Illingworth, Eli (1832-1884)

Transcription of Obituary published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Robinson Cheeseman

ELI ILLINGWORTH was born at Ossett, near Wakefield, on September 9, 1832. We have not sufficient acquaintance with the parentage and early history of our brother to do justice to this part of his life. In general we have learned that he sprang from respectable parents, who were in the habit of attending religious worship, and who instilled into their children, while young, the principles of morality and true religion, It was not, however, until the age of twenty-two that the subject of this memoir made a public confession of his faith in Christ. This took place in our own little chapel in his native village. No sooner had he entered the Church than he attracted attention by his punctuality, diligence, sweetness of disposition, and progress in religious knowledge. The prayer-meeting, the class-meeting, the public assembly of the saints, seldom missed his presence, or the rich cadences of his animating voice, He was soon carried forward through the various gradations of teacher, exhorter, local preacher, until, on February 6, 1857, he was called, by the General Missionary Committee, to labour as a regular minister of the Connexion upon the Peterborough and RamsorMission.

He subsequently travelled in the following stations:- Exmouth, St. Neots, Croydon, Ambleside, to which place he was appointed by the G.M.C. to open a new mission in the Lake District. In his diary he says: ‘On Sunday, June 21, I began my greatest work. To open a mission is the most difficult and arduous work upon which a minister can enter. Those who have never engaged in this work can have no idea of the feelings which agitated me. Having spent the Saturday night at Kendal, I started at nine o’clock on a fine Sunday morning to walk to Ambleside, a distance of thirteen miles. The day was exceedingly hot, and the road dry and dusty, but it lay through the finest scenery I had ever witnessed. When Lake Windermere and the brood of giant mountains beyond came into view, I stood in silent astonishment. It was no time, however, to stand gazing at lake and mountain, I had other and more important work to do. Arriving at Windermere village, I took a piece of bread out of my pocket, and, after satisfying my hunger, and slaking my thirst from a fast-running stream, I set myself to the completion of the journey, as I had still to walk a distance of five miles.’

Unfortunately, that part of the journal containing our brother’s labours and success on this mission cannot be found. Suffice it to say that he succeeded so far as to lay the foundations of what are now the Barrow-in-Furness and Holborn Hill Stations. From this mission he removed to Ventnor, I. W., thence to Prees Green, Leominster and Weobley, Hadnall, Bilston, Louth (in which station he laboured five years), and Scarborough.

It would occupy too large a space of the Magazine to give a detailed account of our brother’s labours in the several stations named. It is, perhaps, sufficient to say that in every one of them he was esteemed and beloved, not only as a preacher, but also as a pastor. Some men are good preachers as long as they remain in the temple. Mr. Illingworth was a pastor as well as a preacher, and perhaps his most useful labour was ‘going about,’ like Jesus, ‘doing good,’ instructing the ignorant, recovering the wandering, animating the sluggish, strengthening weak hands, confirming feeble knees, ministering like an ‘angel of mercy’ at the couch of affliction, or whispering consolation into the ear of the dying. There are those who can make pastoral visits very well, but who lose the ministerial character in the social intercourse. Not so with our departed brother. At the fireside he shone. Without cant, without affectation, without arrogance, without obtrusiveness, he poured a gentle stream of thought through all the fields of conversation, and as it were unwittingly turned everything around him to the advantage of religion.

He was always courteous, yet cautious, never indulging the ‘familiarity which breeds contempt,’ or the coldness which engenders distrust. He was reliable, ready to promote the interest of another at the hazard of his own. He had none of that ‘vanity which is jealous of honour,’ nor of that sensitiveness which is ‘sudden and quick in quarrel;’ but he had much of that long-suffering which is required alike by Christianity and common sense, and which never fails to result from a baptism into the spirit of Christ. He was wont to put the best construction on every sentence and act of those with whom he came in contact, and never assigned a bad motive when he could find a good one.

He was affable. His natural sweetness of temper, refined by the spirit of Christianity, made every one feel perfectly at ease in his presence. When he spent the night with a religious family in going the rounds of his stations, he was in the habit of conversing in a religious manner without seeming to aim at it, and when his host lighted him to his chamber, he would take him by the hand, and, alluding to the kindness bestowed upon him, would make his own gratitude an apology for enquiring into the spiritual welfare of his hospitable friend. His name will, for some time, shed fragrance from many a family altar.

