Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th Edition


(1757-1824), British religious fanatic, was born in Newfoundland on Christmas day, 1757, and educated at Woolwich. He entered the navy and served under Keppel and Rodney. In 1783 he became lieutenant, and was discharged on half-pay. He travelled on the continent, made an unhappy marriage in 1786, and again went to sea. But he felt that the military calling and Christianity were incompatible and abandoned the former (1789). Further scruples as to the oath required on the receipt of his half-pay reduced him to serious pecuniary straits (1791), and he divided his time between the open air and the workhouse, where he developed the idea that he had a special divine commission, and wrote to the king and the parliament to that effect. In 1793 he declared himself the apostle of a new religion, "the nephew of the Almighty, and prince of the Hebrews, appointed to lead them to the land of Canaan." At the end of 1794 he began to print his interpretations of prophecy, his first book being A Revealed Knowledge of the Prophecies and Times. In consequence of prophesying the death of the king and the end of the monarchy, he was arrested for treason in 1795, and confined as a criminal lunatic. His case was, however, brought before parliament by his ardent disciple, Nathaniel Halhed, the orientalist, a member of the House of Commons, and he was removed to a private asylum in Islington. Here he wrote a variety of prophetic pamphlets, which gained him many believers, amongst them William Sharp, the engraver, who afterwards deserted him for Joanna Southcott. Brothers, however, had announced that on the 19th of November 1795 he was to be "revealed" as prince of the Hebrews and ruler of the world; and when this date passed without any such manifestation, what enthusiasm he had aroused rapidly dwindled, despite the fact that some of his earlier political predictions (e.g. the violent death of Louis XVI.) had been fulfilled. He died in London on the 25th of January 1824, in the house of John Finlayson, who had secured his release, and who afterwards pestered the government with an enormous claim for Brothers's maintenance. The supporters of the Anglo-Israelite theory claim him as the first writer on their side.