The Dublin Presbyterian Colporteur’s Notebook, 1875

In February 1874 the minutes of the Session Meeting and Deacon’s Court of the Presbyterian congregation of Ormond Quay, Dublin, note that consideration was being given to employing a colporteur. A colporteur is a person who distributes religious tracts, although the job description for this particular colporteur would more properly be described as that of a Missionary. Between those named and unnamed (mainly children), the work of the Colporteur-Missionary subsequently appointed produced a detailed census substitute noting biographical information relating to more than 10,000 inner-city Protestants of various denominations during 1875.

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Having advertised the position in various news media, including the Free Church Record, by April 1874 applications from candidates were being considered. The salary for the successful candidate was set at between £60 and £75 per annum. By the end of the year it had been decided to employ William B. Malone and he began his work from 1st January 1875.

An agreement noted in the Session Book records that his duties were, among other things, to spend at least five hours each working day “seeking out and visiting unconnected Presbyterian families first, then Protestants of any denomination not attached to any place of worship…“. He was to keep a “list of all unconnected families in our District…“. It was this last stipulation which led to the compilation of what has become known as ‘The Dublin Presbyterian Colporteur’s Notebook, 1875’.

Visitation Book example #1

Entry for Miss Callaghan, 61 Prussia Street, Dublin, Jan 1875.

In it Malone carefully notes each family he came into contact with, generally on a street-by-street basis. While the information is not uniform, it generally notes the name and address of the householder along with such information as occupation, age, details about spouse and children. The volume is peppered all the way through with Malone’s personal observations as he undertook his peregrination. He notes such things as deaths, migration, drunkenness, inability to find work, illness, destitution. The entry shown above notes that on January 4th he spoke with a Miss Callaghan  of 61 Prussia Street, recording that her sister had recently died “happily in the faith of Jesus.”

Examples of Malone’s meticulous and exhaustive search for “neglected Protestants” can be found in several entries in the Notebook. On the 6th January he noted that he “visited several Episcopalian families living in Essex Street through the agency of Thomas Dawson, who said they were greatly neglected; instances he had known of whole families having gone over to Romanism. Said he would be glad to give me any assistance in finding out neglected Protestants.

Malone seemed to be quite successful in engaging those he met in conversation and in obtaining from them information either about themselves or others. For instance, in January 1875 he noted the following about a family called More [Moore?] at 5 Wellington Place: “Found out a family of Scotch Presbyterians living at 5 Wellington Place – Father & Mother, John & Jane More, with 9 children living, 11 children dead. This family has been 26 years in the city & yet have not connected themselves with any church. They worship everywhere, principally the Methodist and Episcopal churches. Mother and daughter baptised by Principal MacFarlane, Glasgow. Husband works as confectioner at Connor’s, King Street.” There was a notation to say that the husband was working at Robinson’s, Capel Street, by 27th March 1876.

Ormond Quay Presbyterian Church

Ormond Quay Presbyterian Church, Dublin.

The Notebook was opened 1st January 1875 and continued through until 22nd October the same year. After the last entry there appears the Latin word “Finis” clearly showing that the volume was completed. Malone resigned his position in July 1876 and was temporarily replaced by John  Boyd, but who held the position for only a few weeks, resigning in September. His replacement was a William Brown, appointed in  November 1876.

A curious note in the Session Book, alongside that appointing Brown, records that “James Hall [a Deacon] mentioned that the committee had also considered the advisability of appointing anyone under present circumstances. After some deliberation it was resolved to go on with the mission work, but on a more extensive scale than formerly“.  If this new determination created any additional paperwork, it clearly has not survived. Brown’s tenure as Colporteur-Missionary ended in scandal. He resigned In March 1877, less than six months after he had been appointed, the Session minutes noting that “our Missionary Mr Brown has sent in his resignation, which under the circumstances was received“. The Deacon’s Court minutes noting “a letter was read from Mr William Brown resigning his position as congregational missionary, under the circumstances the resignation was accepted but in view of the facts which have come to their knowledge the Session feel bound to record in the strongest terms their unqualified condemnation of his conduct as revealed there-in. A copy of the above was directed to be sent to the Session clerk of Adelaide Road church with which Mr Brown was connected and also Mr Brown, 32 Besboro Ave, North Strand.”

Following this, an interview was held with a Mr James Cully of Belfast in December 1877, but he was found to be unsuitable for the position of Missionary. The idea of maintaining a congregational Colporteur-Missionary must have fizzled out, certainly the printed congregational report and accounts for 1880 make no mention of such a position and nor do the accounts note any payment of a salary.

Visitation Book example #2

The final page of the Notebook, dated 22 October 1875

The Notebook, a hardback book, runs to 227 pages, all but the final four pages relating to the work of the Colporteur-Missionary. Careful examination of the Notebook establishes that Malone eventually extended his “District” to cover almost all of the city between the two canals. The only parishes he records nothing about are the tiny precinct parishes of the city’s two cathedrals, St Patrick’s and Christ Church, and the south-side parish of St Anne’s. Presumably, St Anne’s was omitted because by 1875 most of it was an entirely commercial district with little or no population and limited access to living quarters above shops. The adjoining residential area, comprising the streets surrounding Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square, was sufficiently upmarket to preclude Malone locating the class of person he was seeking out!

Most entries end with a number of abbreviations. These are generally: R: read; Pd: prayed; T: left religious tracts. Sometimes these are noted together as R.P.T., meaning: read, prayed and left tracts.

The IGRS would like to thank the Session of Clontarf & Scots Presbyterian Congregation for permission to scan the Dublin Presbyterian Colporteur’s Notebook and to make it available online. It would also like to thank Steven Smyrl who produced the names index and Hilary Fairman who entered the index data into a searchable spreadsheet.




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