter's heart was deposited beneath the altar at St. Edmund's College, Ware.

His portrait, engraved by R. Fenner, forms the frontispiece to the ‘Catholic Miscellany,’ vol. iv. (1825). Another portrait appeared in the ‘Laity's Directory’ for 1829.

Poynter's separate publications were: 1. ‘A Theological Examination of the Doctrine of Columbanus [i.e. Charles O'Conor, 1764–1828 [q. v.] ] (contained in his third letter) on the Spiritual Jurisdiction of Bishops and the difference between a Bishop and a Priest,’ London, 1811, 8vo. 2. ‘Instructions and Directions addressed to all the Faithful in the London District, for gaining the Grand Jubilee,’ London, 1826, 24mo. 3. ‘Christianity; or the Evidences and Characters of the Christian Religion,’ London, 1827, 8vo; translated into Italian (at Rome in 1828).

Poynter's ‘Narrative of the Seizure of Douay College, and of the Deportation of the Seniors, Professors, and Students to Dourlens,’ in continuation of the narrative of the Rev. Joseph Hodgson [q. v.], was printed in the ‘Catholic Magazine and Review’ (Birmingham), vol. i. (1831), pp. 397, 457. A translation, by the Abbé L. Dancoine, appears in ‘Le Collège Anglais de Douai pendant la Révolution,’ Douay, 1881, 8vo. ‘An Unpublished Correspondence between Poynter and Dr. C. O'Conor, on Foreign-influencing Maxims, with Observations on the Canonical and Legal Securities against such Maxims,’ appeared in O'Conor's ‘Columbanus,’ No. vi, London, 1813. To the ‘Laity's Directory’ for 1813 to 1828 inclusively, Poynter contributed an annual article called ‘New Year's Gifts,’ as well as ‘Reflections on British Zeal for the Propagation of Christianity, and on the State of Christianity in England,’ to that periodical in 1829 (p. 75). He was also responsible for ‘The Catholic Soldier's and Sailor's Prayer Book,’ which was reprinted, with additions, by the Rev. Thomas Unsworth, London, 1858, 12mo.

[Amherst's Hist. of Catholic Emancipation, ii. 353; Butler's Hist. Memoirs, 1822, iv. 379, 469–523; Butler's Reminiscences, p. 301; Catholic Magazine and Review, ii. 260; Catholic Miscellany, 1827, vii. 284, viii. 432, ix. 72; Husenbeth's Life of Milner, p. 584; London and Dublin Orthodox Journal, 1842, xv. 103; Ward's Hist. of St. Edmund's College, Old Hall, 1893.]

T. C.