Sunday, 25 October 2009

Ulster hymnwriters (2)

This afternoon I was reading about another hymnwriter who was born in Ulster.  His name was William Hunter and he was born near Ballymoney on 26 May 1811.

He was the son of John Hunter, a linen weaver, who was born in the townland of Seacon in 1734, and his wife Rachel Dinsmore, who was born nearby in the townland of Ballywattick. Both the Hunter and Dinsmore families were Presbyterian and they were originally from Scotland.

In 1817, when he was six years old, the family emigrated from Ulster to America and settled in York, Pennsylvania. William was educated at Madison College in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and afterwards became a Methodist 1855 he was appointed professor of Hebrew and biblical literature at Allegheny College, remaining there for fifteen years.

Hunter wrote more than 125 hymns and these were published in three collections. They were Select Sacred Melodies: comprising the best of those hymns and spiritual songs in common use, not to be found in the standard Methodist Episcopal Hymn Book: as also, a number of original pieces (1838), which contained thirty-six of his hymns, The Minstrel of Zion (1845) and Songs of Devotion (1859).

His most popular hymns include ‘The great Physician now is near’, which was written exactly 150 years ago in 1859 and still appears in many hymnbooks today.  However very few of those who sing his hymns are aware of the fact that William Hunter was an Ulsterman and indeed an Ulster-Scot.

The great Physician now is near,
The sympathising Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer,
Oh! hear the voice of Jesus.

Sweetest note in seraph song,
Sweetest Name on mortal tongue;
Sweetest carol ever sung,
Jesus, blessed Jesus.

William Hunter spent his last years as minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the city of Alliance, in Stark County, Ohio, and he died on 18 October 1877 in Cleveland.

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