Project Canterbury

Handbooks of English Church Expansion

South Africa

By A. Hamilton Baynes

London and Oxford: A. R. Mowbray, 1908.

Chapter II. Beginnings of Church Work

WE may now pass to our proper subject--the history of the English Church in South Africa, the political history of which, with its race problems, we have rapidly sketched in the preceding chapter.

The first English Church service of which we know was held in Capetown by a naval chaplain of the fleet returning from India on April 20, 1749. And for some time after the first British occupation of the Cape, in 1795, the only services held were conducted by naval and military chaplains. At the second British occupation, in 1806, Mr. Griffiths, the garrison chaplain, seems to have been the only English priest, and to have begun for the first time regular Church services. The cathedral register at the Cape begins with him. For many years services were held by permission in the Dutch church. At this time and for long afterwards (even after the arrival of the first [32/33] Bishop) the Governor of the Cape was recognized as "the Ordinary," and no public service could be held but "by permission of His Excellency." In 1819-20, by means of a grant of £50,000 from the Imperial Government, a body of four thousand emigrants was sent out to the Eastern district of the Cape, and from that moment the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts began its operations in South Africa. The Society entered into arrangements with the Imperial Government, by which the latter was to make an allowance of £100 a year towards the stipend of each clergyman sent out. The Society added another £100, and in 1820 the Rev. W. Wright was appointed to the charge of the emigrants. The Society also voted a sum of £500 towards a church at Capetown, but the local government represented "that such a building was not wanted in Capetown," and the money was therefore diverted to the erection of a church at Grahams-town. The next year we hear of "one of a number of huts," which had been erected as barracks, being "neatly fitted up at the public expense" as a chapel, and on the arrival of Lord Charles Somerset, "being duly transferred, and the solemnization of the Sacraments sanctioned by public [33/34] authority." The Holy Communion was celebrated in it for the first time on Christmas Day, 1822, and there were sixteen communicants. Mr. Wright also conducted service at Wynberg, a suburb eight miles out of Capetown, and began schools for English, Dutch, and natives. In 1829 we find that there were nine clergymen in Cape Colony. Five of these were Colonial priests, the senior being Mr. Hough. Of the other three, one was a military chaplain, the second was the Astronomer Royal, who had fitted up "a neat little chapel in an unappropriated room of the Observatory," and the third was the Governor's domestic chaplain. For want of clergy many Church people attended Wesleyan or Dutch services. Mr. Hough had no church of his own, and was unable to administer the Holy Communion more than once a quarter "on account of being obliged on every Sacrament Sunday to build an altar after the masters of the (Dutch) church "had left, which altar had to be "pulled down in time for their next service."

More than forty years from the British occupation were to pass before the Church in South Africa received any formal order and organization by having a Bishop of its own. During this long period English Churchmen at the Cape were [34/35] dependent for episcopal ministrations on the casual visits of Indian and other Bishops on the way to visits of and from their dioceses. In 1827 Bishop James, Bishops, of Calcutta, called at the Cape, and during his visit confirmed some four hundred and fifty candidates in the Dutch church. He also ordained seven priests and two deacons. The only complete church at this time was S. George's, Grahamstown. Two years later his successor, Bishop Turner, spent ten days in Capetown, preaching in the Dutch church, and confirming one hundred and eighty people. In 1832 Bishop Daniel Wilson, of Calcutta, consecrated sites for churches at Rondebosch and Wynberg, confirmed some three hundred persons, and ordained two deacons to the priesthood.

In 1834 S. George's Cathedral was opened for service. It had cost £17,000, and it is characteristic of the time that of this sum £7,000 was "raised in shares of £2$ each, bearing interest at six per cent. . . . secured on the pew rents." It was and is a severely plain square building, designed by an officer of the Royal Engineers after classical models, with no pretensions to architectural beauty. [A new and stately cathedral of stone is now rapidly rising between the Government Avenue and the old building, the whole of which will eventually be swept away. The first portion of this will, it is hoped, very soon be ready for consecration.]

[36] The next Bishop who visited South Africa was Dr. Corrie, of Madras, in 1835, and in 1843 Bishop Nixon, of Tasmania, called at the Cape and confirmed some hundreds of candidates, and ordained one priest.

