Project Canterbury

Charles Perry Scott
First Bishop in North China

By the Right Reverend Bishop Montgomery, D.D.

[London] Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1928.

Chapter IV. The Episcopate

No one could now doubt Charles Scott's fitness for a position of great trust. Certainly he did not dream of what the call would be, for in September, 1879, he writes: "I do not expect an answer to my question whether we should move from Chefoo, in prospect of the movement for a bishop in these parts, now being ventilated in the Mission Field." Bishop Russell had lately died.

In July, 1880, he reached England--called back in order to be consecrated first Bishop of North China. He was consecrated on October 28, 1880, St. Simon and St. Jude's Day, by the archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Tait), the assisting bishops being the Bishops of London, Winchester, Rochester and Antigua: and Bishops Perry, Courtenay and Claughton, retired. There were consecrated at the same time, Bishop George Evans Moule, of Mid-China, and Bishop Nuttall, of Jamaica.

The diocese of North China meant episcopal supervision of Anglicans in the six Northern Provinces, namely, Chihli, Shantung, Honan, Shansi, Shensi, and Kansu; from all these the American Church and also the C.M.S. had retired, handing all jurisdiction to the new bishop.

He preached at St. Peter's, Eaton Square, three days after his Consecration; soon afterwards, in Charterhouse Chapel, he gave the Founder's Day address.

I pass on to his departure to his diocese in July, 1881, after a delightful reunion of the brothers at Chester, Canon John Scott having determined to accompany Charles as far as New York. The Ven. Archdeacon Cooper writes that all the clerical brothers were given a part in the farewell service, and he adds, in writing to the mother: "For the first time, except perhaps as little children, I had the opportunity of seeing your six sons together. They are a lot of whom you have no cause to be ashamed, and for whom I have no doubt you often feel thankful."

The following will amuse: "Charlie stepped on board with perfect composure (after certain humorous incidents). This was shewn in a little incident which came under my own eye. A button of his gaiters escaped and rolled along the deck to the feet of a man leaning against the bulwarks, who stooped down and appropriated it. Charlie, however, blandly put forth his hand and thanked him graciously for recovering it."

On the voyage across the Pacific there was delightful society, Lord and Lady Harris: and Lord Zouche, who wanted to make a trip in wheelbarrows to the sacred mountain with the bishop.

"The weather at Chefoo in October, glorious."

Then another bit of fun: "There has been a wonderful amount of marrying and giving in marriage since I left, and it is not over yet; for I have made up my mind to marry Miss Maclean; that is, if she raises no objection when I ask her if she is willing to become Mrs. Scott. Dear me! How awkward and ambiguous is the English language! The above is only a harmless announcement that I am to perform the marriage ceremony, which is to unite the above young lady and a certain Mr. Scott (no relation whatever).

His first service as bishop, in the Union Chapel, with Corfe as organist, was an important occasion; there was a large congregation, including Hudson Taylor and many other distinguished missionaries. Reading his "letters commendatory" from the Archbishop of Canterbury he announced his intention of confirming any who wished to be communicants of the Church of England in the authorised way. Also, every Sunday there would be morning service in his own chapel.

The Rev. C. J. Corfe.--I have mentioned Corfe, and I will briefly tell of his connexion with Bishop Scott, at Chefoo, from 1881 to 1883. He had given up his connexion with the navy, a most difficult decision, in order to help the North China Mission, by training men at Chefoo for the mission, and he arrived soon after the bishop with three young men.

The following extracts from letters will show what a blessing Corfe was. November, 1881: "It is an unspeakable comfort having a man of Mr. Corfe's calibre about one."

Corfe returned to England for awhile in January, 1882, and the bishop is depressed.

"Corfe and-------- sail in two days. I feel stunned and queer, or should do, but that all life is becoming so full of tragic events that nothing would seem unusual now. They leave me behind to wield alike the brush of the artist, the baton of the conductor, the ferule of the tutor and the staff of the pastor."

He was building and decorating his chapel among other things.

To his mother: "Welcome dear Corfe. Don't be afraid of him. He is most true and good, and like a brother to me. He is very lovable and very good, is he not?"

