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

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TOWNSEND, JOHN (1757–1826), founder of the London asylum for the deaf and dumb, born in Whitechapel on 24 March 1757, was the son of Benjamin Townsend, ‘citizen and pewterer,’ by his wife Margaret (Christ's Hospital Register). His father was disinherited for his attachment to Whitefield. On 6 March 1766 John was admitted to Christ's Hospital on the presentation of William Brockett. He was ‘discharged by his father’ on 8 April 1771, and was apprenticed to him for seven years at Swallow's Gardens. In 1774 he was ‘converted,’ and turned his attention to preaching, and on 1 June 1781 was ordained pastor of the independent church at Kingston, Surrey. Finding that William Huntington [q. v.], who resided there, was influencing his congregation by his antinomian views, he resigned his charge, and on 28 Oct. 1784 became minister of the independent church at Bermondsey. In 1792 his attention was called to the neglected condition of deaf and dumb children, and with the assistance of Henry Cox Mason, rector of Bermondsey, of Henry Thornton [q. v.] and others, he founded the asylum for the deaf and dumb in the parish of Bermondsey. The institution rapidly grew in public esteem, and became a great national charity. On 11 July 1807 the first stone of the present asylum was laid by the Duke of Gloucester. It stands in the Old Kent Road, and recently a subordinate asylum has been established at Margate.

On 25 Sept. 1810 Townsend was moved by the poverty of his fellow-ministers and the insufficient education of their families to address a letter on the subject ‘To the Ministers, Officers, and all other Members and Friends of the Congregational Churches in England.’ In 1811 a school was established for the free education of the sons of poor independent ministers, and in 1815 a house was taken at Lewisham to accommodate the children. The school, after continuing long at Lewisham, was removed in recent years to Caterham Valley in Surrey, where it now stands. It contains accommodation for 150 scholars.

Townsend was also concerned in founding the London Missionary Society in 1794, and the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1802, suggesting the name of the latter institution. He died at Bermondsey on 7 Feb. 1826. In June 1781 he married Cordelia Cahusac, by whom he had issue.

Besides single sermons, Townsend was the author of: 1. ‘Three Sermons addressed to Old, Middle-aged, and Young People,’ London, 1797, 8vo. 2. ‘Nine Sermons on Prayer,’ London, 1799, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1799. 3. ‘Hints on Sunday-schools and Itinerant Preaching,’ London, 1801, 8vo. He also published an abridgment of Bunyan's ‘Pilgrim's Progress,’ London, 1806, 8vo, and a life of Jean Claude, prefixed to a translation of his ‘Defence of the Reformation,’ London, 1815, 8vo.

[Memoirs of the Rev. John Townsend, 1828; Congregational Magazine, 1826, pp. 225–32; Funeral Sermon by George Clayton, 1826; Spirit of the Pilgrims, Boston, 1832, pp. 22–33; information kindly supplied by Mr. William Lemprière of Christ's Hospital.]

E. I. C.