Thomas Raffles

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Portrait of Revd Raffles Portrait of Revd Raffles (4669900).jpg
Portrait of Revd Raffles

Thomas Raffles (1788–1863) was an English Congregational minister, known as a dominant nonconformist figure at the Great George Street Congregational Church in Liverpool, and as an abolitionist and historian.

Congregational church religious denomination

Congregational churches are Protestant churches in the Reformed tradition practicing congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs.

Nonconformist Protestant Christians in Wales and England who did not follow the Church of England

In English church history, a Nonconformist was a Protestant who did not "conform" to the governance and usages of the established Church of England. Broad use of the term was precipitated after the Restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, when the Act of Uniformity 1662 re-established the opponents of reform within the Church of England. By the late 19th century the term specifically included the Reformed Christians, plus the Baptists and Methodists. The English Dissenters such as the Puritans who violated the Act of Uniformity 1559—typically by practising radical, sometimes separatist, dissent—were retrospectively labelled as Nonconformists.

Great George Street Congregational Church Church in Merseyside, England

Great George Street Congregational Church is on the corner of Great George Street and Nelson Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, England. It is no longer in use as a Congregational church, and has been converted into a community arts centre. Formerly nicknamed The Blackie, it has since been officially named The Black-E. The former church is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building.


Early life

The only son of William Raffles (died 9 November 1825), a solicitor, he was born in Princes Street, Spitalfields, London, on 17 May 1788; he was first cousin to Stamford Raffles. His mother was a Wesleyan Methodist, and he became one at ten years of age. In 1800 he was sent to a boarding-school in Peckham, kept by a Baptist minister, and among his schoolfellows was his lifelong friend Richard Slate the biographer. While there he joined the congregation of William Bengo Collyer. For some months in 1803 he was employed as a clerk at Doctors' Commons, but returned to Peckham (October 1803) to prepare for the ministry. [1]

Spitalfields area in the East End of London

Spitalfields is a district in the East End of London and within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The area is formed around Commercial Street and includes the locale around Brick Lane, Christ Church, Toynbee Hall and Commercial Tavern. It has several markets, including Spitalfields Market, the historic Old Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane Market and Petticoat Lane Market. It was part of the ancient parish of Stepney in the county of Middlesex and was split off as a separate parish in 1729. Just outside the City of London, the parish became part of the Metropolitan Board of Works area in 1855 as part of the Whitechapel District. It formed part of the County of London from 1889 and was part of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney from 1900. It was abolished as a civil parish in 1921.

Stamford Raffles 18th-century British statesman who founded Singapore and the British Malaya

Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles, FRS was a British statesman, Lieutenant-Governor of the Dutch East Indies (1811–1816) and Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen (1818–1824), best known for his founding of modern Singapore and the British Malaya.

Wesleyan Methodist Church (Great Britain) major Methodist movement in Great Britain following its split from the Church of England

The Wesleyan Methodist Church was the name used by the majority Methodist movement in Great Britain following its split from the Church of England after the death of John Wesley and the appearance of parallel Methodist movements. The word Wesleyan was added to the title to differentiate it from the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, founded by George Whitefield who, like Wesley and his brother Charles, had been a member of the Holy Club in Oxford to which the epithet Methodist was first applied, and from the Primitive Methodist movement, which separated from the Wesleyans in 1807. The Wesleyan Methodist Church followed the Wesleys in holding to an Arminian theology, as against Whitefield's Calvinism; its Conference was also the legal successor to John Wesley as holder of the property of the original Methodist Societies.

