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The Diocese of Maritzburg.

By Henry Rowley.

From Mission Life, Vol. V (1874) (new series), pages 455-464.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007



THE claim which the Church in the colony of Natal has upon the sympathies of Churchmen in England is of a peculiar character. Every tale of the spiritual destitution from the scattered districts of our colonial empire that finds its way to the ear of the Church at home, every appeal from the anxious, over-wrought [455/456] Missionary amongst the heathen that touches the heart and rouses in those possessed of wealth the sense of responsibility, finds its parallel, but aggravated a hundredfold, in Natal. It is not easy for the faithful to withstand the antagonistic influence of him who, though rejected by the Church, is supported by the Crown and Parliament as the bishop of the province. There are many who seem to think that this is a grievance more imaginary than real; but that only proves how few there are in England who really understand the condition of religious matters in Natal, or who realise the intensity of the struggle that is being waged, and the momentous nature of the issues involved in it. Under the most favourable circumstances there are many obstacles to the progress of the Church incidental to a young and struggling colony; but in Natal the difficulties with which the Church has to contend are so great as to be very nearly overwhelming.

I. The prestige of a Crown appointment and ostensible connection with the State exercises great influence in the colony; for though the connection of the State with the Church in South Africa has by the former been formally repudiated, yet inasmuch as Dr. Colenso received his appointment through the Crown, and is maintained, despite his deposition by the Church, in his office as bishop by the judicial decisions of England, there are many who think that by supporting him they help to maintain the connection of the Church in Natal with the established Church of England. Wishing to keep as close as they can to the mother country, they are misled by the idea of supporting what they regard as the Church of the State. The consequence is that their influence, which is great, for they who take this view are amongst the best educated and most influential members of the colony, is exercised against the Bishop of Maritzburg and those who are associated with him.

II. The contempt that has been cast upon the authority of Holy Scripture by the writings and sermons of Dr. Colenso has led to lamentable results. There is a wide-spread laxity both of faith and morals in Natal amongst the colonists generally with which it is very hard to contend. By the half-educated his views are possibly exaggerated, and conclusions are drawn from them from which he himself might shrink, but the result of his teaching, whether rightly or wrongly understood, is a disbelief in many of the first principles of our holy religion, and a falling away from grace, as evidenced in the carelessness of many who once lived "soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world."

III. Though the conflict which they are compelled to wage has quickened the zeal and deepened the faith of some, there are others who, though they do not stand aloof altogether from the faithful, are [456/457] not heartily on the Lord's side. They will avail themselves of the ministrations of the Church, yet they withhold from her that aid of which, deprived of her lands and buildings, she stands in urgent need. This is, it may be thought, no exceptional drawback. In all parts of the world there are many who call themselves by the name of Christ, who are therefore the professors of a religion founded in self-sacrifice, but who nevertheless are ready to receive and not to give. But in the colony of Natal, where from the circumstances of the Church, those who avail themselves of her ordinances should be lavish in thankful recognition of blessing bestowed, the withholding of help in time of need implies something more than mere illiberality; it shows a want of sympathy with the Church in her affliction, and in her endeavours to encounter the fatal influence of error, that is really an encouragement to the adversaries.

These elements of difficulty should be borne in mind when thinking of the Church in Natal, and should serve to awaken or stimulate our sympathies in its behalf.

It must not, however, be supposed that the spirit of error has proved stronger than the spirit of truth in Natal. It is not so. The Church is doing much to vindicate her Divine mission, and by ventures of faith and deeds of love is showing that God is indeed with her. But she is not as liberally supported as, from the peculiar circumstances of her position, she had a right to expect. The overconfidence of her friends in England is to a great extent the cause of this. For a time all other anxieties were swallowed up, in the midst of our many divisions, when we awoke to the fact that he who in the Lord was set over the province of Natal had not shrunk from rejecting fundamental truth, and our anxiety found no rest until we had done what was unprecedented in the annals of the Church, the sending forth of a Missionary Bishop to dispute the place of the fallen Bishop, and to counteract his baneful influence. But having done that, we, for the most part, have acted as though nothing more was required of us, forgetting that the ordinary support given to the Church in the colonies is not adequate to the needs of the despoiled Church of Natal; and that unless our subsequent efforts are in harmony with the position which we assumed in sending forth Bishop Macrorie, we expose the champions of the truth both at home and at Natal to the derision of the faithless. The expenditure of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in this diocese in1873 from its general fund was £2,075, which, considering the claims of the many other parts of the Mission field, and the amount of its income under this head, cannot be called an illiberal grant. The total expenditure recognised by the Society's accounts is £3,126 4s. 1d.; the excess being represented by Appropriated Fund, £127 18s., and Special [457/458] Fund £922 12s. To this we must add the offertories, subscriptions, and donations of the Guild of the Most Blessed Saviour, amounting to £219 11s. 10d., and then we have, in so far as we are acquainted with it, the sum total of the offerings of the Church people of England to the sorely-tried Church in Natal, viz., £3,345 15s. 11d. This is not an inconsiderable sum. But, considering the work that has to be done, it is very inadequate. Without withdrawing aid from the general funds of the S.P.G., which is, to say the least of it, a very unwise and uncharitable thing to do, it is to be hoped that for the future the special efforts made to supplement the grant from the general fund of the Society will be more abundant. That there is need of an increased liberality in this direction the following facts will show.


