Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cunningham, John William

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CUNNINGHAM, JOHN WILLIAM (1780–1861), divine, was born in London on 3 Jan. 1780. He was educated at private schools, his last tutor being the Rev. H. Jowett of Little Dunham, Norfolk, where he formed an intimate friendship with his fellow-pupils, the Grants, one of whom became distinguished as Lord Glenelg, and the other as Sir Robert Grant, governor-general of Bombay. Cunningham entered St. John's College, Cambridge. He was fifth wrangler in 1802, and was elected to a fellowship at his college. After passing some months with the Grants at Edinburgh, he was ordained in 1802 to the curacy of Ripley, Surrey. On 30 July 1805 he married Sophia, daughter of Robert Williams of Moor Park, Surrey. He became curate of John Venn, vicar of Clapham, and a well-known member of the so-called Clapham sect, who was described by Cunningham as ‘Berkely’ in the ‘Velvet Cushion.’ In 1811 Cunningham became vicar of Harrow, the presentation to which had been bought by his father-in-law. He held this post until his death on 30 Sept. 1861. By his first wife (d. 1821) Cunningham had nine children; the eldest son, Charles Thornton Cunningham, was lieutenant-governor of St. Christopher's from 1839 till his death in 1847. In June 1827 Cunningham married Mary, daughter of Sir H. Calvert, and sister of Sir Harry Verney, who died in 1849. By her he had three children, of whom Henry Stewart Cunningham is a judge of the high court of judicature of Bengal, and Mary Richenda married Sir J. F. Stephen, judge of the high court of justice.

Cunningham was distinguished for courtesy and kindness of heart, and was a prominent member of the evangelical party in the church of England. He was elected in 1818 an honorary life-governor of the Church Missionary Society, and was editor of the ‘Christian Observer’ from 1850 to 1858. One of his books, the ‘Velvet Cushion,’ giving an account from the evangelical point of view of the various parties in the church of England since the Reformation, was very popular. The first edition was published in 1814, the tenth in 1816. He also wrote:

  1. ‘World without Souls,’ 1805 (6th ed. 1816).
  2. ‘Christianity in India’ (essay on duty of introducing the christian religion), 1808, 8vo.
  3. ‘Observations’ in reply to Dr. Maltby's ‘Thoughts on the Danger of circulating the Scriptures among the Lower Orders,’ 1812.
  4. ‘Church of England Missions,’ 1814.
  5. ‘De Rancé,’ a poem.
  6. ‘Conciliatory Suggestions on Regeneration,’ 1816.
  7. ‘Observations on Friendly Societies,’ 1817.
  8. ‘Sancho, or the Proverbialist,’ 1817.
  9. ‘Cautions to Continental Travellers,’ 1818.
  10. Two volumes of sermons, 1822–4, and many separate sermons.

[Christian Observer, November 1861; information from the family.]

L. S.