O’Bryan, Mary (Mrs Samuel Thorne)

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The daughter of William and Catherine O’Bryan, born at Gunwen, Luxulyan, Cornwall on 3rd April 1807. Both parents were preachers, with William being the founder of the Bible Christian Connexion. Mary was educated first at home, then locally, before being sent to boarding school in Penzance. She was well-read and studied French, which helped her in her ministry, especially in the Channel Islands where she was able to preach in French.

At Christmas 1818, aged 11, Mary first spoke to a group of people about her faith, but was uncertain of a call to preach. However, in 1823, her father asked her to speak at a meeting and so she became an itinerant, becoming known as ‘the Maiden Preacher’. She travelled to London with her father in April that year and visited Kent during May. In June she was told go to Guernsey after attending the Conference at Devonport in July. On Monday, 11th August she sailed for Guernsey and quickly plunged into her evangelistic work, making good use of her French, though she did comment that ‘the language here is very different from good French.’ In October her father ordered her to Jersey, and arriving on 21st at Elizabeth Castle, St Helier she became quickly immersed in her work, preaching to large crowds in different parts of the island. Her time was divided between the two islands until she left in July to go to Plymouth for the 1824 Conference.

After a short break at home Mary was appointed to the Isle of Wight with William Bailey and Mary Billing, arriving at Wootton Bridge on 6th August 1824. The Isle of Wight Mission consisted of the work on the Island itself and also in Portsmouth and its environs. On 21st March 1825 Mary went home for a short visit, returning to Portsmouth to work in the Southsea area before returning to the Isle of Wight in July. On the whole Mary had recorded little opposition to her ministry, but on 10th July she described that which she faced at Whitwell when she was preaching in the open-air.

At various times Mary had received proposals of marriage from fellow preachers and others, but to no avail. Then on 24th September 1825 William O’ Bryan and Samuel Thorne arrived unexpectedly in Portsmouth, and visited the Isle of Wight, en route to London. When they returned it was quite clear that Samuel had made up his mind to marry Mary because, without so much as a ‘by your leave’ he booked tickets for them both on the packet steamer from Portsmouth to Plymouth. Although Mary went with them, a note written years later in her diary shows that Samuel’s addresses evidently caused her some misgivings. Her father gave his consent and they were married on 28th November 1825 in Stoke Damerall parish church.

Mary was now, at 18, a married woman and both she and Samuel, having given up itinerating, continued to preach occasionally as local preachers in the Devonport and other circuits. Samuel, aided by Mary, became the denomination’s printer, first in Devonport and then at Shebbear. In 1831 the Conference sanctioned Samuel’s wish to start a school. Many scholars entered the school, which opened on Lady Day the following year. Much of the work devolved onto Mary’s shoulders because not only did the pair have other interests but Samuel was often away on business. When the break between her father and the BC Connexion took place Mary remained loyal to her husband and her brother-in-law, James Thorne, the new leaders.

For the rest of her life Mary, in addition to her everyday work as wife and mother, (they had 13 children) was a class leader and a local preacher in great demand. Family trials - illness, death and fires - beset her. Samuel died in 1873. Mary died at Stonehouse, Plymouth on 12th November 1883 in her 77th year and she was buried at Lake, Shebbear.

  • Bible Christian Magazine, 1884
  • Zechariah Taft, Biographical Sketches of…Holy Women Vol.1 (London, 1825) pp. 298-301
  • S.L. Thorne, The Maiden Preacher, Wife and Mother (London, 1889)
  • J. Woolcock, A History of the Bible Christian Church on the Isle of

Wight (Newport, 1897)

  • Thomas Shaw, The Bible Christians 1815-1907 (London, 1965)