John Esslemont

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John Esslemont

John Ebenezer Esslemont M.B., Ch.B. (1874 – 1925), was a prominent British Bahá'í from Scotland. He was the author of the well-known introductory book on the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, which is still in circulation. He was named posthumously by Shoghi Effendi as the first Hand of the Cause he appointed,[1] and as one of the Disciples of `Abdu'l-Bahá. He was also an accomplished medical Doctor and linguist becoming proficient in western and eastern[clarification needed] languages.


John Esslemont was born in Aberdeen on 19 May 1874, the third son and fourth child of John E. Esslemont (1859-1927), a successful merchant, and Margaret Esslemont (née Davidson).[2] He came from an eminent family and was educated at Ferryhill School, Robert Gordon's College, and the University of Aberdeen.[2] Esslemont is related to 19th Century Liberal Member of Parliament Peter Esslemont - John's great-grandfather is Peter's grandfather. He graduated in medicine in 1898 with honorable distinction. Unfortunately, Esslemont had contracted tuberculosis during his college days and this caused him to give up his promising career in medical research. He traveled internationally and married Jean Fraser to whom he was drawn by their mutual interest in music. On return to Britain Esslemont took the position of medical superintendent[1] of Home Sanitorium for tuberculosis in Bournemouth.[2] Esslemont became the first Bahá'í of Bournemouth[3] in the earliest days of the Bahá'í Faith in Scotland in 1915 after hearing of the religion in December 1914 from a co-worker's wife[2] who had met `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1911 and had some pamphlets to share.[3] In about 1918 `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, wrote a tablet in his honor and also mentioned interest in a book he was working on. After receiving an early draft of this book `Abdu'l-Bahá invited Esslemont to Palestine which he accomplished in the winter of 1919-20, after the Battle of Megiddo (1918) settled the land. Ultimately `Abdu'l-Bahá was able to personally review several chapters. News of Esslemont's declaration of faith, and his forthcoming book, played a role in establishing the beginning of the Australian Bahá'í community and elsewhere.[4] Esslemont was elected chairman of the Bahá´í Local Spiritual Assembly of Bournemouth when it was elected in a few years and later as vice-chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom until he left the country in 1924 following the closing of the sanitorium where he had been employed. He then traveled to Palestine to assist in translation work.[3]

Esslemont, besides speaking English well, was proficient in French, German, and Spanish, and was an Esperantist[2][5] and later learned Persian and Arabic well enough to assist in translation.[2] Following the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi vacationed in Esslemont's familiar area of Bournemouth. Subsequent to this, Esslemont took permanent residence in Palestine to assist Shoghi Effendi, who then also helped further refine Esslemont's book.[2]

Esslemont died in 1925 from his tuberculosis and is buried in the Bahá'í Cemetery in Haifa along with several other well-known Bahá'ís.[6][7] Shoghi Effendi posthumously designated Esslemont as the first of the Hands of the Cause he appointed in 1951, as well as one of the Disciples of `Abdu'l-Bahá.[1] In 1955, Esslemont was described by Shoghi Effendi as one of the "three luminaries of the Irish, English and Scottish Bahá'í communities."[8]

There is a Bahá'í school named after Esslemont, The John Esslemont School, in the Grampian region of North East Scotland operating since 1987.[9] There is also a John Esslemont Memorial Lecture held annually in November in Aberdeen, where speakers from medical backgrounds present research to peers.[10] In Austria a publishing house was founded in 2010 in memory of his lifework, the Esslemont Verlag, publishing Bahá'í gift books.

Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era[edit]

  • Esslemont, J.E. (1980) [1923]. Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era (5th ed.). Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-160-4.

In 1916 Esslemont began work on a book which became Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, perhaps the foremost introductory volume on the Bahá'í Faith which eventually was published in 1923 and since translated into dozens of languages.[2][11] Early editions contained several passages that could not be authenticated, or were incorrect. These have been reviewed and updated in subsequent editions.[12] This practice has been criticized by observers,[13] but is considered an integral part of maintaining the integrity of the texts.[14][15][16] Among the numerous alterations in later revisions is the removal of any reference to the early Bahá'í historian Avarih, who `Abdu'l-Bahá had named "Chief of Missionaries" prior to his conversion to Islam.[17]

Esslemont also performed the first review of the worldwide progress of the Bahá'í religion in 1919. While unpublished it was identified and reviewed by recent scholars noting it was intended to be a chapter in the book.[18] In 1920 a review of Prayer in the Bahá'í Faith, especially the Long Obligatory Prayer as then translated, was published by Esslemont.[19] Later an expanded version would be a chapter of Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era.

