John L. Milton was born in the USA in c.1793 and was ordained into the Church of England in 1833. After spending some time on missionary work in Canada and the USA, he came to Europe in 1835. He first appears in Southampton in 1841 being entered into the East Street Baptist Chapel. His stated mission, whilst in Southampton, was to bring religion to the seamen of the town. To this end he founded in 1842 the National Sailor’s Home and Evangelizing Society with the intention of providing seamen with lodgings, educational facilities, a chapel, medical aid, etc. The scheme never got off the ground due to lack of finance and support. Many of the town’s businessmen to whom Milton appealed for support suspected him of self-interest and dishonesty. Indeed, he was regarded as little better than a fraudster and quickly became a social pariah.

He was a controversial figure in the town; his religious views, which were fundamental and ascetic, brought him into conflict with the established churches and more publically with the eccentric Reverend Herbert Smith, with whom he clashed on a number of occasions.

He embraced the pseudo-science of Hygeism, the belief that all illness derives from impurities of the blood and that they could be cured by the application of vegetable-based remedies. He lectured on the subject and became an agent for the sale of vegetable pills. It was through Hygeism that he met his wife, Emma Tomkins of Romsey, who was already a practitioner. After marrying in 1842, they opened their own hygeian dispensary on West Front. In 1847 they were living at 12 West Front, but by 1851 they had moved to Hull. In 1852 the Miltons travelled to Melbourne, Australia where they spent the remainder of their lives.

Further reading:

‘John Lawrence Milton (c.1793-1869): ‘teetotaler, homerpathist and omnireligionist’’, by Richard Preston, in Southampton Local History Forum Journal No. 18, Autumn 2011 p3-18. (HS/h)


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