The population of the diocese, as estimated by the Diocesan Synod, and exclusive of Griqualand, is about 356,000, of whom 18,000 are Europeans (English, Scotch, Dutch, and German), 333,000 natives, and 5,000 Indian Coolies. This estimate was made in 1871, and the change in these numbers since then is not great. The number of clergy assisting the Bishop of Maritzburg in the spiritual care of this population, which it must not be forgotten is scattered over a vast district of country, is, according to the S.P.G. Report, 17; probably the actual number would not be less than 20. It is rarely, however, that the whole of the clergy are able to be in the diocese at the same time. Not that the climate is unhealthy, for the bills of mortality [458/459] show that in the whole world there is scarcely to be found a more healthy country than Natal, but overwork and anxiety produce there results as calamitous as elsewhere. In the Diocesan Report for 1872 we find the following statement, which bears upon this:--"The number of clergy assisting the Bishop is stated to be twelve priests and four deacons, two of the priests being invalids residing in the colony, and two absent on account of their health in England. The changes which the year has witnessed in this body are considerable. While the Bishop has been able to add five to the number of priests, to admit four new deacons to the ranks, and to welcome the return of one of the absentees, he has to lament the death of one priest, and the loss of no less than three others, who have been compelled by ill-health to return to England, two of them with no prospect of ever resuming work in the colony. Thus, though twenty clergy were summoned to the recent Session of the Synod, only sixteen were able to attend, of whom two are incapable of undertaking any cure, and a third is still suffering under partial blindness from the effects of overwork." This statement depicts what is probably the normal condition of things, where men, as in Natal, have to undertake a work beyond their powers to sustain.

There are eighteen chief parishes or Missions in the diocese; but, connected with the parent station, and widely sundered from each other, there are frequently several district stations, the care of which involves an unceasing toil, and a considerable expenditure of means on the part of the Missionary.

The difficulties of supplying an adequate spiritual ministration throughout the diocese are also greatly augmented by the fact that of all the so-called towns, Maritzburg, the capital, and D'Urban, the seaport, are alone from their populations worthy of the appellation. The majority of the townships would scarcely be recognised as villages by a stranger from England, the white population being scattered about on farms and plantations, whose homesteads are miles apart, and the natives living in their kraals, which consist of a group of huts generally inhabited by one family. Such a condition of society of course presents formidable obstacles to the efforts of the clergy, both in gathering congregations and establishing schools, and in many districts makes the erection of a building imperative if there is to be any hope of success.

But there is one form of money expenditure connected with the diocese of Maritzburg which is in many ways very hard to be borne, viz., that arising from the erection of churches and schools and parsonages, in lieu of those of which the faithful have been deprived by the decisions of the law courts. Those that build to God's honour and glory have had to build again, and the strain upon their resources and patience has been very great.

[460] A great battle for the truth has been fought in Natal, and a victory has been won: the struggle now is to maintain what has been gained, and to wrest from the dominion of sin the lands that are inhabited by the heathen.

Of the progress of the Church in Natal, Dean Green wrote last year:--

"I am thankful to say that we have now a larger staff of clergy than at any previous period in our history, and altogether the work of the Church is progressing, though there are many hindrances.

