Collins, Thomas (1855-1901)
Transcription of Obituary in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by T.H. Hunt
The Rev. Thomas Collins, who spent twenty-two years in our ministry, was born at Swansea on the 23rd August, 1855, and died at Southampton, in June, 1901. He travelled in succession the following circuits with acceptability and encouraging success:- Lymm, Morecambe, Belfast, (Blackstaff Road), Tunbridge Wells, Manchester 2nd, Manchester 1st, Rochdale, Earlstown, Skelmersdale, Portland, Radstock, and Southampton 2nd. In all these circuits Mr. Collins commended himself by his blameless life and intelligent and zealous labours to the people he served.
In his early life he did not receive any very great help either of an educational or a religious character. This may be inferred from the fact that his father was a Roman Catholic, and was determined to bring up his son in Romish faith. His mother was a Protestant, but it is said that before she died, and at the desire of his father and friends, she renounced Protestantism and became a Catholic too. Whether this was so Mr. Collins had no evidence to confirm, but it could have little influence over him, as she died when he was very young; but between her and her son there grew up a fond attachment, which made the separation at the grave a keen one, for he never forgot, but often referred to it.
After his mother’s death his father was a good enough Roman Catholic, to arrange that his son should be brought up in his own faith, and Thomas was placed under the influence of the priest, with a view to retaining him in that church. He was in the habit of telling how he was baptised a Roman Catholic and held a certificate of the fact, that he made confessions to the priest who attended the school to hear them, was duly confirmed, attended mass, was, greatly concerned lest he should touch the sacred piece with his teeth, felt an awful sense of condemnation, but got some sort of comfort in the priest’s absolution. Dissatis?ed still, but having some confidence in “confirmation,” he tried that in an Anglican Church, but without any certitude of salvation.
When about twelve or thirteen years of age, for the first time, he read the scriptures for himself, and the impression made upon his mind was not unlike that made upon Luther’s. The reading led him to look for something other and better than a consecrated “wafer,” a prelate’s hand upon his head in “con?rmation,” or even an “absolution.” At the age of fifteen, or thereabouts, he removed to the neighbourhood of Abertillery, then in the Brynmawr Circuit, where, attending a Lovefeast held in our chapel and particularly during the singing of the hymn “If ever I love Thee, my Jesus ‘tis now,” there came upon him such an impression that he began to look for some “new power” to help him to goodness. This impression apparently was never wholly effaced, but his companionships were not helpful, sometimes leading him astray, and sometimes, on his own confession, he was the leader of others. Still he attended the Sunday School and services, until at length, influenced by ministers and Sunday School teachers, he would stay to the Sunday evening prayer meeting when his companions left, which was an evidence of courage; and later he would go to the class meeting which showed earnest desire. Evidently the “new power” was upon him. It came through the class meeting, but it was in the Sunday evening prayer meeting where he found grace with God.
His mother dead, his father without sympathy with him in his new course, he was left very much to himself, but his New Testament was a great comfort to him and his sole guide. No questionings about its authority, or its inspiration, or verbal inerrancy, he went to its pages as a mariner would go to his compass or chart, and found in it all he desired. His expression up to this time was beautifully summed up in two lines which he often quoted.
“He drew me and I followed on,
Charmed to confess the voice divine.”
Having experienced what he believed to be a divine change, and about the reality of which those about him had no doubt, he gave himself to work, finding suitable spheres as teacher of a class and in a Band of Hope which he started himself. It was interesting to hear from him, on the night of his ordination, what a trouble preceded his entrance into the ministry: how he prayed himself and asked his advisers to pray for him, and his conviction, as well as theirs, was that he should preach the Gospel. As a local preacher, pulpit exercises became very solemn to him, for which he deemed it to be his duty to make great preparation, and the success in visible conversions was the best evidence of his pulpit power. At the request of the Rev. Jabez Oliver, who was the superintendent minister at the time, he consented to enter the ministry for which his circuit had designated him, and as aforesaid he was called out by the Lymm station. Before the close of his probation he was fortunate in making the acquaintance of Miss Martha Wright, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Wright, of Sale, near Manchester, whose names were, while they lived, and still are now that they are dead, as ointment poured forth. In her, who now mourns her loss, he found a devoted helpmeet, one who ministered to his need during affliction, made his way easy in his circuits, and was a rare mother to his son and daughter.
He was never regarded as brilliant in the pulpit or on the platform, but in his own circuit, in the discharge of his every-day duties, by his homeliness with the people and an amazing activity, he endeared himself to those who knew him best. As a student his first book was the Bible, and his main purpose was first to understand it, and then to assist others in understanding its great saving truths. His sermons gave proof of this, which, if they could not be quoted as samples of rhetoric, did display research, careful construction, and adaptation to the preacher’s purpose.