Corfe returned in due time, and once more was the greatest comfort and solace to the rather lonely bishop. But in June, 1883, Charles writes: "The old Audacious has just come in, looking very grand, but she gives me quite a turn, looking as if she had come to carry off Corfe, as she originally brought him seven years ago. You will understand my feeling this when you know that he is leaving me in a fortnight for England. Again the prop is to be removed, and my feeble dependent spirit made to rest only on the one Arm. I am getting accustomed to it all now, and only wonder during each brief period of quietude to what convulsion it is the prelude. This time Mr. Corfe takes with him the two remaining students of the first batch. The young men must have a year in England, with the discipline of a college life. . . . Corfe does not intend to return, but I shall be more than surprised if he does not turn up again. The people here are devoted to him and grieved at his departure; he is so good and lovable that they would not mind if he were ten times as 'High Church' as he is."

June 25, 1883. "I have just returned from seeing dear Corfe depart. It is a grievous wrench, and leaves me once more without a human prop. . . ."

And once again: "(October, 1883) Corfe is as you say, both an able and a pious man. I have only known intimately one so good a man in my short lifetime; he really has got a very long way out of 'the world,' and out of himself also! Yet his venture at Chefoo was for many reasons a complete failure."

Corfe went back to his beloved navy, but was indeed to return to Scott--first as his neighbour bishop, then later to help him in Peking and Newchuang.

Departure from Chefoo.--I am not writing a history of the mission, all of which can be read in Bishop Norris' China and in other books. I pass from Chefoo. The bishop dedicated the St. Peter's Mission House on St. Peter's Day, 1882, and in the following year he consecrated the little chapel adjoining. It was all the work of his brain, and much of his handiwork, his first sacred building. Soon he began to display a remarkable gift for architecture, carrying on a distinct Scott tradition.

Departure from Chefoo seems to have brought to an end his worst loneliness. Indeed, it breaks one's heart to remember that after seven years he was still left with two priests--Greenwood and Brereton,--with yet no very apparent results from his own work. In March, 1882, he writes: "I am more and more convinced of the overwhelming evidence of the Divine origin of Christianity by the fact of its obtaining a footing at all, against the tremendous odds: for, humanly speaking, it is simply impossible that these people should have such trust in us as is required to accept the religion which we bring, with all the consequences involved in its acceptance."

Space does not permit me to do more than allude to the reinforcements which after 1883 began to come to his rescue. Sprent, Benham Brown, Norris (the present Bishop), Iliff (first Bishop of Shantung), Jones, Mathews, Sidney Brooks, Norman, and other names.

Sprent, one of the first of these, was always a special comfort. In him, as in Scott himself, "the boy" remained. There are constant references such as the following: "Dear Sprent, good and hopeful . . . He is such a lovable fellow, thoughtful and gentle as a woman. I think I should 'cave in' if he were to go."


Scott had not even visited Tientsin or the capital till 1881, places which in due time would give him ineffaceable memories. At Peking he made acquaintance with the Legations, our own first and foremost; and he made friendships with our successive ministers of the warmest character.

But it was in 1883 that he finally gave up Chefoo as his permanent centre, migrating to Peking with F. H. Sprent. The latter tells how they actually entered the walls making involuntary obeisances, each in turn being thrown to the ground by the stumbling of their donkeys--"a very appropriate manner of entering the Imperial City," said the bishop.

They were received by Brereton in the old C.M.S. Compound, and there they and the others lived till 1900. Everything on that spot was destroyed in the Boxer rebellion and new quarters were obtained further west in 1901, with the help of Dr. Morrison, the Times correspondent. But the old C.M.S. site was again occupied by the boys' school (Ch'ung Te), of which F. L. Norris was the first head, and where Scott lived after his retirement, and where he built the chapel which became the memorial of his own work and life.

The first actual convert by Scott and Greenwood was baptized about 1884, ten years after they first came. The same patience was needed, be it remembered, in the C.M.S. Fuh-kien Mission, now so extended and established. The same was true in Corea, and also far away in the New Zealand Mission. In Yung-ching, in 1884 the bishop writes about some men and women of 80 who were confirmed. "One's first feeling is one of anxiety lest some of these deaf and blind old people, who cannot learn anything, and whose theology is summed up in 'trust in the Lord,' should not be fit for these solemn rites. Afterwards I think, comes a truer and happier thought, that it is for such simple and helpless old folk that the speaking rites of the Church are chiefly ordained, and that just as our Lord gives the unspeakable blessing to the unconscious child in baptism, so he may do for each of these his children, far beyond what we, with our reasonings and discussions, can imagine. How easy it is for him to pour a perfect flood of light into a heart which the mind cannot formulate or the lips utter. So I hope it may be with these dear old folk, and with us all in our measure."


