Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Deacon, Thomas

DEACON, THOMAS (1697–1753), physician and nonjuring bishop, born in 1697, was residing in London in 1715, where he was a prime agent in the Jacobite rebellion. He was ordained deacon and priest by Jeremy Collier [q. v.] on 12 and 19 March 1715-16, 'at Mr. Gandy's chapel in Scrope Court' (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iii. 243). When the Rev. William Paul and John Hall of Otterburn, nonjurors, were executed for complicity in the rebellion of 1715, Deacon visited them in prison, and, after giving them absolution, drew up for them the declarations, which they undertook to deliver to the sheriffs at the scaffold. Josiah Owen, a presbyterian minister at Rochdale, in the preface to the second edition of a pamphlet entitled 'Jacobite and Nonjuring Principles freely examined,' states that Deacon attended the sufferers on the scaffold, and there absolved them. Deacon says that the clergyman who officiated was 'the Rev. Francis Peck, M. A., formerly of Trinity College, Cambridge, but neither he nor any other person did there and then absolve them' (Gent. Mag. xviii. 206). The 'Declarations,' which made a considerable sensation at the time, are reprinted in Dr. Hibbert-Ware's ‘Lancashire Memorials of the Rebellion, 1715’ (pp. 230–4). A passage in Byrom's diary proves that Deacon composed them (see Byrom's diary for 1 Sept. 1725). The ‘Declarations’ were designed to promote not only Jacobite but nonjuring principles. They were intended to give publicity to the independent religious communion promoted by the nonjurors, under the title of ‘The True Catholic Nonjuring Church of England.’

In the autumn of 1716 Deacon deemed it prudent to withdraw to Holland, where he lived on his own private resources. On his return to London he became a pupil of Dr. Mead, the celebrated physician, whom he styles ‘the best of friends, and the very worthy and learned Dr. Mead.’ In 1719 or 1720 he settled in Manchester, where he practised medicine with considerable success. In a letter written to Dr. Byrom in 1731 he describes himself as ‘a nonjuring parson who mortifies himself with the practice of physic (pour accomplir sa penance), and condescends to a half-crown subscription [for his translation of Tillemont] rather than prostitute his conscience.’ In or about 1733 he was consecrated a nonjuring bishop by Bishop Archibald Campbell (d. 1744) [q. v.] and Roger Lawrence, the author of ‘Lay Baptism Invalid’ (Perceval, Apology for the Doctrine of Apostolical Succession, p. 226).

During the rebellion of 1745 three of his sons joined the standard of Charles Edward Stuart in what was called the Manchester regiment, commanded by Colonel Townley. At this time Deacon apparently had an interview with the Pretender at his lodgings, and the circumstance afterwards rendered him obnoxious to the government. According to his own statement his house was searched for papers with military violence, and was more than once attacked by a furious mob and an unrestrained soldiery. Owen charges Deacon with having visited the court of the Pretender to obtain absolution for having sworn allegiance to George I. On 17 July 1746, Thomas Theodorus Deacon, one of the doctor's sons, was indicted before a special commission in Southwark for appearing in arms against the king as captain in the Manchester regiment, and, being found guilty, was executed, with eight of his companions, on Kennington Common, on the 30th of the same month. After he was decapitated his head was taken to Manchester and fixed on the Exchange. It is related that on one occasion the doctor, when passing by the building, took off his hat and remained for a short time absorbed in silent prayer, as was conjectured, for the departed spirit of his son. This appears the more probable, as he strenuously defended the practice of ‘offering and praying for the faithful departed, as delivered by scripture and by tradition.’ His son Charles, who also engaged in the rebellion, was taken on 11 Jan. 1749 from the new gaol, Southwark, to Gravesend for transportation during life; and another son died while being conveyed from Manchester to London for trial.

Long before these occurrences Deacon had founded an episcopal church in Manchester, which according to his own notions was to be strictly catholic, though not papal. He styled it ‘The True British Catholic Church,’ and its members assembled for worship at his house in Fennel Street, adjoining the inn known till 1886 as the Dog and Partridge (Byrom, Remains, ii. 396 n.) It seems that he received some support from the Manchester clergy. ‘He has inveigled such numbers of your parishioners,’ says the writer of a remonstrance to the clergy of the college, ‘that, not able to do the business himself, he has ordained a queer dog of a barber, a disbanded soldier of the Pretender, who enlisted as a volunteer for him in the late rebellion, and sent for some young fellow from London to join him in his pseudo-ministry.’ Another account, however, states that ‘at Dr. Deacon's schism shop in Fennel Street, where he vended his spiritual packets and practised his spiritual quackery on Sundays, and where Tom Padmore was his under-strapper, his congregation did not consist of above a few scores of old women;’ while a third account alleges that if the doctor's actual congregation was small, the influence of his principles was to be detected in the assent given to them by persons who still continued to attend the collegiate church. It was rumoured that a discovery had been made, during the examination of the papers of one of the deceased fellows, that he and his associates of the collegiate church, in conjunction with Deacon, had in 1745 entered into a correspondence with the pope, craving that the principles set forth in the doctor's ‘True British Catholic Church of the fourth century’ might entitle them to be regarded as communicants of the church of Rome. One pamphleteer has recorded the alleged reply of the pope to the effect that his holiness was very sensible of the sufferings of his Manchester friends, but could by no means sanction a schism in the church.