More than sixty years later in the 1980s it remained in the top ten of cited Bahá'í books[20] and of the ten most numerous books on Bahá’í topics found in libraries in 2008 around the world the second highest is Baha'u'llah and the New Era.[21]


  • Harper, Barron (1997). Lights of Fortitude (Paperback ed.). Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-413-1.


  1. ^ a b c "Early British Bahá'í History (1898-1930)". Archived from the original on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Esslemont, John (1874-1925) Archived 2008-05-09 at the Wayback Machine by Moojan Momen, London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1975. Baha'i World 1:133-6.
  3. ^ a b c "J. E. Esslemont - Named a Hand of the Cause at His Passing". Bahá'í News. No. 15. June 1973. pp. 6–8.
  4. ^ William Miller (b. Glasgow 1875) and Annie Miller (b. Aberdeen 1877) - The First Believers in Western Australia Archived 2008-02-26 at the Wayback Machine The Scottish Bahá'í No.33 – Autumn, 2003
  5. ^ Making World Peace Real: The Principle of an Universal Auxiliary Language Archived 2007-11-29 at the Wayback Machine by Paul J Desailly, p.18
  6. ^ Other Sites in Haifa
  7. ^ "U.K. Bahá'í Heritage - Picture Display Seven". Archived from the original on 8 September 2008.
  8. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1971). Messages to the Bahá'í World, 1950-1957. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 174. ISBN 0-87743-036-5.
  9. ^ The John Esslemont School Transforms Itself Bahá'í Journal of the Bahá'í Community of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Volume 19, No.7 – January, 2003
  10. ^ John Esslemont Memorial Lecture Archived 2006-10-03 at the Wayback Machine The Scottish Bahá’í, No.39 – Spring, 2005
  11. ^ Bahá'í International Community. ""Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era" editions and printings held in Bahá'í World Centre Library Decade by decade 1920 -2000+". General Collections. International Bahá'í Library. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
  12. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1973). p. 18 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Beckwith, Francis (1985). Bahá'í. Minneapolis, MN, USA: Bethany House. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-87123-848-9.
  14. ^ The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States (24 September 1992). "Dates in Baha'u'llah and the New Era: A response to Francis Beckwith". Retrieved 22 December 2006.
  15. ^ The Universal House of Justice (25 June 1995). "Beckwith's allegations". Retrieved 22 December 2006.
  16. ^ The Universal House of Justice (4 May 1999). "Access to materials at the Bahá'í World Centre". Retrieved 25 December 2006.
  17. ^ Salisbury, Vance (1997). "A Critical Examination of 20th-Century Baha'i Literature". Bahá'í Library Online. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  18. ^ Moomen, Moojan (2004). Smith, Peter (ed.). Bahá'ís in the West. Kalimat Press. pp. 63–106, Esslemont's Survey of the Baha'i World 1919–1920. ISBN 1-890688-11-8.
  19. ^ Esselmont, John Ebenezer (August 1920). "A study of Bahai prayer". In Right Rev. W.P. Paterson; Russell, David (eds.). The Power of Prayer. being a selection of Walker trust essays, with a study of the essays as a religious and theological document. The Macmillan Company. pp. 351–364.
  20. ^ Fazel, Seena; Danes, John (1995). "Bahá'í scholarship: an examination using citation analysis". Bahá'í Studies Review. 5 (1)., Table 4: Most cited Bahá'í books, 1988-1993.
  21. ^ Van Den Hoonaard, Will C. (2008). "Emergency from Obscurity: The Journey of Sociology in the Bahá'í Community" (PDF). Journal of Bahá’í Studies. 18 (1/4): 12. Retrieved 24 May 2012.[permanent dead link]

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