"The last week in Advent was full of interest: on the Wednesday the bishop ministered Confirmation in St. Saviour's, when about thirty-six young persons were confirmed. I do not know what the practice of the English Bishops is in the present day, but our Bishop always confirms seated in his chair, which for this purpose is brought without the sanctuary rails, and the candidates kneel before him in succession. The next day we had an examination and breaking up of our school. We had 120 names on the books last half, and an average attendance of 100. Competition, however, is very active just at present; both Colenso and the Government seemed to think that education was passing into the hands of the little loved Church of' South Africa, so they are making vigorous efforts to rival us. As it is, we have the college for boys, of which more anon. Mrs. Searle has a school for girls, and Mrs. Straffer one also; and then comes St. Saviour's schools for both boys and girls; then at Richmond we have St. Mary's College for girls, always full--they have only accommodation for thirty-six; and at D'Urban Archdeacon Robinson, whose specialité is school work, has an upper boys' and upper girls' school, and a primary one for both girls and boys. Prichard, the Warden of Bishop's College, is doing well; he began last March, and has now thirty-nine boys. Hitherto he has been occupying hired buildings, but after a fashion we bought the place, and are adding buildings which will cost £1,000. I say after a fashion, for we had first to borrow the money: it is impossible to get on without school buildings, and we should sincerely rejoice if any one at home would help us. The Government high school is provided with buildings, and the masters are paid from the public treasury; we have no such advantages, and do not want all of them, but should be perfectly content if we could pay for the new school and dormitories.

"To return to the Ember-week; Friday was the S.P.G. day, and throughout the diocese we had a celebration at 7.30 with special collects, epistle, and gospel; and at St. Saviour's, litany at 11, and evensong at 6.30: our offertory was exactly £10 10s,, and the services were very fairly attended. Saturday was speech day at the college; and on Sunday two of our deacons were ordained priests; one was [460/461] Smith, of St. Augustine's, who has now charge of the up-country parish of Estcourt; the other was Shears, of St. John's, Cambridge, and who is working the two coast parishes with Archdeacon Robinson. I gave them each £2 from the Guild Funds towards purchasing vessels for their altars. Christmas Day followed, when 105 communicated; a larger number than on any previous Christmas. Since then we have had a special offertory to pay the last instalment due on the land on which St. Saviour's stands; that, our last debt, is now paid off, and we can breathe freely for a moment, but not for much longer, for the church is low, and the walls only one and a-half bricks thick, and as it is always pretty full on Sundays the heat is oppressive, so that we need to think about a permanent church, which means, even if we build of brick, that we must raise some £6,000. Our native school has also been well at work, but has sustained a great loss in the death of the catechist's wife; she was a young colonist, abounding in zeal and sound sense, so that had she lived she might have exercised a great and holy influence over the native women, but it has pleased God to call her to rest, and as yet we are only mourning her loss.

"My tale, I think, reads as if we were progressing. Still there remains something that might be said on the other side. We do not seem to be able to get much hold of the young men. I do not think they run very much after Colenso, but if he has not many followers he has made many careless. We want a young priest for this place, with whom lads and young men would associate on easier terms. Our offertory last year amounted to £565, and I expect we shall show as good a balance-sheet at the coming Easter; but a new church would cost £6,000, and where to get even one or two thousand to start with I do not know. However, we must not despair, as those who do not love us are surprised to see that we have as many buildings as we have; only the Guild must not flag; its help has been valuable, and the other society I trust is collecting money also."

Added to the foregoing, the following extracts from recent letters of Missionaries will serve to complete this sketch of the Church's position and work in the diocese of Maritzburg:--

One clergyman, writing from D'Urban, says:--" Compared with this time last year the Sunday attendance is about treble what it was then, and the week-day attendance is in the same proportion, so that if the attendance increases as it did during the last winter I shall be obliged to refuse admittance to large numbers. During the last two months. (this was written on March 31 of this year) a new law has been put in force by which all coloured persons found in the streets after 9 P.M. are taken to prison and fined the next morning. This gives me a considerable amount of work, as I have to provide passes for all those whom I detain after nine o'clock, [461/462] and this I am obliged to do in order to give them some religious instruction after school closes.

"I have three children who were formerly slaves attending school, two boys and one girl. They were taken out of a slave dhow captured by the Briton, and brought here about six months ago. They are intelligent, the little girl especially so. She has managed to pick up a great deal of kitchen Kaffir and English words, and affords me the way of making the boys understand when I cannot make them comprehend by speaking Kaffir or English."

