Joseph John Gurney

Joseph John Gurney

Joseph John Gurney (2 August 1788 - 4 January 1847) was a banker in Norwich, England and an evangelical Minister of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), whose views and actions led, ultimately, to a schism among American Quakers.


Gurney was born at Earlham Hall near Norwich, the tenth son of John Gurney, who was a banker (Gurney's Bank) and a Friend himself. He was always called Joseph John. He was the brother of Elizabeth (Gurney) Fry, a reformer, and also the brother-in-law — through his sister Hannah — of Thomas Fowell Buxton, an anti-slavery crusader.

In 1817 Gurney joined his sister Elizabeth Fry in her attempt to end capital punishment and institute improvements in prisons. They talked with several Members of Parliament but had little success.

In 1818 Gurney was a recorded Quaker minister. (This meant he was noted as a person gifted by God for preaching and teaching, but Quakers then neither explicitly designated individuals to take substantial roles in their worship, nor financially supported its ministers unless their travels in that role would otherwise have been impractical.)

Eventually Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, took an interest in prison reform and introduced the Gaols Act 1823, which called for paying salaries to wardens (rather than their being supported by the prisoners themselves) and putting female warders in charge of female prisoners. It also prohibited the use of irons or manacles.

Gurney and Fry visited prisons all over Great Britain to gather evidence of the horrible conditions in them to present to Parliament. They published their findings in a book entitled "Prisons in Scotland and the North of England".

Gurney campaigned against slavery during trips to North America and the West Indies from 1837-1840. He promoted the Friends' belief in world peace in Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark. He also continued to promote the abolition of capital punishment.

Gurney also advocated total abstinence from alcohol. He wrote a tract on the subject called "Water Is Best".

While he was preaching in the United States he caused some controversy that resulted in a split among Quakers. Gurney was concerned that Friends had so thoroughly accepted the ideas of the inner light and of Christ as the Word of God that they no longer considered the actual text of the Bible and the actual historical Christ important enough. He also stressed the traditional Protestant belief that salvation is through faith in Christ. Those who sided with him were called Gurneyite Quakers. Those who sided with John Wilbur, his opponent, were called Wilburites. (See Quaker history.)

Gurney family history and genealogy

Verily Anderson has written two books about the Gurney, Barclay and Buxton families:

*"Northrepps Grandchildren" (ISBN 1-898030-67-7)
**Northrepps is a large manor house near Cromer, Norfolk, England that has been occupied by the same family for more than eight generations. This family now has thousands of members; many of whom have made their mark on British society. Notable are Thomas Fowell Buxton, of slave emancipation fame, and Elizabeth Fry, the social reformer. For the Buxton, Barclay and Gurney families Northrepps has been a central focus for many years and Verily Anderson recalls life at the house, providing a close-up account of family life through the eyes of the many children that used the house over generations.

*"Friends and Relations" (ISBN 1-898030-84-7)
**This book is a detailed family history of the Gurney family, using information from family records.

Works of Joseph John Gurney

*"Essays on the Evidences, Doctrines and Practical Operations of Christianity" (1825)
*"History, Authority and Use of the Sabbath", (1831)
*"The Moral Character of Jesus Christ" (1832)
*"Religion and the New Testament" (1843)

ee also

*Gurney's bank
*Samuel Gurney

External links

* [ Biography of Joseph John Gurney]
* [ Sermons by Gurney and his followers from the Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology]
* [ Verily Anderson, family biographer]
*"Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" article by Edward H. Milligan, "Gurney, Joseph John (1788–1847)" [] , accessed 30 Nov 2006

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