Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wilson, Thomas (1663-1755)

WILSON, THOMAS (1663–1755), bishop of Sodor and Man, sixth of seven children and fifth son of Nathaniel (d. 29 May 1702) and Alice (d. 16 Aug. 1708) Wilson, was born at Burton, Cheshire, on 20 Dec. 1663. His mother was a sister of Richard Sherlock [q. v.] From the King's school, Chester, under Francis Harpur (Cruttwell; but a local tradition identifies his master with Edward Harpur of the grammar school, Frodsham) he entered Trinity College, Dublin, as a sizar on 29 May 1682, his tutor being John Barton, afterwards dean of Ardagh. Swift entered in the previous month; other contemporaries were Peter Browne [q. v.] and Edward Chandler [q. v.] He was elected scholar on 4 June 1683. In February 1686 he graduated B.A. The influence of Michael Hewetson (d. 1709) turned his thoughts from medicine to the church. He was ordained deacon before attaining the canonical age by William Moreton [q. v.], bishop of Kildare, on St. Peter's day (29 June) 1686. He left Ireland to become curate (10 Feb. 1687) to his uncle Sherlock, in the chapelry of Newchurch Kenyon, now a separate parish, then in the parish of Winwick, Lancashire. He was ordained priest by Nicholas Stratford [q. v.] on 20 Oct. 1689, and remained in charge of Newchurch till the end of August 1692. He was then appointed domestic chaplain to William George Richard Stanley, ninth earl of Derby (d. 1702), and tutor to his only son, James, lord Strange (1680–1699), with a salary of 30l. Early in 1693 he was appointed master of the almshouse at Lathom, yielding 20l. more. At Easter he made a vow to set apart a fifth of his slender income for pious uses, especially for the poor. In June he was offered by Lord Derby the valuable rectory of Badsworth, West Riding of Yorkshire, but refused it, having made a resolution against non-residence. He graduated M.A. in 1696 (Cat. of Graduates Univ. of Dublin, 1869; Stubbs says 1693).

On 27 Nov. 1697 Lord Derby offered him the bishopric of Sodor and Man, vacant since the death of Baptist Levinz [q. v.], and insisted on his taking it. On 10 Jan. 1698 he was created LL.D. by Archbishop Tenison (his own statement; Foster says the entry is of ‘John’ Wilson). On 16 Jan. 1698 he was consecrated at the Savoy (Le Neve, Fasti, ed. Hardy, 1854, iii. 328; Stubbs, Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum, 1897, p. 131). On 28 Jan. the rectory of Badsworth was again offered to him in commendam, and again refused, though the see of Man was worth no more than 300l. a year. His first business was to recover the arrears of royal bounty (an annuity of 100l. granted 1675). On 6 April he landed at Derby Haven in the Isle of Man, and was stalled on 11 April in the ruins of St. German's Cathedral, Peel, and at once took up his residence at Bishop's Court, Kirk Michael. He found it also in a ruinous condition, and set about rebuilding the greater part of it, at a cost of 1,400l., of which all but 200l. came from his own pocket. He soon became ‘a very energetic planter’ of fruit and forest trees, turning ‘the bare slopes’ into ‘a richly wooded glen.’ He was an equally zealous farmer and miller, doing much by his example to develop the resources of the island. For some time he was ‘the only physician in the island;’ he set up a drug-shop, giving advice and medicine gratis to the poor (Cruttwell, p. xci). He had not been two months in the island when he had before him the petition of Christopher Hampton of Kirk Braddon, whose wife had been condemned to seven years' penal servitude for lamb stealing, and who asked the bishop's license for a second marriage in consideration of his ‘motherless children.’ Wilson gave him (26 May 1698) ‘liberty to make such a choice as may be most for yor support and comfort.’ Yet his views of marriage were usually strict; marriage with a deceased wife's sister he regarded as incest.

