Born in Coventry on 10 December 1840, the son of a bricklayer of the same name, who was transported to Australia in 1845 for stealing, was influenced by a Methodist grandmother who had heard Wesley preach in Coventry in the 1780s. At an early age he joined his mother and sister as a silk winder. From the age of five he worked as a chimney sweeps boy, lodging with his master until he was 13 and claiming to be a journeyman sweeper. At 17 he walked to Rugby where he was employed as an assistant by a Wesleyan Thomas Partridge. Though living with his masters pious family, he continued his dissolute ways as leader of the Rugby Roughs until, after witnessing a public hanging in Warwick, he gave up smoking and drinking and became an advocate of teetotalism.
One Sunday evening he and a friend slipped into the back pew of Rugby Wesleyan chapel, but left after the service without speaking to anyone. This led eventually to his being invited to a class meeting and to his conversion. Although still illiterate, he was persuaded to teach in the Sunday School and with the help of his pupils began to learn the alphabet. In January 1865 he went to sweep the chimney of a housemaster at Rugby School and met his housemaid. They were married in December and she began to teach him to read and write. Within a few months he could read the New Testament and became a local preacher. He and his wife became members of the Railway Terrace Primitive Methodist Church and he joined a Hallelujah Band which held evangelical meetings around the district in the face of much hostility.
Meeting William Booth in London in 1876, he so impressed him that he was sent to the Hackney Christian Mission, where day and night he visited the slums and cared for the poor. He soon became a travelling evangelist for the Mission. Sent to Whitby on a mission the following year, he called himself Captain Cadman and referred to Booth as General of the Hallelujah Army, heading reports in the Christian Mission Magazine War News When the Salvation Army formally introduced ranks for its leaders, he became a Major in the Yorkshire Division, opening corps in York, Scarborough, Halifax and Shipley. In 1888 as a Colonel he became the first leader of the Mens Social Work Headquarters, leading to the Darkest England scheme. Appointed International Travelling Commissioner, he accompanied General Booth on his motorcades, travelling widely in Africa,Australia and Canada. He died on 12 December 1927.