He died at Manchester on 10 Feb. 1753, and was buried in St. Ann's churchyard, where an altar-tomb was erected over his remains, with an inscription which describes him as ‘the greatest of sinners and the most unworthy of primitive bishops.’ Though his contemporaries always called him doctor, it does not appear that he had any academical claim to that degree, and it is observable that in his epitaph he is simply styled ‘Thomas Deacon.’ His wife Sarah died on 4 July 1745, aged 45. The sad fate of three of their sons has been already mentioned; another, Edward Erastus Deacon, M.D., died on 13 March 1813, aged 72 (Bardsley, Memorials of St. Ann's Church, Manchester, pp. 83–5).

Canon Parkinson, in a note in his edition of Byrom's ‘Remains’ (i. 500), remarks, with reference to Deacon: ‘It is much to be regretted that this admirable scholar did not receive encouragement according to his merits. His letters in this work show him to have been a complete master of the English language, of a ready wit and indomitable spirit; one who ought to have been engaged in a more congenial task than elaborating his learned yet somewhat arid catechism, and carrying on controversies with men incapable of appreciating his merits and their own immeasurable inferiority.’

Deacon's works are: 1. ‘The Doctrine of the Church of Rome concerning Purgatory proved to be contrary to Catholic Tradition, and inconsistent with the necessary Duty of praying for the Dead, as practiced in the ancient Church,’ London, 1718, 12mo, dedicated to the Rev. Thomas Brett, LL.D. 2. ‘A Communion Office, taken partly from Primitive Liturgies, and partly from the first English Reformed Common Prayer Book, together with Offices for the Confirmation and the Visitation of the Sick,’ London, 1718, 8vo. The work is entered in the Chetham Library catalogue under Deacon's name, probably with good reason, though some writers doubt whether Brett was not the principal compiler of these ‘Nonjuring Offices.’ The work is reprinted in vol. v. of ‘Fragmenta Liturgica,’ edited by the Rev. Peter Hall, Bath, 1848, 16mo. 3. A translation of Tillemont's ‘History of the Arians and of the Council of Nice,’ 2 vols., London, 1721, 8vo. 4. ‘Remarks upon the Rev. Mr. Samuel Downe's Historical Account of the Reviews of the Liturgy of the Church of England.’ This forms the appendix to a work attributed to John Griffin, M.A., and entitled ‘The Common Christian instructed in some necessary Points of Religion,’ London, 1722. 5. A translation of a portion of Tillemont's ‘Ecclesiastical Memoirs,’ 2 vols., London, 1733, fol. 6. ‘A Compleat Collection of Devotions, both publick and private, taken from the Apostolical Constitutions, the ancient Liturgies, and the Common Prayer Book of the Church of England,’ London, 1734, 8vo. Messrs. Sotheby & Wilkinson sold in June 1857 a copy of this work different from the ordinary copies, and probably unique. It has the usual titles, but it also has a fifth title of a very remarkable character, viz. ‘The Order of the Divine Offices of the Orthodox British Church, containing the Holy Liturgy … as authorised by the Bishops of the said Church.’ This title could not have been publicly circulated. The first part of the ‘Devotions,’ containing the Public Offices, was reprinted in 1848 as vol. vi. of Hall's ‘Fragmenta Liturgica.’ 7. ‘The Form of Admitting a Convert into the Communion of the Church; a Litany, together with Prayers in behalf of the Catholic Church; Prayers on the Death of Members of the Church,’ 1746. The second part of this work was reprinted at Shrewsbury, 1797, 8vo, and is reproduced in vol. ii. of ‘Fragmenta Liturgica.’ 8. ‘A Full, True, and Comprehensive View of Christianity; containing a short Historical Account of Religion from the Creation of the World to the Fourth Century after Christ; as also the Complete Duty of a Christian in relation to Faith, Practice, Worship, and Rituals. … The whole succinctly and fully laid down in two Catechisms,’ London, 1747, 8vo. A vigorous attack on this work and on Deacon's political and religious opinions was made by the Rev. Josiah Owen in his ‘Jacobite and Nonjuring Principles freely examined,’ Manchester, 1748. This elicited a reply from Thomas Percival, F.S.A., in ‘A Letter to the Clergy of the Collegiate Church of Manchester,’ 1748, which was followed by a second pamphlet by Owen, entitled ‘Dr. Deacon try'd before his own Tribunal,’ 1748.

[The writings of ‘Doctor’ Thomas Deacon and of the Rev. J. Owen, by Charles W. Sutton (privately printed), Manchester, 1879; Axon's Annals of Manchester, pp. 84, 86, 89; Axon's Lancashire Gleanings, p. 228; Byrom's Journals (general index); Gent. Mag. for 1753, p. 100, for September 1821, pp. 231–2; Halley's Lancashire, its Puritanism and Nonconformity, ii. 338 n., 340 n., 366–71, 372, 377, 378; Hibbert-Ware's Foundations of Manchester, ii. 87–145, 181; Hibbert-Ware's Lancashire Memorials of the Rebellion, 1715, pp. 222–36, 269–74; Lathbury's Hist. of the Nonjurors, pp. 388–93; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. v. 361, 370; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xii. 85, 2nd ser. i. 175, iii. 479, 3rd ser. xii. 59, 4th ser. ix. 445, xi. 194, 475, 6th ser. iii. 37, 236, 257, 437; Palatine Note-book, i. 123, 217, ii. 95, 116, 140, iii. 96, iv. 22; Raines's Notitia Cestriensis, ii. 78; Sutton's Lancashire Authors, p. 30.]

T. C.