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The grace of giving – John Cory (1)

April 2013 | by Nigel Faithfull

The centenary of the death of William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army in 1878, was commemorated on 20 October 2012.

Earlier, in 1861, William and his wife Catherine had set off on a gospel campaign in Cornwall. About 7000 souls were recorded as saved, but the local Methodists eventually banned them from their pulpits.

Their more dramatic revivalist style of preaching, with appeals to come to the ‘penitent seat’, the shouting out of rough, strong men under conviction, and the frequent disorderliness (which William tried to moderate), disturbed the traditional decorum.

Local fishermen had trading contacts in Cardiff, and that is where they headed from Penzance in 1862.

Cory brothers

Their first meetings were at a Baptist church, but the Booths soon received the support of some wealthy nonconformist Christians — the Cory brothers John and Richard, who were colliery and ship owners, and Jonathan E. Billups, a railway builder.

In 1863 their meetings were held in a circus tent, and such was their success that the moral tone of Cardiff changed, and the magistrates had little to do. The Corys’ support continued for many years. We will look in more detail at these Cardiff ‘sons of consolation’.

Captain Richard Cory (1799-1882) was the owner and master of a small vessel in the coastal trade. He lived at Bideford in North Devon, with his wife Sarah. His decision in 1838 to open a store as ship’s chandler and provision merchant in Cardiff proved to be a turning point in the family fortunes.

     His sons John (1828-1910) and Richard (Jr) (1830-1914) later joined him in the business. It now included ship-broking and coal exporting, operating from Cardiff’s Bute Docks. After he retired in 1859, it was renamed Cory Brothers and Co.

In 1851, they were living near the Canal Wharf at St Marys, Cardiff. Also in the house were his other sons, Thomas (b. 1834), Ebenezer (b.1841), William (b. 1843), and his daughters Mary (b. 1827) and Elizabeth (b. 1832).

With respect to the Cory brothers, Cardiff became a city ‘whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth’ (Isaiah 23:8). Their business and wealth grew rapidly.


The Suez Canal opened in 1869, and the foresight of the brothers resulted in their establishing 100 coal depots along shipping routes worldwide, to supply the increasing number of steamships.

They bought several coal mines, including three in the Rhondda Valley, to bring the supply of coal under their control. The brothers also became the largest private railway wagon owners in Britain.

They cooperated with David Davies in the building of Barry Docks, which became the largest coal exporting docks in the world, shipping 11.5 million tons in 1913.

Richard (Snr) left the established church to become a Wesleyan Methodist and was the first to sign the pledge for total abstinence in Cardiff in 1836, when his colleagues became known as ‘Coryites’.

With the coming of the Methodist reform movement in 1848, he joined the Methodist Free Church. His son John remained a Wesleyan from the age of 21 and throughout his life, being associated with the Roath Road Chapel, but Richard (Jr) became a member of the Tredegarville Baptist Church, The Parade, Cardiff.

As a young man, John Cory heeded the teaching of Mr W. Price, the patriarch of Methodism in Cardiff, regarding the Christian duty of systematic giving.

Little did Mr Price realise the beneficial effect this would have on gospel work in the future, when John would become the principal owner of the largest coal exporting business in the world.

Wesleyan Methodist

In the 1881 census, John and his family were living at Vaendre Hall, a modest mansion in St Mellons, Cardiff, employing three servants and a governess. In the closing years he had residences at Duffryn mansion, St Nicholas, Cardiff; Porthkerry Park, Barry (the seat of Lord Romilly); and 4, Park Crescent, Portland Place, London, where he lived in spring and summer.

While at Vaendre, John would regularly conduct services in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, preaching almost every Sunday evening. He also conducted a Bible class and supported a colporteur.

There was no commercial business conducted on Sundays and, at Oscar House, the palatial offices of Cory Brothers & Co., they kept a special tract room, where thousands of evangelistic tracts were stored for distribution when required.

There was a staff of over 100, and the day began with a prayer meeting for all the partners and heads of departments. John’s whole commercial career was untarnished and he was unaffected by the honours awarded him. On 21 June 1906, his bronze statue was unveiled in Cathays Park, Cardiff.

     As noted above, John Cory was one of the earliest supporters of ‘General’ Booth, even before the foundation of the Salvation Army. He gave Maendy Hall at Ton Pentre to the Army, together with 30 acres, as a rest home.

This later proved too remote, so he purchased it back and helped finance a more accessible home at Clacton-on Sea. He established soldiers’ and sailors’ rests at Cardiff, Barry and Milford Haven; gave Cardiff the original YMCA building; donated £6500 to the South Wales and Monmouthshire University College, £2000 to the Seamen’s Hospital, and large sums to the infirmary.

He built and presented the Cory Memorial Hall to the Temperance Societies of Cardiff, and from here Lloyd George later addressed great political rallies.


When D. L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey visited Cardiff on their 1891-2 tour, John Cory was a most earnest worker on behalf of the mission, and became a principal guarantor for the expenses involved.

He helped fund the Moody Bible Institute and continued to do so after Moody’s death. On the fly-leaf of The life of D. L. Moody by W. R. Moody (1900), John Cory wrote to Seth Joshua:

‘Feeling anxious to bring before the ministers in Cardiff a copy of the official authorized life of the late Mr D. L. Moody, believing that it is calculated to promote the revival of spiritual life and of gospel endeavour, which we all feel to be so essential, I send for your acceptance a copy of this work, trusting the perusal of same will be very much blessed — with every good wish, I am, Yours sincerely, John Cory’.

Cory was non-sectarian in his generosity, and helped finance the building of halls for the Forward Movement of the Calvinistic Methodist Church of Wales. At the opening of one such hall in 1898, Cory addressed the church: ‘I would remind you … that the church of God exists not only for your own spiritual benefit, but also for the salvation of souls.

‘It is God’s divine purpose that in saving you, you should become the saviour of others. I want to impress upon you that, next to the joy of realizing one’s own salvation is that of being the instrument in God’s hands of leading others to the knowledge of the Saviour’.

He supported about 2000 charitable societies, and studied their accounts, filing them carefully and only giving, as a careful steward of the Lord’s bounty, when he could see that it was justified.


John Cory’s wife died in August 1909, but he caught a severe chill at her funeral. He partially recovered, but relapsed, and died at Duffryn on 27 January 1910. In his will he left about £250,000 for charitable purposes (about £25 million at today’s value).

This included £20,000 (equivalent to £2m) to the Salvation Army and £5000 each to the Spezia Mission for its Italian work, Müller’s Orphanage and the Bible Society.

In his will, Cory also requested that his children, as a matter of honour and affection to their father, give to charities at least 10 per cent of their income from his legacies — an indication of the scale of his own practice.

His life was a practical example of the words of 2 Corinthians 8:7: ‘But just as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us — see that you also excel in this grace of giving’.


Helpful reading:


True community (Chap. 8, ‘Sharing your possessions’, pp. 105-117); Jerry Bridges, NavPress 2012.

Nigel T. Faithfull

 Part 2 is available here.

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