Home » Uncategorized » John Bacchus Dykes and Eternal Father, Strong to Save (Navy Hymn)

John Bacchus Dykes and Eternal Father, Strong to Save (Navy Hymn)


John Bacchus Dykes (March 10, 1823 – January 22, 1876) was an English minister and hymn tune composer.   Dykes (originally ‘Dikes’) was born on March 10, 1823, in Hull, England, the fifth child and third son of William Hey Dikes (sic), a ship builder, later banker, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Bacchus Huntington, a Leeds surgeon, and granddaughter of the William Huntington, Vicar of Kirk Ella. His paternal grandparents were Thomas Dikes LL.B, also a minister, and Mary, daughter of William Hey. By the age of ten, the boy was de facto assistant organist – there is no record of any formal appointment – at St John’s Church in Myton, Hull, where his paternal grandfather, who had built the church, was vicar and his uncle Thomas was organist. He also played the violin and the piano.   Studying first at Kingston College, Hull, and then at the West Riding Proprietary School at Wakefield, he matriculated, as the second ‘Dikes Scholar’ (the second beneficiary after his elder brother, Thomas, of an endowment established in 1840 in honor of his grandfather) at Katharine Hall (later St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge).  The original spelling of the family name – Dykes – came to be changed to Dikes and then back to Dykes.  John Bacchus, his father and grandfather were all registered at birth as Dikes, with the grandfather only reverting to the ‘y’ variant by virtue of the plaque affixed, at his earlier insistence, to his coffin. John Bacchus matriculated as Dikes but graduated as Dykes.

While at Katharine Hall, as an extra-curricular subject, Dykes studied music under Thomas Attwood Walmisley, whose madrigal society he joined. He also joined the Peterhouse Musical Society, becoming its forth President, immediately following his friend, the physicist William Thomson (later to become the 1st Baron Kelvin).   A number of his part-songs were performed by the Society, but these are currently lost. Graduating in 1847 as a Senior Optime, he was appointed to the curacy of Malton, North Yorkshire, in 1847. Ordained Deacon at York Minster in January 1848, in the following year he was appointed a minor canon of Durham Cathedral (an appointment he held until his death), and shortly thereafter to the office of precentor. On July 25, 1850, Dykes married Susannah (1827–1902), daughter of George Kingston, by whom he had three sons and five daughters.  In 1862 he relinquished his precentorship (to the dismay of Sir Frederick A Gore Ouseley) on his appointment to the living of St. Oswald’s, Durham, situated almost in the shadow of the Cathedral, where he remained until his death.

Dykes published sermons and articles on religion, but is best known for composing over 300 hymn tunes.  His youngest daughter, Mabel, died, aged 10, of scarlet fever in 1870.   Although his paternal grandfather and his father had been firmly of an evangelical persuasion, Dykes migrated to the Anglo-Catholic, ritualist, wing of the Church of England during his Cambridge years.  His own Bishop Charles Baring’s refusal to license a curate to help the overworked Dykes in his ever-expanding parish, led to a gradual deterioration in his physical and mental health, necessitating absence (which was to prove permanent) from St. Oswald’s from March 1875. Rest and the bracing Swiss air proving unavailing, Dykes eventually went to recover on the south coast of England where, on January 22, 1876, he died aged 52 in the asylum at Ticehurst near St. Leonard’s on Sea.  Dykes may have contracted the disease tertiary syphilis during his undergraduate years which possibly hastened his death.  His body is buried in the ‘overflow’ churchyard of St. Oswald’s, a piece of land for whose acquisition and consecration he had been responsible a few years earlier.

My collection includes the following work by John Bacchus Dykes:

Eternal Father, Strong to Save (Navy Hymn).


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