Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wheeler, Daniel

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WHEELER, DANIEL (1771–1840), quaker missionary, son of William Wheeler of Lower Grosvenor Street, London, by Sarah, his wife, was born there on 27 Nov. 1771. His father, a wine merchant, died when young Wheeler was about six. He lost his mother six years later, being then at a boarding school at Parson's Green. A situation was obtained for him on board a merchant ship trading to Oporto, but after two or three voyages he entered the royal navy as a midshipman, being then under fourteen. He was soon promoted to a flag-ship, but abandoned the sea after six years, and, having squandered all his pay, enlisted as a private soldier in a regiment ordered to Ireland. In a year or two he was drafted into one of the new regiments raised to fight the French, and sailed for Flanders to join the British army under command of the Duke of York. Later, obtaining a commission in a regiment destined for the West Indies, he sailed about September 1795 under Sir Ralph Abercromby [q. v.]

In 1796 Wheeler quitted the army, and settled at Handsworth Woodhouse, near Sheffield, with his elder sister, Barbara, who had married William Hoyland, a quaker (see Annual Monitor, 1831, p. 109). In two years he was received as a member of the society, and embarked in the seed trade in Sheffield. About 1809 he retired to a farm in the country, where he began to prepare himself for a future life of ministry. He was recognised a minister in 1816.

The emperor Alexander I of Russia having during a visit to England visited a Friend's farm, and desiring a manager of that persuasion for his establishment at Ochta, Wheeler in 1817 proceeded to St. Petersburg, saw the czar, and explained to him the leaning he had for two years felt towards Russia as a sphere of missionary labour. Returning to England, he wound up his affairs, and with implements, seeds, and cattle, in addition to his wife, family, and servants—in all twenty persons—left Hull for St. Petersburg on 22 June 1818.

Besides the tsar's farm, he was soon appointed to the management of an estate belonging to the dowager empress, consisting, like the other, chiefly of swamp. This, after being thoroughly drained, was divided into farms of thirty to a hundred acres each, which were let to peasants at moderate rents, a portion in each district being kept as a model farm. Over three thousand acres were in cultivation under Wheeler's own eye. The little quaker meeting he established was visited by William Allen (1770–1843) [q. v.], Stephen Grellett, and Thomas Shillitoe [q. v.], with whom Wheeler in 1825 returned to England for three months, attending Dublin and London yearly meetings. After his return he lost his good friend Alexander I.

About September 1828 Wheeler removed to Shoosharry, on the edge of a huge bog, where he bored in vain for water, and where a visitor was almost unknown. His son William was now his assistant, and in 1830 he was able to visit England, and hold meetings in Yorkshire, Durham, Devonshire, Cornwall, Ireland, and the Scilly Isles. On returning to Shoosharry in July 1831 he found cholera rife in the district, but out of his five hundred employés none died. A year later he was allowed by an imperial ukase to resign his post in favour of his son.

To his monthly meeting at Doncaster on 23 Sept. 1832 he unfolded his mission of gospel visits to the Pacific Islands, New South Wales, and Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). While making his preparations Wheeler's wife (who had remained in Russia) died. Accompanied by his son Charles he set sail from the Thames on 13 Nov. 1833 in the Henry Freeling, a cutter of 101 tons, purchased and provisioned by private members of the Society of Friends. The ship arrived off Hobart Town on 10 Sept. 1834, and left in December, conveying James Blackhouse and George Washington Walker [q. v.] to Port Jackson and Norfolk Island on her way to Tahiti. During four or five months spent in that island Wheeler held many services, sometimes on board his ship, with the queen and the chiefs, the missionaries, English residents, and the crews of vessels in the harbour. Queen Pomare remitted the Henry Freeling's port dues because Wheeler's was ‘a visit of love, and not a trading voyage’ (Memoirs, p. 351). She again came to his meetings on the island of Eimeo.

Christmas day 1835 was spent in the Sandwich Islands, and the first quakers' meeting held there, attended by native chiefs, governor, and the queen. At Honolulu the Henry Freeling stayed some time, also at Rarotonga, the Friendly Islands, and Tongataboo. She made the Bay of Islands about a month before Christmas 1836, and on reaching Sydney in January 1837 was sold and the ship's company discharged. The ship's course was entirely without pre-arrangement, and directed from day to day by Wheeler's spiritual intimations. In a letter to a friend he illustrates his sense of divine protection by saying that he has been ashamed even in landing in canoes through the broken surf to use a life-belt which a friend had given him on leaving.

After leaving Hobart Town, he reached London on 1 May 1838. On returning his certificates to his quarterly meeting, Wheeler laid before them his wish to visit America. First visiting his surviving children at Shoosharry, he returned through Finland and Stockholm, and sailed from Liverpool in November 1838.

In America he attended a number of the yearly meetings, visited the place where Mary Dyer and the other quakers were executed, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and returned to England in October 1839, hastened by the illness of his son Charles, who died at St. Germains on his way south in the spring of the following year. Wheeler sailed for New York to complete his mission in May, but was taken ill at sea, and died soon after landing, on 12 June 1840. He was buried on the 15th in the Friends' burial-ground, Orchard Street, New York. On 13 June 1800 he married Jane, daughter of Thomas and Rachel Brady of Thorne, Yorkshire. By her he had four sons: William (d. 24 Nov. 1836), Joshua (d. 29 March 1841), Daniel (d. 1848), and Charles (d. 6 Feb. 1840). His elder daughter, Sarah (b. 1807), who afterwards married William Tanner of Bristol, survived him. Of his youngest daughter, Jane (died at Shoosharry on 15 July 1837), a short account was published in London and Bristol in 1841.

Wheeler's ‘Letters and Journals,’ edited by his son Charles, were published in four parts, 1835, 1836, 1838, and 1839, 8vo, and reprinted in one volume, London, 1839, 8vo. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Gospel Labours of Daniel Wheeler’ was issued by his son Daniel (London, 1842, 8vo; reprinted in the ‘Friends' Library,’ 1843, vol. vii.; abridged, London, 1852, 12mo, and reissued, Philadelphia, 1859, 12mo). It contains many letters and addresses written by him. A biographical tract, issued by the Friends' Tract Association, was translated into German, ‘Denkwürdigkeiten aus dem Leben,’ &c. (London, 1845, 12mo; 2nd edit. 1854). A pamphlet ‘Life’ was issued in 1868.

[Memoirs, Letters, and Journals; Smith's Catalogue, ii. 879; Memoirs of William Tanner, pp. 169–73; Life of William Allen, vol. i. chap. xi.; Biogr. Cat. of Friends, p. 701.]

C. F. S.