Osborn, Dr George
1808-1891; e.m. 1828

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WM minister, born into a staunch Methodist family at Rochester on 29 March 1808. He was descended from a daughter of Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester. He served as a secretary of the WMMS 1851-1868 and as theological tutor at Richmond College, 1868-1885, in succession to Thomas Jackson. An able scholar, he wrote a preface to a reprint (1882) of John Wesley's 'Charlestown Hymn-book', edited the Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley in thirteen volumes (1868-1872) and compiled a Wesleyan Bibliography (1869). He gave the first Fernley Lecture in 1870 on The Mission and Work of the Holy Spirit.

Elected to the Legal Hundred in 1849, and twice President of the Conference (1863 and 1881), he was a powerful Conference speaker. Steeped in and jealous of the traditions of WM, his ministry was in the mould of Jabez Bunting, conservative and authoritarian. It was his resolution that expelled the three ministers at the 1849 Conference, precipitating the Wesleyan Reform movement. He vigorously defended the orthodox doctrine of eternal punishment in hell against the more liberal views of the younger ministerial generation. He had an acute legal mind and early in his ministry played a useful role in the Chancery suit brought by Samuel Warren against the Conference in 1835. He espoused the cause of popular education and supported the opening of WM day schools. He was a founder of the Evangelical Alliance (1845). During his second term as President he represented British Methodism at the first Ecumenical Methodist Conference, held at Wesley's Chapel, London. He died in his sleep at Richmond , Surrey on 18 April 1891.


[George Osborn] 'His personality dominated Wesleyan Methodism for many years. He was an undoubted genius and a preacher of great theological and experimental power.'

Dinsdale T. Young, Stars of Retrospect (1920) p.70

'In later years we often met, and one admired the extent of his knowledge and his method of impating it. He was born to instruct and improve his fellow-creatures. Among other things he taught me to avoid conventional slang, and incorrect and ambiguous terms in speaking and writing. He impressed on me that "Methodist" and not "Wesleyan" was the proper term to useā€¦ Dr Osborn was by natrure an old-fashioned "Church and State" man. He took me with him to a cathedral service (Chichester) and enjoyed it.'

R. Denny Urlin, Father Reece, the Old Methodist Minister (1901), p.60

[Osborne at Richmond College] 'His theology was emphatically orthodox, and his ways antique in the extreme. He persisted, for instance, at the devotional opening of his lecture hours, in giving out the hymn two lines at a time! As most of us were quite well able to read, this seemed to us somewhat superfluous, and sadly bothered Bateson, our precentor.'

'We discern two strains in the impressions men gained of him. On the one hand, we find a strong determination to maintain the old forms - to carry on the torch of Jabez Bunting (and men have carried worse torches); and on the other, there are testimonies to his quiet kindness and charm. Perhaps, like the rest of us, he was a bit of a mixture! His character was strong and definite; he wasa steeped in everything traditionally Wesleyan, conservative in every fibre, and averse to the new learning - lay representation and Bible revision being equally anathema!... Of his mastery of Conference, his overwhelming knowledge of our standards, his unrivalled influence in the legal assemblies of Methodism almost from his probation, we could write much. Such things do not lead to personal popularity with the crowd, but never did a man care less for it.'

  • Frank Cumbers (ed.), Richmond College 1843-1943 (1944), pp.66, 104-5
  • G.J. Stevenson, Methodist Worthies (1884-1886) 3 pp.360-68
  • Methodist Recorder, 23 April 1891
  • WHS Proceedings46 pp.93-96, 47 pp.13-19
  • A.G. Ives,Kingswood School in Wesley's Day & Since (1970) pp.164-76
  • Oxford DNB