My Symonds/Methodist Family History

including the story of John Murlin

My Family/Methodist History

I started out in the search for my Cornish Symonds Family History back in early Spring1947. I had the good fortune to have a scholarship that took me from South Australia to Birmingham University. Riding a bicycle from Birmingham to Lands End, on narrow pathways took me through snow across Exmoor to a wonderful clear view of Cornwall down below and stretching into the south-west distance, seemingly all the way to Lands End.

I had no idea of the winding path of history that confronted me, though the ride through Cornwall taught me a lot about Cornwall but not much of my family history, except that the the Symonds surname could have as many as 15 different spellings, even in one family’s baptisms! With many trips to Cornwall, even after leaving England for Australia 15 years later and more during work and personal visits to the UK, the family history grew in a lot of leaps and bounds.

Here I am, 65 years later, with a Symonds Family History path that extends from Germoe a few miles to the west of Helston in western Cornwall back up through such places as St Gluvias to Truro, to Probus and Ladock, and onwards north west to St Wenn Parish with side tracks to St Enoder Parish and St Columb Major Parish.

The Symonds Family Path Crosses the Morlen Family Path

Francis Symonds #1 (my 4xGGF) was the son of William and Mary of Ladock. Francis #2 (my 3xGGF), born at Fairmoor near Ladock, was the son of Francis #1 and Ann. He moved further north east to St Wenn Parish, meeting Elizabeth Morlen (spelt as Murlain, Murlin and several other ways in records) and marrying her at St Columb Major Parish Church on 7 September 1765. On down the years, this marriage led to two other Symonds men – Francis #3 (my 2xGGF) and Francis #4 (my GGF) who emigrated to South Australia with a large family in 1848. The following link takes the reader to web pages with details about the Symonds Family History:

At this point, it is necessary to halt on the Symonds Family path to investigate the Morlen path which had crossed the Symonds path with the marriage of Francis #2 and Elizabeth Morlen.

The Morlen Family Pathway

The Morlen Family path brought with it a genuine focus on My Methodist History with real connections with John Wesley’s visits to Cornwall and the growth of Methodist groups in Cornwall. On its easterly beginning, the Morlen Family History had within it a young boy John who was to grow through his troubled teen years to become one of John Wesley’s first 27 ordained Methodist preachers.

The Morlen Family History reaches out from St Stephens in Brannel Parish going west towards Newquay through the Carworgey Estate, crossing the Symonds family path at what is now called Indian Queens. At this physical crossing of roads is the virtual cross road of My Symonds Family History and My Methodist History

On its easterly beginning, Morlen families appear to have lived in the St Stephens in Brannel Parish for a long time before we found them in the middle of the 17th Century. The building of their family tree was made difficult by variations in the surname spelling – Morlen, Morlyn, Merlyn, Murlin, Murlain and others, just as discovered with variations in the Symonds spelling.

Richard (#1) Morlen was born c1650 in St Stephens in Brannel Parish and married Julyan Trethewy in the Parish Church on 3 August 1672. He was a mason in the Parish. They had six children with the first being a son Richard (#2).

Richard #2 Merlyn (Morlen) was born c1690 in St Stephens in Brannel and married Elizabeth Rogers in the Parish Church on 29 December 1716. He was a farmer in the Parish. They had three children: – Richard #3 Murlain (Morlen), Elizabeth Merlyn, John Morlyn (Murlin). Their father, Richard #2, was only about 45 years of age when he died and was buried in the Church cemetery on 12 April 1835. Both boys had grown up on the farm and assisted their father around it.

The occupation of Richard #3, after leaving the farm, has been difficult to determine though it appears that he may have been working at a Roche posting-house (inn) for a few years. Some of his own family history became very much influenced by the visits of John Wesley through Cornwall as well as the changes which overtook the life of his young brother John. He gave up the work he may have undertaken in the Roche area and moved back to farming on a lease in the Carworgey Estate.

