Smith, John (1840-1915)

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1890
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1915

Early years

John was born on 9 February 1840 at Holme, Huntingdonshire to parents William and Sarah. In 1851, William is described as a pauper shepherd.

In his early years, John was taken to services at the parish church. It was there he was baptised and confirmed.

Instead of school, John was sent to scare crows and keep sheep on the farm. At the age of six, his wages were 1s 6d per week and his dinner on Sunday. John left home at the age of 11. In October 1854, he hired himself to a farmer at ‘The Worlds End’ on the Downham circuit and had his first contact with Primitive Methodists. Through them he was converted. In his 16th year he began to preach and also started to study.


John spent some 10 years consolidating and extending the work in Aliwal, South Africa.

The 1890 biography records that to preach was his vocation. He had a passion for preaching and it dominated every other passion of his soul.

John was elected onto the Yarmouth School Board circa 1888, receiving the highest number of votes cast.

John was appointed General Missionary Secretary in 1894 and became President of Conference in 1898. He was truly a missionary President, using his high position for the advocacy of foreign missions.

Despite his lack of an early education, John became proficient in Greek and Latin and qualified himself to preach in Dutch, Fingoe and Sesuto.

His obituary records that John was a fine genial soul, of remarkable gifts and great strength of character. He was a great preacher, a splendid missionary, an indefatigable worker and a born leader of men.


John married Susan Collen (1845-1873) in August 1863 at Newmarket, Cambridgeshire. Census returns identify two children.

  • Georgiana (b1865)
  • John Thomas (b1868)

John married Fanny Elizabeth Jeary (1852-1934) in the spring of 1874 at Smallburgh, Norfolk. Census returns identify six children.

  • Edwin William (1876-1957) – a PM Minister and anthropologist
  • Stanley Harold (1879-1962) – a butcher; emigrated to Canada
  • Frederick Robertson (1882-1930) – an automobile designer
  • Baldwin Sydney (1884-1916)
  • Arnold Morley (1886-1940) – emigrated to Canada
  • Dorothy Kate (1893-1915)

John died on 12 February 1915 at Edmonton, Middlesex.


  • 1859 Aylsham
  • 1860 Ely
  • 1862 Yarmouth
  • 1865 Colchester
  • 1867 Briston
  • 1869 E Dereham
  • 1872 Yarmouth
  • 1874 Aliwal N, South Africa
  • 1879 Yarmouth
  • 1880 Lynn
  • 1883 Aliwal N, South Africa
  • 1888 Yarmouth
  • 1891 Luton l
  • 1893 Lynn
  • 1894 Sec of GMC
  • 1900 Norwich l
  • 1904 Portsmouth
  • 1905 High Wycombe
  • 1906 Chertsey
  • 1907 Enfield (S)


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1875/374 (Susan); 1890/449; 1915/575

The Primitive Methodist 1898/385

PM Minutes 1915/42

H B Kendall, Origin and History of the PM Church, vol 3, p373

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

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers


Comments about this page

  • Very good – also note that there was a daughter, Lititia Gertrude (1875-c. 1877). See W. John Young, The Quiet Wise Spirit, p. 225. Baldwin Sydney was killed in WW1. John Smith’s 1900 Hartley Lecture, Christ and Missions, was a significant missiological text.

    By W. John Young (01/01/2014)

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