The building of new churches (beginning with the Castletown chapel, 1698) was one of his earliest cares, and in 1699 he took up the scheme of Thomas Bray (1656–1730) [q. v.], and began the establishment of parochial libraries in his diocese. This led to provision in the Manx language for the needs of his people. The printing of ‘prayers for the poor families’ is projected in a memorandum of Whit-Sunday 1699, but was not carried out till 30 May 1707, the date of issue of his ‘Principles and Duties of Christianity … in English and Manks … with short and plain directions and prayers,’ 1707, 2 parts, 8vo. This was the first book published in Manx, and is often styled the ‘Manx Catechism.’ It was followed by ‘A Further Instruction;’ ‘A Short and Plain Instruction … for the Lord's Supper,’ 1733; and ‘The Gospel of St. Matthew,’ 1748 (translated, with the help of his vicars-general, in 1722). The remaining Gospels and the Acts were also translated into Manx under his supervision, but not published (Moore, p. 218). He freely issued occasional orders for special services, with new prayers, the Uniformity Act not specifying the Isle of Man. A public library was established by him at Castletown in 1706, and from that year, by help of the trustees of the ‘academic fund,’ and by benefactions from Lady Elizabeth Hastings [q. v.], he did much to increase the efficiency of the grammar schools and parish schools in the island. He was created D.D. at Oxford on 3 April 1707, and incorporated at Cambridge on 11 June. In 1724 he founded, and in 1732 endowed, a school at Burton, his birthplace.

The restoration of ecclesiastical discipline was, from the first, an object which Wilson had at heart. Scandalous cases, frequently involving the morals of the clergy, gave him much trouble. The ‘spiritual statutes’ of the island (valid, where not superseded by the Anglican canons of 1603) were of native growth, and often uncouth in their provisions. Without attempting to disturb these (with the single exception of abolishing commutation of penance by fine), Wilson drew up his famous ‘Ecclesiastical Constitutions,’ ten in number, which were subscribed by the clergy in a convocation at Bishop's Court on 3 Feb. 1704, ratified by the governor and council on 4 Feb., confirmed by James Stanley, tenth earl of Derby (d. 1736), and publicly proclaimed on the Tinwald Hill on 6 June. Of these constitutions it was said by Sir Peter King, first lord King [q. v.], that ‘if the ancient discipline of the church were lost, it might be found in all its purity in the Isle of Man.’

The discipline worked smoothly till 1713, ‘when it came into collision with the official class’ (Moore, p. 192), owing to an apprehended reduction of revenue through Wilson's practice of mitigating fines in the spiritual court. Robert Mawdesley (d. 1732), governor from 1703, had been in harmony with Wilson; his successor in 1713, Alexander Horne, became Wilson's determined opponent. The first direct conflict began in 1716. Mary Henricks, a married woman, was excommunicated (22 Oct.) for adultery, and condemned to penance and prison. She appealed (20 Dec.) to the lord of the isle, and Horne allowed the appeal; Wilson, rightly maintaining that there was no appeal except to the archbishop of York, did not appear at the hearing (23 Dec. 1717, in London), and was fined (19 Feb. 1719) in 10l.; the fine was remitted (20 Aug.). The episcopal registrar, John Woods of Kirk Malew, was twice imprisoned (1720 and 1721) for refusing to act without the bishop's direction. The governor's wife (Jane Horne) was ordered (19 Dec. 1721) to ask forgiveness (in mitigation of penance) for slanderous statements. For admitting her to communion and for false doctrine Archdeacon Robert Horrobin, the governor's chaplain, was suspended (17 May 1722). Refusing to recall the sentence, Wilson was fined (25 June) 50l., and his vicars-general 20l. apiece, and in default were imprisoned in Castle Rushen (29 June). Wilson appealed to the crown (19 July); they were released on 31 Aug., but the fines were paid through Thomas Corlett. The dampness of the prison had so affected Wilson's right hand that he was henceforth unable to move his fingers in writing. In 1724 the bishopric of Exeter was offered to Wilson as a means of reimbursement. On his declining, George I promised to meet his expenses from the privy purse, a pledge which the king's death left unfulfilled.

