Joseph Scriven

Author of the Hymn

What A Friend We Have In Jesus

From an article published in the Banbridge Chronicle by the late J.Harris Rea, who was a well known local historian.

 Joseph scriven, described as one who lived the Christian life of service to his fellows, was born at Ballymoney Lodge, Banbridge and Baptised on the 10th. of  September 1819. His Baptismal entry is recorded in Seapatrick Parish Church, Banbridge, where his father, Captain John Scriven of the Royal Marines was twice Church Warden. His mother was Jane Medlicott, sister of a Wiltshire Vicar, the Rev.Joseph Medlicott. Joseph Scriven was Baptised by Mr.Leslie, and the entry was initialled by the Rev.Jame McCreight, then Curate.

 Joseph Scriven took his at Trinity College, Dublin, where his two brothers were students, one of which became M.B. in 1842. Joseph was a Cadet at the Military College, Addiscombe, Surrey, it being his intention to enter the East India Company, this idea  he abandoned at an early age. It cannot be said that Joseph Scriven had a very happy life, after obtaining his degree in 1842, he fell in love with a Banbridge girl and in two years became engaged. But, alas, tragedy struck a sad blow on the eve of their wedding day. His bride to be, while crossing a bridge over the River Bann was thrown from her horse and drowned in full view of her lover who was awaiting her on the other bank. Following this sad event Joseph Scriven emigrated to Canada. He first settled at Rice Lake in Ontario, and later at Port Hope and there became a private tutor to several of the local families.

 Another sad happening was to add to the sorrows of Joseph Scriven’s life and is thought to have inspired him to write his famous hymn. Joseph in the year 1854 was to be married to Miss Eliza Roche, but sad to relate, Miss Roche caught a chill due to immersion in Rice Lake, became seriously ill and after three years, passed away. The well known hymn was then born brought into being out of  great sorrow and heart  searching, it is said that it was written to comfort his mother who mourned at her sons unhappiness. The hymn was not discovered until just prior to Scriven’s death in 1886, although composed in 1857, it was entitled ‘Pray Without Ceasing’.Joseph Scriven was a practical Christian, known as the man who saws wood for poor widows and sick people unable to pay, a Mr.James Sackville cared for Scriven in his home when he became poor in health and it was Mr.Sackville who discovered Josephs copy of the hymn while searching a drawer on behalf of his patient. When asked how he came to write such a beautiful hymn Scriven ,on his deathbed replied simply ‘The Lord and I did it between us’.

 There are four memorials to Scriven in the land of his adoption, the monument at Bewdley bears the famous hymn inscribed on one side of the stone, on the other side are the words ‘Four miles north in Pengelly’s cemetery, lies the philanthropist and author of the great masterpiece written at Port Hope 1857’. Special services were held in 1957 in the local churches to mark the centenary of the hymn and in 1962 a Joseph Scriven Memorial Committee was formed at Bewdley and a fund was started for students entering the Christian ministry. In the town of his birth there is now a memorial to this son of Banbridge; one time student of Trinity College Dublin, who as a boy walked the streets of  Banbridge and worshipped in Seapatrick Parish Church, this memorial is in the form of a plaque erected on the wall of the house in which he was born.

 Another article, which appeared on October 24,1969 is entitled,”Joseph Scriven’s Burial Place-Visit by Guildford Man” and says, Much has been written over the years about Joseph Scriven, author of that well known hymn ‘What a Friend we Have in Jesus’ and it was after reading about him in the Chronicle that Mr.Robert Black of Madden Hill, Guildford, while on a trip to Canada, decided to visit the hymn writers last earthly resting-place at Bailieboro, Cavan County, on the shores of Rice Lake. Mr.Black described to us the tiny triangular-shaped graveyard where a tall obelisk marks the grave. The inscription (in addition to verses of the hymn) reads; This monument was erected to the memory of Joseph Scriven,B.A.,by lovers of his hymn, which is engraved hereon, and is his best memorial. Born at Seapatrick, Co.Down,Ireland, Sept.10, 1819, emigrated to Canada 1844. Entered into rest at Bewdley, Rice Lake, August 10,1886, and buried here. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.  A plaque, erected by the Architectural and Historical Sites Board of Ontario, was amongst the items of interest photographed by Mr.Black, it carries this wording;

Born and educated in Ireland, Scriven was a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. He emigrated to Canada in 1847 and during the 1850’s became tutor to the family of Captain Robert L.Pengelly, R.N., a retired British Naval Officer who had settled in this vicinity. A deeply religious man, he published a book entitled  Hymns and other Verses in 1869. However, the poem entitled Pray without Ceasing, for which he was to become famous, was first published in a local newspaper set to music by Dr.Charles C.Converse, it gained international recognition under the title, What a Friend we have in Jesus  We gather from Mr.Black that at that time of his visit a Miss Pengelly, an elderly lady, understood to be a relative of Commander Pengelly (referred to above) was meeting the cost of caring for the hymn writers grave. This information prompts us to suggest that if it were possible a contribution from his admirers in and around the old place of his birth would be a very fine gesture. Incidentally, his birthplace at Ballymoney Lodge, Banbridge is marked by a plaque, which reads: Joseph Scriven 1819, hymn writer and humanitarian was born here.

