Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brock, William (1807-1875)

BROCK, WILLIAM, D.D. (1807–1875), dissenting divine, was born at Honiton on 14 Feb. 1807. His father, a man of earnest and religious spirit, whose efforts among the poor were at one time wrongly suspected of insidious political design, married in 1806 Ann Alsop, a descendant of Vincent Alsop [q. v.], ejected for nonconformity in 1662. William, their eldest child, was educated first at Culmstock and afterwards at the grammar school of Honiton. At the age of eight we find him writing to a friend to procure him copies of 'Caesar' and of 'Virgil.' His life at school was one of considerable hardship, inequality of rank subjecting him to the persecution of his school-fellows.

Leaving Honiton, he was placed for some time under the charge of the Rev. Charles Sharp at Bradninch; in 1820, being then thirteen years of age, was apprenticed to a watchmaker at Sidmouth; on the conclusion of his period of 'stern servitude' was removed to Hertford; afterwards joined a baptist church at Highgate; studied subsequently for four sessions at Stepney College; and settled at Norwich in 1833. In the following year he married Mary Bliss of Shortwood, Gloucestershire. During his stay at Norwich Brock published, through the Religious Tract Society, a work entitled 'Fraternal Appeals to Young Men.' In 1834 Brock threw himself with great energy into the final struggle connected with the abolition of West Indian slavery; spoke in every town in Norfolk and most of those in Suffolk; drew up papers in support of his views, and contributed articles to the public journals. It is stated that Brock was the first publicly to attack the inveterate custom of political bribery in Norwich.

In 1846, chiefly on account of failing health, Brock made a tour through France and Italy. In 1847 he suffered from defective sight, for the treatment of which he temporarily removed to London. At the election for Norwich in 1847 he opposed his intimate friend Sir Morton Peto, and supported Mr. Serjeant Parry, the candidate who favoured the separation of church and state. In consequence of enfeebled health Brock was ultimately advised to remove to London, where he became pastor of Bloomsbury Chapel on 5 Dec. 1848. Brock soon set on foot a philanthropic enterprise for the reclamation of the poor in the squalid and crowded district of St. Giles.

At Exeter Hall Brock lectured on behalf of the Young Men's Christian Association on 'Mercantile Morality.' He was personally acquainted with Sir Henry Havelock; and after the death of Havelock, in 1857, he published a memoir, which had an immense circulation, forty-five thousand copies being speedily disposed of in England. In 1859 the work of preaching in theatres on Sundays was instituted in London, and Brock delivered the first sermon in the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton.

In 1866 Brock made a tour in the United States. On his return he entered into the ritualistic controversy, and published two discourses under the title of 'Ritualism Mischievous in its Design.' He further drew up a series of resolutions, in a similar sense, in behalf of the 'general body of protestant dissenting ministers of the three denominations in and about London.' He helped at this time to form the London Association of Baptist Churches, and was elected its first president. In the course of twelve years the association included 140 churches, with nearly 34,000 members in communion. In 1869 Brock was elected to the presidency of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland. In September 1872 he resigned the post of minister at Bloomsbury Chapel. A few days before preaching his farewell sermon he lost his wife. After three years spent in comparative retirement he died on 13 Nov. 1875. In 1860 the senate of Harvard College conferred upon him the honorary degree of doctor of divinity.

In addition to the publications named in this article, Brock was the author (inter alia) of 'Sacramental Religion,' published in 1850; 'Sermons on the Sabbath,' 1853; 'The Gospel for the People,' 1859; 'The Wrong and Right of Christian Baptism,' 1864; 'The Christian's Duty in the forthcoming General Election,' 1868; and ' Mid-summer Morning Sermons,' 1872.

[Birrell's Life of William Brock, D.D., 1878; M'Cree's William Brock, D.D., first Pastor of Bloomsbury Chapel, 1876; A Biographical Sketch of Sir Henry Havelock, K.C.B. (1858), and other works by Brock; Annual Register for 1875.]

G. B. S.