1 - Ebenezer Joseph Mather

The founder of The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen


Headstone in St Katherine’ Churchyard, Canvey Island

The grave of Ebenezer Joseph Mather can be found in St Katherine’s Churchyard on Canvey Island.

His headstone reads

In affectionate remembrance of
‘The fishermen’s friend’
Ebenezer Joseph Mather
Founder of the
Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen
Called home on Dec 23rd 1927
Aged 78 years

Who is Ebenezer Joseph Mather and how did he come to be buried on Canvey?

Ebenezer was born on 12th June 1849 at Foregate Street, Stafford the son of Henry Penkett Mather (a ‘shoe manufacturer’) and his wife Elizabeth Douthwaite. Ebenezer was one of at least five children. Ebenezer’s father Henry (son of Thomas Mather and Hannah Penkett) was born in Liverpool in 1806. The family had moved to Upton on Severn, Worcestershire by the 1871 census this is where Henry died in 1886 aged 79.

Ebenezer Joseph Mather

According to a biography by Stephen Friend, Ebenezer was raised as a member of the Plymouth Brethren later (c1883) joining the Church of England remaining an Anglican for the rest of his life. Stephen Friend goes on to say that he was educated at Mr Charles Hammer’s private academy. Having worked as a junior clerk in a Worcester bank and as a market gardener he went on to become an auditor as noted in the 1871 census his occupation is Accountant.

Ebenezer married his first wife Caroline Eliza Lough in Islington on the 4th September 1872. Moving back to Upton where their two eldest children Ethel and Winifred were born. By 1879 the family have moved to Richmond where their third daughter Eveleen was born. By 1881 Ebenezer and his growing family have moved to Islington where two more daughters Enid and Gladys joined the family. In the 1881 census Ebenezer’s occupation was stated as ‘Secretary Thames Church Mission Society’ which was founded in 1844. Was this the for-runner for the Fishermen’s Mission?

It was in 1881 that after a visit to the sailing fleets on the Dogger Bank that Ebenezer having been very shocked by the terrible conditions the fishermen lived and worked under founded the National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen later (1896) to become the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. More can be read about the Mission through the link below.


Due to severe financial worries and increasing criticism Ebenezer Mather was forced to resign from the Mission in August 1889. Mather sailed for Sydney, Australia on the 13th January 1890 on the ship ‘Port Denison’ arriving on the 8th March, where he spent sometime researching details for a travel book, ‘The Squatter’s Bairn’. The book was written to encourage migration to Australia during one of the government’s emigration programmes. According to the 1891 census Ebenezer and his family have moved to Hornsey where his occupation is stated as an ‘Australian Agent’.

The family had moved back to Islington by the 1901 census living at 12 Ashley Road. In 1918 Ebenezer was awarded a civil-list pension of £50 pa in connection with his work with the Fishermen’s Mission.

Ebenezer Mather retired to Canvey Island where he published his biography, Memories of Christian Service. He married his second wife May Ethel Timewell (who was his nurse) on the 16 June 1925.

Ebenezer died on the 23rd December 1927 of heart failure. He was buried on Canvey in St Katherine’s Churchyard on the 28th December. His abode at the time of his death is stated as ‘Cotswold Garden’ Leigh Beck.  Which I would presume is the name of his cottage/bungalow. Where this was or how long he had lived there no one as yet knows.

How and when did he come here? Did he come down during the Hester years? Did he have a holiday home here? Did he retire here?

If anyone can fill in the years from 1901 to 1927 please get in touch.

Ref: Stephen Friend, ‘Mather, Ebenezer Joseph (1849-1927)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

Update 1st May 2008

Ebenezer’s Grave May 2008

Ebenezer Mather’s grave is just to the west of the church, in the second row by a tree. It was vandalised a couple of years ago and now the headstone lays flat down on the grave.

