Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Martin, Jonathan (1782-1838)

MARTIN, JONATHAN (1782–1838), incendiary, brother of John Martin the painter, and William Martin, 'natural philosopher,' both of whom are separately noticed, was born at Highside House, near Hexham, Northumberland, in 1782, and was an apprentice to a tanner. In 1804 he went to London and, falling into the hands of a press-gang, was obliged to serve in the navy for about six years. Here his eccentricity was first noticed; he had wonderful dreams, and, according to his own account, met with many extraordinary adventures. In 1810 he commenced working as a farm labourer, joined the Wesleyan methodist connexion, and developed a strong antipathy to the church of England. The laxity of the clergy in going to parties, balls, and plays greatly offended him, and he marked his resentment by interrupting the services in various churches, and contradicting the preachers' assertions. In 1817, while Edward Legge, bishop of Oxford, was holding a confirmation at Stockton for the Bishop of Durham, Martin threatened to shoot the bishop. He was arrested and tried, when he was reported to be insane, and was confined in lunatic asylums in West Auckland and Gateshead successively. From the latter he succeeded in escaping on 17 June 1820, and after his recapture released himself for a second time on 1 July. Again working as a tanner he employed his evenings in preaching, and according to his own narrative was the means of converting several hundred persons. Being excluded from the society of the Wesleyan methodists for his intemperate zeal, he joined the primitive methodists, but was soon forbidden the use of their chapels. In 1826 he compiled and printed his biography at Lincoln, and he sought to make a living by hawking the book about the country; a third edition of five thousand copies appeared in 1828.

On 1 Feb. 1829 Martin secreted himself in York Minster, and late that night, after setting fire to the woodwork in the choir, made his escape through a window. At seven o'clock on the morning of 2 Feb. smoke was seen issuing from the roof, and immediate efforts were made to control the fire, but it was not got under until late in the afternoon. The roof of the central aisle was entirely destroyed from the lantern tower to the east window, a space of 131 feet in length. In the interior, from the organ screen to the altar screen, all the tabernacle work, the stalls, galleries, bishop's throne, and pulpit were entirely consumed. On 6 Feb. Martin was apprehended; he was tried at York Castle, his counsel being Henry (afterwards Lord) Brougham, on 31 March 1829, when he was declared not guilty on the ground of insanity. He was confined in St. Luke's Hospital, London, where he died on 3 June 1838. He was twice married and left issue.

[The Life of J. Martin, written by himself, Barnard Castle, editions in 1826, 1828, 1829, and 1830; The Life of Jonathan Martin, the Insane Prophet and Incendiary, Barnard Castle, 1829, with portrait; A Full Report of the Trial of J. Martin, York, 1829; L. T. Rede's York Castle, Leeds, 1829; Annual Register, 1829, Chronicle, pp. 23-4, 43-4; Report of the Trial of J. Martin, London, 1829; Baring-Gould's Yorkshire Oddities, 1874, ii. 139-95; The Trial of J. Martin, Leeds, 1864.]

G. C. B.