The bishop transformed the Legation Chapel from a storeroom into a seemly place of worship. As Bishop Norris says, he had a marvellous gift for adapting most unlikely places into comely places of worship. St. Faith's Chapel (Peking) was an ordinary "temple," about 35ft. by 14ft. The first Tientsin Church-room was a stable. But, to return, Mr. Robert Hart, afterwards Sir Robert, was a great supporter of his; Sir Harry Parkes and his family were dear friends. "1884. He is a man of enormous energy, and conscientiousness, and the present French worries give him great anxiety. . . . We had heard of warlike measures, and I had preached on 'the Lord sitteth above the waterflood.' "

Scott received a charming letter from the Archbishop worth quo ting in full. (1883.) "My dear Brother,--How long have I been in acknowledging your kindness--and perhaps my delay has prevented the coming of your second promised letter. But I would let no one else write to you for me. And not until a little illness has bestowed on me a little idleness have I been able to please myself. I hope the work of God is slowly ripening round you. I hear your brotherhood broke up, but I do not know why. Leaving Truro has been a great sorrow. The consolation has been the great strange goodness of God in sending our beloved friend to live in our house (Wilkinson). That one thing makes one feel that God has plans which I am incapable of conceiving in sending me here. You will, I know, pray for the English Church throughout the world, which keeps on sending us here the most wonderful cheer. For, while the horizon darkens in some quarters, the brightness on the whole is growing brighter fast. And so you will pray that we at the centre may at least try to do what you have a right to expect of us. We all join in kindest remembrances to you, for those of us who do not know you in the flesh know you almost as well as those who do. God be in and through and over your wonderful work.

Your most faithful Brother,

I have been told that in Archbishop Benson's diary (not yet published) there occurs the following sentence: "Have been talking to the two most interesting men in the Church of England --Temple and Wilkinson."

The following reflections light up Scott's mind.

1885, to his mother: "I have been much interested in your remarks on John Inglesant. The spirit of the man reminds me of Thackeray without his cynicism and humour; but there is the same abounding compassion for and sympathy with all that is human. By the way, is it not odd that a book can be attractive without a dash of humour in it? "

The Chinese Christians. (1885, Hochien.)--"The poor people have been flooded worse than usual, but our Christians refuse to 'curse God and die.' I am cheered by the reality of their faith--few, feeble and ignorant as they are. Two out of six whom we proposed to help said they could manage to pull through without, which shows how the 'love of money' is relaxing its hold."

Sir Harry Parkes. (March, 1885.)--"Sir Harry did not appear at church. I went to see him afterwards; he welcomed me most cordially, and at once made an apology, saying that, Sunday though it was, he had been making strenuous endeavours to 'pull a very lumbering ass out of a pit,' referring to---------."

A few days afterwards he writes: "We have just come from the solemn funeral service of our dear friend and chief, Sir Harry Parkes. His daughter arrived, toiling up the river in the vain hope of looking upon his face before the coffin was closed. . . . The remains are to be sent to England for burial. We sang 'Lead, kindly light,' Sir Harry's favourite hymn. . . . The only alteration I had to make was in the committal, 'We therefore commend this body to his Almighty keeping. . . .' I never was so hard put to it to get through a service without breaking down."

Then he describes the most impressive gathering of all officials, Chinese and foreign. "Historically, there lay the man whom all the foreign residents loved and respected, and whom all the Chinese respected; and their great men came to join in doing honour to him whom, twenty-five years ago, before a foreign ambassador could reside in the city, they had tormented and dragged about in a cage, threatening that his head should roll down the walls if he did not induce the English troops to withdraw. Matters are greatly changed for the better. Sir Harry allowed it in the last talk I had with him, and spoke hopefully of our missionary position in Peking as one to be held on to, against the time which should surely come, when we should be admitted to visit familiarly with the great folks of Peking. This was not in his usual style, and it impressed me the more, and now that he is gone, it seems like a parting prophecy."

A terrible account of the sufferings of Loch and Parkes is given in a Personal Narrative, by H. B. Loch (Murray).

The Cambridge Seven.--"I have had some of the young men here. They are very good and devoted. I thought---------needed to be made to laugh a little, but perhaps that was my un-regenerate nature cropping up. I should long ago have been dead or mad but for the blessed power of enjoying a joke. I am glad to see that 'Saint Gordon' got much relief and pleasure from humour. I remember poor Mrs. M------ long ago saying how much a sense of humour had helped her through her troubles, and warning me quite solemnly never to marry anyone who did not understand a joke."