Part of Horrobin's false doctrine was his approval of a book which Wilson had censured. On 19 Jan. 1722 John Stevenson, a layman of Balladoole, forwarded to Wilson a copy of the ‘Independent Whig,’ 1721, 8vo [see Gordon, Thomas, (d. 1750), and Trenchard, John, (1662–1723)], which had been circulated in the island and sent to Stevenson by Richard Worthington for the public library. Wilson issued (27 Jan.) a pastoral letter to his clergy, bidding them excommunicate the ‘agents and abettors’ of ‘such-like blasphemous books.’ For suppressing the book Stevenson was imprisoned in Castle Rushen by Horne, who required Wilson to deliver up the volume as a condition of Stevenson's release. This he did (21 Feb.) under protest. When the book reached William Ross, the librarian, he said ‘he would as soon take poison as receive that book into the library upon any other terms or conditions than immediately to burn it.’ Horrobin, on the other hand, affirmed (December 1722) that the work ‘had rules and directions in it sufficient to bring us to heaven, if we could observe them’ (cf. Letter to the publisher, by W[alter] A[wbery], prefixed to Independent Whig, 5th edit. 1732).

Horne was superseded in 1723. Floyd, his successor, was generally unpopular. With the appointment of Thomas Horton in 1725, began a new conflict between civil and ecclesiastical authority. Lord Derby now claimed (5 Oct. 1725) that the act of Henry VIII, placing Man in the province of York, abrogated all insular laws in matters spiritual. The immediate result was that Horton refused to carry out a recent decision of the House of Keys, granting soldiers to execute orders of the ecclesiastical court. A revision of the ‘spiritual statutes’ was proposed by the House of Keys, with Wilson's concurrence. Horton took the step of suspending the whole code till ‘amended and revised.’ He further deprived the sumner-general and appointed another. Unavailing petitions for redress were sent to Lord Derby; the House of Keys appealed (6 Nov. 1728) to the king in council, but nothing came of it.

On the death (1 Feb. 1736) of the tenth lord Derby, the lordship of Man passed to James Murray, second duke of Atholl (d. 1764). The revision of statutes proposed in 1725 was at once carried through, with the result of ‘a marked absence of disputes between the civil and ecclesiastical courts’ (Moore, p. 207). The intricate suit about impropriations (to all of which Atholl had a legal claim) jeopardised for a time the temporalities of the church, and was not finally settled till (7 July 1757) after Wilson's death; but with the aid of Sir Joseph Jekyll [q. v.] Wilson and his son were able to recover (1737) certain deeds securing to the clergy an equivalent for their tithe. Between Wilson and Atholl (and the governors of his appointment) there seems never to have been any personal friction. Under the revised ecclesiastical law presentments for moral offences were less frequent, procedure being less summary. But, while health lasted, Wilson was sedulous in administering the discipline through the spiritual courts, and there was an increase of clerical cases (Moore, p. 207). The extreme difficulty of obtaining suitable candidates for the miserably poor benefices led Wilson to get leave from the archbishop of York to ordain before the canonical age.