The following is an extract from the pen of the Rev.Dr.E.Gilmour Smith, entitled Joseph Scriven, a truly unselfish life, which appeared in a Canadian newspaper.

Few hymns have so widely sung and so greatly beloved as Joseph Scriven’s, What a Friend we have in Jesus, The 150th.Anniversary of Scriven’s birth occurred recently. Born in County Down, Ireland, near the village of Banbridge on September 10th.1819 he spent most of his adult life in Canada, living in the vicinity of Port Hope and Rice Lake. He was well educated, as a young man he spent two years at Addiscombe Military College in Surrey and in 1842 graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, with a bachelor of arts degree. Sometime before 1850 he emigrated to Canada where he taught school, tutored two generations of Pengelly boys on their farm two miles east of Bailieboro, and became a preacher associated with the Plymouth Brethern.

 For many years the grave of Joseph Scriven remained unmarked, but on Sept.10th 1919, the centenary of his birt, a pilgrimage of Clergymen visited the the grave, joined hands around it ,and sang the hymn which has brought comfort and uplift to thousands of hearts wherever the English language is spoken. Under the leadership of the Rev. W.D.Lee of the Millbrook Presbyterian Church, the Joseph Scriven memorial committee was formed to erect a monument to his memory. On the white granite monument which stands 13 feet high, overlooking the shining waters of Rice Lake, the words of the hymn are enscribed, it was dedicated on May 24th, 1920, when 6000 people gathered, including the Premier of Ontario, E.C.Drury,

In paying tribute to Scriven the Premier said: he did not build a railway or amass a fortune. But he did more than that, he contributed a thought that will outlive railroads and fortunes. It will go on enriching the lives of men, when other things of material nature have crumbled and perished. On this occasion tributes were paid by many people who had known Scriven personally.  ?He lived the life of our Saviour. His life was a living example of the principle, the Son of God came not to be ministered unto by to minister.?

"Another testified: ?He lived a truly unselfish life, going among the afflicted and comforting the sorrowing, sharing his little with the poverty-stricken.?
"A man reported: ?I remember the times when one of the families lost their cow. They were dependent on that cow for much of their living. Mr Scriven expressed his sympathy and desire to help out, but regretted that he had no money, so
offered his watch for the family to sell.? Through the years Scriven became known as the man with bucksaw and axe who went to homes of widows and aged folk to crop their wood.

"For several years he lived in Port Hope in a small cottage isolated in the woods, which still stands at the corner of Strachen and Thomas Streets. In his zeal for presenting the gospel he preached on street corners in Port Hope and
Bewdley and among the farmers "As a member of the Brethern who renounce worldliness, Scriven would not have
his picture taken, for to him it was a form of vanity. However the Rev George A Osborough of Belfast located a great-nephew of Joseph, Dr W. H. Scriven, who possessed a photograph which he believed was an authentic picture of Joseph.
"On first writing the hymn which he titled ?Pray without Ceasing? only verses one and two were included. The third verse was added following a visit to Ireland. Because he had come back a poor man with rather shabby clothes, he had the bitter experience of being snubbed and slighted. This led to the third verse which begins: ?Do thy friends despise thee, forsake thee,? expressing the pain at his rejection.

"On the east side of Highway 28 just south of Bewdley stands another monument beside a grove of evergreens which was erected with funds collected by a devoted friend, the Rev E. S. Kidd-Byrne. "But he was not buried there. His body lies in the cemetery on the Pengelly farm two miles east of Bailieboro. Distinctive markers have been placed by the Ontario architectural and historical sites board in Bailieboro and at the site of the cemetery."

There is now a monument on Downshire Place, put up by Banbridge District Council and recently a stained glass window was dedicated to Scriven, the dedication being carried out by Bishop Scriven, who was then Bishop of Europe and is the great-great grandnephew of Joseph Scriven. Joseph had two brothers - George born 1821 and John born 1823 and one sister Catherine Anne Mary born 1825.

Thanks to the Banbridge Chronicle for permission to use the above information.


What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer!

Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He'll take and shield you
You will find a solace there.