From Inanda another clergyman writes:--" I have been all through the year 1873 in charge of a large straggling district, where it has been impossible to aim at more than laying the foundations for a future work. I have been more and more convinced every day of the necessity for forming strong centres rather than for multiplying outposts. Especially in this district (which until last year has been considered the bête noir of the diocese, being the stronghold both of Colensoism and other dissent, and also of simple civilised heathenism) it seems absolutely necessary that if the Church is to contend with at least two strongly organised and numerically well-manned systems, she should appear as constantly present rather than as an occasional visitor. Therefore it is with much pleasure that I have to report that with the beginning of 1874 comes in a new state of things. The Rev. Mr. Price takes over Seacow Lake, and Sydenham Dinker Fontein is given up (a new source being opened about two miles off in a more populous position), and I am left free to concentrate all my energies on Verulam and Tangaat, which I hope will, by God's blessing, become strong centres of Church work, exercising a powerful influence over the whole Inanda division of Victoria Country."

A third clergyman says:--"The only incident of any importance during the quarter has been the visit of Dr. Colenso. It is now upwards of two years since his previous visit. Most of the people here, I am happy to say, have not read his books, and it seems to be his policy to preach such sermons when he visits here as have all the appearance of being sound, and in spirit thoroughly Christian; consequently such people look upon him as a persecuted man. I am told that he and his daughters visited every house in the village but my own; but I do not think his congregations were so good as on his former visits, but my own were better than I anticipated. In a few instances, however, the effect has been bad, so that I have felt it my duty to request three of my communicants not to communicate with us again for the time being. I fear that there are tens of thousands, even of intelligent Church people at home, who have no idea of the difficulties which are thus created for us in this diocese; otherwise there would be a more general readiness to render [462/463] us greater assistance in every necessary way; and we prefer to abstain from proclaiming in detail the struggles which attend us in our stand against this defection from the spirit of the Church of England, to say the least of it, and one would think that this alone would be sufficient to turn the hearts of many more in sympathy towards our struggling Church."

From another clergyman, in December, 1873, we have learned as follows:--

"I regret to write in the same uncomfortable strain, as in three or four of the years last past.

"This Mission is a focus of opposition; and Dr. Colenso, with his party, are straining every nerve to stamp us out. The doctor has placed a person in priest's orders as incumbent at our former church, and he resides in the village, keeping up the strife with his services every Sunday.

"We have the misfortune also to lose many of our residents, who, with their families, have removed or are removing to the Diamond and Gold Fields. This is an inconvenience which can only be estimated by those Missionaries who are living in a thinly-populated settlement, and struggling with its difficulties.

"It has a most crippling effect in the way of a station becoming self-supporting, and all our financial arrangements and other Church movements.

"There seems to be no help for us but to hope and pray, and labour and wait for the salvation of God.

"On the 3rd December (the day appointed for intercession), we had three earnest services in our church, with celebration of Holy Communion."

Our space forbids further extracts, but those given will convey a fair idea of what is being done for God in the diocese of Maritzburg, and of the disposition of the good men who are doing it.

The death of Archdeacon Robinson is a great loss to the Church in South Africa; but the consecration of Dr. Callaway as Bishop of Caffraria cannot be other than a gain, and a great encouragement to the faithful in the diocese of Maritzburg.

In conclusion, we would commend to our readers the concluding sentences of Archdeacon Thomas' sermon, preached before the Council and Brethren of the Natal Guild at St. Lawrence Jewry on May 15, 1873:--

"For the sake of the faith which is in trust, for the sake of those to whom it affords the means of holy life and peaceful death, for the sake of the heathen dead in sin, and, lastly, for the sake of those who labour for souls among hindrances which we in England scarcely realise, you will seek continually fresh life and power.

[464] "But striving earnestly for this, you will still not be disappointed in seeing no great visible result in Natal. The ground is only held by an advanced guard until God shall send an army. You have only a single Bishop and a handful of over-worked clergy and catechists scattered here and there over a country as large as Ireland. And they are building, like the builders of the second Temple, with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. The work must indeed be long, if the living stones are to be fitly hewn and then set firmly in their places.

"Pray then for success, but leave the manifestation to be ordered by the Will of the Most High. Pray for the flock who have none to gather them, for the faithful that they may be led on to higher measures of the saintly life. Pray for the great sinners that they may be converted to Christ. Pray for the enemies of the faith, that the exiles may be brought home to their own land. Pray that wounds may be healed by no deceptive plastering, but by the one medicine of the one faith. Pray on. You have a righteous cause, if ever the Church had one. To you again and again such a voice speaks from the oppressed Church in Natal as once came from a Bishop of the apostolic age, 'My chains, which I wear on account of Jesus Christ, exhort you unto prayer.'"

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