Townshend, George (1876–1957), clergyman, Bahá'i convert, scholar, and writer, was born 14 June 1876 at Hatley, 10 Burlington Rd, Dublin, eldest of two sons and five daughters of Charles Uniacke Townshend (1828–1907), JP and land agent, of 15 Molesworth St., Dublin, hon. sec. (1887–93) and vice-president (1893–1907) of the RDS, and his second wife, Anna Maria (1851–1919), daughter of Samuel Ussher Roberts (d. 1900), CB, architect, of Burlington Rd., Dublin, and Waterford, HM commissioner of works in Ireland, consulting architect to the board of control of asylums for the mentally ill, and vice-president (1894–1900) of the RDS. Charles Uniacke Townshend also had three sons and four daughters by his first wife (m. 17 October 1854), Anna Maria Sarah (1830–73), eldest daughter of the Rev. Robert Loftus Tottenham. George Townshend was educated at Wynyards School, Watford (1886–90); Uppingham, Rutland (1890–95); Hertford College, Oxford (1895–9), where he read classics and English (BA 1899); and King's Inns, Dublin (1899–1903). He was called to the bar, 7 October 1903.
Townshend went to Utah, USA, in 1904, where he became a deacon in the Episcopal Church of America (1905); was in charge of the mission to Mormons and Native Americans at Provo, Utah (1905–9); and was ordained at Salt Lake City (1906). During this period he wrote a number of books, essays, and pamphlets, including The conversion of Mormonism (1911). Following what was to become a lifetime search for religious truth, in 1909 Townshend joined an ethical movement called the School of Natural Science (founded in 1883 by John E. Richardson, an attorney from California) from which he resigned in 1916, after its leaders were accused of fraud. He taught at Salt Lake City high school (1910). Thereafter he was engaged as assistant director of the university extension department of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee (1910–16), during which period he was also appointed assistant professor of English (1913–15) and associate professor of English (1915–16). He wrote for journals such as the Sewanee Review (‘England's atonement for old wrongs’, xx, and ‘Irish mythology’, xxiii) and lectured on English and Anglo-Irish literature.
On a visit to Ireland in June 1916 he was afflicted by neuritis, which caused temporary blindness and led to his resignation from his post in Sewanee. He then secured the position of curate of Booterstown, Co. Dublin (1916–19). It was at this time that he first encountered the Bahá'í faith and began to study Bahá'í scriptures, use Bahá'í prayers, and correspond with Abdu'l Bahá (son of its founder Bahá'u'lláh), and his grandson Shoghi Rabbani (known as Shoghi Effendi), the future leader of the Bahá'í faith. From 1926 until his death Townshend assisted Shoghi Effendi in his English translations of Bahá'í writings. He reviewed and edited his translations of Hidden words (1926–7); Kitáb-i-Ígán (1930); The dawn-breakers (1930–31); Gleanings from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh (1934–5); Prayers and meditations by Bahá'u'lláh (1937); Epistle to the son of the wolf (1940); and God passes by (1944). At the same time, he continued his career in the Church of Ireland, holding posts as rector of Ahascragh (1919–26), canon and prebendary of Kilteskill in Clonfert cathedral, canon of Kilquane (1926–32), diocesan secretary (1927–47), canon of Tassagard in St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin (1932–45), provost of Kilmacduagh (the last to be appointed), archdeacon of Clonfert (1933–47), and canon of Tipper Kevin (1946–7).
Townshend believed that he could bring his church to recognise Bahá'u'lláh as the second coming of Christ, and most of his writings were to this end. One of his earliest was a book of prayers and meditations, The altar on the hearth (1927), followed by The genius of Ireland (1930), The promise of all ages (1934, under the pseudonym ‘Christophil’), and The heart of the Gospel (1939). In September 1947 Townshend resigned from the Church of Ireland, moved to ‘Ripley’, Mount Anville Rd, Dundrum, and joined the Bahá'í community of Dublin. In 1951 he was appointed by Shoghi Effendi to the highest office of the Bahá'í faith, that of a Hand of the Cause of God. (The obligations of its holders are ‘to diffuse the divine fragrances, to edify the souls of men, to promote learning, to improve the character of all men, and to be, at all times and under all conditions, sanctified and detached from earthly things’.) Between 1947 and 1957 he published a number of books on the Bahá'í faith, including The old churches and the new world-faith (1949), The glad tidings of Bahá'u'lláh (1949), The covenant: an analysis (1950), The mission of Bahá'u'lláh (1952), and Christ and Bahá'u'lláh (1957).
He married (1918) Anna Sarah (1889–1961), third daughter of Samuel Maxwell, shopkeeper and retired sergeant of the 70th Regt, and Georgina Grace Morris or Maurice, his second wife, of Abbeyleix, Queen's Co. (Laois). They had two children: a son, Brian Uniacke (1920–88), and a daughter, Una (b. 1921), who married Richard Dean and lives in Alberta, Canada. Townshend died in Baggot St. Hospital, Dublin, 25 March 1957 and is buried in the Church of Ireland cemetery in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. His papers are held in the Bahá'í archives department, Universal House of Justice, Haifa, Israel.