Feast of William Arthur Dunkerley (November 12)   3 comments

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Above:  Flag of England

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British Novelist, Poet, and Hymn Writer


The name of William Arthur Dunkerley might not be familiar, but his primary nom de plume, John Oxenham, and some of his writings remain famous.  Consider this text, for example, O reader:

In Christ there is no East or West,

In Him no South or North;

But one great fellowship of love

Throughout the whole wide earth.


In Him shall true hearts everywhere

Their high communion find;

His service is the golden cord

Close binding all mankind.


Join hands, then, brothers of the faith,

Whate’er your race may be.

Who serves my Father as a son

Is surely kin to me.


In Christ now meet both East and West,

In Him meet South and North;

All Christly souls are one in Him

Throughout the whole wide earth.

Our saint composed those words as part of the libretto for the Pageant of Darkness and Light, depicting successes in foreign missions, at an exhibit, The Orient in London, in 1908.

Dunkerley, the author for more than sixty books, including novels, religious non-fiction, and collections of verse, entered this world at Manchester, England, on November 22, 1852.  His father operated the family business, a firm specializing in wholesale provisions.  Our saint’s father also served as a deacon and as the Sunday School Superintendent at Charlton Road Congregational Church, Manchester.  Thus Dunkerley learned religion from an early age.

Our saint started writing and learned to love literature at a tender age.  One Sunday School teacher gave a copy to Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! (Volume I, 1855, and Volume II) to each student, including Dunkerley.  In Kingsley’s fiction our saint found his main nom de plume, John Oxenham.  Dunkerley, who began to write poetry at age fourteen, attended Trafford School and Victoria University, both at Manchester, before entering the family business, for which he worked from 1871 to 1882.

Dunkerley worked overseas for the family firm for nine years.  First he lived in Rennes, Brittany, France, where he purchased then shipped butter, eggs, and fruit to England.  After a few years our saint married Margery “Madgie” Anderson (died 1925), his pastor’s sister-in-law, in 1877.  The couple, which went on to have six children, relocated to the vicinity of New York City, where he opened a new office for the family firm.  That branch of the business failed, however, due to an employee’s crime of embezzlement.

Dunkerley returned to England and became involved in the press.  He opened the London branch (1882-1890) of the Detroit Free Press and helped to launch periodicals, such as The Idler and Today.  Our saint left Fleet Street in 1897 and focused on writing novels for sixteen years.  From 1913 forward he focused on religious subjects, not that they had been absent from his earlier writing.  As one clergyman wrote Dunkerley,

Forgive me if I say I feel drawn to a man who writes poems and novels that have the fresh air of God blowing all about them–a none too common quality in 20th-century literature.

–Quoted in Armin Haeussler, The Story of Our Hymns:  The Handbook to the Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (St. Louis, MO:  Eden Publishing House, 1952), page 834

A partial list of Dunkerley’s books follows:

  1. Rising Fortunes (1899);
  2. God’s Prisoner (1899);
  3. Barbe of Grand Bayou (1903);
  4. Hearts in Exile (1904);
  5. Under the Iron Flail (1905);
  6. A Man of Sark (1907);
  7. The Long Road (1907);
  8. The Song of Hyacinth (1908);
  9. Pearl of Pearl Island (1908);
  10. The Coil of Carne (1911);
  11. Queen of the Guarded Mounts (1912);
  12. Bees in Amber (1913);
  13. Broken Shackles (1915);
  14. “All’s Well!” (1916);
  15. 1914 (1916);
  16. The King’s High Way (1916);
  17. The Vision Splendid (1917);
  18. Inasmuch:  Some Thoughts Concerning the Wreckage of the War (1918);
  19. The Fiery Cross (1918);
  20. Hearts Courageous (1918);
  21. “All Clear!”  A Book of Verse Commemorative of the Great Peace (1919);
  22. Winds of the Dawn (1919);
  23. Gentleman–the King! (1920);
  24. The Wonder of Lourdes; What It Is and What It Means (1924);
  25. Selected Poems (1925);
  26. The Hidden Years (1925);
  27. The Man Who Would Save the World (1927);
  28. God’s Candle (1929);
  29. The Pageant of the King’s Children (with his son Roderick, 1930); and
  30. Christ and the Third Wise Man (1934).

Dunkerley wrote at least nineteen hymns.  Links to three of them follow:

  1. “O God, Within Whose Sight;”
  2. “All Labor Gained New Dignity;” and
  3. “‘Mid the Traffic of All the Ways.”

Dunkerley, moved from Ealing London, to Worthing, Sussex, in 1922.  He served as mayor of Worthing, where he died on January 23, 1941.

Our saint kept his identity a secret from most of his friends.  Some people keep dark and incriminating secrets.  Dunkerley, however, kept a positive one.  He provided a fine justification for that practice with the following words from 1925:

[Christ’s] service is life’s highest joy,

It yields fair fruit a hundred fold,

Be this our prayer–“Not fame, nor gold,

But Thine employ.”

Thus I add William Arthur Dunkerley–Sunday School Teacher, hymn writer, novelist, poet, journalist, father, husband, mayor, supporter of socially progressive causes, and advocate for foreign missions–to the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.







Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring William Arthur Dunkerley

and all who with words have filled us with desire and love for you;

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728


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