John Nelson Darby Letterbook

  • Reference
      GB 133 JDL
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      15 cms x 19 cms 0.5 lm Poor condition: spine loose
  • Location
      Collection available at University Archive and Records Centre, main University Library.

Scope and Content

Small excercise book containing transcriptions of letters during the period when John Nelson Darby was in Ontario [1862-3]. Most of transcriptions are of letters from Darby, but it also contains transcriptions of letters from other individuals. The handwriting is not that of Darby, however the transcriber has made a convincing attempt to imitate the signature of Darby on those attributed to him.

Details of the transcriptions:

  • From JND to 'Beloved Brother, n.d.
  • From JND to 'Beloved Brother' [listed as Duncan Bell, Toronto], n.d.
  • From JND to 'Dearest Owen', n.d.
  • From [?] to 'W', dated Toronto 11 Oct 1862.
  • From Capt. F.G.Scott to unknown, listed as 'Extract', dated 17 Oct 1862, Quebec.
  • From R.E. to [?] dated 3 Dec 1862, Hamilton, Canada West.
  • From [?] to Wigram, n.d.
  • From JND to Wigram, dated 9Jan 1863, Hamilton.
  • From JND to McAdam, dated 10 Feb 1863, Guelph.
  • From JND to [?] dated 19 Nov 1862, Hamilton.
  • From JND to [?], n.d.
  • From F.W. Grant and Robt. J. Grant to 'My dear Lord' [pencil note: 'to the Bishop ...'], n.d.
  • From JND to [?] dated 2 Mar 1863, Toronto.
  • From [?] to 'Dearest Bellett', n.d.
  • From JND to 'Dearest Wigram', n.d.
  • From JND to [?], dated 2 May 1863, St. Louis, Missouri.
  • From JND to 'Dearest P', 'postmark Toronto, May 27, 1863'.
  • From JND to 'Dearest Wigram', dated 28 May 1863.
  • From JND to [?], n.d.
  • From JND to [?], dated 13 Jul 1863, Clinton.
  • From JND to [?], 'Rec ? (Toronto) End of May 1863'.
  • From JND to 'Dearest Wigram', 'Recd. 24 July 1863'.
  • From JND to 'Dearest Wigram', Montreal. 'Recd. 31 Aug 1863'.
  • From JND to [?], dated 17 Sep 1863, Detroit, U.S.
  • From F.G. Brown to [?], dated 30 Jan 1864, West Townsend, Massachusetts.
  • From Robt. I. Grant to [?], dated 3 Feb 1864, Collingwood.
  • From Robt. I. Grant to [?] dated 17 Feb 1864 at Brentford.
  • From [?] to [?] dated 29 Apr 1864, West Townsend, Mass.
  • From JND to Mr Gregg, n.d.
  • From JND to Wm Duncan Bells, Montreal C.W., n.d.
  • From JND to E.G. dated 5 Jun [Jan?] 1865, Toronto.
  • From JND to [?], n.d.
  • From JND to 'Sir Edwd', n.d. [sent from?] Joseph Leslie's, Toronto, C.W.
  • From JND to Wigram, n.d.
  • From F.G. Brown to 'Very dear Bro in the Lord', dated 17 Mar 1865 at West Townsend, Mass.
  • From Robt T. Grant to 'Beloved Bro' dated 2 Mar, Indian Reserve, Tuscavora.
  • From JND to Mrs Gregg, dated 'Rec ? June 1865'.
  • From JND to 'Dearest Stoney', dated 'Rec? June 17, 65', F.G. Brown's, West Townsend, Mass.
  • From JND to [?], dated 13 May 1865, New York.
  • From JND to [?], dated 10 May 1865, New York.
  • From JND to [?], dated 13 Aug 1866, Milwaukee, Waiconani
  • From JND 'to ABP', dated 29 Sep 1866, Toronto.
  • From JND 'to GVW', dated 15 Oct 1866, Toronto.
  • From JND to '(Rickards)', 'Received in Darby 21 Nov 1866'.
  • From JND to [?] dated 1866.
  • From JND to [?], 'Recd. Dec 1st 1866'.
  • From JND to Stoney, dated 29 Nov 1866, Messrs. Paillard & Co., 21 Maiden Lane, New York.
  • From JND to [?] dated 9 Jan 1867.
  • From JND to [?] dated 21 Nov 1866, New York.
  • From F.G. Brown to GVW, dated 4 Jan 1867, Cambridge, Mass.
  • From JND to [?], 'Recd. March 5, 1867'.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Nelson Darby was one of the founder members of what later became known as the Plymouth Brethren. When the latter split in 1848, he went on to become the first leader of the Exclusive Brethren. He was a noted biblical scholar whose doctrinal system was adopted well beyond the confines of the Brethren, and is a seminal influence on present day Christian fundamentalism, particularly that in America.

