EYNON, JOHN HICKS, Bible Christian minister; b. 6 May 1801 in Gloucester, England; m. first Elizabeth Dart (d. 1857); m. secondly in 1865 Mrs Ann Down from Exeter, Canada West; there were no children by either marriage; d. 22 March 1888 at Exeter.
Little is known of John Hicks Eynon’s early life. He was converted through the preaching of his future wife, Elizabeth Dart, a preacher in the Bible Christian Church; this Methodist sect was found largely in Devon and Cornwall. In 1826 he entered the ministry of the church and was appointed to Penzance, and then to brief ministries in Falmouth and Truro as well as on the Isles of Scilly. He became secretary of the missionary society of the church in 1831, at a time when requests from Bible Christian settlers in North America prompted the English conference to send Francis Metherall* to Prince Edward Island and John Glass to Upper Canada. Discouraged by numerous difficulties, Glass resigned and opened a school; Eynon was appointed to replace him.
Arriving in Cobourg in 1833, Eynon began work among the West Country immigrants around Cobourg, Oshawa, and Bowmanville. He had inherited from Glass a 200-mile circuit, extending through Darlington to Dummer Township, and received help in his duties from his wife, Elizabeth. Faced with an unsettled political situation, inadequate assistance, scarcity of funds, transportation difficulties, the rigours of the climate, and a shortage of church buildings, Eynon found progress slow and the work discouraging. In 1834 he declared: “I have such a sense of my ignorance and nothingness, that I am tempted to give up preaching altogether.” The lack of visible results persuaded Eynon to hold his first “protracted meeting” in Hope Township in 1838. This nightly revival meeting, which continued for four weeks, proved somewhat successful in recruiting new members. But in 1840 the Bible Christian mission in Upper Canada reported only 256 members.
Throughout its history the Bible Christian Church in Canada was to consist almost entirely of West Country immigrants. Thus Eynon’s ministry received its greatest impetus from the migration of people from Devon and Cornwall into the Huron Tract near present-day Exeter. In 1845 Eynon set off on a 600-mile tour of western Upper Canada “to find out where the people were, and how they were furnished with the means of grace.” As a result of this survey the church began work in the area, work which accounted for much of its growth from 633 to 2,113 members between 1845 and 1855.
From 1842 to 1847 Eynon served as district superintendent of the Bible Christian mission, but his arduous labours led to a deterioration of his health and in 1848 he agreed that he would take advantage of a visit to England to serve as a “missionary deputation” for a year and report on his work in Canada. He drew large crowds on the circuits in Devon and Cornwall. Returning to Canada in 1849, Eynon served on the Darlington, Cobourg, and Mariposa circuits, before resuming the position of district superintendent in 1852. The following year the Canadian mission became a self-governing conference, independent of the English conference. In 1864 the small Prince Edward Island District merged with the Upper Canada District. By 1860 membership had risen to 3,986. Illness forced Eynon to retire in 1859.
He lived in retirement in Bowmanville until he moved to Exeter in 1883. In 1884 the Bible Christian Church, with 6,807 members, joined other Methodist bodies to form the Methodist Church of Canada. Eynon died on 22 March 1888 after almost 62 years as a Christian minister, and was buried in Zion Church Cemetery, Hope Township.
Bible Christian Church in Canada, Annual Conference, Minutes (Bowmanville, Ont.), 1857–84. Bible Christians, Annual Conference, Minutes (Shebbear, Devon, Eng., and London), 1819–66. Bible Christian Magazine . . . (Shebbear), 1833–71. Christian Guardian, 1888. Observer (Bowmanville), 1867–84. United Methodist ministers and their circuits . . . 1792–1932, comp. O. A. Beckerlegge (London, 1968). F. W. Bourne, Bible Christians; their origins and history, 1815–1900 ([London], 1905). Albert Burnside, “The Bible Christians in Canada, 1832–1884” (thd thesis, Emmanuel College, Victoria Univ., Toronto, 1969). George Eayrs, Our founders and their story; a short history of three churches and their union as the United Methodist Church (London, 1907). Richard Pyke, The early Bible Christians (London, 1941). Thomas Shaw, The Bible Christians, 1815–1907 (London, 1965).