Today I braved the storms, as any good fisherman would and met up with Tim Jenkins and his colleague, representatives of the Fisherman’s Mission at St Katherines (Heritage Centre). They arrived to my surprise, trailing a large silver fish behind their vehicle. Once introductions were made, with the rain coming down, I took them over to Mather’s grave. We were huddled there under the tree by the grave taking photos, two very nice gentlemen in yellow wellies and me. If the rain was not bad enough we then had thunder, lightning and the heavens opened. I got rather wet.

The good news is the mission may be getting the Headstone restored and replaced. I am hopeful they will have some sort of ceremony when this is accomplished. They are in contact with Ebenezer’s granddaughter and they would like her to be at any service. They have promised to keep me posted.

More about Mather and his connection to St Anne’s Church can be read here.

Comments about this page

  • Think there’s a small typographical error where Mather’s biographer is refered to variously as Stephen Friend and Stephen Fry. Don’t think the latter was around in those days! Please don’t think I’m being over-critical.

    By Ron Gibbs (17/04/2008)
  • Apart from that an interesting article. I hadn’t heard of the gentleman before.

    By Ron Gibbs (17/04/2008)
  • Thanks for spotting my typo.

    By Janet Penn (17/04/2008)
  • I went looking for Ebenezer Joseph Mather’s headstone this week in St Katherines Church. It was pouring with rain and couldn’t find it. I since learnt it has fallen over. Hopefully it can be restored to its former glory.

    By David Bullock (26/04/2008)
  • Having spoken to Janet recently, I am trying to see if there is any funding to restore Ebenezers grave and to cover the service/ceremony afterwards. Lets keep our fingers crossed.

    By Joan Liddiard (22/02/2009)
  • The grave and NEW headstone looked immaculate in the snow this morning worth a look.

    By JOHN SMITH (06/01/2010)
  • Janet Penn has performed an excellent service in presenting this material.  However, I can add a few details:  the Thames Church Mission employed E J Mather and it was the TCM council that supported the development of the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.  With the expansion of the MDSF’s work the relationship with the TCM gradually fell apart and the MDSF became an independent, non-denominational society in 1886.  

    I recently visited Australia and took the opportunity to explore Mather’s residence there. It appears that having arrived at Sydney he then transferred to Adelaide where he spent just a few months before returning home to England. I searched through numbers of volumes in the Adelaide Reference Library but was unable to find any reference to Mather’s residence. Perhaps this is an objective others could now explore further.  

    On return home he obtained a a position with the Church of England Newspaper.

    Regards to all interested in this research. I would be delighted to hear from any readers with further helpful comments. 

    Dr Stephen Friend

    There are other details that would take too long to provide here. However, I have a book, ‘Fishing for Souls’ that is almost ready for publication, and the secons on the Mission to Fishermen should help answer many of the questions regarding Mather’s life.

    One final point – all publications about Mather insist on reproducing the picture of him taken in old age – taken long after his severance from the Mission!  There is a very good portrait photo of him in Toilers of the Deep, Vol. III, 1888, and The Christian, 3 Feb 1888. 


    By Dr Stephen Friend (06/10/2015)
  • Thank you Stephen for the complement.

    I have several photos of Mather when he was younger but it seemed more appropriate to add this one to my article on the Canvey Community Archive website as it was in his latter years that he came to Canvey.

    You might have notice his headstone has now been refurbished. We raised the money a few years ago and had a rededication service to mark the occasion. You can read all about it here.

    By Janet Penn (07/10/2015)
  • My cousin in Australia has a small bible inscribed on the fly leaf by my Great Great Uncle (her Great Grandfather).  Also on the fly leaf is a blue oval stamp which reads Thames Church Mission…Instituted 1844…31 New Bridge St. E.C.  My Uncle (aged 20) took this book on a voyage from London 11/11/1887 on The Oroya, to Williamstown landing on 20/12/1887.  Does anyone have anything they can tell us about this please?

    By Deborah Green (26/02/2017)
  • Glad to have found your article and information about the Founder of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fisheman – Ebenezer Mather. I would like to contact Dr Stephen Friend if that is possible please as I have been researching a picture which is as I understand has connections to the mission.  Best regards Peter N Millward  

    By Peter Millward (24/04/2018)

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