Not unnaturally, a church so neglected and so disorganized, dependent on such casual and irregular superintendence, showed little vitality; and the dreary years furnish little that is interesting or inspiring in Church history. Other religious bodies, which were better organized and cared for, went ahead and left the Church lagging far behind, so that when at last a Bishop was appointed, he found much to discourage--little life in the Church, and much leeway to make up.

It was on June 1, 1841, that Archbishop Howley summoned the great meeting of Churchmen which established the Colonial Bishoprics Fund. Mr. Gladstone took a prominent part in that meeting, and became the first treasurer of the new society. Fifty years later he was again the chief speaker at the Society's Jubilee meeting in S. James's Hall. The needs of the Cape were [36/37] among the causes which led to this step, and Miss Burdett-Coutts came forward with great generosity and provided a considerable sum towards the endowment of a Bishopric of Capetown, as she did also for other new dioceses. But some years more elapsed before a Bishop was appointed for the Cape. In 1846 the Capetown District Committee of the S.F.C.K. petitioned the Colonial Bishoprics Fund for the establishment of a Bishopric of Capetown, and a similar petition was presented by the clergy and laity of the eastern districts of the colony. The fact that it was Mr. Hawkins, the Secretary of the Colonial Bishoprics Fund, who selected the first Bishop and recommended him to the Archbishop, is an indication of how little the Church as a whole as yet concerned itself about her daughter Churches in the colonies.

The individual selected was Robert Gray; and, as his personality plays so large a part in the history of the Church in South Africa, it is important to know something of his character and antecedents.

Robert Gray was born in 1809, the son of Bishop Robert Gray, of Bristol. The father had passed through stormy times, for he was Bishop at the [37/38] time of the Bristol riots of 1831. The mob, infuriated by the rejection by the House of Lords of the Reform Bill, burnt the Bishop's palace and attacked his cathedral. The son, who had received an honorary fourth class in the pass examination at Oxford, graduating from University College, was ordained deacon by his father in S. Margaret's, Westminster, in March, 1833, and acted at first as secretary to his father, whose health was failing. In January, 1834, he was ordained to the priesthood by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, by letters dimissory from his father, who died at the end of the year. Soon after Robert Gray became Vicar of Whitworth, Durham. After refusing the living of Hughenden, he was married in 1836 to Miss Myddleton, the daughter of one of the chief landowners in his parish. Already he showed much interest in the Church abroad by accepting, in 1840, the local secretaryship of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and by the sympathy which he expressed both for the Church of the United States and for efforts which were being made towards closer relations with the Eastern Church. In 1845 he became Vicar of the important parish of Stockton-on-Tees, and in the following year he was appointed Honorary Canon of [38/39] Durham Cathedral. These offices, however, he was not destined to hold for long, for in January, 1847, he received a letter from Mr. Hawkins, asking him to allow his name to be put before the Archbishop for the new Bishopric of Capetown. After much hesitation and correspondence he was nominated to this office, and his consecration took place in Westminster Abbey on S. Peter's Day, 1847, when Archbishop Howley and his assistant Bishops also consecrated Bishop Short, of Adelaide, Bishop Tyrrell, of Newcastle, and Bishop Perry, of Melbourne.

In those days, and for some years after, Colonial Bishops were appointed, like their brethren in England, by Letters Patent from the Crown, the theory being that the Church in the Colonies was part of the Established Church of England, and that Colonial Bishops were suffragans of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom they took the oath of canonical obedience. Bishop Gray's Letters Patent, dated June 25, 1847, constituted the Cape of Good Hope and its dependencies, with the island of S. Helena, a Bishop's See, and appointed Robert Gray, D.D., the first Bishop thereof.

After his consecration the new Bishop spent some busy months in England, speaking at [39/40] meetings, raising funds for his work, and choosing men to take out. Among the latter were his Archdeacon, Merriman, afterwards Bishop of Grahams-town, the Rev. the Hon. H. Douglas, the Rev. H. Badnall, Mr. Davidson, and others.