John Nelson Darby was born on 18th November 1800. His father John Darby was a wealthy merchant, who inherited the family home of Leap Castle in King's County, Ireland in 1824.

Darby was educated at Westminster School, and Trinity College Dublin, where he studied classics, and was awarded a coveted gold medal on graduation in 1819. From here he pursued a career at law, being first admitted to the King's Inn, Dublin and later to Lincoln's Inn, London. However, the law did not suit his temperament, and his spiritual leanings inclined him towards the Anglican Church. Despite his father's disapproval, he was ordained as a deacon of the Church of Ireland in 1825 and as a priest in 1826. He became the curate of an isolated rural parish in County Wicklow.

Darby was not to remain long in the Anglican Church; a mixture of pragmatic disillusion and spiritual differences together forced him out. In Ireland the activities of Archbishop Magee in the mid-1820s generated a controversy with the Catholic Church, culminating in his demand that each convert from Catholicism swear an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. This was anathema to Darby: it was contrary to the heavenly focus required of the church, and analogous to the worst features of Roman Catholicism; he published a polemical pamphlet critical of Magee and his supporters. At around the same time, Darby was involved in a riding accident and retired to his sister's homes in Delgary and Dublin to convalesce. During his convalescence he underwent a spiritual experience, which was to alter his attitude to the church and to the ministry, and have important long term consequences. It was here that his High Church phase ended; he arrived at the conclusion that spiritual authority rested ultimately with scripture rather than the church, embraced a literal biblical hermeneutic, and came to a new awareness of his relationship to Christ. He developed a particular interest in the history of the early church, which led him to question the notion of an Established Church, and moved towards recognition of the priesthood of all believers. His study of scripture also led him to reflect anew on Biblical prophecy and to conclude that God's promises to the Christian church were different to those made to the nation of Israel.

Whilst in Dublin, Darby was present at the meetings of a group of individuals, including Francis Hutchinson, Edward Cronin, Anthony Norris Groves, and J.G. Bellett, whose gatherings are generally regarded as marking the beginning of what would later be known to the world as the Plymouth Brethren.

Darby visited Switzerland in the late 1830s, where his fascination with the continental rèveil enabled him to develop his ideas further, in particular his notion of the church in ruins. His influence led to a call for secession, and the establishment of groups of Darbistes in France and Switzerland. He returned to England in 1845 following a revolution in Switzerland. Here he came into conflict with Benjamin Wills Newton, who had come to dominate the Plymouth assembly of Brethren. Differences over eschatology, accusations of Newton's Christological heresy, disagreement over the authority of teachers and the nature of open worship, mixed with a general atmosphere of personal mistrust, led to the historic schism which created the Open and Exclusive branches of the Brethren movement. Darby's insistence on the need to separate and ostracise all who had been in contact with the evil represented by Newton and his followers, cemented the division. Darby was to become the dominant figure among the Exclusive Brethren, who were to continue to subdivide over the years.

Darby travelled and preached widely, and was influential in the development of the Brethren movement in Germany, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. However his influence and importance are much more widespread than the Brethren movement, which was to remain a relatively small offshoot of Protestantism. Darby was a biblical scholar, he was proficient in a variety of languages including ancient Greek and Latin, and translated the Bible into English, French and German. He produced popular synopses of the Bible and voluminous polemical writings on biblical subjects. As well as his distinctive eschatological views in which he popularised the idea of the rapture of true believers at the point of Christ's return, he developed a dispensational interpretation of the Bible. This analysed the relationship between God and mankind in terms of distinct dispensations or epochs, with marked changes and transformations occurring following pivotal events. This interpretation proved to be a useful way of overcoming contradictions and discrepancies within the Bible. It was adopted and developed further in the early twentieth century by C.S. Scofield who produced a highly popular and influential series of reference and study Bibles. Through this medium, Darby became one of the most influential forces shaping the character and form of modern day American fundamentalist Christianity. Most of those describing themselves as premillenial dispensationalists can trace the modern roots of their ideas to Darby.

Darby died in Bournemouth on 29 April 1882.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Susan Elaine 'Lapsey' Holmes and Thomas Hubert Holmes. Thomas Holmes is the son of George Ross Holmes.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The book was in a collection of Brethren books and other Reformation/Church of England books that belonged to George Ross Holmes. who was born in Bruce County, Ontario and died in Windsor, Ontario.

Inside the front cover of the book are the following names (as written), presumably the names of the owners of the letterbook at different dates:

  • John Pollock 1863
  • Algernon J. Pollock 1892
  • for J. Alfred Trench, Belfast
  • To Seton Pollock 1934
  • To William Bell - April 1957
  • G. Ross Holmes, Winder (about 1970-1998) Canada


None expected

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library holds the papers of John Nelson Darby (GB 133 JND).