The Changing Life of John Murlin

John was less than 13 years of age when his father Richard #2 died. As he wished to enter the carpentry business, he was apprenticed to a master carpenter on a seven year bond at Michaelmas 1735, one of the four Quarter Days when such bonds were sealed. After expiration of his apprenticeship at Michaelmas 1742 at the age of 20 years, he worked for another master carpenter for several years.

Three decades later, he wrote an autobiographical account (1) in which he relates that, by example, he became addicted to swearing and to gaming and drunkenness. In February 1749, he recounts that he heard Methodist Preachers speak, probably in the St Austell Circuit near where he lived. He was assailed by serious concerns about his behaviour in general, so much so that he could neither eat or sleep properly. As a result of a sermon delivered by another travelling preacher in April 1749, Murlin wrote that he found deliverance from his concerns and was converted to Methodism, becoming a member of a Class which met locally. His development was watched closely by this same travelling preacher who asked him to take up the task of being the local Class teacher. A short time after, on urgent pleadings by one of the local preachers who were much extended in meeting Sunday commitments, John Murlin undertook to be a local preacher in the St Austell Circuit.

Rev. Thomas Shaw recounted, in the tenth of a series of recorded BBC talks (2), what happened to alter Murlin’s career in 1754:-

John Murlin was a young carpenter who had just built himself a house in St Mewen when he received a letter from Wesley inviting him to become a travelling preacher. He wrote back stating reasons why he felt he should not accept. A further letter from Wesley arrived and John Murlin later wrote:-

After a short struggle in the mind, I resolved to give up all for Christ and accordingly, on October 12, 1754, I took my horse and without delay rode away into the West of Cornwall.

John Murlin travelled in West Cornwall as an itinerant preacher (3) from October 1754 to August 1755. After that date, he visited many parts of England and Ireland, his stay in any town being limited usually to a few weeks. He was stationed in London seven times in the period 1755 to 1782, in Bristol during several of these years and was resident in Manchester in 1784. He married a widow, Elizabeth Berrisford, in 1762. She died in 1786 at Bristol and a memoir was published (4) by her husband in The Arminian Magazine .

By 1787, Murlin was no longer able to keep a circuit as a result of increasing rheumatic stiffness in his joints. He retired to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. He preached for the last time in the Great Queen Street Chapel in London in early 1799 but died in High Wycombe in July 1799.

In reading John Murlin’s will, dated 5 November 1798 with several codicils as late as 25 April 1799, I was left wondering whether Murlin’s mind was wandering to earlier times because he required that money and other possessions be left to his wife Elizabeth Murlin. No reference had been seen which indicated if John Murlin had remarried after his wife Elizabeth had died in 1786. After much searching in the IGI and assistance from relatives living in England and the Cornwall Record Office, we found that Murlin had indeed remarried to Elizabeth Timms on 1 January 1787 at High Wycombe.

It is strange that this marriage is not mentioned in any of the historical references to John Murlin we had found for the period from 1787 up to his death in 1799. Nevertheless it did explain what Rev. John Pawson, a close friend, wrote in a letter to the Editor of the Methodist Magazine in October 1799. Pawson had visited John Murlin not long before he died and was asked to take care of an alteration to his will settling a considerable sum of money on the Society. He found Murlin had suffered a stroke and could only use his right hand a little, all his limbs being otherwise paralysed. Pawson then made a note that was seemingly somewhat out of context: –

It was a very affecting sight, to see his amiable partner, on the one hand, quite turned into a child by a paralytic stroke; on the other hand, Mr Murlin deprived of the use of his limbs by the same disorder.

This ‘amiable partner’ must have been Murlin’s second wife, Elizabeth Timms.

In 1797, at the age of 75 years, Murlin’s name was displayed on the front cover of the Arminian Magazine with a cameo picture of him.

