Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smethurst, John

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SMETHURST, JOHN (1793–1859), unitarian minister, son of a farmer, was born at Failsworth, near Manchester, in 1793. He was educated (1814–16) for the unitarian ministry at the Hackney academy under Robert Aspland [q. v.], Jeremiah Joyce [q. v.], and John Morell, LL.D. (1776–1840). In July 1817 he became minister of the unitarian congregation, Cross Street, Moreton Hampstead, Devonshire. On the death (2 Dec. 1818) of Jacob Isaac, minister of the Fore Street general baptist congregation, Smethurst succeeded him, holding both charges. For some years the managers of the London ‘unitarian fund’ had tried in vain to get a missionary for the north of Ireland. At length Smethurst volunteered, and during the autumn of 1821 spent nine weeks in Ulster. His visit is memorable as calling out for the first time the great controversial powers of Henry Cooke, D.D. [q. v.], and thus leading to the separation (1829) of the Arian party from the general synod of Ulster [see Montgomery, Henry, LL.D.]. Smethurst's report of his mission (Christian Reformer, 1822, pp. 217 sq.) is a valuable document. His warmest friends were Fletcher Blakely [q. v.] and Andrew Craig (1754–1833), minister of Lisburn. At Killeleagh he encountered Cooke, lecturing in his school-house, under the auspices of Archibald Hamilton Rowan [q. v.] His mission was supposed to be partly political, but Smethurst was simply a guileless enthusiast, no great speaker, and blind to the real situation. Returning to Moreton Hampstead, he there spent the remainder of his days. For some years he was scribe to the Exeter assembly, a relic of the unions of 1690 [see Howe, John, (1630–1705)]. Personally he was much beloved. He devoted his leisure to Anglo-Saxon studies, and his fame as an angler got him the name of ‘the Walton of the moor.’ He died unmarried on 27 June 1859 at Moreton Hampstead, and was buried (3 July) in the Cross Street burial-ground. His funeral sermon was preached by George Browne Brock (1805–1886) of Exeter. He published a sermon on slavery (1824).

He has been confused with John Smethurst (1789–1820), educated at Manchester College, York, from 1805 to 1810, and minister at Knutsford, Cheshire, from 1810 to 1819.

[Memoir by G. B. B[rock] in Christian Reformer, 1859, pp. 474 sq.; Murch's Hist. Presb. and Gen. Bapt. Churches in West of England, 1835, p. 474; Aspland's Memoir of Robert Aspland, 1850, pp. 317 sq. 322; Christian Life, 11 Dec. 1886, p. 601; Evans's Record of Provincial Assembly of Lancashire and Cheshire, 1896, p. 78.]

A. G.