Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thom, John Hamilton

THOM, JOHN HAMILTON (1808–1894), unitarian divine, younger son of John Thom (d. 1808), was born on 10 Jan. 1808 at Newry, co. Down, where his father, a native of Lanarkshire, was presbyterian minister from 1800. His mother was Martha Anne (1779–1859), daughter of Isaac Glenny. In 1823 he was admitted at the Belfast Academical Institution as a student under the care of the Armagh presbytery. He became assistant to Thomas Dix Hincks [q. v.] as a teacher of classics and Hebrew, while studying theology under Samuel Hanna [q. v.] The writings of William Ellery Channing made him a unitarian; he did not join the Irish remonstrants under Henry Montgomery [q. v.], but preached his first sermon in July 1829 at Renshaw Street Chapel, Liverpool, and shortly afterwards was chosen minister of the Ancient Chapel, Toxteth Park, Liverpool. On 10 May 1831 he was nominated as successor to John Hincks as minister of Renshaw Street Chapel, and entered on the pastoral office there on 7 Aug., having meanwhile preached (17 July) the funeral sermon of William Roscoe [q. v.], the historian; this was his first publication. The settlement (1832) of James Martineau in Liverpool gave him a congenial associate; in 1833 his interest in practical philanthropy was stimulated by the visit of Joseph Tuckerman from Boston, Massachusetts; his personal connection with Blanco White [q. v.] began in January 1835. At Christmas of that year he was a main founder of the Liverpool Domestic Mission. In July 1838 he succeeded John Relly Beard [q. v.] as editor of the ‘Christian Teacher,’ a monthly which developed (1845) into the ‘Prospective Review’ [see Tayler, John James]. From February to May 1839 he contributed four lectures, and a defensive ‘letter,’ to the Liverpool unitarian controversy, conducted in conjunction with Martineau and Henry Giles (1809–1882), in response to the challenge of thirteen Anglican divines. Thom's chief antagonist was Thomas Byrth [q. v.]

On 25 June 1854 he resigned his charge, and went abroad for travel and study, his place at Renshaw Street being taken by William Henry Channing (1810–1884), nephew of the Boston divine. He returned to Renshaw Street in November 1857, and ministered there till his final retirement on 31 Dec. 1866. From 1866 to 1880 he acted as visitor to Manchester New College, London. His last public appearance was at the opening (16 Nov. 1892) of new buildings for the Liverpool Domestic Mission. Latterly his eyesight failed, and for a short time before his death he was quite blind. He died at his residence, Oakfield, Greenbank, Liverpool, on 2 Sept. 1894, and was buried on 7 Sept. in the graveyard of the Ancient Chapel, Toxteth Park. He married (2 Jan. 1838) Hannah Mary (1816–1872), second daughter of William Rathbone (1787–1868) [see under Rathbone, (1757–1809)], but had no issue.

In his ‘Life of Blanco White,’ 1845, his best known work, Thom does little to suggest the quality of his own religious teaching. By his published discourses he presented himself to many minds as a master of rich and penetrating thought. In the pulpit his powers were obscured by a fastidious self-restraint. On the platform he was brilliant and convincing.

The following are the most important of his publications: 1. ‘Memoir’ prefixed to ‘Sermons’ by John Hincks, 1832, 8vo. 2. ‘St. Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians,’ 1851, 8vo (expository sermons). 3. ‘Letters, embracing his Life, by John James Tayler,’ 1872, 2 vols. 8vo; 2nd ed. 1873, 8vo. 4. ‘Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ,’ 1883, 8vo (sermons); 2nd ser. 1886, 8vo. Posthumous were: 5. ‘A Spiritual Faith,’ 1895, 8vo (sermons; with portrait and memorial preface by Dr. Martineau). 6. ‘Special Services and Prayers,’ 1895, 8vo (unpublished). His ‘Hymns, Chants, and Anthems,’ 1854, 8vo, is perhaps the best, certainly the least sectarian, of unitarian hymn-books.

He has sometimes been confused with his Liverpool contemporary, David Thom, D.D., a presbyterian, who became a universalist, published several theological treatises, and compiled a very valuable account of ‘Liverpool Churches and Chapels,’ Liverpool, 1854, 16mo.

[In Memoriam, by V. D. Davis, in Liverpool Unitarian Annual, 1895, with complete list of Thom's publications; Martineau's memorial preface to Spiritual Faith, 1895; Christian Reformer, 1857, p. 757; Evans's Hist. of Renshaw Street Chapel, 1887, pp. 33 sq.; Christian Life, 8 Sept. and 15 Sept. 1894; Spectator, 8 Sept. 1894; Inquirer, 8 Sept. 1894; Liverpool Mercury, 9 Oct. 1894; Evans's Record of the Provincial Assembly of Lancashire and Cheshire, 1896; personal recollection.]

A. G.