Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Killen, William Dool

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KILLEN, WILLIAM DOOL (1806–1902), ecclesiastical historian, born at Church Street, Ballymena, co. Antrim, on 16 April 1806, was third of four sons and nine children of John Killen (1768–1828), grocer and seedsman in Ballymena, by his wife Martha, daughter of Jesse Dool, a farmer in Duneane, co. Antrim. His paternal grandfather, a farmer at Cammoney, co. Antrim, married Blanche Brice, a descendant of Edward Brice [q. v.], first of the Scottish founders of the Irish presbyterian church. A brother, James Miller Killen (1815–1879), D.D., minister in Comber, co. Down, was author of 'Our Friends in Heaven' (Edinburgh, 1854), which ran through many editions, and 'Our Companions in Glory' (Edinburgh, 1862). Thomas Young Killen [q. v.] was his father's grand-nephew. After attending local primary schools, Killen went about 1816 to the Ballymena Academy, and in November 1821 entered the collegiate department of the Royal Academical Institution, Belfast, where Professor James Thomson [q. v.], father of Lord Kelvin, took a special interest in him. Passing here through the usual curriculum for the ministry of the Synod of Ulster, he was in 1827 licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Ballymena. and on 11 Nov. 1829 ordained minister at Raphoe, co. Donegal. While diligently performing his pastoral duties, he read extensively in church history and allied subjects. Killen was active in a bitter north of Ireland controversy concerning the relative merits of prelacy and presbyterianism, which was provoked by four sermons preached in 1837 in St. Columb's cathedral, Londonderry, by Archibald Boyd [q. v.]. Killen and three other Presbyterian ministers replied in four sermons preached in Londonderry and published in 1839 with the title: 'Presbyterianism Defended.… 'A reply from Boyd and counter-replies from the four ministers ensued. One of these, ‘The Plea of Presbytery’ (1840), which reached a third edition, earned for its authors a vote of thanks from the Synod of Ulster.

In July 1841 Killen was unanimously appointed by the general assembly of the presbyterian church in Ireland professor of church history, ecclesiastical government, and pastoral theology in their college, Belfast, in succession to James Seaton Reid [q. v.] Henceforth he resided in Belfast, proving himself an able professor and devoting his increased leisure to the special study of ecclesiastical history. In 1869 he was appointed president of the college in succession to Dr. Henry Cooke [q. v.], and in this capacity helped to raise large sums of money for professorial endowments and new buildings. In 1889 he resigned his chair, owing to advanced years, but continued in the office of president. He died on 10 Jan. 1902, and was buried in Balmoral cemetery, Belfast, where a fitting monument marks his resting place. He married in 1830 Anne (d. 1886), third daughter of Thomas Young, Ballymena, by whom he had three sons and five daughters.

Killen received the degrees of D.D. (1845) and of LL.D. (1901) from the University of Glasgow. His portrait, painted by Richard Hooke, hangs in the Gamble library, Assembly's College, Belfast.

Killen's historical writing was voluminous. He was painstaking in research, and threw much new light on the history of the Irish presbyterian church and other subjects.

His chief works, some of which circulated widely in the United Kingdom and in America, were: 1. Continuation of Reid's ‘History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to 1841,’ Belfast, 1853. 2. ‘The Ancient Church. Its History, Doctrine, Worship, and Constitution traced for the First Three Hundred Years,’ 1859. 3. ‘Memoir of John Edgar, D.D., LL.D.,’ Belfast, 1867. 4. ‘The Old Catholic Church. The History, Doctrine, Worship, and Polity of the Christians traced from the Apostolic Age to the Establishment of the Pope as a Temporal Sovereign, A.D. 755,’ Edinburgh, 1871. 5. ‘The Ecclesiastical History of Ireland from the Earliest Period to the Present Times,’ 2 vols. 1875. 6. ‘The Ignatian Epistles entirely Spurious. A Reply to Bishop Lightfoot,’ Edinburgh, 1886. 7. ‘The Framework of the Church. A Treatise on Church Government,’ Edinburgh, 1890. 8. ‘Reminiscences of a Long Life,’ 1901. He edited, with introductions and notes: 1. ‘The Siege of Derry,’ by John Mackenzie [q. v.], Belfast, 1861. 2. ‘The Rise and Progress of the Presbyterian Government in the North of Ireland,’ by Patrick Adair [q. v.] 3. ‘History of the Church of Ireland,’ by Andrew Stewart [q. v.], Belfast, 1866. 4. ‘History of Congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland,’ chiefly by Seaton Reid, Belfast, 1886.

[Personal knowledge; Killen, Reminiscences of a Long Life, 1901; Belfast Newsletter, 11 Jan. 1902; private information.]

T. H.