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John Esslemont

John Ebenezer Esslemont M.B., Ch.B. (1874-1925), was a prominent British Bahá'í from Scotland. He was the author of the well-known introductory book on the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, which is still in circulation. He was named posthumously by Shoghi Effendi as the first Hand of the Cause he appointed,[1] and as one of the Disciples of `Abdu'l-Bahá. He was also an accomplished medical Doctor and linguist becoming proficient in western and eastern languages.



John Esslemont was born in Aberdeen on 19 May 1874, the third son and fourth child of John E. Esslemont (1859-1927), a successful merchant, and Margaret Esslemont (n√©e Davidson).[2] He came from an eminent family and was educated at Ferryhill School, Robert Gordon's College, and the University of Aberdeen.[2] Esslemont is related to 19th Century Liberal Member of Parliament Peter Esslemont - John's great-grandfather[3] is Peter's grandfather.[4] He graduated in medicine in 1898 with honorable distinction. Unfortunately, Esslemont had contracted tuberculosis during his college days and this caused him to give up his promising career in medical research. He traveled internationally and married Jean Fraser to whom he was drawn by their mutual interest in music. On return to Scotland Esslemont took the position of medical superintendent[1] of Home Sanitorium for tuberculosis in Bournemouth.[2] Esslemont became the first Bah√°'√≠ of Bournemouth[5] in early 1915 after hearing of the religion in December 1914 from a co-worker's wife[2] who had met `Abdu'l-Bah√° in 1911 and had some pamphlets to share.[5] In about 1918 `Abdu'l-Bah√°, then head of the religion, wrote a tablet in his honor and also mentioned interest in a book he was working on. After receiving an early draft of this book `Abdu'l-Bah√° invited Esslemont to Palestine which he accomplished in the winter of 1919-20, after the Battle of Megiddo (1918) settled the land. Ultimately `Abdu'l-Bah√° was able to personally review several chapters. News of Esslemont's declaration of faith, and his forthcoming book, played a role in establishing the beginning of the Australian Bah√°'√≠ community and elsewhere.[6] Esslemont was elected chairman of the Bah√°¬ī√≠ Local Spiritual Assembly of Bournemouth when it was elected in a few years and later as vice-chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom until he left the country in 1924 following the closing of the sanitorium where he had been employed. He then traveled to Palestine to assist in translation work.[5]

Esslemont, besides speaking English well, was proficient in French, German, and Spanish, and was an Esperantist[2][7] and later learned Persian and Arabic well enough to assist in translation.[2] In 1916 he began work on a book which became Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, perhaps the foremost introductory volume on the Bahá'í Faith which eventually was published in 1923, revised and reprinted and translated into dozens of languages down to the present day.[2][8] Following the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi vacationed in Esslemont's familiar area of Bournemouth, and later Esslemont took permanent residence in Palestine to assist Effendi who then also helped further refine Esslemont's book.[2]

Esslemont died in 1925 from his tuberculosis and is buried in the Bahá'í Cemetery in Haifa along with several other well known Bahá'ís.[9][10] Shoghi Effendi posthumously designated Esslemont as the first of the Hands of the Cause he appointed in 1951, as well as one of the Disciples of `Abdu'l-Bahá.[1] In 1955, Esslemont was described by Shoghi Effendi as one of the "three luminaries of the Irish, English and Scottish Bahá'í communities."[11]

There is a Bahá'í school named after Esslemont, The John Esslemont School, in the Grampian region of North East Scotland has operated since 1987.[12] There is also a John Esslemont Memorial Lecture held annually in June in Aberdeen, where speakers from medical backgrounds present research to peers.[13]


Esselmont's Baha'u'llah and the New Era was originally published in 1923 and has been translated into numerous languages and remains a key introduction to the Bahá'í religion. More than sixty years later, it remains in the top ten of cited Baha'i books.[14]
  • Esslemont performed the first review of the worldwide progress of the Bah√°'√≠ religion in 1919. While unpublished it was identified and reviewed by recent scholars and was intended to be a chapter in Baha'u'llah and the New Era.[15]


  • Harper, Barron (1997). Lights of Fortitude (Paperback ed.). Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-413-1. 


  1. ^ a b c Early British Bahá'í History (1898-1930)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Esslemont, John (1874-1925) by Moojan Momen, London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1975. Baha'i World 1:133-6.
  3. ^ John Esslemont's Pedigree
  4. ^ Peter Esslemont's Pedigree
  5. ^ a b c "J. E. Esslemont - Named a Hand of the Cause at His Passing". Bah√°'√≠ News (15): p. 6-8. June 1973. 
  6. ^ William Miller (b. Glasgow 1875) and Annie Miller (b. Aberdeen 1877) - The First Believers in Western Australia The Scottish Bah√°'√≠ No.33 ‚Äď Autumn, 2003
  7. ^ Making World Peace Real: The Principle of an Universal Auxiliary Language by Paul J Desailly, p.18
  8. ^ Bah√°'√≠ International Community. ""Bah√°'u'll√°h and the New Era" editions and printings held in Bah√°'√≠ World Centre Library Decade by decade 1920 -2000+". General Collections. International Bah√°'√≠ Library. Retrieved 2009-04-04. 
  9. ^ Other Sites in Haifa
  10. ^ U.K. Bahá’í Heritage - Picture Display Seven
  11. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1971). Messages to the Bah√°'√≠ World, 1950-1957. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bah√°'√≠ Publishing Trust. pp. 174. ISBN 0877430365. 
  12. ^ The John Esslemont School Transforms Itself Journal of the Bah√°'√≠ Community of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Volume 19, No.7 ‚Äď January, 2003
  13. ^ John Esslemont Memorial Lecture The Scottish Bah√°‚Äô√≠, No.39 ‚Äď Spring, 2005
  14. ^ Fazel, Seena; Danes, John (1995). "Bah√°'√≠ scholarship: an examination using citation analysis". Bah√°'√≠ Studies Review 5 (1). , Table 4: Most cited Bah√°'√≠ books, 1988-1993.
  15. ^ Moomen, Moojan (2004). Smith, Peter. ed. Bah√°'√≠s in the West. Kalimat Press. pp. 63‚Äď106; Esslemont's Survey of the Baha'i World 1919-1920. ISBN 1890688118.,M1. 

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