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Dawson, William (DNB00)

DAWSON, WILLIAM (1773–1841), Wesleyan, was born at Garforth, near Leeds, on 30 March 1773, being the eldest child of Luke Dawson and his wife Ann Pease. His father was colliery steward to Sir Thomas Gascoigne, bart., of Gawthorpe, for twenty-one years. On his father's death in 1791 William, who was then eighteen, succeeded to this post, which included the management of a farm of a hundred and fifty acres. William, whose parents removed to Barnbow, near Barwick, in his infancy, was educated at the school of Mr. Sanderson at Aberford. He acquired an early taste for reading, and was noticed by Thomas Dikes and John Graham, successively rectors of Barwick. At the request of the latter he conducted a cottage service at Barwick. Graham and other friends wished to send him to Cambridge with a view to his taking orders in the established church. Family and financial reasons put a stop to this plan. Meanwhile he heard several eminent Wesleyan ministers, and after long reflection joined the Wesleyan body and became an accredited lay preacher among them. His popularity steadily increased until he became famous as the eloquent ‘Yorkshire farmer.’ An itinerant preachership was offered him, but his mother and seven young children were dependent upon his income as steward and farmer, and he declined the offer. He possessed a robust frame and irrepressible energy. While labouring hard as a colliery superintendent and a practical farmer he developed remarkable dramatic power, and on the platform and in the pulpit his natural oratory exercised a singular charm, often moving his audiences to laughter or to tears. He took a personal interest in all great public questions, which he turned to account in his addresses, and advocated especially the shortening of the hours of labour in factories.

In September 1837 he was enabled to give himself entirely to public work, and henceforth his whole time was occupied in the opening of chapels, the preaching of anniversary sermons, the advocacy of christian missions among the heathen, and other charitable objects. From Burmantofts, Leeds, where he now lived, he made preaching tours through the three kingdoms. While at Colne, Lancashire, where he had gone to open a new chapel, he died suddenly on Sunday morning, 4 July 1841.

[Private sources; Memoirs by Everett, 1842; Correspondence, ed. Everett, 1842.]

W. B. L.