Wilson was not by nature an intolerant man, nor were his sympathies limited to the Anglican fold. It is said that Cardinal Fleury (d. 29 Jan. 1743) wrote to him, ‘as they were the two oldest bishops, and, he believed, the poorest in Europe,’ invited him to France, and was so pleased with his reply that he got an order prohibiting French privateers from ravaging the Isle of Man. Roman catholics ‘not unfrequently attended’ his services. He allowed dissenters ‘to sit or stand’ at the communion; not being compelled to kneel, they did so. The quakers ‘loved and respected him’ (Cruttwell, p. xcii). In 1735 he met James Edward Oglethorpe [q. v.] in London, and this was the beginning of his practical interest in foreign missions, though he was an early advocate of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and still earlier of the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge. His ‘Essay towards an Instruction for the Indians … in … Dialogues,’ 1740, 8vo, was begun at Oglethorpe's instance, and dedicated to the Georgia trustees. Wilson's son was entrusted with its revision for the press, and he submitted the manuscript to Isaac Watts. It must be remembered that most of the Georgia trustees were dissenters. Since 1738 Wilson had been interested in Zinzendorf, through friends who had met him at Oxford and London in 1737. He corresponded (1739) with Henry Cossart, author of a ‘Short Account of the Moravian Churches,’ and received from Zinzendorf and his coadjutors a copy of the Moravian catechism, with a letter (28 July 1740). Zinzendorf was again in London in 1749, holding there a synod (11 to 30 Sept.) News came of the death (23 Sept.) of Cochius of Berlin, ‘artistes’ of the ‘reformed tropus’ (one of three) in the Moravian church. The vacant and somewhat shadowy office was tendered to Wilson (with liberty to employ his son as substitute), Zinzendorf sending him a seal-ring. On 19 Dec. Wilson wrote his acceptance.

From 1750, his eighty-sixth year, Wilson was burdened with gout. He died at Bishop's Court on 7 March 1755, the fiftieth anniversary of his wife's death. His coffin was made from an elm tree planted by himself, and made into planks for that purpose some years before his death (ib. p. xci). He had a strong objection, mentioned in his will, to interments within churches, and was buried (11 March) at the east end of Kirk Michael churchyard, where a square marble monument marks his grave. Philip Moore preached the funeral sermon. His will (21 Dec. 1746; codicil, 1 June 1748) is printed by Keble. His portrait (painted in 1732?) was engraved (1735) by Vertue (reproduced, 1819, by Sievier). It shows his black skull-cap and ‘hair flowing and silvery.’ For his shoes he used ‘leathern thongs instead of buckles’ (Hone, p. 240). On 27 Oct. 1698 he was married at Winwick to Mary (b. 16 July 1674; d. 7 March 1705), daughter of Thomas Patten. By her he had four children, of whom Thomas (see below) survived him.

Wilson's rare unselfishness gives lustre to a life of fearless devotion to duty and wise and thrifty beneficence. The fame of his ecclesiastical discipline is rather due to the singularity of its exercise by an Anglican diocesan than to anything special either in its character or its fruits. The details furnished by Keble, with nauseous particularity from year to year, may be paralleled from the contemporary records of many a presbyterian court or anabaptist meeting. That Wilson acted with the single aim of the moral and religious improvement of his people was recognised by them, and his strictness, joined with his transparent purity, his uniform sweetness of temper, and his self-denying charities, drew to him the affectionate veneration of those to whom he dedicated his life.

Wilson's ‘Works’ were collected (under his son's direction) by Clement Cruttwell [q. v.], 1781, 2 vols. 4to, including a ‘Life’ (reprinted 1785, 3 vols. 8vo), and by John Keble [q. v.], with additions, in the ‘Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology,’ 1847–63, 7 vols. 8vo, preceded by a ‘Life,’ 1863, 2 vols. 8vo (or parts), to which Keble had devoted sixteen years' labour. Besides works noted above, many sermons and devotional pieces, he published:

  1. ‘Life,’ prefixed to the ‘Practical Christian,’ 1713, 8vo, by Richard Sherlock.
  2. ‘History of the Isle of Man’ in Gibson's (2nd) edit. of Camden's ‘Britannia,’ 1722, fol. vol. ii.
  3. ‘Observations’ included in ‘Abstract of the Historical Part of the Old Testament,’ 1735, 8vo (his ‘Notes’ are in an edition of the Bible, 1785, 4to).

Posthumous were:

  1. ‘Sacra Privata,’ first published in Cruttwell, 1781, vol. i. (the Oxford edition, 1838, has a preface by Cardinal Newman; the original manuscript of the ‘Sacra Privata’ was exhibited, by the president and fellows of Sion College, in the loan collection at the London church congress, 1899).
  2. ‘Maxims of Piety and Christianity’ (ditto).

