Rev William Ault

Scope and Content

Manuscript entitled 'Hyms composed by William Ault of Spon Lane', copy made after 1828. None of the hymns are set to music and a few seem to be poetry. Some of them are written in response to the death (in 1814) of his wife, Sarah, with two being specifically dedicated to her.

Manuscript entitled 'Extract of letters from the journal of the Rev William Ault, missionary to Batticaloa, Ceylon, these letters were addressed to his mother', 1814. Letters describes his journey, arrival and settling in, isolation, diet, school work, learning Tamil, evangelising, names of first class members and the origins of the mission.

File of correspondence (November 1950-January 1951) between Wilfrid B Ault, Birmingham, and Miss Longstaff, Librarian with the MMS, London, enquiring what material is available with regard to William Ault.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Ault, the son of Jabez Ault, shoemaker, was born in West Bromwich, Warwickshire, in 1778. By the age of seven he had read the bible and a decade later he was jointly running a Sunday school in his home town. He entered the ministry in 1808 and not long after expressed an interest in assisting Thomas Coke with any overseas missionary work. When Coke was selecting ministers to accompany him as missionaries to Ceylon [Sri Lanka] he included Ault and Ault, along with his wife Sarah (nee Bretnall, born c1889), accepted. They set sail aboard the 'Lady Melville' on 31 December 1813. Ault's wife Sarah took ill during the journey and died on 9 February 1814 leaving him bereft. Unfortunately Coke also died on route to Ceylon leaving Ault and his colleagues to implement Coke's mission plan.

Upon arrival the missionaries agreed to assign stations by lot with Ault drawing the most isolated of the missions at Batticaloa. Ault, who when he arrived had contracted fever, made the arduous journey by boat to Batticaloa only to discover a climate and circumstances unlikely to improve his health. None-the-less Ault threw himself into his work - frequently working 20 hour days - establishing schools (eight in total), learning Tamil, founding a society class of 20 members and building up a congregation of 150 members. Such labours contributed to him being taken seriously ill in January 1815 with a proposed relocation to Jaffna never taking place as he died on 1 April 1815. He was buried in the Dutch church with the local population erecting a monument to his memory. In 1897 the newly built mission hall at Batticaloa was named the William Ault Memorial Hall.

Further reading:

Findlay & Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (vol V, 1924);

Small, W T J, History of the Methodist Church in Ceylon 1814-1964.

Access Information

Only to be viewed on microfiche


Archivist's Note


Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance

Copyright probably held by Methodist Missionary Society

Related Material

Official correspondence by William Ault and by others regarding his death can be found within the (Wesleyan) Methodist Missionary Archive (MMS/Ceylon/Correspondence/FBN 1).

Odd letter from Ault to James Lynch amongst Lynch's papers (MMS/Special Series/Biographical/Ceylon/FBN 23 (fiche 991-1000)).

A brief tribute to Ault is available (MMS/Special Series/Notes&Transcripts/FBN 8, item 240).

An image of Ault can be found within MMS/Ceylon/Photographs/Box 1196a (file 7).