Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hindmarsh, Robert

HINDMARSH, ROBERT (1759–1835), organiser of the ‘new church,’ was born at Alnwick, Northumberland, on 8 Nov. 1759. His father, James Hindmarsh, was one of John Wesley's preachers, and was in 1777 under training by Wesley in London. Robert, who was never a methodist, became a printer, setting up for himself at 32 Clerkenwell Close. His mind early turned towards the writings of mystics; in 1778 he became acquainted with Swedenborg's ‘Heaven and Hell;’ about 1781 he met with one of Anthoinette Bourignon's works, and afterwards with those of Engelbrecht; a methodist preacher complained of his lending about works of this class. In December 1783 he formed a society (originally consisting of five members) for the purpose of studying Swedenborg's works. Next year rooms were taken for ‘the theosophical society’ in New Court, Middle Temple. Among the members were John Flaxman [q. v.], the sculptor, William Sharp, the engraver, two clergymen, and Hindmarsh's father, who left methodism in 1785. Hindmarsh printed for this society Swedenborg's ‘Apocalypsis Explicata’ (1785–1789), and in 1786 he issued his own abridgment of Bourignon's ‘Light of the World.’ A proposal made on 19 April 1787 to open a place of worship was defeated by John Clowes [q. v.], who came from Manchester to oppose it. However, on 31 July sixteen worshippers met at the house of Thomas Wright, a watchmaker, in the Poultry. James Hindmarsh, his father, was chosen by lot to administer the sacraments; ten communicated, and five, including Robert Hindmarsh, were baptised into the ‘new church.’ On 27 Jan. 1788 a chapel in Great Eastcheap (bearing over its entrance the words ‘Now it is allowable’) was opened with a sermon by Hindmarsh's father. On 1 June two priests, the elder Hindmarsh and Samuel Smith, another ex-methodist preacher, were ordained by twelve members, of whom Robert Hindmarsh was one selected by lot. In 1789 Hindmarsh was expelled (with five others) on the ground of lax views of the conjugal relation, perhaps only theoretical. He therefore vowed never again to be a member of ‘any society;’ but he contrived to become sole tenant of the premises in Eastcheap, the majority seceding to Store Street, Tottenham Court Road. He got into controversy with Joseph Priestley, to whom he had lent (1791) Swedenborg's works, and attended annual conferences of believers in Swedenborg's doctrine, advocating in 1792 the autocracy of the priesthood. Hindmarsh held a conference (of seven members) in 1793, at which a hierarchy of three orders was agreed on, and Great Britain parcelled into twenty-four dioceses; but for want of funds the Eastcheap chapel was closed within the year. A few years later he got his friends to build a ‘temple’ in Cross Street, Hatton Garden, at a cost of 3,000l. It was opened on 30 July 1797 by Joseph Proud [q. v.], removed from Birmingham. Proud left in 1799 owing to disputes with the proprietors, and the chapel subsequently became the scene of Edward Irving's labours. Meanwhile Hindmarsh tried stockbroking, with only temporary success. In 1811 William Cowherd [q. v.] invited him to Salford to superintend a printing office for cheap editions of Swedenborg's works. He soon broke with Cowherd, but some of the hearers of Clowes and of Cowherd persuaded him to stay. He preached in Clarence Street, Manchester, from 7 July 1811, holding on Thursdays in 1812 a debating society, which he called the ‘new school of theology.’ His friends built for him (1813) a ‘New Jerusalem temple’ in Salford. At the conference held in Derby, 1818, over which Hindmarsh presided, it was resolved that he had been ‘virtually ordained by the divine auspices.’ Hindmarsh preached at Salford till 1824. After his retirement he wrote a history of the ‘new church.’ He died on 2 Jan. 1835 in his daughter's house at Gravesend, and was buried at Milton-next-Gravesend. He married on 7 May 1782, and had five children; his wife died on 2 March 1833.

Among his publications are:

  1. ‘Letters to Dr. Priestley,’ &c., 1792, 8vo.
  2. ‘Reflections on the Unitarian and Trinitarian Doctrines,’ &c., 1813, 8vo.
  3. ‘A Seal upon the Lips of … all … who refuse to acknowledge the sole … Divinity of … Christ,’ &c., Manchester, 1814, 8vo.
  4. A Compendium of the Chief Doctrines,’ &c., Manchester, 1816, 12mo.
  5. ‘Remarks on the Holy League,’ &c., Manchester, 1816, 8vo.
  6. ‘A Key to the Spiritual Significance,’ &c., Manchester, 1820, 12mo.
  7. ‘A Vindication of … Swedenborg,’ Manchester, 1821, 8vo, which was attacked by the Rev. William Ettrick in ‘The Trial of the Spirits,’ &c., Sunderland, 1825, 8vo.
  8. ‘Christianity and Deism,’ &c., Manchester, 1826, 8vo.

Posthumous were:

  1. ‘Precious Stones,’ &c., 1851, 8vo.
  2. ‘Rise and Progress of the New Jerusalem Church,’ &c., 1861, 12mo (portrait; edited by E. Madeley).

He translated Swedenborg's ‘De Ultimo Judicio,’ 1810, 8vo, and ‘Coronis,’ Manchester, 1811, 8vo. He was editor of successive periodical publications in the interests of his movement, the earliest being ‘The New Jerusalem Magazine,’ &c., 1790, 8vo; issued a catechism, 1820; drew up a ‘Liturgy of the New Jerusalem Church,’ 1827, 8vo, superseding Cowherd's of 1793; and published ‘Minutes’ of the general conferences, 1789, 8vo, and 1793, 8vo. His father, James Hindmarsh, published a ‘Dictionary of Correspondencies,’ &c., 1794, 12mo.

[Hindmarsh's Rise and Progress, 1861; White's Emanuel Swedenborg, 1867, i. 225 sq., ii. 598 sq.; Hindmarsh's edition of Bourignon's Light of the World, 1786, pp. 44 sq.; Priestley's Works, 1822, xxi. 44; Tyerman's Life of Wesley, 1871, iii. 236; Sutton's Lancashire Authors, 1876, p. 55.]

A. G.