Rees, Thomas (1777-1864) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 47
Rees, Thomas (1777-1864)

by Alexander Gordon
Contains subarticle Owen Rees (1770–1837).

REES, THOMAS (1777–1864), unitarian minister and historical writer, born at Gelligron, Glamorganshire, in 1777, was son of Josiah Rees [q. v.] Thomas was originally put to the bookselling business, but on the advice of his namesake (who was no relative), Abraham Rees [q. v.], he was educated for the ministry (1799–1801) at the presbyterian college, Carmarthen. In 1807 he became afternoon preacher at Newington Green Chapel, London, of which he had sole charge from 1808 to 1813, when he removed to St. Thomas's Chapel, Southwark, which was closed in 1822. On 12 Oct. 1823 a new chapel was opened in Stamford Street, Blackfriars, built from the proceeds of the sales of St. Thomas's Chapel and the chapel in Prince's Street, Westminster. Here Rees ministered till 1831, when he ceased to hold regular ministerial charge.

Rees was a man of varied attainments and an ardent unitarian. He was a fellow of the Society of Arts, and received the degree of LL.D. in January 1819 from Glasgow University. By his own denomination he was placed in prominent posts of trust. He was a trustee of Dr. Williams's foundation from 1809 to 1853, a member of the presbyterian board from 1813, and its secretary from 1825 to 1853, and some time secretary of the Unitarian Society. From 1828 to 1835 he was secretary to the London union of ministers of the ‘three denominations.’ His rejection in 1835 was resented by the unitarians, who claimed to represent the presbyterians, from which body the secretary had hitherto been chosen. They seceded from the union, and obtained the separate privilege of presenting addresses to the throne. No personal disrespect was intended to Rees, who in 1837 was appointed by government as principal receiver of the English regium donum, on the nomination of the three denominations. In 1853 he left England for Spain, being unable to meet charges in regard to trust funds; but ultimately he made full restitution. He died in obscurity at Brighton, on 1 Aug. 1864. His wife, Elizabeth, died at Hythe on 20 Aug. 1856. His nephew, George Owen Rees, is noticed separately.

In his knowledge of the history of antitrinitarian opinion, especially during the sixteenth century, Rees had no equal. He made a remarkable collection of the literature of his theme, and, excepting Hungarian and Polish, he was at home in all the languages necessary for access to original sources; and his breadth of treatment invested his topic with more than a sectarian interest. His intention, announced as early as 1833, of publishing a comprehensive work, was never fulfilled. In some sense his labours were forestalled by the ‘Antitrinitarian Biography’ (1850) by Robert Wallace [q. v.] But this does not supersede the importance of Rees's scattered papers.

He published, besides single sermons (1804–46): 1. ‘The Beauties of South Wales,’ &c., 1815, 8vo [see Brayley, Edward Wedlake]. 2. ‘The Racovian Catechism … translated from the Latin; to which is prefixed a Sketch of the History of Unitarianism in Poland,’ &c., 1818, 12mo. 3. ‘A Sketch of the History of the Regium Donum,’ &c., 1834, 8vo. Of his historical papers the most important are: ‘Faustus Socinus and Francis David’ in the ‘Monthly Repository,’ 1818; ‘On the Sentiments of the Early Continental Reformers respecting Religious Liberty’ (ib. 1819); ‘Italian Reformation’ (ib. 1822); ‘Memoirs of the Socini’ (ib. 1827); and ‘Calvin and Servetus,’ in the ‘Christian Reformer,’ 1847. In Dr. Williams's library, Gordon Square, London, is Rees's manuscript, ‘The Anti-papal Reformers of Italy in the Sixteenth Century, with a Glance at their Forerunners, the Sectaries of the Middle Ages,’ in six quarto volumes; also a manuscript translation, with notes, of Orelli's ‘Life’ of Lælius Socinus. His promised memoir of Abraham Rees, D.D., never appeared. To him has been assigned, evidently in error, ‘A New System of Stenography,’ &c., 1795, 18mo, by ‘Thomas Rees, stenographer.’

Owen Rees (1770–1837), eldest brother of the above, born at Gelligron, began life in Bristol, but removed to London, where, in 1794, he was taken into partnership by Thomas Norton Longman, the publisher [see under Longman, Thomas]. With Moore the poet he was on intimate terms. Early in 1837 he retired from business, and died unmarried at Gelligron on 5 Sept. 1837.

[Biogr. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816, p. 289 (needs correction); Monthly Repository, 1823, p. 607; Aspland's Memoir of Robert Aspland, 1850, pp. 437, 531 sq., 554 sq.; Christian Reformer, 1837 p. 717, 1856 p. 702; Gent. Mag. 1837, ii. 430; Jeremy's Presbyterian Fund, 1885, pp. 67, 182 sq.; unpublished letter (2 Aug. 1864) of Rev. R. Brook Aspland.]

A. G.