Guinness, Henry Grattan (1835–1910), evangelist and religious writer, was born 11 August 1835 at Montpelier House, Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), Co. Dublin, the eldest of the family of three sons and one daughter of Captain John Grattan Guinness (1783–1850), and Jane Lucretia (d. 1868), daughter of the musician William Cramer and widow of Captain J. N. D'Esterre, who was killed by Daniel O'Connell (qv) in a duel in February 1815.
After attending private schools in Clevedon and Exeter, Guinness entered the merchant service as a midshipman at the age of seventeen, soon afterwards travelling to Mexico and the West Indies. He returned to England in March 1854, thereafter journeying to Ireland in 1855 to work on a farm in Tipperary. At some time during this period, possibly influenced by his brother's recent conversion to evangelicalism, he is believed to have experienced a religious awakening. This event was quickly followed by a passionate determination to begin preaching. In January 1856 Guinness entered New College, London, with a view to training for the congregational ministry, but was distracted from his studies by what he regarded as a divine call to continue teaching. In April 1857 he supplied the pulpit at Moorfields Tabernacle, London, for three months, and was so successful that he was invited to become a permanent minister. He declined the position, but was ordained there on 29 July as an itinerant, interdenominational evangelist by five separate denominations. He did not complete his training at New College, choosing instead to concentrate on his evangelical work, and immediately embarked upon a three-year preaching tour of Wales, Scotland, France and Switzerland (1858), Ireland (1858–9), and America (November 1859–June 1860). Attracting enormous congregations, he was popularly known as ‘the boy preacher’ for his prodigious charisma.
By now something of a celebrated religious figure, on 2 October 1860 he married Fanny Emma Fitzgerald (b. April 1831), the second daughter of Edward Marlborough Fitzgerald and Mabel Stopford, daughter of Admiral Sir Robert Stopford. Orphaned at the age of eight, Fanny had been adopted by a quaker couple, Arthur and Mary West, who had close links to the Plymouth Brethren movement. Fanny introduced her husband to the Brethren, whose fascination with political history and biblical prophecy would deeply influence Guinness. A devoutly religious woman, Fanny was an enthusiastic supporter of her husband's work. For twelve years after their marriage, they travelled continuously on preaching tours, visiting America (where Fanny began to accept invitations to preach), Canada (where their first child, Harry, was born on 2 October 1861), Egypt, and Palestine, returning to England in April 1862. Guinness then held a temporary pastorate in Liverpool, and in 1863 completed another preaching tour of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Guinnesses spent some months at Mount Catherine, outside Limerick, the home of one of their supporters, where Guinness was left physically shaken after a violent attack made on him while he was preaching to local catholics (the incident was reported in The Times, 6 May 1864). Towards the end of 1865 the family moved to 31 Upper Baggot Street, Dublin, where they intended to establish a centre for training missionaries and evangelists. One of their first students was Thomas John Barnardo (qv), with whom Guinness formed a lasting friendship. Guinness also accepted the position of elder at Merrion Hall, a Brethren chapel, where he held a mission in 1866. In February of this year he met James Hudson Taylor, the renowned missionary explorer, who inspired him with renewed fervour for evangelical and missionary work.
Invigorated, the Guinness family moved briefly to Bath in 1867, before relocating to a Paris mission in 1868. With the onset of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, they returned to Bath where Guinness, deeply affected by the turbulence of the period, renewed his interest in biblical prophecy, and began writing a study which would eventually become the hugely popular The approaching end of the age in the light of history, prophecy, and science (published in conjunction with Fanny in 1878).
In 1872 the family moved to 29 Stepney Green in the east end of London, and in the following year Guinness founded the East London Institute for Home and Foreign Missions, for the training of young men and women for home evangelisation and foreign missions. In its first year, thirty-two students were accepted out of one hundred applicants and, requiring more space, the institute moved to Harley House in Bow. The institute became the central focus of the Guinnesses’ energy; Guinness was the director until his death (when he was succeeded by his son Harry), while Fanny was secretary and fiscal manager. In 1878 the magazine The Regions Beyond was started, edited by Fanny, and the Guinnesses increasingly directed their attention towards foreign missions. Moved by H. M. Stanley's dispatches from the Congo, published in the Daily Telegraph in 1875 and in the book Through the dark continent (1877), Guinness and Fanny formed the Livingstone Inland Mission in 1878, which aimed to establish missionary stations along the Congo River. Another mission to central Africa, the Congo Balolo Mission, was founded in 1889, and others were formed in Peru (1897) and Argentina (1899). In 1899 these missions were combined to form the nondenominational body Regions Beyond Missionary Union.
Guinness continued to travel widely in support of his missions; he journeyed to Algeria (1879), America (where he collected an honorary doctorate from Brown University in 1889), India and Burma (November 1896), China and Japan (1897), and Egypt (1899–1900). He simultaneously pursued a serious academic interest in astronomy, and in recognition of his scientific work was elected a fellow of both the Royal College of Astronomers and the Royal Geological Society. In collaboration with Fanny, Guinness also published Hymns of the cross (1864), Light for the last days: a study, historic and prophetic (1886), and The divine programme of the world's history (1888). Both also published separately. Fanny wrote several works on Africa, of which the best known were The first Christian movement on the Congo (1880) and The new world of Central Africa (1890), while Guinness published sermons and works on the Congo language.
Fanny suffered a stroke in 1885, and a second stroke in 1892 left her paralysed for the rest of her life; she died at Cliff College, Curbar, Derbyshire, on 3 November 1898. She was buried in Baslow churchyard. They had four children who survived into adulthood: Harry (1861–1915), Mary Geraldine (1862–1949), Lucy Evangeline (1865–1906), and Gershom Whitfield (1869–1927), all of whom became actively involved in their parents’ missionary work.
On 7 July 1903 Guinness married Grace Alexandra, the youngest child of Charles Russell Hurditch, an influential member of the Christian Brethren. They had two sons: John Christopher (b. 1906) and Paul Grattan (b. 1908). Guinness and Grace travelled around the world for five years after their marriage, visiting Switzerland (1903), America and Canada (1904), Japan and China (1905), Australia and New Zealand (1906), and South Africa (1907), before returning to England in 1908. Guinness spent the last two years of his life at his home in Lynton Lodge, Oldfield Park, Bath. He died there of pleurisy and pericarditis on 21 June 1910, and was buried in the cemetery at Bath Abbey.