Thomas Robson

1824-1898

By Geoff Dickinson

Transcription of Obituary In the Primitive Methodist Magazine

Mr. Thomas Robson was born in a little: village just outside Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on May 7, 1824. His father had been early brought under the influence of the pioneers of Primitive Methodism, and was one of their first converts in the North of England. These men, quick in reading character, at once saw in the new convert a young man of parts, who, if he could be induced to accept the position, would prove exceedingly useful as a preacher of the Word. Their anticipations were more than realised. In 1823 he was made a local preacher, and from that time till his death enjoyed considerable popularity amongst the many congregations to whom: he ministered both in South Northumberland and North Durham. He was a man gifted far above the average, both in intellectual capability and the power of expression. In addition, he had a profoundly religious temperament, an exceedingly genial disposition, and a remarkably fine presence, all of which characteristics contributed to the great influence he exercised. He never spared himself. In those days the circuits were wide, and, generally, walking was the only method of travel. But Mr. Robson entered into his work, if with the thoughtfulness of a man who realised its importance, with the ardour of the enthusiast also, never shirking an engagement because it was difficult and onerous.

When Thomas Robson was quite a, lad, he was accustomed to accompany his father on these occasions, and not without some boyish pride in his heart, sat in the pulpit beside him during the service. He was a thoughtful lad, and withal, distinctly religious in temperament. In the circumstances, therefore, it was only natural that his youthful ambitions should turn towards preaching, and that to become an ambassador for God became the main object of his desires. Other influences at work around him helped to give his thoughts this direction. His father kept an open house for the early ministers of the denomination, and as they gathered round the fire after the evening service, it was his privilege to hear their stories of privation, of persecution, and of success. There was an element of romance connected with the work of the pioneers that is absent in these prosaic days, and no doubt this, as well as the exalted character of the calling, made it pre-eminently attractive to him. One other influence must be named that affected him powerfully at this period. Living with them as a mother's help was a Miss Spoor, a lady of singular piety, and great force of character. Later she became the wife of Mr. Robert Cook, of Newcastle, well known as a leading lights in the Primitive Methodist Church in last generation. Their youngest daughter was the wife of the Rev. John Watson, D.D., an ex-President of the Conference. The exalted spiritual temperament which Miss Spoor invariably manifested exercised a strange fascination over the young man, and was one of the chief agencies in leading him to surrender his life to the service of Jesus Christ.

Educational advantages in those days were decidedly meagre, but he made the most of the slender opportunities afforded him. He must have early given promise of exceptional abilities, for when he was barely seventeen the Rev W. Lister and the Rev. Thomas Smith, both of them ministers occupying a front rank in the denomination, considered him a suitable person for the local preachers’ plan. It was fortunate for him that he had such distinguished men as models, and not less fortunate that he became associated with a number of young local preachers far above the average as public speakers. The two with whom he was most intimately acquainted were Michael Clark and Ralph Fenwick, both of whom since that day have risen to positions of influence as ministers; one of them, Mr. Fenwick, having been President of the Conference. Even as lads they were recognised as rising stars. Frequently they were together at camp meetings, and sometimes on platforms at public meetings. People were accustomed to say they were about the same size, meaning not simply in physical stature, but in intellectual calibre and moral force, and whenever they had to speak their audiences promised themselves a good and: profitable meeting. About same time he received no inconsiderable amount of intellectual stimulus by the wise counsels of the Revs. C.C. McKechnie and the Rev. Thomas Southron. In his later years he was accustomed to speak with gratitude about the great and good men who had influenced him in the days of his youth.

When he was twenty-two years of age, Mr. Robson was called into the ministry by the Brompton Circuit, and afterwards travelled in the Westgate and Barnard Castle Circuits. During his sojourn at Barnard Castle, he had a serious and protracted illness, which led him to retire from the ministry. Settling in Darlington in 1853, he secured a responsible position under the North Eastern Railway Company, which be retained up to the time of his death. But though not as a minister, he continued in active association with the Church of his father, and, for many years previous to his death, was one of the most influential of its laymen. Aa a preacher he has always been in request, not only for Primitive Methodist pulpits, but for those of all the Methodist bodies, and for Baptists and Congregationalists as well. Considering his gifts this is not surprising. Nature had been kind to him. Tall, and of commanding presence, dignified in bearing, well-read, and decidedly intellectual, with a pleasant voice, and a cultured terminology, it was impossible to hear him on a public occasion without realising that he was a man who, by natural endowment and by culture, was fitted to be a teacher and a leader of the people. Nor were his services confined to public speaking. He was open-handed and generous almost to a fault. The praise of Mrs. Robson for liberality and strenuous labour in bazaars and other efforts in support of the temporalities of the Church, was on the lips of all who knew her, and in all this generosity she was encouraged by Mr. Robson himself. And perhaps nowhere were Mr. Robson’s abilities more conspicuous than in the business courts of the Church. In leaders’ meetings, trustees’ meetings, and circuit quarterly meetings, in the various district courts, and in the Conference, his judicial temper, keen insight into the merits of a question, and logical skill enabled him in debate to carry conviction, and secure at all times a large following. The highest position now given to laymen in the Primitive Methodist Connexion is the Vice-Presidency of the Conference, and there is not the slightest doubt that had health permitted, he would have attained that position; indeed, but for bad management, he would certainly have been elected at Burnley in 1896.

At that time, however, he was already suffering from the complaint that was destined to bring his life to a close. His friends hoped for long that it would prove only a passing ailment. It was difficult for them to think that his stalwart frame, for many a year, would yield to the inroads of any disease however insidious. They remembered his almost unfailing good health, and the ease with which he had borne the strain of a busy and laborious life. And he on his part remained cheerful and hopeful almost to the last, even within a few weeks of his death, declaring that in spite of the doctors’ seriousness he would rally after all. But trouble came: on trouble. Mrs. Robson, whose health had never been robust, after a rather brief illness, entered into her eternal rest on January 7th, 1898.

When her mortal remains were brought out for burial, the friends who had gathered to pay their last respects to the dead were shocked to see the change that had come to Mr. Robson himself. Quite suddenly he had taken on the appearance of a dying man. Nothing that could be done availed to help him. During those weeks of sickness he lived very near the heavenly world. A few days before the end came, with tears streaming from his eyes, he remarked to a dear friend that his wife had been with him all day. Not for a moment did his faith in God and the fact of a better life fail him. And when on June 10th, 1898, the last trying ordeal had to be passed through, he bore himself like a true servant of God, with courage, resignation, and perfect confidence about the future. The large circle of friends belonging to Darlington and many distant places that attended the funeral testified to the high esteem and warm affection in which he was held. To his own household the loss is irreparable. In the Church his years and experience, the spiritual elevation of his life, and the wisdom of his counsels had given him a unique position in the Darlington and Stockton District. And among the public of Darlington generally, as well as a large number of people in other places, his influence was considerable. For these reasons one could have desired his life to be prolonged. But his work was done, and God has taken him to Himself.

Family

Thomas was born at Heaton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland.

Whilst at Darlington he worked as a railway time-keeper.

Thomas was married to Jane (abt 1832-1898). Census returns identify two children.

  • Annie Morrow (abt1860-1944) - married Alfred Lambert, a railway inspector, in 1888
  • James Kay (1861-1887) -a grocer journeyman (1881)

Circuits

  • 1846 Brompton
  • 1847 Westgate
  • 1849 Barnard Castle
  • 1851 disappears

References

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1901/944

W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

 

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