Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shrubsole, William (1729-1797)

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SHRUBSOLE, WILLIAM (1729–1797), author of ‘Christian Memoirs,’ was born at Sandwich, Kent, on 7 April 1729. In February 1743 he was apprenticed to George Cook, a shipwright at Sheerness, whose daughter he married in 1757. He led an irregular life for some time, but, being aroused by a work of Isaac Ambrose, he grew religious, and in 1752 was asked to conduct the devotions of a small body which met at Sheerness on Sunday afternoons. In 1763 this body erected a meeting-house, and Shrubsole frequently acted as their minister. About 1767 he undertook regular public preaching in Sheerness and other towns in Kent. In 1773 he was appointed master-mastmaker at Woolwich (Rowland Hill spoke of him familiarly as ‘the mastmaker’), but later in the year received promotion at Sheerness. In 1784, his ministrations proving very successful, a new chapel was built for him at Sheerness, which was enlarged in 1787. In 1793 he had a paralytic stroke, and a co-pastor was appointed. Though his ministry was gratuitous, he declined further promotion in the dockyard, on the ground that it might interfere with his preaching engagements. He died at Sheerness on 7 Feb. 1797.

Shrubsole is remembered as the author of ‘Christian Memoirs’ (Rochester, 1776), a curious allegorical work in the style of Bunyan. The book was written, as Shrubsole explains, to divert his mind after being bitten by a mad dog in 1773. A second edition (1790) contained an elegy written in 1771 on the death of Whitefield; and a third edition (1807) was edited by his son, with a ‘life’ of the author. Shrubsole's other works include: ‘The Plain Christian Shepherd's Defence of his Flock, being 5 Letters in support of Infant Baptism,’ 1794; a pamphlet entitled ‘A Plea in favour of the Shipwrights belonging to the Royal Dockyard,’ 1770; and several pamphlets and letters on the religious controversies of the day.

His eldest son, William Shrubsole (1759–1829), born at Sheerness on 21 Nov. 1759, became a shipwright in Sheerness dockyard, and subsequently clerk to one of the officers. In 1785 he went to London as a clerk in the Bank of England, where he ultimately became ‘secretary to the committee of treasury.’ He died at Highbury on 23 Aug. 1829, and was buried in Bunhill Fields. Shrubsole took a special interest in religious and philanthropic societies, and was one of the first secretaries of the London Missionary Society. He had some poetical gifts, and contributed hymns to various religious publications from 1775 to 1813. His best known hymn, ‘Arm of the Lord! awake, awake,’ first published in ‘Missionary Hymns,’ 1795, is attributed in some works to his father, but the testimony of the younger Shrubsole's daughter is conclusive in his favour. Another hymn, ‘Bright as the sun's meridian blaze,’ was written in 1795 for the first anniversary meeting of the London Missionary Society. He was not connected in any way with William Shrubsole [q. v.], the composer (Memorial notice by his daughter, Mrs. Cunliffe, with portrait, in Morison's Fathers and Founders of the London Missionary Society; Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology).

[Christian Memoirs, 3rd edit., as above; Morison's Fathers and Founders of the London Missionary Society; Miller's Our Hymns, their Authors and Origin, which, however, errs in the matter of the hymns; Gent. Mag. 1797, pt. i. 173, 250.]

J. C. H.