Henry Groves, the eldest son of Anthony Norris Groves, missionary to Persia and India, was born at Exeter, in Nov., 1818. Together with his brother Frank, who was a little more than a year his junior, he had for his earliest teacher, Mr. Henry Craik, afterwards so well known in connection with Mr. George Muller, of Bristol, and was linked up with Lord Congleton, Dr. Cronin, and other devoted servants of God.
He was ten years old, and his brother was nine, when they accompanied their parents and John Kitto through St. Petersburg and Moscow to Bagdad. They commenced their travels in May, 1829, and continued them till December. The fatigue and danger of that long journey early taught the boys to endure hardness; but those travelling experiences were as nothing to what lay in store for them at their destination. In April of the following year, the plague broke out in Bagdad, and the mortality often considerably exceeded a thousand a day. Fifty unburied corpses might be seen during a walk of 500 yards, and the wails of naked and starving children who roamed the streets were heart-breaking. When this calamity was at its height, an inundation of the river took place. Upwards of 5000 houses crumbled, and in many cases crushed the inhabitants, but a small strip of rising ground at the end of their street saved the missionary's family from the water entering their dwelling. Mrs. Groves had died of the plague, and the stricken household presently found themselves, after the subsiding of the water, threatened with another danger - the doomed city was besieged by a Turkish army. Bullets were constantly flying overhead as they slept on the house-top, and bands of robbers broke once and again into the house, carrying off whatever they chose. During all this time the necessities of life had risen to an enormous price, and the food so dearly purchased had to be eaten at night and in the cellar, to prevent its falling into the hands of the lawless and starving mob.
At length deliverance came, and also fresh missionaries from England. The boys' deaf tutor (afterwards the celebrated Dr. Kitto) returned home, and the friends who arrived took up their education to some extent; but so terrible were the experiences of those days, that Mr. H. Groves said that after leaving England, he cannot remember that he was a boy at all.
The brothers continued in Persia till 1834, when they went to India and joined their father in heroic efforts to establish a self-supporting mission. Converts among the Hindus becoming outcasts, it was thought by farming, silk, and other industries to give them some means of livelihood. Partly through inexperience, but more on account of the impossibility of producing profitably alongside of native labour, these schemes failed one after another.
After ten or twelve years Mr. A. N. Groves' health broke down, and he came to England in 1852, and died in the house of his brother-in-law, Mr. George Muller. Meanwhile Mr. Henry and Mr. Frank Groves had been appointed jointly superintendents of a sugar-refining factory in south India. For many years this prospered very fairly in their hands, but, after 1857 (the year of the mutiny), the price of the raw material rose to double what it had previously been, and was no longer remunerative.
During that year Mr. H. Groves had visited England, and Ireland, and also America, and was deeply impressed with the work of revival which he witnessed. He longed to be free to give himself wholly to the work of the Gospel, and the way for this was made plain in 1862, when the Indian factory was sold to a native firm without occasioning loss to the original shareholders.
The following year found Mr. Groves commencing the service on which he had set his heart in Bristol, and in 1868 he paid a visit to Kendal, for a few weeks as he thought, but here he settled, and though constantly travelling over the United Kingdom in the service of the Gospel, during the following three-and-twenty years it never ceased to be his home; and here he fell asleep on Thursday afternoon, 2nd July, 1891, after some fourteen months' illness. In May, 1890, a chill he took brought to light a serious state of vital organs in the form of a sudden paralytic weakness.
In the midst of family life, and in what he still could do of pastoral and teaching work, did he "finish his course," as he had, by God's grace, and by God's special calling to public ministry, in early life begun it.