Newton, Dr Robert
1780-1854; e.m. 1799

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WM minister, born at Roxby, near Whitby on 8 September 1780, the son of a farmer, four of whose sons became WM ministers. After hearing the woman preacher Mary Barritt, he was converted in 1798. He followed his brother Booth Newton (1768-1811; e.m. 1790) into the ministry and served almost entirely in northern circuits. As an advocate of Overseas Missions he raised enormous sums. At home equally on platform or in the pulpit, he preached sometimes twelve times a week. Opening innumerable chapels, he was well known on the coach and railway circuits. He was frequently Secretary of the Conference from 1821 on and, like Jabez Bunting was President four times (in 1824, 1832, 1840 and 1848), on the last occasion after being criticized in the Fly Sheets. In 1834 as Chairman of the Manchester District he had taken action against Joseph Rayner Stephens for advocating separation of Church and state and had suspended Dr Samuel Warren at a District Meeting. He made a very popular visit to the USA in 1840, representing British WM at the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church; and the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Conn, granted him a DD. In his later years he was given an assistant, so that he could be freed from pastoral work during the week.

Described by Benjamin Gregory in 1841 as 'the grandest figure and the best-loved preacher in the whole Connexion', Newton was the classic WM popular preacher, offering the heart of the gospel and often using the same basic sermon. Two volumes of his sermons, edited by James H. Rigg, were published posthumously in 1856. He was loyal upholder of the 'high Wesleyan' position in connexional matters and a Protestant stress in political matters. He retired to Southport, but soon after moving to Easingwold, suffered a stroke and died on 30 April 1854. There is a memorial to him just inside St. John's churchyard.


'His features are strong rather than large, and masculinely handsome; - the nose somewhat acquiline; - the eyes dark and expressive, inclined to round,… and a mouth formed for public speaking, capable of emitting, without the least contraction, the fullest voice.'

Wesleyan Takings (1840), p.237

'He was not a statesman like Dr. Bunting, nor a man of high culture like W.M. Bunting, nor a theologian like Hannah, Farrar and Jackson, nor a teacher of wisdom and a cyclopaedia of knowledge like Osborn. Newton had the advantage of them all in this way, that he was nobly handsome and an orator by nature. Tall, with good features, grizzled hair, fine eyes, and very dark arched eyebrows, he was impressive even before he spoke, and when he rolled out his rich organ notes, he was irresistible. I have listened to orators at the bar and in the pulpit for half a century, and have never met with such a magnificent voice as that of Robert Newton… He was not great in conversation, nor did his sermons and speeches, when examined, show original power. He had simply the great gift of being able to present commonplaces in the most attractive and forcible way.'

R. Denny Urlin, Father Reece, the Old Methodist Minister (1901), pp.61-2

  • Robert A. West, Sketches of Wesleyan Preachers (1849) pp. 71-95
  • Wesleyan Takings (1840), pp.232-50
  • T. Jackson, Life of the Rev. Robert Newton DD (1855)
  • A Wesleyan Preacher, The Life, Labours and Travels of the Rev. Robert Newton (1854)
  • Wesley and his Successors (1895) pp.111-14
  • Methodist Recorder, Winter Number,1905 pp.67-8
  • D.T. Young, Robert Newton, the Eloquent Divine (1907)