Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jenkins, Henry

JENKINS, HENRY (d. 1670), called the ‘modern Methuselah,’ was a native of Ellerton-upon-Swale, Yorkshire. He subsisted as a labourer and fisherman. Latterly he gained a livelihood by begging, and to attract attention regaled his patrons with anecdotes of his younger days. He claimed to have been born about 1501; to have been sent at the time of the battle of Flodden (1513), being then between ten and twelve years of age, to North Allerton with a horse-load of arrows for the army; to have been butler to Lord Conyers, whose carouses with Marmaduke, abbot of Fountains Abbey, he recollected; and to have witnessed the dissolution of the monasteries. He had sworn, he said, as a witness in a cause at York assizes, to 120 years. In an interview with Miss Ann Savile of Bolton-on-Swale, in 1662 or 1663, Jenkins asserted his age to be 162 or 163; but in April 1667, when he was called as a witness in a tithe cause between Charles Anthony, vicar of Catterick, and Calvert Smithson, a parishioner, he declared himself to be actually five or six years younger, that is to say, only 157. Anthony, a very careful parish priest, who conducted Jenkins's funeral at Bolton, in December 1670, merely described him in the register as ‘a very aged and poore man.’ Jenkins's wife, too, had predeceased him only a very few years, having been buried at Bolton on 27 Jan. 1667–8.

In 1743 an obelisk to Jenkins's memory was erected in Bolton churchyard. In the church a black marble tablet was placed, recording that he lived to the ‘amazing age of 169.’ But the belief in his marvellous age rests upon no better evidence than Jenkins's own contradictory statements.

There are two engravings said to represent Jenkins, executed by Worlidge and R. Page respectively ‘from an original painting done by Walker.’

[Miss Savile's letter in Phil. Trans. xix. 266–268; Thoms's Longevity of Man, 1879, pp. 67–84; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, i. 187; Whitaker's Richmondshire, 1823, ii. 39–40; Evidences of the Great Age of H. Jenkins, Richmond, 1859, 8vo; Clarkson's Richmond, pp. 396–7; Wilson's Wonderful Characters, i. 412–414; Granger's Biog. Hist. of England, 2nd edit., iv. 212.]

G. G.