Birks, Mary (1796-1837)

Transcription of obituary published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by I.E. Hindle P.M.P.

(Primitive Methodist Itinerant preacher.)
“How many fall as sudden—not as safe!”

Mary Burks was born Feb. 2, 1796, of poor but industrious parents. She was the eldest of four children. Her mother possessed the fear of the Lord, and Mary often went with her two miles to hear  the Independants. Mary was seriously inclined, and delighted in the means of grace.

When she was about twelve years of age, her mother had a serious illness, which continued about eight months, during which, Mary was afraid of being left motherless; and this caused her to pray earnestly to the Lord to spare her dear mother, or to prepare her for glory, and take her to himself. The Lord raised the mother to her wonted health, and Mary was in no small degree thankful.

When about fourteen years of age, her mother procured her a situation near home, where she lived one year. She was intent on maintaining a good character; rather than lose this, (as she then expressed herself), she would lose her life. Here she was much kept from the means of grace; so the small portions of time she was allowed, she generally devoted to reading the bible and other books of a religious tendency. She purchased some devotional books, and had desires after religion.

A revival happened amongst the Wesleyans in the village; and two young persons of the family where she resided were converted to God. She beheld the change, and exclaimed, with a sigh, “Oh! that I were like them!”

One evening, one of the young men was deeply engaged with his mother, concerning her soul. And before the family retired he kneeled down and prayed with them. Mary was melted into tears, and said in her heart, “Oh! that I had religion!” And the young man strongly exhorted her to seek the Lord.

Leaving this family she removed to Hull, having a painful tumour in her face. But there obtaining proper medical assistance, she was cured in about five weeks.

Her life was moral, and on returning from the house of God she would retire, and in secret pour out her soul to God for the blessing of his grace, and that he would show her the way of salvation. But satan would suggest to her mind, that God would not hear her petition,— or that she did not pray aright— that she mocked God— that she had not repented enough— that she had not repented enough— that she needed not seek the Lord, because she would never find him. Having neither strength nor wisdom to reason with such subtle temptations, she went on fearing and trembling, and at times was almost ready to give up the contest.

In the close of the year 1817, or beginning of 1818, being at home with her parents, she heard a Wesleyan local preacher, preach from Rev. vi. 17, “The great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” She was alarmed, and more deeply convinced of sin. She also attended a watch-night, and a prayer meeting, at both of which she was greatly affected.

Providence again appointed her a situation in Hull. But for three months, she delayed seeking the Lord with all her heart: but after this, by the instrumentality of the P. Methodists, her soul was brought into liberty. She enjoyed the blessing of salvation, and walked in the light of God’s countenance, adorning her profession by her life and conduct. And having freely received grace from the hand of God, she thought it her duty to call sinners to repentance.

In the year 1825, we find her engaged in the capacity of a travelling preacher:

[We beg leave here to say that on examining the minutes, we find her name on the Stations for Scotter circuit in the year 1822, and for Lincoln circuit in the year 1823, 1824, and 1825.) The writer proceeds :
She engaged in this arduous undertaking in full dependance on the Holy Spirit; and it seemed to be her element to spend her days in doing good.

[In 1826, the Conference stationed her for Grimsby the first six months, and Hull the last six months; and she continued to be stationed in Hull circuit till the year 1829, when she was stationed to Lincoln the first six m.; and Hull the last six m. In 1830, she was stationed in Louth circuit; in 1831, at Louth the first three m., and at Malton the last nine months; and in 1832, she was re-stationed at Malton. In 1833, she was stationed at York, and in 1834, and 1835, we find her name on the stations for Hull.] But she was ill during a part of this time.

I became acquainted with her in August or Sept. 1836. She then resided with her father at East Stockwith, in the Scotter circuit; and she was class leader of the society in that place; and acted as a local preacher when the precarious state of her health would admit of it. She was much devoted to God, and appeared desirous to do all she could to promote the cause of the Lord. I shall now give a few

Extracts from her Journal.

“Sunday, July 16, 1826.— I spoke at Grimsby at 2 and 6. A very large congregation at night— good liberty in my own soul, and some were deeply affected. Two backsliders were in distress. One cried for mercy, but did not get liberty in the chapel. My Jesus, help him forward. In the afternoon he said to a friend, ‘I wish you had a prayer meeting.’ O, I see more and more the worth of prayer meetings. How awful for members in society to be backward in this work.

“Monday 17.— Went from house to house. I see a need of redeeming the time. Wednesday 19. Spoke at Immingham to a very attentive congregation— good liberty— the house well attended; five in society. O Lord, revive thy work.

“1827, June 30.— I feel happy to have leave to go and see my parents for a few days. I find my dear mother a living witness for Jesus. My father is still a stranger to Christ; but I feel thankful to my Jesus, that his heart is softer, and he sheds tears under the word, which I never saw him do before. Also his desires for heaven appear to increase. Oh! may I see him converted before his death is my earnest prayer. I have heard something that has pleased me concerning my two brothers, that there are some signs of their turning to the Lord.”

Our sister’s devotedness to God was exemplary; and as she lived in possession of holiness, she died in full assurance of an eternal inheritance, January 22, 1837, in the forty-first year of her age. May our last end be like hers.

Extract from Kendall’s Origin and History of the PM Church

Mary Birks travelled the Lincoln Circuit in 1823 and again in 1829 as the colleague of Robert Atkinson. She laboured in Hull and in several of the stations which, after 1824, belonged to the Hull District and, as John Stamp says, she laboured “with credit to herself, and honour to the Connexion, and died in full triumph shouting ‘Victory.’” Physically she was an uncommon woman, being quite six feet in stature. What she was intellectually and as a minister may be gauged from the fact that at the December Quarterly Meeting (1829) of the Hull Circuit, Mary Birk’s name was under consideration as a suitable person to reinforce the staff of the American Mission, and W. Clowes was deputed to cross over to Grimsby to interview her on the subject. She declined the proposal. Parenthetically it may be noted that from the same Quarterly Meeting a letter was sent to Belper to inquire whether W. Bembridge, to whom Sarah Harrison (whom we knew as Sarah Kirkland) had been united in marriage, would make a suitable missionary for America, and if so whether both would go. We do not hear anything more of this proposal. After travelling fifteen years, Mary Birks located at East Stockwith, and at her death a modest sketch of her life was published by John Davison, the biographer of Clowes, who, in 1842, was the superintendent of Scotter Circuit.


Mary was born on 2 February 1796 at East Stockwith, Lincolnshire. I have not been able to identify her parents in online records.

Mary died on 22 January 1837 at East Stockwith, Lincolnshire. She was buried on 25 January 1837 at All Saints, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.


  • 1822 Scotter
  • 1823 Lincoln
  • 1826 Hull (6mths), Grimsby (6mths)
  • 1827 Hull
  • 1829 Hull (6mths), Lincoln (6mths)
  • 1830 Louth
  • 1831 Louth (6mths), Malton (6mths)
  • 1832 Malton
  • 1833 York
  • 1834 Hull


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1837/451

H B Kendall, Origin and History of the PM Church, vol 1, p466

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

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

Note: Leary and Kendall spell the surname Birks; the obituary spells the surname Burks; her burial record spells the surname Berks or Borks depending on the source.

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