The Bishop, with his wife and four children and several of his clergy and workers, sailed in the Persia on December 28, 1847. From the very outset the new Bishop found himself in at atmosphere of controversy. For on landing at Madeira his good offices as a peacemaker were called in as between two parties of English Churchmen, one of which adhered to a clergyman called Lowe, who held the Bishop of London's licence, while the other followed a Mr. Brown, who was sent out by Lord Palmerston as chaplain without the Bishop's licence. By private exhortations, and by a sermon in which he was "affected even to tears," the Bishop strove to reconcile the conflicting parties; but he seems to have had little hope that his efforts would prove successful. It is a curious coincidence that Bishop Gray's episcopal work should have begun, even before he had reached his diocese, with this little controversy in Madeira between Church and State, the Ecclesiastical and Civil authority, which was to play so large a part [40/41] in his future contentions in the Church in South Africa.

The party landed at the Cape on February 20, 1848. In Sir Harry Smith, the Governor of the day, Bishop Gray found a warm friend. But the prospect that met him on his first introduction was not a cheering one. Politically there were initial troubles with the Boers on hand, which ended in the battle of Boomplats; ecclesiastically there was much indifference and disorder; and financially the problems were somewhat overwhelming. There was a debt on S. George's Church of £7,500, and he saw at once how many more clergy were urgently needed, with no resources from which to pay them. And mission work among heathen and Mohammedans had to be organized from the beginning.

In July, 1848, we find the Bishop looking out anxiously for the arrival of new members of his staff--Messrs. Newman, Green, and Campbell. Of these, Mr. Green, the future Dean of Maritzburg, whose work, but lately closed, was to extend over more than fifty years, was to accompany him on his first Visitation of the diocese. The description of this first Visitation gives us a vivid idea of the difficulties of those pioneering days. The Bishop [41/42] started on August 23, 1848, with a wagon and eight horses which cost him £300. Mr. Green, who did not arrive in time to start with the Bishop, followed him the next day. Each day's journey began about 5 a.m., and every halt was "filled up with services; baptizing, confirming, preaching, visiting schools and institutions, fixing sites of churches, and presiding at public meetings with a view to building them." The route followed was along the coast eastwards, by Caledon, Riversdale, Mossel Bay, and Melville, to Port Elizabeth. On October 3rd, his thirty-ninth birthday, Bishop Gray writes from Sunday River: "I have now travelled through my unwieldy diocese near a thousand miles, and I have yet two thousand before me on this Visitation. Since I left Capetown I have met with one English church, but I travelled nine hundred miles before I came to it, . . . but, blessed be God! I have been enabled to arrange for eleven churches along the line I have passed over." For these eleven churches Mrs. Gray, who had stayed behind at Capetown, drew the plans and working designs, so that the Bishop wrote, "Sophie is architect to the diocese."

The Visitation, which covered three thousand miles and lasted four months, during which the [42/43] Bishop had confirmed nine hundred persons, ended about December 16th, at Stellenbosch, where Mrs. Gray, to the Bishop's surprise and delight, drove out to meet him; and her description of the party and their equipment gives indications of what such journeys involved in those days. "The poor wagon, which looked so smart when they started, was sadly battered, its wheels all tied up with ropes, and sundry patches and stains in all parts of it--the boxes, bags, dressing-cases, clothes, shoes, etc., showing grievous marks of having been in the wars. The Bishop's two new strong tin boxes all battered to pieces; neither would lock; his black patent leather bags worn into holes; his hat, which was new when he started, looked as if he had played football with it for a month--Mr. Green's still worse; and his shoes had a hole in the sole through which you could put a finger." But the Visitation had, so the Bishop wrote, "roused feelings, hopes, and expectations, which had almost died away. I must not disappoint them if I can help it, or suffer them to sink again into listless inactivity."

