Olivers, Thomas (DNB00)

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OLIVERS, THOMAS (1725–1799), Wesleyan methodist preacher and hymn-writer, was the son of Thomas and Penelope Oliver. The parish register of Tregynon, Montgomeryshire, shows that he was baptised at that church on 8 Sept. 1725. His father died in December 1728 and his mother in 1729, and he was then entrusted to the care of a greatuncle, who, however, did not long survive Olivers's parents, but left him a small fortune, providing that the interest should be employed in the lad's bringing-up, and the principal paid to him when he came of age. He received only an imperfect education, and was, at the age of eighteen, apprenticed to a shoemaker. According to his own account, he was a restless, idle youth, who, as he grew to manhood, spent his time in roving from place to place, no doubt earning a precarious livelihood as a cobbler. In the course of his wanderings he happened to hear Whitefield preach at Bristol, and this at once changed the current of his life. He joined the methodist society at Bradford, Wiltshire, and soon became one of the local preachers of the organisation, taking long journeys in discharge of his Sunday duties. Wesley soon prevailed upon him to become one of the itinerant preachers whose time was fully taken up by the work. On 24 Oct. 1753 he set out for Cornwall. In 1766 he was at Dundee. After travelling for twenty-two years, he was, in 1775, appointed by Wesley supervisor of the methodist press, a position which he held until 1789, when Wesley removed him, because, as he said, 'the errata were insufferable,' and pieces were inserted in the magazine without his knowledge (Journal, 8 Aug. 1789). The remainder of his life was spent in retirement in London, where he died in March 1799. He was buried in Wesley's own tomb, in the City Road burying-ground. His portrait is among the collection of portraits of Wesleyan methodist ministers who occupied the meeting house at Dundee which was lent by Mr. George Worrall to the Old Dundee Exhibition, 1892-3.

Olivers was the author of: 1. 'Twelve Reasons why the People called Methodists ought not to buy or sell uncustomed Goods.' 2. 'Reply to a Pamphlet entitled "A few Thoughts on Matters of Fact concerning Methodism."' 3. 'Reply to a Pamphlet on Wesley and Erskine.' 4. 'Letter to Toplady.' This was a part of the Calvinistic controversy among the early methodists, in which Olivers figured prominently. 5. 'Pamphlet against Richard Hill.' 6. 'A Full Defence of the Rev. John Wesley against Rev. Caleb Evans,' 1776, 12mo. 7. 'Answer to Rowland Hill.' 8. Account of his own life. 9. 'A Full Refutation of the Doctrine of Unconditional Perseverance,' 1790, 8vo. 10. 'Defence of Methodism,' Leeds, 1818, 8vo. 11. 'Tract against Dancing.' Better known are Olivers's verse compositions. 12. 'Hymn on the Last Judgment' ('Come, Immortal King of Glory,' 1st edit. Leeds, n.d.; 2nd edit. Bristol, 1763). 13. 'Hymn of Praise to Christ' ('Our Hearts and Hands to Christ we raise,' composed and printed in Ireland about 1756; 2nd edit. Bristol, 1763). 14. 'Hymn to the God of Abraham' ('The God of Abraham praise,' 1st and 2nd edit. Nottingham, n.d.; others in rapid succession, 1772-9). It is upon this hymn, now to be found in nearly all collections, that Olivers's fame chiefly rests. 15. 'A descriptive and plaintive Elegy on the Death of the late Reverend John Wesley,' London, 1791. Olivers also composed the hymn-tune called 'Helmsley.'

[Olivers's Account of my own Life in Lives of Early Methodist Preachers; Southey's and Tyerman's Lives of Wesley; reprint of hymns and elegy, with biography, by the Rev. John Kirk, London, 1868; Williams's Montgomeryshire Worthies, 2nd edit. 1894; Julian's Diet, of Hymnology.]

J. E. L.