Among the young he was always at home. No one could see him fondling with his own children, entering now in their pastimes, then into their lessons, and anon into their sorrows, without being convinced of his love for child life. That it was not limited to his own kindred was seen when he was surrounded by a group of catechumens, or interesting large numbers by means of a magic lantern, or a service of song. Work among the children so far from being a task was a joy to him, and the secret of a good deal of his success lay in that fact.
He was a Methodist in deed and of a truth; not only in his adhesion to those tenets which lie at the very root of Methodism, but by his love of those methods that have contributed so much to its success. He was often in converse with class leaders as to the best means of “leading”; and, knowing the laxity of members in regard to their attendance, and a laxity not less marked in regard to their weekly payments, he would often give the word of exhortation, and published several brochures with a view to improving that excellent institution.
His musical tastes were cultivated with a good deal of assiduity, and not a little success. But if music was a delight to him it was not a fad. He turned it to practical use. At his services, whether week-night or Sabbath, among adults or children, the hymns were carefully selected, and the tunes to suit them. He was strongly opposed to anything that was slovenly in worship, often inveighed against “rant” in the place of “singing in the spirit” and “making melody in the heart.” But enthusiast as he was in music, nobody was more opposed to the introduction of musical performances as a substitute for Gospel preaching. In this connection may be mentioned his study of hymnody. Next to the Bible his chief study was hymns. It was not enough for him to read a hymn or sing it; he must know who wrote it; when it was written; why it was written; the original form of it; its various versions and perversions; together with interesting facts in its history. This led him into an interesting research, the fruit, or part of the fruit, of which we have in the “Hymnal Guide,” published by him and his collaborateur, Rev. I. Dorricott, some years ago – a work which deserves a wider patronage than it has yet received.
The tender-heartedness of our friend was an ever-present characteristic, not a silly sympathy that weeps with anybody and at any time, not a parade of philanthropy, but a brotherly feeling towards anyone in distress, and a readiness to give relief as far as possible. This was very manifest some years ago during a dreadful strike among the colliers of Lancashire. His going in and out among the people, ascertaining their needs, collecting funds on their behalf, and then with his own hands ministering to their necessities, is remembered to-day, and will not be forgotten for many years to come.
Those who have had a taste of Popery usually become staunch Protestants. It was so with Mr. Collins. His soul lost the superstitious, and his righteous anger kindled at the mention of the vices and villainies that have been practised under the name of the church. Popery at Rome and Popery at Oxford were all the same to him, and he lost no opportunity of denouncing them, but there was nothing of bigotry in his nature. During his stay in Belfast he often preached in the open-air, for while his health warranted it, it was a service for which he was eager. On one occasion, preaching in that city of Orangemen and Papists (and it is dif?cult to say on which side there is the least love) he was preaching with his accustomed vigour, and for doing so was summoned, fined forty shillings and costs, and came desperately near imprisonment, but the Recorder wisely and justly squashed the verdict. Indoors or outdoors, in England or in Ireland, Mr. Collins was a Protestant, and dared to say so.
Nor should we omit to state in this necessarily brief memoir that for some years our dear friend had been a great sufferer. An internal malady, which at one time necessitated a serious operation, told greatly against him. Never willing to trouble others with his own griefs, or to lay burdens on others’ backs, so long as he could bear them himself, he kept the knowledge to himself as long as that was possible, only expressing it when his pent-up agony refused any longer to be concealed. How he preached, visited, sang, and went about his work during those sad years has been a marvel to all who knew of his sufferings. Apparently recovered, and encouraged with a new lease of life; Mr. Collins gave himself with renewed vigour to his work in Southampton, and it was beginning to tell in various ways; but in November, 1900, he caught a severe chill, which prostrated him for some weeks. Rallying somewhat, hope revived, plans for the future were drawn, and prospects of success cheered him, but suddenly the summons came, and he resigned himself to his Master’s will.
Ministers and laymen who enjoyed the friendship of our departed brother, and churches of our own and other denominations, have sent letters referring in praiseful terms to his character, ability and service and assuring his widow and the family of their sympathy with them in they great sorrow,
Thomas’ father was Dennis Collins, a stationary engine driver (1861), who was born in Ireland.
Whilst at Abertillery Thomas worked as a coal miner (1871).
Thomas married Martha Wright (1855-1914) in the summer of 1882 in the Altrincham Registration District, Cheshire. Census returns identify two children.
- Ellen (b1883)
- Stephen Henry (1884-1963) – a schoolmaster (1911)
Thomas died on 15 June 1901 at Southampton, Hampshire.
- 1878 Lymm
- 1879 Lancaster
- 1880 Belfast II
- 1883 Manchester II
- 1886 Manchester I
- 1888 Rochdale
- 1891 Earlstown
- 1893 Skelmersdale
- 1894 Hastings
- 1895 Portland
- 1899 Radstock
- 1900 Southampton
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1903/488
W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers