Sue Young Histories

George Vicesimus Wigram 1805 – 1879

July 09, 2009

George Vicesimus Wigram 1805 – 1879 was an English biblical scholar and theologian, and one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren.

George Vicesimus Wigram was a patient of homeopath Thomas Mackern, and a colleague of homeopath Edward Cronin, and he was also a friend of homeopath John Epps, who knew several Plymouth Brethren and John Epps attended some of George Wigram’s early meetings with his wife.

George Vicesimus Wigram was the 20th child (hence his middle name) of Sir Robert Wigram, 1st Baronet, a famous and wealthy merchant, and the 14th child of Lady Eleanor Wigram, Robert’s 2nd wife (an aunt to Charles Stewart Parnell).

His family were all capable and several of his siblings became illustrious in their own field. His brother James became a Vice Chancellor and another brother Joseph became Bishop of Rochester.

As a young man, George Wigram obtained a commission in the army. One of his postings was to Brussels. He spent one evening exploring the Waterloo battlefield and it was here he had a religious experience that changed his life.

He wrote of it thus, “Suddenly there came to my soul a something I had never known before. It was as if some One Infinite and Almighty, knowing everything, full of the deepest, tenderest interest in myself, though utterly and entirely abhorring everything in, and connected with me, made known to me that He pitied and loved myself”.

This led to him resigning his army commission and in 1826, he entered Queens College, Oxford with the intention of becoming an Anglican clergyman.

At Oxford he met John Nelson Darby, Anthony Norris Groves, Benjamin Wills Newton, James L Harris and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles. Dissatisfied with the established church, Wigram and his friends left the Anglican church and helped establish non denominational assemblies which became known as the Plymouth Brethren.

He had considered joining Anthony Norris Groves and his mission to Baghdad in June 1829, but changed his mind just prior to the faith mission set off. After leaving Oxford University, Wigram, using his family wealth, in 1831 bought church premises in Plymouth and there established a Brethren assembly. During the 1830s Wigram also financed the establishment of assemblies in London.

Wigram had a keen interest in the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible, which was of great interest to the emerging Brethren Assemblies. In 1839, after years of work and financial investment, he published The Englishman’s Greek and English Concordance to the New Testament followed in 1843 by The Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance to the Old Testament.

He also edited the influential Brethren periodical “Present Testimony and Original Christian Witness” for many years (from 1849 to his death with posthumous issues running to 1881). This periodical superseded the Brethren’s first magazine, The Christian Witness.

Besides his literary work his oral ministry was considered to be marked by an attractive freshness: a contemporary remarked that his “very face became radiant as he spoke”. Many of his addresses have been preserved and published in the two volumes: Memorials of the Ministry of G.V. Wigram and Gleanings from the Teaching of G.V. Wigram. These were collected by the erstwhile Lewisham Road Baptist Church Minister, Edward Dennett.

With Wigram’s help, John Nelson Darby became the most influential personality within the Brethren movement. Wigram is often referred to as being John Nelson Darby’s lieutenant as he firmly supported John Nelson Darby during moments of crisis.

In 1845 he supported John Nelson Darby in his doctrinal differences with Benjamin Wills Newton, in the Brethren assembly at Plymouth. In John Nelson Darby’s 1848 dispute with George Muller, Wigram again sided with John Nelson Darby, in relation to the reception of believers who were previously in fellowship with Benjamin Wills Newton, and on George Muller’s reluctance to publicly denounce errors by Benjamin Wills Newton in regards to the sufferings of Christ, errors which Benjamin Wills Newton had already retracted.

He also helped John Nelson Darby fend off accusations of heresy, also in regards to the sufferings of Christ, in articles written in 1858 and 1866, which some considered were very similar to Benjamin Wills Newton’s errors two decades earlier.

Wigram married Fanny Bligh in 1831, the daughter of Thomas Bligh whom Wigram had known as a girl in Ireland - she died in 1834. His second marriage was to Catharine, the only daughter of William Parnell of Avondale. Their London home was 3 Howley Place, Harrow Road, London.

In 1867, Wigram visited Canada. His wife Catherine, joined him there two months later, but became ill and died after a short illness in Canada. The family physician was Limerick born Dr Thomas Mackern. Wigram was 62 years old. Four years later his daughter Fanny Theodosia, child of his first wife, died.

Wigram travelled in the UK preaching and teaching in large Brethren assemblies. He visited Switzerland in 1853 and again in Vaud Canton in

  1. In later life he went to he went abroad to minister to the many overseas assemblies of the Brethren, including Boston and Canada in
  2. Writing in November 1871, from Demerara, British Guiana, he said, “I came out in my old age, none save Himself with me”, Jamaica
  3. This led to further travel, visiting New Zealand in 1875 and Australia in 1877.

Besides travel he maintained a wide correspondence with labourers in emerging Brethren assemblies. Among these were Louis Favez of Mauritius. Wigram contributed to the hymnology of the Brethren assemblies in a number of ways. He edited the anthology Hymns for the Poor of the Flock (1838). This collection contained hymns by Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, William Cowper, Thomas Kelly and others; and an appendix was added, chiefly to include a number of hymns by Sir Edward Denny that had just been written. The four earliest of John Nelson Darby’s were also inserted.

18 years later (1856) Wigram compiled A Few Hymns and some Spiritual Songs for the Little Flock, to replace the previous collection. This hymnbook was revised by John Nelson Darby in 1881, Thomas Kelly in 1894 and again by T H  Reynolds in 1903. Wigram also wrote a number of hymns…

Wigram died 1879 at the age of 74 and was buried with his daughter in Paddington Cemetery by the side of Sir Edward Denny. It has been said that the large concourse of people there sang a hymn in deference to his wish expressed in his lifetime, so that all might understand that he owed all to the sovereign mercy of God. The hymn sung was: “Nothing but mercy’ll do for me, Nothing but mercy — full and free, Of sinners chief — what but the blood Could calm my soul, before my God”

Of interest;

John Vesey Parnell 2nd Baron Congleton, a cousin of Charles Stewart Parnell, was also a member of the Plymouth Brethren.

Sir Robert Wigram, 1st Baronet 1744-6 - 1830, father of George Vicesimus Wigram, was a British merchant shipbuilder and Tory politician. Robert Wigram was a friend of John Ruskin,


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