Bishop Gray's first care as Bishop of a diocese which had hitherto had no definite organization [43/44] and superintendence, which had grown up in a casual and haphazard sort of way, was to supply clergy, churches, and parsonages for the English population in all the towns and villages of his diocese. But this was only a part of the vast work which lay before him. He was from the first fully alive to the claims of the native and Malay population of the colony. In his very first sermon he spoke of missions; and, very soon after, he writes, "I have ordered a collection in all churches for the commencement of a Mission Fund to the Kafirs." He was greatly concerned about the Mohammedans, and in March, 1848, he wrote home for a man who might be a missionary to them. The need for such mission work was the more pressing, as Mohammedanism was spreading and aggressive. In the following month the Bishop writes: "There are a very great number of Mohammedans in and around Capetown; their converts are made chiefly from among the liberated Africans, but occasionally also from the ranks of Christians." Accordingly, in writing home, he asks for "a good, sound, discreet, earnest man for the Mohammedans in Capetown." Another project which much concerned him was that of utilizing the [44/45] power of the Press. "With a view to give strength and unity of action, courage and information to Churchmen, a newspaper must be started; for the whole Press, from Capetown to Port Natal, is sectarian; and with a representative Government and a hostile Press we should fare badly; at the end of a few months, when we see how it pays, I shall probably write to you about engaging an editor." Education, too, was occupying him. As a statesman he was considering every kind of operation by which the cause of CHRIST and His Church could be furthered. Only about two months after his arrival he had conceived a great and daring plan. "One great scheme I have," he writes, "is to buy up the South African College, which is a failure, and has £400 a year from Government. I mean to make a dash at it, though I scarce expect to succeed." A little later he was much encouraged in this plan by the offer of a University man of distinction who seemed just the man for a head master. "God has richly comforted me on this day by a letter from Merriman, informing me of Mr. White, a Fellow and Tutor of New College, a first-class man, offering to come out for five years at his own expense. I was just [45/46] wanting such a man, and had just broached my scheme about the South African College to the Chief Justice on Saturday last."

His expectations of failure in the plan of buying up the South African College were realized; but the project of starting a diocesan collegiate school was effected, and within a year it began its operations in quarters adjoining the Bishop's house at Protea, afterwards called Bishop's Court. Mr. White became the head master, and later on the school was removed to larger premises, and became the Diocesan College.

On April 1, 1850, the Bishop started on a second and longer Visitation, which was to include the distant colony of Natal. The hardships and perils of this journey were even greater than those of the former one. On entering Natal, and on leaving it, the party met with serious accidents which might well have resulted in loss of life. The route lay through Bloemfontein and Thaba-Unchu (as they then spelt it). Somewhere between that point and the edge of the Drakensberg, at the house of a Hottentot called "Old Isaac," the Bishop was met by Mr. Green and his future brother-in-law, Mr. Moodie. The meeting cheered Bishop Gray, and the next [46/47] day the party proceeded to the dangerous descent of the Drakensberg. That range of mountains, like a sea cliff, descends in many places by sheer crags, quite impassable by wheeled vehicles, to the valleys of Natal. Its highest points are some twelve thousand feet above the sea. It was, of course, at some point lower and less impassable that the Bishop attempted to descend. But even so the pole of his wagon was cracked in several places, and it was at considerable risk, and by the aid of reims (i.e., straps of raw hide) that the wagon was got to the bottom. After passing the Tugela, the Bushman's Drift, Mooi River and the Howick Falls, they reached Maritzburg, where they spent Whitsuntide. Some weeks were spent there, and many plans laid for mission work among the 100,000 Zulus, refugees from the tyranny of Panda, who then formed the native population of Natal. Bishop Gray and his party then passed down to the coast, to D'Urban, and subsequently paid a visit to the oldest mission stations in the country, those of the American Congregationalists.

The return journey was to be, not across the Drakensberg, but nearer the coast to King-williamstown. [47/48] Those who know the deep gorges through which the great rivers of Natal, such as the Umkomazi and the Umzimkulu, flow to the sea--gorges difficult enough to pass even now when good roads have been engineered--can imagine what such a journey must have been for a wagon and eight horses in those days when the roads can have been little better than mountain tracks. After several descents and ascents of the greatest difficulty, in which the Bishop had to go before the horses, leading them by a reim, and almost getting trodden on in the process, they had a serious breakdown in the descent into the Umzimkulu valley. "In our descent," the Bishop says, "we came to some very broken ground. Just as I was offering up thanksgiving for escape from danger I saw my cart roll over. In an instant it was turned completely on its head, quite crushing the tent, and the wheelers were upon their backs, with their feet in the air. Ludwig (the driver) was invisible under the cart." Although they managed to reach their halting-place without injury to any of the party, it would seem that the wagon was ruined, for the Bishop says: "The loss of my cart seems to [48/49] me like the loss of a home. I read in it, wrote in it, slept in it, in fact, lived in it. Now I am without shelter." However, it appears to have been patched up, for the journey continued, and we find the Bishop preaching to the natives, with Mr. Shepstone as interpreter. This, probably, was not Sir Theophilus, but his brother John, who afterwards became Judge of the Native High Court in Maritzburg.