He was a man of great humility. If any man could boast of graces he could. In him they all abounded – faith that works by love, and purifies the heart – hope, the anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast – love that burns with an even intense flame; yet he was as humble as a little child, and worked out his salvation ‘with fear and trembling.’ He was ‘meek and lowly in heart,’ and inserted the petition ‘forgive us our trespasses’ in all his petitions. He was a man whom his brethren in the ministry always delighted to meet, either in public or in private. You never heard him give utterance to one unkind word or insinuation. He was more ready to correct his own faults than to correct another’s.

I shall not soon forget the childlike simplicity with which, on one occasion, in conversing with him about the comparative advantages of extempore and written sermons, he, having dropped the remark, ‘My happiest efforts,’ added, ‘O pardon me for having used that term in speaking of any effort of mine.’ When a friend once bestowed upon him an act of kindness, he seized his hand, and looking him up with tearful eyes, said, ‘O my brother, I shall pray for you as long as I live.’

His piety was characterised by a spirit of elevated devotion. He was eminently a man of prayer. His devotions in the family and the sanctuary were those of one who lived near to God; and his habitual deportment evinced that he cultivated a constant intercourse with heaven. His journals afford evidence that he had habitually a sense of unworthiness, at times, indeed, so intense, as to utter itself in expressions of most profound self-abasement.

As a minister, his abilities were considerably above the average of those who preach the gospel, and yet he was never showy in the pulpit, as if to make up in sound what is wanting in sense, neither did you ever hear him descending to what was low or vulgar. He used plain, simple, strong Anglo-Saxon words; his accents were never misplaced, his sentences were grammatical, and well arranged both for harmony and effect. Having stated and illustrated his position clearly, he laid broad the foundations of his argument, and piled stone upon stone, till he stood upon a majestic pyramid, with heaven’s own light around him, and pointing his hearers to the bright home beyond the sun, he bid defiance to the enemy to move one fragment of the rock on which his feet were planted.

He was a man of strong thought. He was mindful of books, and read every good one that came within his reach. He was most industrious in his study, observant of the progress of science, yet accustomed to use his own powers of mind, and to investigate every subject for himself. In order that he might all the better understand the New Testament, by dint of great labour and perseverance, and with very little assistance, he found time to master the Greek Testament. Although unremitting in his devotion to the duties of his office, yet by a wise economy of time, by rising early, and sitting up late, he became acquainted with the general literature of the age, as well as all the best works on theology. The fruit of this labour he was enabled to give to the Connexion in the monthly Magazines and Quarterly Review, and thus to instruct and edify thousands of minds with whom it was impossible to hold personal intercourse.

He was a man of acute sensibilities. He felt what he said. Hence the zeal and rapidity and over-mastering energy that characterised both his preaching and his writing. A man with a flinty intellect may convince, but he cannot move – fine fancy may please, but it cannot rouse. Heart only responds to heart. When you heard our beloved brother, you felt that you were listening to a man whose whole soul was under the influence of the truths he uttered. He was always earnest. His earnestness, however, did not consist in noise or mere declamation. There is often the least earnestness where there is the most noise. His earnestness was not like the-cataract, leaping, and bounding, and filling the heavens with its noise, but rather like the mighty river, marching steadily to the ocean.

His eye, countenance, attitude, manner, all showed that he understood, believed, felt what he said. His texts were generally taken from the Gospels and Paul’s Epistles. His favourite theme was the atonement. This gave animation to his hopes, fire to his tongue, lustre to his discourses, harmony to his doctrines, and efficacy to his labours. On all the cardinal doctrines of the gospel he was clear and uncompromising, eliminating them from error with a hand that never wanted cunning. .

He took a limited field for each discourse. He was not like the mental sluggard, who sweeps half a universe for a discourse, nor did he take a text that allowed him ‘to preach up and down the Scriptures;’ he used the intellectual spade, and educed a rich store from each narrow footstep. He was a steward who from the treasury brought forth new things. But though his subject was bounded, his thoughts were free – an exceeding copiousness and richness of idea characterised his efforts, but not the copiousness of repetition. He would, it is true, often express in figurative language, what he had expressed in literal; the sometimes expanded in a long sentence, what he had announced in a sententious one; he often detained his audience upon an idea till it was sufficiently amplified; but he marched onward as soon as it was allowable, through a great variety of conceptions.

I do not wish it to be inferred that, as a preacher, our brother had no faults. His discourses were often too long and elaborate, his arguments not always in a direct line of sequence, but take him all in all, the writer has seldom heard his equal.

