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Ault, William
1786-1815; e.m.1808

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One of the six missionaries who accompanied Thomas Coke to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1814, he was born in West Bromwich, the son of Jabez Ault a shoemaker. His ancestors had suffered in the Wednesbury riots of the 1740s and were friends of the Asburys. He showed an early love of books and is said to have read the Bible through six times by the age of seven. Though trained in his father's trade, he entered the itinerancy after four years as a local preacher. He was ordained by Coke in 1813, in preparation for the mission to Asia.

His wife, whom he had married shortly before embarking, died during the voyage. He wrote a hymn celebrating the arrival of the missionary party in Ceylon. He was posted to Batticaloa on the east coast of the island, then accessible only by sea, where his nearest compatriot, apart from a small garrison, was the Anglican chaplain at Trincomalee, further up the coast. Despite the isolation, appalling climatic conditions and a diet largely confined to rice and fish, he was soon preaching in Tamil and organising schools in the neighbourhood. The nature of his lone pioneering work was described by his colleague Thomas Squance: 'He rose at three or four o'clock in the morning, and did not retire before twelve at night; and all this time was employed in reading, writing, instructing children, or preaching. Few men, even in Europe, would be able to endure labour such as this.' He was taken ill with a fever early in 1815 and died less than a year after arrival, on 1 April. The Ault Memorial Building in Batticaloa ensures that his work is not forgotten. Another commemorative plaque is at the Pettah Church in Colombo.


  • WM Magazine, 1816, p.153
  • Methodist Recorder, Winter Number, 1900, pp.31-2
  • W. Ellery Jephcott, in Midland Chronicle and Free Press, 19 November 1943
  • WHS(West Midlands) 1 pt.2 pp.13-17, pt.3 pp.23-24, pt.4 pp.37-38
  • W.J.T. Small, A History of the Methodist Church in Ceylon (Colombo, n.d.)

Entry written by: EJH
Category: Person

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