It was this Visitation of Natal that forced home the conviction to the Bishop's mind that he must at once proceed to the division of his unwieldly diocese, and to the appointment of at least two more Bishops. His desire at this time was to hand over the charge of the Cape to some one else, and to undertake the pioneering work of missions in Natal himself. "My plan," he writes, "is to get Archdeacon Grant, or some very able man, for Capetown; and the Archdeacon (Merriman) at Grahamstown, and for me to go to mission work in Natal."

It was this need of subdivision which determined the Bishop to pay a visit to England to bring the matter before the Church at home, and to obtain the men and the necessary funds for the endowment of the two new Bishoprics of Grahamstown [49/50] and Natal. In a pastoral letter to the members of the Church in the diocese Bishop Gray explained the objects of this journey as being fourfold: (i) The division of the diocese, (2) the future maintenance of the clergy, (3) missions to the heathen, and (4) the foundation of a college. England The Bishop sailed for England on January 3, 1852, and after a Visitation of the Island of S. Helena, which was within his jurisdiction, he landed at Falmouth on March 31st.

Bishop Gray's letters and diaries at this time show his unbounded activity while in England, and his constant interviews with all the leading men in Church and State concerning all the difficult problems that the organization of a new colonial diocese and province involved. All this we must pass over, and come to that which was the primary object of his visit--the selection of the two new Bishops. On September 7th he wrote to invite Mr. Armstrong, of Tidenham, to become the first Bishop of Grahamstown; and about the same time he offered the Bishopric of Natal to the Rev. John William Colenso, Rector of Forncett S. Mary, in Norfolk. Mr. Colenso had had a distinguished career at Cambridge, being Second Wrangler and Second Smith's [50/51] Prizeman in 1836, and Fellow of S. John's in 1837. He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Ely in 1839, being then twenty-five years old, and in the same year became a mathematical master at Harrow. From Harrow he had returned to Cambridge, where, from 1841 to his marriage with Miss Bunyon, he worked as Fellow and Tutor of S. John's. The two new Bishops were consecrated at Lambeth on S. Andrew's Day, 1853, the sermon being preached by Bishop Wilberforce, of Oxford. Bishop Gray now looked forward to the future with brightest hopes. The object of his journey was accomplished, South Africa was to be reinforced by having three centres of spiritual life and activity instead of one, and there seemed to be no hindrance to the Metropolitan's earnest desire to start regular provincial organization by convening Diocesan and Provincial Synods. Bishop Gray and Bishop Colenso sailed in the Calcutta on December 14, 1853, and the party landed on January 20, 1854.

After ten weeks' survey of his new diocese and its needs, Bishop Colenso returned home in search of workers, recording his experiences and conclusions in a little book entitled Ten Weeks in Natal. The other new Bishop--Armstrong of [51/52] Grahamstown--was destined to a very brief episcopate, for little more than two years after his landing he died suddenly, to the great grief of the Metropolitan. [Bishop Armstrong's widow has just passed to her rest at the great age of ninety-three (May 8th, 1908). It is interesting to note that one of the clergy who accompanied her and her husband to the Cape in 1854 was present at her funeral at Iffley--Canon Mullins, of Grahamstown,]

Bishop Armstrong was succeeded by Bishop Cotterill. At first Bishop Gray was distressed and indignant at the appointment, as it seemed to him to be a partisan selection by which an extreme Evangelical was to be forced upon South Africa. That view, however, he very soon came to modify, and found in the new Bishop a congenial and loyal ally.

The following year, 1857, we find Bishop Gray again in England. This time his chief anxiety was to promote the formation of a Missionary Association at the Universities which should undertake the support of a new diocese on the Zambesi; and also he desired to obtain the appointment of a Bishop for the Island of S. Helena. Both these objects were accomplished. Mr. Piers Claughton was appointed [52/53] Bishop of S. Helena; and Archdeacon Mackenzie, one of Bishop Colenso's clergy, was selected as first Missionary Bishop for the Zambesi country. His consecration took place on January 1, 1861, in the Cathedral of Capetown, the Bishops of Natal and S. Helena assisting; the Bishop of Grahamstown was to have been also present, but missed his ship.

Thus, from an ever-memorable meeting at Cambridge, at which Dr. Livingstone was the chief speaker, began the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, which has just been thanking God, in this its year of jubilee, for steady and constant progress, for many thousands of Christian natives, and for its record of saintly and heroic names.

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