I hardly need say that his death was serene and glorious – fit end for a tranquil and useful life. He was cut down in the midst of his days and usefulness, but may we not say with Ben Jonson, in his ‘Good Life the Long Life’:-
It is not growing like a tree
In bulke, doth make man better be;
Or standing long an oake, three hundred yeare,
To fall a logge at last, dry, bald, and seare;
A lillie of a day,
Is fairer farre in May;
Although it fall and die that night,
It was the plant and flowre of light.
In small proportions we just beauties see,
And in short measures life may perfect be.

About six months before his death, our brother was seized with a violent fit of sickness, and this sickness continued more or less until the time of his death. For some time it was hoped that he would recover, but these hopes were found to be delusive. When at last fears were expressed in relation to his case, he manifested no emotion – he uttered not a murmur nor a fear; but presented a most lovely picture of Christian resignation. He was willing to endure affliction, and continue his labours, if such were God’s will; but he had a home in heaven, and he knew it was better to depart and be with Jesus. A short time before his death, he was heard to say, ‘Dear Jesus, dear Jesus, my faith still clings to Thee.’ All along, during the six months of his affliction, he had been examining the foundations of his hope with great care and thoughtfulness, and the result was complete satisfaction to his own mind. He said several times to the writer, ‘that Christ had never appeared so precious to him as He had during this sickness.’ The nearer he came to the river of death, the stronger became his faith in the atoning Saviour. Interrogated on one occasion as to the foundation of his hope, he said, ‘This is it – 2 Cor. v. 21: ‘‘For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”’ To the ministers who were in the habit of visiting him, he said, on several occasions, ‘Preach the atonement, never forget to preach the atonement.’ When made aware, by the rupture of a bloodvessel, that his end was very near, he evinced that calmness and resignation which the Christian hope alone can warrant. He called his afflicted wife and sorrowful children to his bedside, gave them all a parting admonition and blessing, and then, and there, they all promised to meet him in heaven. His last words were:- ‘Perfect Peace;’ he then calmly fell asleep in the arms of his Saviour.

‘This is no death: what seems so is transition!
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life Elysian,
Whose portals we call death.’

The funeral of our departed brother took place in the Scarborough Cemetery, May 6th, 1884, and was attended by over 2,000 persons, including two clergymen, and all the Nonconformist ministers of the town. Solemn and impressive services were held in our Jubilee Chapel, and at the grave-side, in which nearly all the ministers of the town, and the Revs. J. Wood, M.A., and J. Scruton, the deputation from the District Meeting, took part. The deepest sympathy is felt for the mourning widow and seven fatherless children. May they all be enabled to glorify God by pious resignation, and by continuing to walk in the steps of the departed one, now in heaven.


Eli was born on 9 September 1832 at Ossett, Yorkshire, to parents Nathaniel, a cloth weaver, and Fanny. Eli was baptised on 9 December 1832 at Ossett Green Independent Congregational Chapel.

He worked as a hand loom weaver of woollen cloth before entering the ministry.

Eli married Elizabeth Wilkinson (b1836) in the summer of 1863 in the Louth Registration District, Lincolnshire. Census returns identify seven children.

  • Thomas Wilkinson (1864-1900) – a doctor; died at Boshof Orange River-colony, South Africa
  • Emily Florence (1866-1945) – a schoolmistress
  • Alfred Clarence (1867-1922) – a clerk in holy orders (C of E) (1911)
  • Ada Blanche (1868-1954) – a schoolmistress; married Philip Broster Wamsley, a master mariner, in 1900
  • Eli Clafton (1871-1958) – a clerk in holy orders (C of E) (1911)
  • Agnes Maude (abt1873-1961) – a school mistress (1901); married Herbert Swift, an ironmonger, in 1910
  • William Arthur (1877-1903) – a surgeon (1901)

Eli died on 3 May 1884 at Scarborough, Yorkshire.


  • 1857 Exeter & Exmouth
  • 1859 Buckden & St Neots
  • 1860 Croydon & Redhill
  • 1861 Ulverston & Ambleside
  • 1862 Ventnor
  • 1863 Spalding & Holbeach
  • 1864 Prees Green
  • 1866 Leominster & Weobly
  • 1869 Leek
  • 1872 Hadnall
  • 1873 Bilston
  • 1876 Louth
  • 1881 Scarborough


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1884/561; 1907/614

PM Minutes 1884/12

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

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

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