Story: Dallimore, Arthur Henry

Page 1 - Biography

Dallimore, Arthur Henry

1873–1970

Pentecostal minister, British-Israelite

This biography was written by Bryan D. Gilling and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

The most controversial pioneer of the Pentecostal movement in New Zealand, Arthur Henry Dallimore was born in Penshurst, Kent, England, on 14 September 1873, the son of an inland revenue officer, John Holmes Dallimore, and his wife, Mary Ann Spanswick. He was raised first as a Baptist, then as an Anglican. He nearly died of typhoid at the age of seven but recovered following his parents' prayers.

Nothing else is known of Dallimore until he emigrated to New Zealand in the 1890s. He may have worked as a surveyor's assistant. In Opunake he was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist church and was encouraged to enter the ministry. Instead, after five years he left New Zealand. He spent 12 years in Alaska, then returned as a farmer to England. On 23 February 1911, at Middleton, Manchester, he married (in an Anglican ceremony) Ethel Eliza Ward. Emigrating to Canada, Dallimore farmed for a time, then failed business ventures brought about a nervous breakdown. Converted by a faith healer in Vancouver, he again experienced divine healing through Charles Price, an internationally famous Pentecostal preacher and protégé of the celebrated Aimee Semple MacPherson. In 1920, at a British-Israel movement conference, Pentecostal missionary John Graham Lake persuaded him to enter the ministry. He founded an independent Pentecostal healing mission in Vancouver, believing he had received divine confirmation of his gift while praying for a demon-possessed medium.

In 1927 Dallimore returned with his family to Auckland and established the Revival Fire Mission. At the height of the depression large numbers responded to his evangelistic message. By 1931 attendances had reached a thousand and he transferred his meetings to the town hall. One hundred were baptised in one session at the tepid baths; in another service 550 came forward for prayer. Dallimore's ministry was extended through newspapers and radio and in books on British-Israelitism and healing.

Dallimore argued that the British, destined to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth, enjoyed a special divine covenant. Biblical references to ancient Israel and New Testament promises to Christians generally were appropriated for the British. He predicted that ancient royal lines he traced from Troy would merge in 'David' – the future King Edward VIII – who would 'rule the British people, by covenant and destiny', as a benevolent autocrat, and would never marry. He needed no heir, as his successor would be Jesus Christ on his return to earth. Dallimore also believed that the British Empire had been corrupted by the 'detestable "rats" of Europe and Asia', propagating morally corrupting philosophies, especially communism. The 'rats' must be 'exterminated' by 'Ruthless men, fired by the fear of God, and a loyalty to His Kingdom that nothing can check'.

Dallimore's services followed revivalist patterns, with Ethel leading congregational singing from the piano. She, like her husband, prayed for the sick. The meetings were 'extremely sober', lacking hysteria and drama. Nevertheless, the Pentecostal emphasis on healing (even of animals), falling down under the Holy Spirit's power, and speaking in tongues caused offence and division. Clerical concerns crystallised in September 1932 when an interdenominational committee of 20 ministers, academics and medical representatives was established to investigate Dallimore's ministry. Dallimore refused to assist, declaring, 'I cannot see what good end could be accomplished by me assisting to judge the works of Christ done in answer to my prayers. I have no quarrel with Him, therefore I decline.' Dallimore would have helped 'to prove His words true…but I am afraid that is not your aim.' Left to its own devices, the committee investigated 43 cases, but was unable to confirm a single supernatural cure. Instead, it accused Dallimore of sacrilegiously eccentric biblical interpretation.

Public outcry flowed from newspaper and pulpit, compelling the city council to forbid Dallimore's use of the town hall. Within two months a large petition of supporters forced his reinstatement. Opponents regrouped; the joint committee reiterated its finding. However, the public soon lost interest, and many evangelicals and Pentecostals converted through Dallimore's ministry drifted to mainstream churches as he became more unorthodox. The Mission's supporters dwindled gradually. Although British-Israelitism proved attractive during the war years, its earlier popularity was never repeated. It was perpetuated in the Commonwealth Covenant Church.

The Revival Fire Mission settled down to fairly conventional church organisational patterns. Three congregations formed, at Auckland, Hamilton and Thames, with branch services in Avondale and Onehunga. Dallimore achieved new notoriety in the 1950s, publishing attacks on the doctrine of the Trinity. He maintained an active ministry until 1960, the mission finally closing in 1968. Ethel Dallimore, having become an Anglican, died on 16 April 1957. Arthur Dallimore died at Auckland on 23 July 1970, aged 96, survived by two sons and a daughter.