Bowes, John (1804-1874)

An arduous, but fulfilling journey

John Bowes
Ian Bowes
Bible (showing inscription) presented to John Bowes by the Newcastle and Gateshead YMCA on 22nd August 1850, after the public discussion held between himself and Charles Southwell.
Ian Bowes
Englesea Brook Museum
Frontispiece to The Autobiography or History of the Life of John Bowes, Glasgow, 1872
Stephen Hatcher

John Bowes, an English travelling preacher, was born at Swineside in Coverdale, parish of Coverham, Yorkshire, on 12 June, 1804. He was converted in 1817 (age 13), after reluctantly attending a sermon by a local Methodist preacher in Walls’ long room, Carlton, at the insistence of his father.

He joined the Wesleyans and after 4 ½ years decided to join the Primitive Methodists in December 1821 (age 17) after hearing the Primitive Methodists in Carlton and Middleham earlier that year.  The Primitive Methodists greatly appealed to him and from his autobiography (page 11), he states: “I loved them for their zeal in the cause which they had espoused”.

He started preaching locally, and was approved to join the Guisborough Circuit after a committee heard him preach a trial sermon at Middleham in 1822 (age 18). In 1823 he joined the Ripon Circuit, spending 2 years there before joining the Keighley Circuit in 1825. From his autobiography (page 33): “Great Revival in Keighley Circuit [The following mostly appeared in the ‘Primitive Methodist Magazine’ July, 1826. As this is my first appearance in print, I took some interest in it, and believe it was for the Lord’s glory, not mine.]” He then goes on to describe events from 5 November, 1825 to 12 March, 1826 which was submitted from his detailed journal.

He married Susannah Bellwood at Thorganby on 3 September, 1826. On 25 May, 1827 he set off for the Sunderland Circuit, arriving in Edinburgh on 7 July, 1827. An intricate sequence of events leading to a dispute that he refers to as the “Controversy with the Sunderland Committee” resulted in John Bowes leaving the Mission in April, 1829. Thereafter, he renounced all party appellations and on 20 April, 1831 started a new mission and was inducted to the pastoral charge of the first church of the Christian Mission in Dundee.

He subsequently left Dundee, becoming the pastor for Hope Street Chapel in Liverpool. He left Dundee with regret; 2000 people attended his open-air farewell sermon on 17 April, 1837. He travelled and preached often wherever a congregation was willing to listen, be it a chapel, a hall, a tent, a house, a fish-market or in the streets, in the ‘open-air’. For a large part of his life he was an itinerant minister and suffered many privations during his extensive travels through England, Scotland and Wales. He also visited Ireland, Canada and America.

He was prosecuted several times for street preaching. The following extracts from a letter he wrote to the magistrates of Dundee on 4 February, 1841 taken from his autobiography (page 267) gives a good perspective: “Twice you fined me, and threatened to imprison me forty days, if the fine should not be paid. What had I done, that ye persecuted me? Was it because seven years I preached out of doors to the poor perishing outcasts, that seldom or never go to any place of worship? Was it because when that awful disease, the ‘Cholera Morbus’, raged in your town, and laid prostate in the grave five hundred of your people, I visited the cellars and the garrets wherever my services were required; and even sometimes supplied the wants of dying bodies whom others deserted, and poured the light of truth into their immortal but departing spirits? Was it because I visited the sick for seven years together, undeterred by fevers and contagious disorders whenever I was called upon, trusting that God would either protect me or take me to heaven?”

He studied the Greek language for 44 years. From his autobiography (page 80): “Those who expound the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, should, if possible, draw their streams from the original fountain, or they must depend upon others for uncertain supplies. I soon became able to give the sense of the original in sermons and lectures, and ultimately commenced, with a few others, a class at Cheltenham, for reading the Scriptures of the New Testament in the original”. This eventually resulted in his own translation of the New Testament from the purest Greek which he published in 1870.

