Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Campbell, John (1766-1840)

CAMPBELL, JOHN (1766–1840), philanthropist and traveller, was born at Edinburgh and educated at the high school, where he was a classfellow of Sir Walter Scott. From an early period of life he showed very deep religious convictions. Though engaged in business, he threw himself with great ardour into works of christian philanthropy, and led the way in many undertakings that have since attained remarkable dimensions. He became in 1793 one of the founders of the Religious Tract Society of Scotland, six years before the London society was formed. The Scotch society still exists, but on a wider basis, employing about two hundred colporteurs for the circulation and sale of religious and useful literature in Scotland and part of England. He was one of the founders of Sunday schools, sometimes itinerating over the country in order to promote them, and with such success that on one occasion he and his friend Mr. J. A. Haldane made arrangements in one week for the establishment of not less than sixty. Lay preaching in neglected villages and hamlets was another mode of activity in which he took part. He was one of the first to show compassion practically for fallen women, being among the originators of the Magdalene Society of Edinburgh, and a similar society in Glasgow. The condition of slaves excited his profound interest; and through the liberality of Mr. Haldane he made arrangements for bringing to this country and educating thirty or forty African children, who were to be sent back to their own country. In furtherance of this object he corresponded with his friend Mr. Zachary Macaulay, then at Sierra Leone, with whose family he was on intimate terms; but after the first batch of children were brought to this country, the arrangement was changed and they were kept in London.

In 1802 Campbell became minister of Kingsland independent chapel in London, and there, among other labours of love, helped to found the Bible Society. Occasionally he still continued his peripatetic work in Scotland. Having always shown a profound interest in foreign missions, he was asked by the London Missionary Society to go to South Africa and inspect their missions there. He spent two years, 1812-14, in this work, travelling upwards of two thousand miles in Africa, and a second time, 1819-21, he went out on the same mission. Few Englishmen at that time had performed such a feat, and on his return his appearances on missionary platforms in London and throughout the country were received with enthusiasm. He died 4 April 1840, at the age of 74.

Besides some books of less mark, Campbell was the author of two works giving an account of his two African journeys, the first in one vol. 8vo, published in 1814, the second in two vols. 8vo, published in 1822. A little volume entitled 'African Light' was intended to elucidate passages of scripture from what he had seen in travelling. For many years he was editor of a religious magazine entitled 'The Youth's Magazine.' He had a large acquaintance and correspondence, including the Countess of Leven, the Rev. John Newton, Mr. Wilberforce, and others. His books were among those that exercised an influence on the mind of David Livingstone, and turned his thoughts to Africa.

[Philip's Life, Times, and Missionary Enterprises of the Rev. John Campbell; Biographical Sketch of the author prefixed to second edition of African Light; Anderson's Scottish Nation, art. 'John Campbell;' recollections of personal friends.]

W. G. B.