Separation from the Established Church

In 1760, John Wesley was beset with anxiety over agitation for separation from the Established Church. He had received a letter from one of his earliest supporters to say that the preachers in Norwich, Paul Greenwood, Thomas Mitchell and John Murlin, without Wesley’s permission and without consulting any of the their coadjutors, had begun to administer the sacrament. Charles Wesley was enraged and wrote a letter to his brother in terms that many considered far too strong. John Murlin nevertheless asserted that he had been sent to Norwich by John Wesley himself to a congregation who desired the sacrament. That contention appears to have been supported, but Wesley’s posting of Murlin to Norwich is a matter for history to determine.

Murlin is said to have been a Methodist of the primitive stamp of character, but of great independence. Some of that ‘independence’ probably came from his financial situation, brought about in part by funds left him by an uncle and certainly through his marriage as his wife (Elizabeth Berrisford) had been well established in the will of her former husband. In 1770, John Wesley was having some difficulty in stationing his preachers. This matter shows up with interest in a letter he wrote to his brother Charles, showing some concern and some acidity:-

My Dear Brother- I have the credit of stationing the preachers; but many of them go where they will go, for all me….They can give me twenty reasons for going elsewhere. Mr Murlin says, he must be in London. ‘Tis certain that he has a mind to be there; therefore, so it must be; for you know a man of fortune is master of his own motions. I am your affectionate brother, John Wesley.

Wesley himself, as a minister ordained in the Established Church, tried over a considerable period to retain his movement within it but acted from 1784 with the Deed of Declaration to ordain some 27 of his preachers. One of the 27 so ordained was John Murlin. Wesley considered ordination necessary for celebration of the sacrament.

Arnold D. Hunt observes in his book This Side of Heaven (5):

What prompted him to take this extraordinary step was the refusal of the Bishop of London to ordain a Methodist for work in America, the lack of sympathetic priests in parts of the British Isles willing to administer the sacraments for Methodists, and his conviction that in the early church the right of ordination had not rested solely with bishops.

The Second Codicil in Murlin’s Will

In this codicil, Murlin expresses the desire that he be interred in the ‘Burying Ground of the Late Reverend John Wesleys Chapel in the City Road London ‘. His executors were named as John Pawson. Alexander Mather, George Storey and Thomas Rankin and they arranged to fulfil this desire. On the obelisk which stands to John Wesley’s memory at the rear of the City Road Chapel, there is a plaque which records the names of those Methodist ministers, including John Murlin, whose remains were interred in the vault.

In the Chapel itself, Murlin’s executors erected a plain while marble tablet with an inscription written by his friend and executor, Rev. Thomas Rankin:

Sacred to the memory of Mr John Murlin, Minister of the Gospel, who was called by the Great Shepherd and Bishop of souls to labour in His Vineyard.. This he was enabled to do as an Itinerant Preacher, in the most faithful, affectionate, and successful manner, for near fifty years. He was always deeply affected with his subject that he justly acquired the name of the ‘weeping prophet’ Worn by age, labour, and infirmities, he died as he lived, full of faith and love, with a pleasing prospect of immortality. He finished his earthly course at High Wycombe, July 7th, 1799, aged 77 years. As a just tribute of love to his character his executors have erected this tablet.

see also Trebudannon Meeting House and Chapel


  1. Murlin, J., ‘A Short Account of John Murlin, written by himself’, The Arminian Magazine, vol ii, p.530-6, 1780. Also Jackson, Thomas, ‘The Life of John Murlin’, Early Methodist Preachers, ii 415-428.

  2. Murlin, J., op. cit.

  3. The Arminian Magazine, vol.ix, pp 422-8.

  4. Hunt, Arnold D., This Side of Heaven, p.13, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide South Australia, 1985

The inscription on the obelisk, listing the Ministers interred in the vault
John L. Symonds, 1989
The obelisk at the rear of City Road Chapel
John L. Symonds, 1989
A tablet in the wall facing the obelisk at City Road, listing the preachers interred in the cemetery
John L. Symonds, 1989
A tablet in the wall facing the obelisk commemorating the removal of remains to Streatham Cemetery
John L. Symonds, 1989

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