John Burnet (abolitionist)

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John Burnet
Print (BM 1866,0407.580).jpg

John Burnet (1789–1862) was a pastor in Cork in Ireland before taking up the same position at the Mansion House Chapel in Camberwell. He was a well-known "platform speaker" speaking human rights issues, particularly at Exeter Hall. He was a leading member of both Congregational Union of England and the Bible Society.[1]


Burnet was born in Perth in 1789 and originally joined the army before becoming a pastor to an independent congregation in Cork in Ireland.[2] A neat Grecian chapel was raised in George Street in Cork due to his efforts.[3]

He came to England and took up a position as pastor to another Independent congregation at the Mansion House Chapel in Camberwell. He was a leading member of both the Congregational Union of England and the Bible Society,[1] Peace Society the Liberation of Religion from State Control Society the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishments[2]

Burnet was not known for his preaching, but more as an orator and speaker on platforms like Exeter Hall. He spoke against the Corn Laws and for Anti-Slavery.[2] On 19 March 1838, Burnet was with Peter Clare, Rev. W.N. Bunting; William Dilworth Crewdson when they presented a petition to Queen Victoria signed by 28,386 females of Manchester and Salford who requested freedom for the negro apprentices[4] in the British Colonies. (A similar petition was presented by Lord Brougham, Joseph Sturge, Captain Hansard RN and the Reverend Thomas Scales based on resolutions passed at meetings at Exeter Hall of "friends of the negro".[5]).

He attended the 1840 and 1843 Anti-Slavery conventions and spoke at the Freemasons Hall concerning anti-slavery. A less than generous account was given at the time of one of his speeches:

an old man whom I understood to be Rev. John Burnet after introducing himself in some incoherent and inconsistent remarks turned round and began to address himself to this negro. He congratulated him upon the fact that he was no copper colour half and half man I use his very words, but a real jet black. Thus applauding him he shook him by the hand and flung up his arms and cried, "England and Africa forever." No child who had received a new toy could be more pleased than was this aged minister in having a negro to pet and flatter.[6]

It was said that his supporters considered putting him forward for parliament but these did not come to fruition.[1]

He died at Grove Lane, Camberwell, and was buried at West Norwood Cemetery.


  1. ^ a b c The Black Abolitionist Papers Vol. 1, C. Peter Ripley, University of North Carolina Press, 1985, accessed 27 July 2008
  2. ^ a b c Men of the Time Biographical Sketches of Eminent Living Characters ... Also Biographical Sketches of Celebrated Women of the Time
  3. ^ The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland: Adapted to the New Poor-law, Franchise, Municipal and Ecclesiastical Arrangements, and Compiled with a Special Reference to the Lines of Railroad and Canal Communication, as Existing in 1814-45
  4. ^ basically a legal nicety. "Apprentices" were nearly but not quite slaves.
  5. ^ The Calcutta Christian Observer, 1838, accessed 4 August 2008
  6. ^ Europa Or, Scenes and Society in England, France, Italy, and Switzerland, By Daniel Clarke Eddy