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The Life of Charles Alan Smythies
Bishop of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa

By Gertrude Ward

Edited by Edward Francis Russell, M.A.

London: Offices of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, 1899.

Chapter XIII. Last Illness and Death, 1894

LENT and Easter 1894 at Magila brought to a close the ten years' missionary labours of Bishop Smythies, and this last visit had for its crowning event the ordination of Petro Limo to the priesthood. The ordination was preceded by a three days' Retreat conducted by the Bishop himself, in accordance with his invariable custom, and in Magila church, on Passion Sunday, March 11, the first free-born scholar of the Mission became a priest. The strain of the latter part of Lent was severe. The Bishop himself took the three hours' service on Good Friday, and writes of it:

Notwithstanding the all-important subject of the rice just now being planted, and the hindrance of repeated storms, the church was fairly full for the three hours' service on Good Friday, and I have never seen the people more attentive. Hardly anyone went out the whole time, though we were three hours and a quarter in church. Now, as ever, it is the story of the Cross which rivets people's attention.

On Easter Eve he ordained Mr. Gerrish deacon; on Easter morning he celebrated at the great festival service, when one hundred and twenty-four Christians communicated, and at a later service preached to catechumens and hearers. It was scarcely a surprise to those who were with him that fever came on in the afternoon and kept him in bed for some days. This pressure of work prevented his visiting Kologwe as he had meant to do, and finding that he must catch the next mail to Zanzibar he wrote to Kologwe that he should like confirmation candidates to be 'ready by September I (D.V.).' Then he left the mainland for the last time.

He reached Zanzibar on April 3, weak and worn, but still able to work. Going to Kiungani, he began at once the usual routine of work--services, classes, interviews, translation revision; but the Retreat he had proposed to take had to be given up. On Sunday, April 8, he celebrated and preached at Kiungani chapel in the morning, and in the afternoon preached at the English service in the cathedral. Two days later he gave an address to the members of the Guild of St. Barnabas for Nurses, and the words then spoken proved to be his last public utterance. On April 15 he was taken from Kiungani to the hospital, ill with a fever which never left him till his death.

Of this last illness the matron of the hospital wrote:

If you had been with him those last few weeks (he was three weeks in the hospital) and seen how utterly weary and worn out he was, your first feeling would be one of thankfulness for him. Wakeful nights were followed by days of weariness and increasing weakness, till we longed for rest for him. He said one night as he settled for the night, 'If only God of His great mercy will grant me some rest,' and now it has come to him, and surely he has earned it if anyone ever did. . . . He quite won my heart when I first came out by his fatherly kindness, his unvarying courtesy, his simplicity and utter absence of self-importance, though he was every inch a Bishop. He was just the same when he was ill, always so grateful and courteous about every small thing done for him. His fear of being impatient--which he was not--was inexpressibly touching at times; he said several times, too, it was so difficult to feel at all spiritual when one was ill, and that he ought to be very much so.

So for three weeks he lay ill in the hospital, always with high fever, always weak and weary, having apparently no rallying power left. Still, no one imagined that the end was so near, and it was suggested that sea air might probably reduce the fever. Many a Zanzibar patient has been saved when apparently in a far more hopeless condition, by being carried on board a steamer and sent either north or south. The French mail homeward bound was due on May 4. It was decided that the Bishop should sail in it, accompanied by a nurse and by his cousin, the Rev. Duncan Travers. He was able to walk down the hospital stairs, and was then carried in a hammock through the familiar narrow streets to the rowing-boat at the water's edge. When on board the Peiho he said goodbye to those who had accompanied him; but, although he was afterwards prostrated with exhaustion, no one seems to have had the least presentiment that it was a last farewell. Those who left him were struck by his manifest weakness; but they had before seen him ill and seen him recover, known him utterly 'broken' and known him again vigorous, and no one thought it was his last voyage. Some indeed supposed that he might be so far recovered in a fortnight as to be able to return from Suez or Port Said.

But it soon became apparent that this was not to be; and those who were with him had not long to wait for the end. The pathetic story of those two days in the great heat on the crowded ship must be told in Mr. Travers' own words:

The ship was due and expected to leave on Ascension Day. On the eve I went into town from Kiungani and slept that night at the hospital. At five next morning I celebrated for the Bishop. He enjoyed the service very much, and thanked me repeatedly for celebrating. The steamer was reported as having arrived, and the Bishop hoped to go on board that afternoon. However, she was delayed by a cyclone and only arrived at 6 A.M. on Friday, the 4th. We got the Bishop on board more easily than I expected, but saying good-bye exhausted him greatly, and in the evening he was restless. He found his cabin close and cramped after his room in the hospital. We got him outside and he lay on a couch in a recess, but was very restless all night. Next morning by his own wish we took him up on deck, but he was only up a quarter of an hour and then said to me that he could not bear it, it was too much for him. That night he was again very restless, and only slept towards morning. On Sunday morning he asked me to say matins for him, and afterwards he tried at times to read, but the effort to hold the book up seemed too great. We three said evensong together, and after the confession he said the short absolution, but before evensong was finished he had fallen asleep. In the evening we heard there was an empty cabin on deck more roomy and cooler than the one below. I at once took it, and arranged for the Bishop to be put in it immediately. He thanked me for taking the cabin for him. 'Oh, thank you so much, so much.' He went to sleep at once, but not for long. At 10.30 I went to my cabin, and at 11.30 Nurse came to me and said she did not like the symptoms, the temperature was 105° and over; she thought I ought to call the ship's doctor. He came and injected quinine, and everything was done to bring the temperature down, but it never fell to any extent--never below 104°. At 5.30 Nurse said she felt now the Bishop could not recover, and that the end could not be far off. At 6.30 I celebrated. The Bishop was in a semi-conscious state when I commenced the service, but when I approached to communicate him, saying very clearly, 'Bishop, the Blessed Sacrament,' he smiled and received. It was a very sweet smile, and I feel sure he knew and felt what was taking place. After that the end came quickly. I hoped against hope, but when it was found that his temperature was steadily rising (before death it reached r ro°), then I knew that it must be all over directly. At 9.30, as I was saying the commendatory prayer, his spirit fled. It was a very peaceful end. Both before and after death he lay as one asleep.

We robed him in his white cassock and purple cincture, and, with his hands folded over a little crucifix which we placed on his breast, he lay at rest. It was impossible to think he was really dead. Anybody entering the cabin would have thought he was asleep.

The Captain told me that we must bury him at sea. We were 800 miles from Aden and the temperature on deck was 91°. Had we been a day nearer, he would have thought whether he could take the body on to Aden, but under the circumstances it was impossible. I knew the Captain was right, though I hated to think we must bury him thus.

At half-past six, when most of the passengers were below dining, eight of the French sailors carried the body, wrapped in sailcloth with the English flag over it, to the rail at the ship's stern. I went before, saying the sentences, and the Nurse and three or four English passengers followed with the Captain and some of the officers. All present were most reverent. At the proper place the body was committed to the deep, and I finished the service. It was a lovely evening and a quite calm sea. The sun had just set and there was a new moon. I stood a long time looking at the line of foam made by the ship's screw as we continued our way and left the loved remains behind further and further every minute. The spot where he lies is almost half-way between Zanzibar and Aden, and about 500 miles south of Cape Guardafni.

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