Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Venn, Henry (1796-1873)
VENN, HENRY (1796–1873), divine, son of John Venn, rector of Clapham, and grandson of Henry Venn (1725–1797) [q. v.], was born at Clapham on 10 Feb. 1796. He matriculated from Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1814, graduated B.A. as nineteenth wrangler in 1818, and was elected a fellow of that college in January 1819. He graduated M.A. in 1821 and B.D. in 1828. He was ordained deacon of Ely in 1819, and priest in 1820, and soon afterwards took the curacy of St. Dunstan-in-the-West. In practice it was a sole charge, and he remained there four years. He returned to Cambridge in 1824, where he was actively engaged as a lecturer, and afterwards as a tutor. He was proctor in 1825, and for a short time evening lecturer at St. Mary's. In 1827 he was appointed by an old friend of his family, named Wilberforce, to the incumbency of Drypool, Hull. He resigned his fellowship in 1829 on his marriage. In 1834 he accepted the living of St. John's, Holloway, in the gift of Daniel Wilson, vicar of Islington, which he held till 1848. He was appointed a prebendary of St. Paul's Cathedral in 1846.
He resigned St. John's in 1846, in order to devote himself entirely to the work of the Church Missionary Society. He acted as honorary secretary for thirty-two years, from 1841 to 1873, and it is with this society—his connection with which was hereditary, his father having been one of the founders in 1797—that his name will always be associated. His remarkable gifts of organisation, discrimination of character, and sound and rapid judgment, made him for many years the leading spirit in the counsels of the society. When he first undertook the work there were 107 European and nine native clergy employed by the society. When he died in 1873 these numbers had risen to 230 and 148 respectively. During his tenure of office no fewer than 498 clergymen were sent abroad. All of them passed under his personal inspection, and with most of them he as secretary maintained a regular correspondence. He was largely concerned in the establishment of eight or nine bishoprics for the more efficient superintendence of the missionary clergy, and was generally consulted in the appointments made. With a view to checking the slave trade on the west coast of Africa, and for the useful employment of native converts, he spent much time in developing the trade in the natural products of the country. He had young negroes sent to England in order to learn improved methods of preparation of cotton, palm oil, and other articles of trade; and he paid repeated visits to friends at Manchester engaged in the cotton industry.
In his later years his position as a recognised leader of the evangelical body in the church of England was acknowledged by his being placed on the two royal commissions commonly known as the ‘clerical subscription’ and the ‘ritual commissions.’ He died at Mortlake, Surrey, where he had resided for twelve years, on 13 Jan. 1873, and was buried in the churchyard of that parish. On 21 Jan. 1829 he was married to Martha, fourth daughter of Nicholas Sykes of Swanland, near Hull.
His incessant correspondence left little leisure for literary work, beyond occasional sermons and pamphlets upon the principal questions arising in his professional work. Among these may be mentioned ‘Colonial Church Legislation,’ 1850; ‘Lord Langdale and the Gorham Judgment,’ 1853; ‘Retrospect and Prospect of the Operations of the Church Missionary Society,’ 1865.
His only substantive works were the ‘Life and Letters of Henry Venn’ (his grandfather), first published in 1834; and his ‘Missionary Life of Xavier,’ 1866, an attempt to construct the life of the famous saint entirely from his own letters.
There is a portrait of him, by George Richmond, in the committee-room of the Church Missionary Society, and a marble relief in the crypt of St. Paul's.[Venn's Life, principally written by the Rev. W. Knight, his fellow-secretary, 1880; family knowledge.]