Ward, John (1781-1837) (DNB00)

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WARD, JOHN (1781–1837), mystic, known as ‘Zion Ward,’ was born at the Cove of Cork, now Queenstown, on 25 Dec. 1781. In July 1790 his parents took him to Bristol, where at twelve years of age he was apprenticed to a shipwright, and got into bad habits. His father took him to London in 1797, where he learned shoemaking from his brother, but soon went on board the Blanche man-of-war as a shipwright, and was present at the engagement with the Danes at Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. In 1803 he was paid off at Sheerness, got married, and supported himself as a shoemaker. He had been brought up a Calvinist, but, removing to Carmarthen, he joined the methodists at his wife's instance. Unable to experience conversion, he returned to London, resolving to ‘never more have anything to do with religion.’ A casual hearing of Jeremiah Learnoult Garrett [q. v.] at Lant Street Chapel, Southwark, led him to join the baptists. On Garrett's death (1806) he connected himself with the independents; in 1813 he joined the Sandemanians [see Sandeman, Robert], who sent him out as a village preacher.

Just after the death of Joanna Southcott [q. v.] her ‘Fifth Book of Wonders,’ 1814, came into his hands. Its universalism captivated him, and he began to preach it. This led to his rejoining the methodists, who made him a local preacher, but soon dismissed him for heresy. The Southcottians would not receive him. Convinced by the instance of Joanna Southcott that prophecy is ‘a living gift,’ he resorted to various claimants to inspiration. In this way he fell in with Mary Boon of Staverton, Devonshire, a Sabbatarian fanatic, who professed to be Joanna Southcott revived. He became ‘reader’ of the letters she dictated (for she could neither read nor write) for the benefit of her London followers. At length, in 1825, he conceived himself to be the recipient of an illumination surpassing that of his instructress. His followers reckon their years from this point, 1826 being ‘First year, new date.’

In 1827 he gave up shoemaking to proclaim his divine call. His wife and family thought him mad. He was brought before a Southwark magistrate (Chambers), and committed to Newington workhouse for six months. On his liberation (20 Nov. 1828) he claimed to be ‘a new man, having a new name,’ Zion. He called himself also ‘Shiloh,’ as being the spiritual offspring expected of Joanna Southcott. He obtained a coadjutor in Charles William Twort (d. 1878, aged 93), in concert with whom he began (1829) to print tracts. He made converts in the course of personal visits to Nottingham, Chesterfield, Worksop, Blyth, Barnsley, Birmingham, and Sheffield. In 1831 he preached regularly at Borough Chapel, Southwark, and in September he attracted notice by two discourses at the Rotunda, Blackfriars Road, made notorious by the preaching of Robert Taylor (1784–1844) [q. v.]

In 1832 Ward and Twort came into collision with the authorities at Derby. They had posted placards announcing an address on a fast day, 15 July. These were thrice torn down by a local clergyman, James Dean (d. 1882), on whom, under provocation of the torn placards, Twort committed an assault. Ward and Twort were indicted for blasphemy and assault. Tried on 4 Aug. before Sir James Alan Park [q. v.], Twort was convicted of the assault, and both were found guilty of blasphemy, and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment in Derby gaol. On 15 Aug. Henry Hunt [q. v.] presented a petition to the House of Commons from two hundred citizens of London, expressing ‘disgust and indignation’ at the sentence, and praying for the release of Ward and Twort. Hunt made a violent attack on the government for prosecuting opinions. Joseph Hume [q. v.] spoke in favour of the petition. The attorney-general opposed. On Hunt's motion the house was counted out while Alexander Perceval [q. v.] was speaking. No mitigation of the sentence was obtained, but the confinement, as Ward describes it, was by no means harsh.

Liberated on 3 Feb. 1834, Ward added Bristol to his missionary resorts, and gathered a congregation there. At the end of 1835 he had a paralytic stroke. In October 1836 he settled in Leeds. He died at 91 Park Lane, Leeds, on 12 March 1837. His disposition was gentle, his demeanour modest, and his moral tone high; he was a suasive speaker, and in conversation, as in his writing, showed considerable graphic power and some humour. His attempts at verse are uncouth, but often effective.

Ward's naked illiteracy will repel readers, yet his vein of mysticism is both quaint and curious. He is one of the very few Irish mystics. In addition to the writings of Joanna Southcott and her school, he knew something of George Fox (1624–1691) [q. v.] and Lodowicke Muggleton [q. v.], but most of his ideas are the result of his own ruminations on the Bible. Not only does he treat the sacred narrative as sheer allegory throughout, but handling the English Bible as a divine composition, even to the printed forms of its letters, he elaborates a cabala for eliciting hidden meanings. Similar tricks had been played with the Septuagint in early days, but Ward's manipulation of the English version is unique. His theology is a spiritual pantheism, which allows immortality only to the regenerate.

Of Ward's manuscripts a collection, including 366 pieces, was (1881) in the possession of Mr. C. B. Holinsworth of Birmingham. His printed works include over thirty pieces, among which may be named: 1. ‘Vision of Judgment,’ 1829, 2 parts, 8vo. 2. ‘Living Oracle,’ 1830, 8vo. 3. ‘Book of Letters,’ 1831, 8vo. 4. ‘Discourses at the Rotunda,’ 1831, 8vo. 5. ‘Review of Trial and Sentence,’ 1832, 8vo. 6. ‘Creed,’ 1832, 8vo. 7. ‘Spiritual Alphabet,’ 1833, 8vo. 8. ‘Origin of Evil,’ 1837, 8vo. 9. ‘New Light on the Bible,’ 1873, 8vo. In 1874 a ‘jubilee’ edition of his works was projected by Mr. Holinsworth, with title ‘Writings of Zion Ward, or Shiloh, the Spiritual Man;’ only three parts were published, Birmingham, 1874–5, 8vo; but other tracts have been printed separately, e.g. ‘Good and Evil made One,’ 1877, 8vo.

[Memoir, 1881, by C. B. H[olinsworth], chiefly from Ward's writings, which are full of autobiographical particulars; Hansard, 1832; Carlisle's Isis, 1832; Ward's pamphlets; private information.]

A. G.