Atkinson, Stephen James (1861-1884)

Transcription of obituary published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Samuel Brock

Some books are small, and soon read, but packed with precious matter; they are loved and treasured, while many a bulky volume lies unread and uncared for. So is it with men’s lives. Some, though short, are full of life’s realities and work. Lessons of weight and worth are taught thereby. Such folks bless the world while they are in it, and are missed when they have left it. So, to some extent, at least, is it with the subject of this brief memoir, who was born at Lancaster, February 22, 1861, and born again while a Sabbath scholar about ten years of age, and left Silverdale, via ‘the valley of the shadow of death,’ early on Sunday morning, June 15, 1884, to live for ever in ‘the palace of the King.’

Like many another brave boy, Stephen had to face the world in good time; so we find him helping the family exchequer a wee bit before he was nine years old. He loved to learn, and was willing to work, and so he went on as a ‘half-timer’ until he was eleven years of age, then as a ‘ full timer,’ till his earthly task was done. He was enrolled as a member of Society when fourteen years of age. Why a converted scholar should remain four years unconnected with the Church, is a puzzle; but there, we are getting wiser now. The class-books show that he was a good attendant at the class-meeting. He loved this means of grace, and delighted in the ‘fellowship of saints.’ Would that that spirit prevailed much more! Many a grey-headed Methodist would be all the better for it, and the young would be all the safer, and happier too. Our young brother was strongly attached to the Sabbath-school. His mother told me that since he was about three years of age he would not stay away. If breakfast were not ready, he would be off without it; he would not be last, or even late willingly. As he grew up, the Rev. R.B. Howcroft recognised considerable latent talent in him, and rendered him much encouragement and help in developing the same, and at the Quarterly Meeting in December, 1876, before he had reached his sixteenth birthday, he was authorised to go with a local preacher to speak for the Master. In December following, his name appeared on the plan as an ‘exhorter,’ and in September, 1878, as a full local preacher. In March, 1879, he was recommended for the ministry, and the officials of Lancaster Sunday-school, with other friends in the circuit, did themselves the high honour of providing the means to send their young brother to the Theological Institute at Sunderland.

By the way, could not scores of pounds spent in sashes, and songs, and trips, and teas, and toys in our schools every year be consecrated to higher purposes, and so start many a helpless but hopeful scholar on a course of high and holy service for time and eternity? The experiment would be worth trying. If young Atkinson had not been so helped, he would never have had the help of the Institute. However disparagingly some folks may speak of such help, the men of deepest sympathy, of ripest thought, and truest views of the minister’s work, often see and feel the need of. help human and divine.

Having this help, our brother was appointed by the Conference of 1880 to Pembroke Dock Mission. Under very trying circumstances he laboured acceptably for two years, and then removed to Gloucester. Neither of these stations have yielded much fruit to the labourers for many years, but our brother was not without ‘tokens for good.’ In July, 1883, he came to Silverdale, and though in full work less than seven months he was highly and deservedly esteemed. He was a young man of much piety and promise.

As a preacher he was acceptable; as a student, diligent; as a friend, sociable; and always full of hope. All through the eighteen weeks of his illness, he clung tenaciously to life. And no wonder! for with true religion to soothe its sorrows and sanctify its friendships, life is worth living. He wished to live to work. On one occasion, when in conversation, I told him I thought he would die; he said, ‘Well, I’m not afraid to die, but I should like to live and labour two or three years with you.’ I told him to be satisfied, he would soon be in the haven, while I am left out in the storm. During the first month of this year he had great difficulty in getting through his work, but with high hopes of finishing his probation, and attending the Conference at Tunstall, he held on till completely mastered by the hidden hand of consumption. When forced to abandon the hope of his final examination, it fell upon him as an icy chill. 

On Sunday, February 10, he made a desperate effort to do his work; he tried again, and failed. The text for this last attempt was, ‘Beloved, now are we the sons of God, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be,’ &c.  Nay, my brother, but what was dark and obscure that night while you were suffering, is all made clear now. The light let in by the hand of death has shone around you, and now it ‘appears’ what then you were so soon to be.

For several weeks he stayed among his old friends at Gloucester, hoping that purer air and absolute rest would bring him round again, but all in vain. He came to his circuit on May 21, and on that day month he was buried.

During the sittings of the Conference he waited anxiously every night for news of the day’s doings. A very kind letter of sympathy was sent to him from Conference, and one from the Quarterly Meeting of his native circuit, which soothed and cheered him much. During the last three weeks of his life, I saw him almost daily, and had frequent conversations with him. His faith, though tried, stood firm. The gospel he had preached he firmly believed, and realised somewhat of its wealth of blessing. Only a short time before his death, I referred o the only means of soul cleansing, quoting the words of John, ‘.. . And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin,’ when he replied, ‘I know that. I have known it for years.’

About five hours before he died, seeing the end so near, I spoke to him of the angel-welcome on the other shore, &c. ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘I’m going, but I hope I shall go in peace.’ I said, ‘You need have no fear, we’ll meet again.’ ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘I will watch for you up there.’ Heaven is thus made to me and others all the richer and homelier by the presence of a ‘brother beloved,’ ‘waiting and watching for me.’ Just as the light of that June Sabbath was being flung abroad on town and village, on sanctuary and slum, like a new manifestation of heavenly love, the light of the eternal Sabbath broke upon him. The immortal morning dawned, and ‘there is no night there.’ We do not claim for our dear brother perfection, or freedom from faults or errors. He knew he had them. Alas! who has not? but the weaknesses of inexperienced humanity are left behind now. Grace has conquered and sanctified. His short ministry is finished. Heaven has another saint from one of our Sabbath-schools, and the ransomed throng another singer from our sanctuary. On Wednesday, June 18, a large number of friends from all parts of the circuit assembled to accompany the remains to the grave. A solemn service was held in Silverdale Chapel, conducted by his last fellow-labourer; the Revs. J. Ferguson, of Tunstall, G. Jones, of Newcastle, and W.B. Luddington, who accompanied the mourning relatives from Lancaster to represent that circuit at the funeral, taking part. A large procession, led by the members of the Rechabite tent, in mourning attire, slowly moved on to Newcastle Cemetery, where rest the remains of Philip Pugh, and many other ‘Primitives.’

Carried by four local brethren of the circuit, we laid him to rest. The Revs. P. Aston, G Jones, G. Griffin, J. Cooper, E. Hancox, and J. Johnson, acted as pall-bearers. After the usual service was read, and the coffin was lowered, the Rev. P. Aston gave a touching address, and we left him in this ‘quiet resting place,’ awaiting the world’s great Easter Sunday, and the glory that shall follow.


Stephen was born on 22 February 1861 at Lancaster, Lancashire, to parents Richard, a labourer at paintworks, and Sarah Ann. He was baptised on 17 April 1861 at St Mary, Lancaster.


  • 1880 Pembroke Dock
  • 1882 Gloucester
  • 1883 Silverdale


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1884/625

PM Minutes 1884/15

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

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers


Transcription of obituary published in the Minutes of Conference.

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