Haweis, Thomas

Author & Composer

(pronounced ‘Hawes’), b Redruth, Cornwall, 1 Jan 1734, d Bath, Som 1820. Raised in the Cornish branch of a Suffolk family, he was reading the Bible in his 4th year and Latin (at school) by his 5th. At Truro Grammar Sch he was taught by the evangelical Scot George Conon (who led Samuel Walker of Truro to Christ) and shone in Lat, Gk and formal speaking. A careless rather than vicious young man, he was apprenticed to a Truro surgeon and apothecary, unable then to afford a university place. He assisted smallpox victims, arguing against current medical methods of fighting the epidemic and living long enough to welcome Edward Jenner’s vaccinations (see also under R Hill). But in 1754, after the death from that disease of a girl he was fond of, he visited St Mary’s Ch only to hear Walker speak of ‘death and its consequences’. From then he was a changed man, warmly befriended by Walker, renewing acquaintance with Conon, and now mocked for his new faith. Walker was not only pastor and evangelist, but teacher and trainer; as well as the Scriptures, Haweis was encouraged to read Boston, Baxter and Doddridge, and by a series of providential answers to prayer the way opened for him to study at Christ Ch and Magdalen Hall Oxford for ordination, with a 10 – month break under Walker and Conon. Evangelical students and clergy faced repeated obstructions, but he was ordained in 1757 as curate at St Mary Magdalene’s to his early encourager Joseph Jane. He met Jn Newton, most significantly for the latter, and was heartened by Wm Romaine’s bold gospel preaching, visiting Oxford in 1757. In a letter of 1759 to Walker, TH was among the first to use ‘evangelical’ as a badge of kindred spirits in those revival days, himself embodying the overlap between (settled) Evangelicals and (itinerant) Methodists, but identifying like Grimshaw, Romaine, Venn and Walker with the first and primary group. Haweis attended the dying Walker in 1761.

After growing effectiveness despite increased opposition for 3 years, the church crowded with friends and enemies, he was forced out on a technicality; he remained a Prayer Book loyalist, quoting from its communion service and 39 Articles, but (as Jn Gadsby concluded) he was expelled ‘because he was a Calvinist and had large congregations’. So in 1762 he reluctantly moved to London as assistant to Martin Madan at the Lock Hospital (‘Lock’ from ‘Loke’, a leprosy-house; see also F De Giardini in Composers’ index). This was becoming an evangelical centre, free from episcopal direction, where the music was famous and a yellow curtain divided prostitutes and patients from titled ladies and other visitors. Haweis helped Madan with the enlargement of the Lock Chapel hymn-books (compiled first in 1760), found fellowship with other London evangelicals, and began to preach in Lady Huntingdon’s ‘propriety chapels’. In 1774 he was to become one of her official Hon Chaplains, travelling to London, Brighton, Bath or Bristol every winter but always within the Anglican legalities, temporarily separating from her only when that seemed under threat. His links with the preachers’ training college at Trevecca (Brecons) probably arose only after her ladyship’s death in 1791. Having declined the curacy of Olney, Bucks, he crucially recommended a denominationally indifferent John Newton instead, thereby ‘saving him for the CofE’; as a fellow non-graduate evangelical, JN too was having great difficulties with bishops and they with him. In 1764 TH edited Newton’s autobiographical and sensational Authentic Narrative (see notes to J Fawcett).

Also in that year, after some bizarre negotiations, Haweis began a long incumbency of All Saints, Aldwincle, nr Kettering, Northants (birthplace of Jn Stevens, qv). Many were converted through his gospel-preaching and strengthened by a revived reverence at the Lord’s Supper and the growth of family prayers. His Evangelical Expositor, a popular commentary on the whole Bible, appeared in 1765–66 and remained in print for 150 years; committed to Reformed doctrine and Scripture’s inerrancy, it drew on Matthew Henry but leant towards allegory. 1768 was a low point of persecution from the patron of the living, when Haweis was popularly linked with the expulsion from Oxford’s St Edmund Hall of 6 ‘Methodist’ undergraduates. But in 1771 he was happily married to Judith Wordsworth, a young widow to whom his wedding present was a handsome Hebrew-English dictionary. The next year he at last graduated with a Cambridge LLB, became a Fellow of Christ’s Coll and was awarded an MD from Scotland. Hindered by occasional bouts of fever but often invigorated by labouring on his own farm, he roused himself to further writing; in 1781 he felt bound to publish against Madan’s advocacy of regulated polygamy as a solution to the desperate and often undeserved state of the women at ‘The Lock’. Madan argued from the Old Testament, Haweis responded from the NT, others joined the dispute and Madan resigned. TH’s next work was the surprising Siberian Anecdotes: a Novel. But in 1786, after his wife’s death, his hymnwriting was born—with some new tunes—while he assisted in a friendly Glamorgan parish. His own congregation appreciated singing something more than metrical Psalms, while their rector found legal support for hymn-singing ‘in the beginning or in the end of Common Prayer’.

Meanwhile from 1789 (at the latest) he made plans for a mission to the South Sea Islands. But for 11th-hour difficulties with the first two candidates from Trevecca (comprehensively trained but falling at the familiar hurdles of graduation and ordination), Haweis’s name would be bracketed with Carey’s as a founder of the modern missionary movement. As it was, supported by Jonathan Evans and Rowland Hill (qv), he had a major share with John Eyre and David Bogue in the Sept 1795 founding of the interdenominational and firmly evangelical London Missionary Soc (which only later became mainly Congregationalist). He wrote, preached and campaigned tirelessly for the cause, and after many setbacks enabled a pioneering work to be established in Tahiti, without neglecting England’s own mission field. He edited the first published account of the Missionary Voyage of the ‘Duff’ (1796–1798), while also showing a deep concern for the Jewish people at home and other needs abroad. Rowland Hill once happened to see his horse tethered outside a London printer’s; patting the animal, he said ‘There is a horse that is doing more for the Gospel than six and twenty bishops!’ Haweis published works of private devotion, church history and unity, and Bible translation; his own 1795 NT translation was close to the Gk, sometimes ‘modern’ but useful rather than enduring. In 1793 he helped to launch the Evangelical Magazine and he published The Life of William Romaine in 1797. His view of the church was essentially spiritual; while remaining firmly Anglican he saw its history as the story of God’s ‘remnant’ of believing people; ‘the real church’ whatever their labels or systems. He died at the age of 86, his last audible words being ‘Is that the Lord?’ His 256 hymns, including 54 tunes and several paraphrases of Matthew’s Gospel, were printed in 1792 as Carmina Christo, or Hymns to the Saviour. CH includes 4 texts and (of course) his acclaimed tune RICHMOND; one hymn appears in several evangelical books. A biography by the Methodist historian Arthur Skevington Wood appeared in 1957, to reinstate ‘a neglected name amongst the Evangelicals …[which] has fallen into undeserved oblivion’. TH’s son John (then a Sussex vicar) was so ashamed of his father’s doctrines that he refused access to the relevant diaries. No.933*; tune 838.

Hymns and songs by Haweis, Thomas

Number Hymn Name
933 Our children, Lord, in faith and prayer

Tunes and arrangements by Haweis, Thomas

Tune Name