Many devotional manuals have been framed, by extraction and adaptation, from Wilson's works. Of his writing Cardinal Newman says (1838): ‘There is nothing in him but what is plain, direct, homely, for the most part prosaic; all is sober, unstrained, rational, severely chastened in style and language.’

His son, Thomas Wilson (1703–1784), divine, was born at Bishop's Court on 24 Aug. 1703. He was the second son of the name, a previous Thomas having died an infant in 1701. His father taught him till he was sixteen, when he was placed with Clerk at the grammar school of Kirk Leatham, North Riding of Yorkshire. He matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on 20 April 1721, was elected student on 8 July 1724, and graduated B.A. on 17 Dec. 1724 (Keble, p. 660); M.A. 16 Dec. 1727, B.D. and D.D. 10 May 1739. He was ordained deacon (1729), and priest (1731) by John Potter (1674?–1747) [q. v.], then bishop of Oxford. From Christmas 1729 to September 1731 he assisted his father in the Isle of Man, and is said to have suggested the ‘clergy, widow, and orphans' fund’ (Cruttwell). One reason assigned for his leaving the island is that he did not know Manx (Keble, p. 739). He declined (November 1732) an invitation to the Georgia mission. In June 1737 he was made one of the king's chaplains. On 5 Dec. 1737 he was presented to the rectory of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, and held this preferment till death. He was made prebendary of Westminster on 11 April 1743, and held the rectory of St. Margaret's, Westminster, from 1753. During the Manx famine and pestilence (1739–42) he petitioned the king for a grant of breadcorn for the island. In 1743 and 1750 he visited his father in the Isle of Man. With John Leland (1691–1766) [q. v.] he corresponded from 1742, inviting his criticisms on his father's manuals of religion. He suggested to Leland that he should answer Dodwell (as he did in 1744), and Bolingbroke (1753); and Leland's chief work, ‘A View of the principal Deistical Writers’ (1754–6), was written as letters to Wilson, and published at his expense. He rebuilt (1776) the chancel of Kirk Michael church. Till her second marriage (1778) he was a great admirer of Catharine Macaulay [q. v.], placing (1774) his residence, Alfred House, Bath, at her disposal; he erected (8 Sept. 1777) a marble statue of her, by J. F. Moore, within the altar-rails of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, which the vestry ordered him to remove. He was a man of much benevolence, a considerable book collector, in politics a follower of Wilkes, and in religion anxious for the union of ‘all protestants.’ He died at Alfred House, Bath, on 15 April 1784; his body was brought to London ‘in grand funeral procession,’ with ‘near two hundred flambeaux,’ and buried (27 April) in St. Stephen's, Walbrook. He married (4 Feb. 1734) his cousin Mary, daughter of William Patten, and widow of William Hayward, of Stoke Newington, and had one son, who died in infancy. He left his property to his relative, Thomas Patten, father of John Wilson-Patten, baron Winmarleigh [q. v.] He wrote ‘A Review of the Project for … a new Square at Westminster … By a Sufferer,’ 1757, 8vo; and an introduction to ‘The Ornaments of Churches … with a … view to the late decoration of St. Margaret, Westminster,’ 1761, 4to (by William Hole).

[Life by Cruttwell, 1781; Life by Stowell, 1819; Life by Hone, in Lives of Eminent Christians, 1833, p. 161; Life by Keble, 1863, very full and exact, and embodying a large quantity of unpublished material; Gent. Mag. 1784, i. 317, 379; Butler's Memoirs of Hildesley, 1799; Stubbs's Univ. of Dublin, 1889, pp. 143, 347; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. v. 472; Moore's Sodor and Man, 1893, pp. 186 sq.]

A. G.

WILSON, THOMAS (1747–1813), master of Clitheroe grammar school, son of William and Isabella Wilson, was born at Priest Hutton, in the parish of Warton, near Lancaster, on 3 Dec. 1747, and educated at the grammar schools of Warton and Sedbergh. At the latter school he was an assistant under Dr. Wynne Bateman from