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Luke, Jemima (1813–1906)

Luke, Jemima (1813–1906)

English hymn writer . Born Jemima Thompson on August 19, 1813, in London, England; died in 1906; married Samuel Luke (a Congregational minister), in 1843; no children.

Born Jemima Thompson in London in 1813, poet and hymn writer Jemima Luke was raised in a deeply religious family. Her father helped found the Sunday School Union, the Sailors' Society, the first Sailors' Home, and the Home Missionary Society, which was organized to send ministers out to isolated villages. In her autobiography Early Years of My Life (1900), Jemima recalled that the turning point in her life came at age ten; after being punished for telling a lie, she attended a particularly moving church service that inspired her to live a truly Christian life.

Jemima also aspired to become a poet and by age 13 had some work published in a magazine called The Juvenile Friend. She then studied with Caroline Fry , a writer and editor of another magazine, The Assistant to Education. In her late teens, Jemima decided to become a missionary to India, in order to help young Hindu girls escape early marriages to men they had never met. Her father had agreed to sponsor her and pay her way to India when she was stricken with a virus and forced to cancel her plans. Following her recovery, she began to visit local schools to teach children to sing hymns, many of which she wrote herself.

Luke's most famous hymn, The Child's Desire, better known by its first line, "I think, when I read that sweet story of old," was written in 1841, while she was riding in a stagecoach on an errand for her father. "I'm quite certain God was there, whispering that song to me," she said later. She set the words to the tune of an old marching song she had once heard sung by school children. The work so impressed her father that he sent a copy to the Sunday School Teachers' Magazine, and it was also published anonymously in the Leeds Hymn Book of 1853.

Jemima Luke spent her later years editing missionary magazines for children and writing Sunday School curriculums to teach about missionary work. Following her marriage to Congregational minister Samuel Luke in 1843, she continued as a missionaries' advocate, encouraging single young women to travel to India to save young Hindu women.


Parr, Lynn. "The Child's Desire," in This England. Autumn 1995.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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