Dowie, John Alexander (DNB12)
DOWIE, JOHN ALEXANDER (1847–1907), religious fanatic, was born in Leith Street Terrace, Edinburgh, on 25 May 1847. At a school in Arthur Street he gained a silver medal at the age of fourteen (1861). His parents emigrated to Adelaide, South Australia, in 1860; he followed them, but in 1868 returned to Scotland, and with a view to the congregational ministry attended the Edinburgh University for two sessions, 1869-71. His first place of ministry was the congregational church at Alma, near Adelaide, whence he soon moved to the charge of Manly church, Sydney, New South Wales, and later to a church at Newton, a suburb of Sydney. At this period he was prominent as a social reformer, a temperance advocate, and a pleader for free, compulsory, and undenominational education. It is stated that Sir Henry Parkes [q. v. Suppl. I] offered him a seat in his cabinet. In 1878 he declared himself against a paid ministry. Two lectures, which he delivered in the Victoria Theatre, Sydney, in 1879, on 'The Drama, the Press, and the Pulpit,' attracted attention and were published. In 1882 he built a tabernacle at Melbourne, Victoria, in connection with an association for 'divine healing.' Healing was to be in answer to prayer. Dr. Dowie, as he was now styled, claimed that in ten years he laid hands on eighteen thousand sick persons, and healed most of them. He made expeditions to New Zealand, San Francisco (1888), Nebraska (1890), and in July 1890 made Chicago his headquarters, though extending his travels to Canada. In May 1893 he opened Zion's tabernacle, at Chicago, as a centre for the 'Divine Healing Association.' Amove for the independent organisation of a new religious community in November 1895 led to trouble in the law courts. However, on 22 Jan. 1896 he succeeded in organising the 'Christian Catholic Church in Zion,' with a hierarchy of overseers, evangelists, deacons, and deaconesses. On 22 Feb. Dowie was made general overseer; his wife, Jane Dowie, was the only woman overseer; the wives of overseers were usually made elders; no unmarried man could be more than deacon. Zion City, on Lake Michigan, forty-two miles north of Chicago, was projected on 22 Feb. 1899; on 1 Jan. 1900, 6500 acres of land were secured, the title-deeds being held by Dowie as 'proprietor' and 'general overseer.' If Dowie is to be believed, his following had by 29 April 1900 increased from 500 to 50,000; his critics say that he never had more than half that number. The site of Zion temple was consecrated on 14 July 1900. Dowie now announced himself as 'Elijah the restorer,' otherwise 'the prophet Elijah,' and 'the third Elijah.' The gates of Zion City were opened on 15 July 1901; by 2 Aug. the first residence was ready. The religious organisation of the community, completed on 7 April 1902, was supplemented on 21 Sept. by the formation of a body of picked men, known as 'Zion restoration host.' The city was planned with great ostentation, and included both winter and summer residences for its inhabitants. Dowie distinguished himself by a showy costume of oriental appearance. On 18 Sept. 1904 he consecrated himself 'first apostle,' with authority to elect eleven others; the title of the body was now enlarged to 'Christian, Catholic, Apostolic Church in Zion,' and its purpose, frankly avowed by Dowie, was 'to smash every other church in existence.' Its members were bound to minute particulars of personal and ceremonial observance, alcohol and tobacco being prohibited. The leading motive was evidently the establishment of a sheer autocracy, wielded by Dowie. The publications of this body, including their organ, 'Leaves of Healing,' were translated into German and French, some of them into Danish, Norwegian, and Dutch, and some even into Chinese and Japanese. Dowie twice visited England, where a congregation of disciples had been formed in London; in 1903 he was not well received in London and Manchester; in 1904 some disrespectful allusions to King Edward, uttered in Australia, caused an uproar at the Zionist tabernacle in Euston road, London. In April 1906, while Dowie was in Mexico for his health, came a revolt in Zion against his sway. Ho was charged with having advocated polygamy in private, and was deposed by the officers of his church, who, with the concurrence of his wife and son, put Deacon Granger in possession, not only of the church property, but even of Dowie's private belongings. Dowio instituted a suit in the United States District Court for reinstatement, estimating the property at two millions sterling. The court ecided that, as the property had been made by contributions to Dowie in his representative capacity, it passed to his successor in the office of general overseer. In the course of the suit it was stated that Dowie's account in Zion City bank was overdrawn more than 480,000 dollars, that he had been drawing for his personal use at the rate of 84,000 dollars a year, and had lost 1,200,000 dollars in Wall Street in the 1903-4 'slump.' Dowie was now a broken man. He was afflicted with partial paralysis, and with strange illusions as to the importance of his intervention in international politics. He died on 9 March 1907 at Shiloh House, Zion City, Illinois.
Dowie was an attractive personality, a man of fine build, though obese and bow-legged, with brilliant, sparkling eyes and a flowing white beard; a turban veiled his baldness, and his fancy dress was tasteful and picturesque. He did not shine as a speaker, being long-winded and dull. After his death a rival fanatic, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, 'the promised Messiah,' Sublished a pamphlet (n.d., but written in April 1907), in which the fate of Dowie was treated as a 'divine judgment' on his opposition to Islam.
[R. Harlan, J. A. Dowie, and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, 1906 (three portraits); The Times, 11 March 1907; Annual Register, 1907; sundry pamphlets and leaflets emanating from Zion city.]