RAFFLES, THOMAS (1788–1863), independent minister, only son of William Raffles (d. 9 Nov. 1825), solicitor, was born in Princes Street, Spitalfields, London, on 17 May 1788. He was first cousin of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles [q. v.] His mother was a Wesleyan methodist, and he joined that body at ten years of age. In 1800 he was sent to a boarding-school at Peckham, kept by a baptist minister; among his schoolfellows was his lifelong friend, Richard Slate [q. v.], the biographer of Oliver Heywood. At Peckham he joined the congregation of William Bengo Collyer [q. v.] For some months in 1803 he was employed as a clerk in Doctors' Commons, but returned to Peckham (October 1803) in order to prepare for the ministry. He studied at Homerton College (1805–9) under John Pye Smith [q. v.], gave early tokens of preaching power, and after declining a call (20 Jan. 1809) to Hanover Street Chapel, Long Acre, he settled at George Yard Chapel, Hammersmith, being ordained at Kensington Chapel on 22 June 1809. On the sudden death (5 Aug. 1811) of Thomas Spencer [q. v.], minister of Newington Chapel, Liverpool, Raffles was invited to succeed him. He preached at Liverpool in November 1811, accepted the call on 11 Jan. 1812, began his ministry on 19 April, and was ‘set apart to the pastoral office’ on 28 May, the congregation having removed on 27 May to a new chapel in Great George Street.
His ministry in Liverpool, which lasted till 24 Feb. 1862, was one of great eminence. No nonconformist minister in Liverpool held for so long a period so commanding a position. In politics he took no public part, though a liberal in principle. In September 1833 he declined an invitation to succeed Rowland Hill (1744–1833) [q. v.] at Surrey Chapel, London. He was chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales in 1839. On 19 Feb. 1840 his chapel in Great George Street was destroyed by fire. A new chapel on the same site was opened on 21 Oct.
In conjunction with George Hadfield (1787–1879) [q. v.], Raffles was one of the main founders in 1816 of the Blackburn Academy for the education of independent ministers, of which Joseph Fletcher, D.D. [q. v.], was the first theological tutor. The removal of the institution to Manchester, as the Lancashire Independent College, was largely due to Raffles. From March 1839 till his death he was chairman of the education committee, and raised a large part of the money for the existing college buildings at Whalley Range, near Manchester, opened on 26 April 1843. The first professor of biblical criticism was Dr. Samuel Davidson, the author of the second volume in the tenth edition, 1856, 8vo, of the ‘Introduction to the … Scriptures,’ by Thomas Hartwell Horne [q. v.] In the controversy raised by this publication, which produced Davidson's resignation in 1858, Raffles took the conservative side. On 20 June 1861 his services to the college were acknowledged by the foundation of the Raffles scholarship and the Raffles library. He had received the degree of LL.D. from Marischal College, Aberdeen, on 22 Dec. 1820, when his testimonials were signed by the Dukes of Sussex and Somerset; and in July 1830 the degree of D.D. from Union College, Connecticut.
In the history of nonconformity, especially in Lancashire, he was deeply interested, accumulating a large collection of original documents, of which much use has been made by Halley and some by Nightingale. These manuscripts are now in the library of the Lancashire Independent College. He was a great collector of autographs of all kinds. He left forty folio volumes of them, and as many quartos, besides a collection of American autographs in seven volumes.
Raffles died on 18 Aug. 1863. He was buried on 24 Aug. in the Necropolis, Liverpool. In person he was tall and dignified, his voice and manner were suasive, and his powers of anecdote were famous. In the pulpit he wore cassock, gown, and bands. He married, on 18 April 1815, Mary Catherine (b. 31 July 1796, d. 17 May 1843), only daughter of James Hargreaves of Liverpool. He had three sons and a daughter; his eldest son, and biographer, being Thomas Stamford Raffles, at one time stipendiary magistrate of Liverpool.
He published, besides single sermons:
- ‘Memoirs … of Thomas Spencer,’ &c., Liverpool, 1813, 12mo; seven editions, besides several in America.
- ‘Poems by Three Friends,’ &c., 1813, 8vo (anon.); 2nd edit. 1815, 8vo, gives the names [see Brown, James Baldwin the elder].
- ‘Klopstock's “The Messiah” … the Five last Books prepared for the Press,’ &c. 1814, 12mo (dedicated to Queen Charlotte); 1815, 12mo, 3 vols.
- ‘Letters during a Tour through … France, Savoy,’ &c., Liverpool, 1818, 12mo; five editions, besides American reprints.
- ‘Lectures on … Practical Religion,’ &c., Liverpool, 1820, 12mo.