Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Punshon, William Morley

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PUNSHON, WILLIAM MORLEY (1824–1881), Wesleyan preacher and lecturer, born at Doncaster on 29 May 1824, was only child of John and Elizabeth Punshon, who both died before their son reached manhood. His father was a member of the firm of Wilton & Punshon, mercers, at Doncaster. His mother was the eldest daughter of William Morley, a freeman of the same town. His maternal uncle Isaac received the dignity of knighthood in 1841, and twice filled the office of mayor. Morley Punshon was taught at the grammar school of Doncaster, and afterwards at a boarding-school at Tadcaster. In 1837 he entered his grandfather Morley's counting-house in Hull, and began to learn the business of a timber merchant. He employed his leisure time in reading, and laid up large stores of knowledge. His mother's death in 1838, and the influence of the Rev. S. R. Hall, led him to consider religious questions, and in November 1838 he joined the methodist society in Hull. At the age of seventeen he began to preach. With others like-minded he formed a society for mutual improvement, and soon displayed remarkable powers of elocution and oratory. Abandoning business pursuits, he prepared for the work of the Wesleyan methodist ministry under the Rev. Benjamin Clough, who had married his mother's sister. After spending four months at the theological institution at Richmond, he was received into the ranks of the ministry at the conference of 1845. Two years of probation were passed in Whitehaven and two more in Carlisle. His ordination took place at the Manchester conference of 1849. During the next nine years he laboured in Newcastle-on-Tyne, Sheffield, and Leeds. From 1858 to 1864 he lived in London (Hinde Street and Islington circuits); subsequently, until 1867, he was in Bristol.

The following five years Punshon spent in Canada, where he presided over the annual conferences, and exercised a supreme control of methodism throughout the dominion. By his powerful influence and unwearied labours the methodist churches of British North America were greatly strengthened. In June 1872 the Victoria University of Cobourg, Canada, conferred on him the degree of LL.D. He returned to England in 1873, and thenceforward lived in London, for two years as superintendent of Kensington circuit, and from 1875 as one of the general secretaries of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society.

Punshon's rare gifts and eloquence soon won for him a high place, not only among his own people, but with the general public. His public lectures, the first of which, on the Prophet of Horeb, he delivered in Exeter Hall in January 1854, greatly increased his popularity. He also developed great administrative talent. At the Manchester conference, July 1859, he was elected into the ‘legal hundred,’ a rare distinction for one so young. By his own exertions Punshon raised a fund of 10,000l. to extend methodism in watering-places, and grants were made from the fund to stimulate local effort. He also raised 1,000l. to relieve old Spitalfields chapel of debt, chiefly by means of his lecture on ‘The Huguenots,’ one of his most brilliant performances. To the mission cause Punshon devoted equal energy throughout life. His last years were spent in presenting and enforcing the claims of the work of the Wesleyan Missionary Society, in superintending the society's missions, in administering its funds, and in directing its agents. He died at Tranby, Brixton Hill, London, on 14 April 1881.

Punshon wrote: ‘Sabbath Chimes, or Meditations in Verse,’ London, 1867. His sermons in two volumes and lectures in one volume were issued in a uniform edition, 1882 and 1884 (several times reprinted).

Punshon married, first, Maria Ann Vickers, of Gateshead-on-Tyne, by whom he had four children; she died in 1858. His second wife was her sister, Fanny Vickers. The marriage took place on 15 Aug. 1868 at Toronto, Canada, where marriage with a deceased wife's sister was legal. His second wife died in 1870. He married, thirdly, in 1873, Mary Foster, daughter of William Foster of Sheffield. She survived him.

[Life, by Frederic W. Macdonald, London, 1887, with etched portrait by Manesse; Memorial Sermon with Personal Recollections of Punshon, by Thomas m'Cullagh, London, 1881; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. x. 210; Minutes of the Methodist Conference (annual), 1872 to 1881.]

W. B. L.