He published many of his writings. Some of his works (including his autobiography) were printed by ‘Bowes Brothers Machine Printers’ in Dundee, which was owned by his sons. In 1839 (age 35), he gave up taking a salary for preaching, choosing instead to support himself and his family with the sales of his writings, as well as lecturing. Blessed with a powerful voice, he was a passionate speaker and was more than willing to engage with “Infidels” and hold public discussions with socialists, freethinkers, atheists, Mormons, Unitarians and Roman Catholics, amongst others.

He spoke out strongly against war and delivered a speech to that effect in the Free Trade Hall in Liverpool on 17 February, 1846. His peace initiatives led him to be one of the representatives of England at the Brussels Peace Congress on 20 & 21 September, 1848. In 1853 he wrote a letter to the Czar of Russia, admonishing him for his aggression at the start of the Crimean War.

“I have endeavored to be myself and not another; to please God, not man, and whatever good may have resulted from my life and varied labors, thus far, to Him only be all the glory.” –  John Bowes, Westfield House, Dundee – 1 January, 1872

John Bowes died at Dundee on 23 September, 1874 (age 70). He was interred at Dundee Western Cemetery.

Ian Bowes (GGG grandson of John Bowes) – 12 June, 2012.                                              [Coincidentally – he was born on this day, 208 years ago]

John Bowes has his own Facebook page. You can visit it here.

Bible presentation (featuring inscription) after the public discussion between John Bowes and Charles Southwell in the Lecture Room, Newcastle-on-Tyne (13th, 14th, 15th & 16th August, 1850)

‘Presented to Mr. John Bowes of Manchester, by the Committee of the Newcastle and Gateshead Young Mens’ Christian Association; in grateful acknowledgement of his Services in the Cause of Truth, during his four nights discussion with Mr. C Southwell in the Lecture Hall in this town.

By order of the Committee.  A. Stringer Sec.

Newcastle upon Tyne, August 22nd 1850’



The NEW TESTAMENT, translated from the Purest Greek (1870)


CHRISTIAN UNION, 310 pages (1835)

THE CHRISTIAN MAGAZINE, 4 vols, about 300 pages each

THE TRUTH PROMOTER, 10 vols, about 300 pages each

Six Lectures on THE ERRORS OF THE CHURCH OF ROME, 72 pages

MORMONISM EXPOSED, (Second Edition), 84 pages

Eight Lectures on THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST, 140 pages


  • With L. Jones, on SOCIALISM, Liverpool 1840, 108 pages
  • With G.J. Holyoake, “On the truth of Christianity and the Folly of Infidelity,” Bradford 1850, four nights, 157 pages
  • With C. Southwell, on “Atheism and Christianity,” four nights, Newcastle-on-Tyne, 1850, 113 pages
  • With Joseph Barker, on “Are the Scriptures of Divine Authority and Conducive to Morality, &c;” three nights, Stockport 1855, 106 pages
  • With Woodville Woodman, Minister of the NewJerusalemChurch, on “Swedenborg’s Views,” four nights, Bolton-le-moors, 1858, 176 pages
  • With T.H. Milner, on “Baptism for Remission of Sins – Justification – and the Lord’s Coming,” Dundee and Edinburgh, three nights, 1859, 115 pages



Republished, SWEDENBORGIANISM depicted in its true colors, by the late J.G. Pike, of Derby, 66 pages


220 Gospel and other Tracts to instruct Christians, 4, 8, and 12 pages

‘All to be had from the Publisher, J. Bowes, Westfield House, Dundee’


Transcription of Journal Extracts published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine 1826
Transcription of journal extracts published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine 1827

Comments about this page

  • A photograph of John Bowes in 1872, from his Autobiography, has been added to this page.

    By Jill Barber (02/12/2015)
  • Leary records the following circuits for John Bowes:

    • 1823 Ripon
    • 1825 Keighley
    • 1827 Sunderland
    • 1828 disappears

    He also provides the following references in the Primitive Methodist Magazine 1826/242; 1827/26.

    By Geoff Dickinson (15/08/2012)

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