Dr Frederick W. DEvelyn
The Baháí Council for Northern Ireland asked that this article be written to mark the centenary of the Frederick DEvelyns declaration.
We are still close in time to the beginning of our faith, and developing our knowledge and understanding of its history: it is good that we do so while the source materials are still available. An outstanding case is that of the first Irish Baháís, both in terms of the first of Irish birth to become a Baháí and of those actually living here when they declared. Research conducted in the past few years has overturned some previous assumptions on both fronts and has led to realisation that the Faiths connections with Ireland start earlier than we had hitherto believed.
Up to recently it was widely believed that the first person of Irish birth to accept the Baháí Faith was the celebrated Lady Blomfield (nee Ryan) in 1907. However a chance bringing together of information held on both sides of the Atlantic has changed this. Material in the archives of the Spiritual Assembly of San Francisco including in its Minutes records that the distinguished early believer in the United States, Dr Frederick DEvelyn, was born in Belfast. Another source, the records of the prestigious Audubon Society in the US, confirms his birth in what is now Northern Ireland.
He was born in or about 1855. Information about his early life is scanty but it is known that he qualified in medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and subsequently served in a medical capacity with the British army in the South African campaigns, being wounded in 1887. He emigrated to the United States and settled in San Francisco, where his career blossomed. He held a faculty position at the University of California and was president of the California Academy of Sciences. He was also active in civic matters and served as president of the Geographical Society of California and of the Audubon Society of the Pacific Coast.
In 1901 D'Evelyn became a Bahá'í, and he served the Faith for the rest of his life. He was in the party (along with Helen Goodall, Ellen Cooper, and Mr and Mrs W. C. Ralston) that officially welcomed 'Abdu'l-Bahá on His arrival in San Francisco in October 1912, and his name appears first of the list of recipients of a tablet from the Master published in Star of the West on 19 January 1915. Dr D'Evelyn's account of the historic meeting is reproduced in Marion Carpenter Yazdi's Youth in the Vanguard which describes his involvement in Bahá'í activities a number of times. His service is mentioned in other books, such as Mahmúd's Diary and Leroy Ioas - Hand of the Cause of God by Anita Ioas Chapman, and he appears a number of times in Star of the West, sometimes referred to as "Frederick W. Evelyn". In addition to his local position he was a member of the Temple Unity Board, the forerunner of the National Spiritual Assembly.
When he died in 1932 the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of San Francisco expressed its "grief and sense of serious loss" and paid tribute to "the untiring services and inspiring leadership of their first Chairman, Dr Frederick W. D'Evelyn".
For more information about the early Irish Bahá'ís and some interesting the pictures the Friends should visit the UK Bahá'í Heritage Website.
Iain S. Palin
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