Raffles studied at Homerton College (1805–9) under John Pye Smith, was thought to show early promise as a preacher, and after declining a call to Hanover Street Chapel, went to George Yard Chapel, Hammersmith; he was ordained at Kensington Chapel on 22 June 1809. On the sudden death (5 August 1811) of Thomas Spencer, minister of Newington Chapel, Liverpool, Raffles was invited to succeed him. He preached at Liverpool in November 1811, accepted the call on 11 January 1812, began his ministry on 19 April, and was "set apart" on 28 May, the congregation having moved the day before to a new chapel in Great George Street. [1]

Independent College, later Homerton Academy, was a dissenting academy in Homerton just outside London, England, in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Hammersmith district in west London, England

Hammersmith is a district of west London, England, located 4.3 miles (6.9 km) west-southwest of Charing Cross. It is the administrative centre of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.

Thomas Spencer (minister) English congregationalist minister

Thomas Spencer (1791–1811) was an English Congregational minister.

Liverpool ministry

The prominent ministry of Raffles in Liverpool lasted till 24 February 1862—he avoided politics, though he had liberal principles. He received the degree of LL.D. from Marischal College, Aberdeen, on 22 December 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, U.S.A. [1]

Union College college located in Schenectady, New York, United States

Union College is a private liberal arts college in Schenectady, New York. Founded in 1795, it was the first institution of higher learning chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. In the 19th century, it became the "Mother of Fraternities", as three of the earliest such organizations were established there. After 175 years as a traditional all-male institution, Union College began enrolling women in 1970.

In September 1833 Raffles declined an invitation to succeed Rowland Hill at Surrey Chapel in London. He was chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales in 1839. On 19 February 1840 his chapel in Great George Street was destroyed by fire. A new chapel on the same site was opened on 21 October. In the pulpit he wore cassock, gown, and bands. [1]

Rowland Hill (preacher) British preacher

Rowland Hill A.M. (1744–1833) was a popular English preacher, enthusiastic evangelical and an influential advocate of smallpox vaccination. He was founder and resident pastor of a wholly independent chapel, the Surrey Chapel, London; chairman of the Religious Tract Society; and a keen supporter of the British and Foreign Bible Society and the London Missionary Society. The famous instigator of penny postage, Rowland Hill, is said to have been christened 'Rowland' after him.

Great George Street Congregational Church, Liverpool today Blackie and Arch.jpg
Great George Street Congregational Church, Liverpool today

Lancashire Independent College

With George Hadfield, Raffles was one of the main founders in 1816 of Blackburn Academy for the education of Independent ministers, where Joseph Fletcher was the first theological tutor. The move 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. [1]

George Hadfield (politician) British politician

George Hadfield was an English lawyer, author and Radical politician who represented Sheffield for 22 years.

The first professor of biblical criticism at the College was Samuel Davidson, the author of the second volume in the tenth edition, 1856, of the Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures by Thomas Hartwell Horne. 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. [1]


Raffles died on 18 August 1863. He was buried on 24 August in the Liverpool Necropolis, Liverpool. [1]


Raffles published: [1]

Raffles edited an enlarged edition, 1815 2 vols. (reprinted 1825), of the Self-interpreting Bible, by John Brown; and was one of the editors of the Investigator, a short-lived London quarterly started in 1820. He contributed eight hymns to William Bengo Collyer's Hymns, 1812; these, with 38 others, were included in his own Supplement to Dr. Watts, 1853. John D. Julian annotates 16 of his hymns in common use. [1]

As a historian of nonconformity, Raffles collected related original documents, of which use was made by Robert Halley, and to some extent by Nightingale. These manuscripts went the library of the Lancashire Independent College. He was a major collector also of autographs, of all kinds, leaving 87 volumes of them. [1]


Raffles married, on 18 April 1815, Mary Catherine (born 31 July 1796, died 17 May 1843), only daughter of James Hargreaves of Liverpool. He had three sons and a daughter; his eldest son and biographer Thomas Stamford Raffles served as stipendiary magistrate of Liverpool. [1]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Lee, Sidney, ed. (1896). "Raffles, Thomas (1788-1863)"  . Dictionary of National Biography . 47. London: Smith, Elder & Co.


Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1896). "Raffles, Thomas (1788-1863)". Dictionary of National Biography . 47. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

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