"Don't be troubled because people don't come here to me very quickly. (He speaks, in contrast, of the swarms, the fifties, that join the China Inland Mission.) The work is going on, I trust, in the deepening of the few Chinese whom we have."

He is troubled about his being one of the "moderate" men; wonders whether both C.M.S. and S.P.G. are not both of them too "moderate." Asks whether some "special mission" is needed. "The Church of England cannot possibly take her place in the mission field unless she can find out how to control and use fire, and both the grand old Societies, from their very construction, are too apt to use water instead of oil in this connection."

(It is good for the Church that walks in "the old ways" to be probed.)

And he is nothing if not self-critical, and continues: "How truly consistent we are through life,--you remember my average in Lilywhite, 3 1/4. I was always made captain over better men than myself, and here I am again, great show of style, but no runs,--always dribbling the ball to the goal, but never get it through."

We love and trust the leaders who say such things of themselves.

The City of Peking.---A few lines about this amazing city, as it was at all events forty years ago.

"The only view over which I was genuinely enthusiastic is that of Peking from about fourteen miles off, from the top of the hills: and that is a never to be forgotten sight."

But, remember that no foreigner could then enter any of the great palaces or even great houses. And he does say that the view of the city from the walls is very beautiful in summer: "You see nothing but the trees, the splendid roofs, the gate towers, and the palaces. . . . What does awaken interest is the unceasing and unfailing energy of trade in all its forms. . . . You feel as you go through these markets, that here, in this mercantile spirit, is the force which is surely and not slowly re-invigorating this great nation."

The Country. (June, 1886.)--"Hot as it was, the aspect of the country was very bright and pleasing compared with what it usually is when I go out: miles and miles of yellow wheat, parties of cheerful reapers (or pluckers)--male and female,--with no worse liquor than a kettle of tea. Ruths gleaning after the reapers, and the Boaz-es lying out on the threshing-floor all night, to protect the grain; the villages seemed to have become one vast threshing floor whereon men, women and children disport themselves from morn till night, performing all necessary offices. The straw is carefully kept, and employs the women all the year through in plaiting the braid of which your hats and bonnets are made, for vast quantities are shipped to Europe. Though some thousands of miles further from Judea than you are, we are yet much more familiar with Bible scenes: 'two women grinding at the mill' may be seen a hundred times a day, and one is at no loss to understand the employment and surroundings of that mysterious and shamefaced Egyptian maid who was 'behind the mill.' "

Missionary Reports (he fears them).--"Please never send any 'extracts' to anything: they all come out here and swell the sum of 'rose-coloured' reports which are hurled at missionaries by unsympathising fellow countrymen. There is, however, more promise of success than I have seen hitherto."


"As regards the improvement and decoration of churches, you must not imagine that these things are very 'red rags' to other Christians here: they rather admire such things, and wish they had more of them in their own churches, I think. The 'Nonconformists' in this city, so far from being afraid of me, have implored me again and again to go and preach at their Union missionary meeting on Sunday nights, and to conduct the service in any way I please, 'for we love you,' said the dear grey-headed veteran of the American Congregationalists who represented them. If people 'crave' for reunion at home, they can have little idea what the longing is in the heart of any man out here who is not made of wood. I never hear the Roman Catholic bell (10 minutes off) but I raise my heart in prayer that God will re-unite us, and I am certainly not less anxious to be joined to my Protestant brethren. But God must do it--and he is doing it very fast, I believe. For our own Church to play the very important part seemingly allotted to her, she must stand fast till the word is given, simply holding to her principles, without bitterness, malignity, jealousy, or mis-representation. The main part of re-union has been accomplished, now that Christians' hearts have been drawn together. I feel tolerably safe so long as I find that my affection and respect for those who are not of us, increases rather than diminishes. I could worship with the greatest delight in the Roman Catholic Cathedral, or the Quakers' Meeting House, if I thought it consistent with my duty. I fear I am a very broad churchman without the courage of my convictions, so I creep along between the pages of the Prayer Book until our rulers shall awake to the truth that the Holy Spirit is still living in us. These remarks are called forth by your reproaches anent my improvements in churches and worship! "

(An interesting letter just as he started for a Lambeth Conference, albeit it was in 1888, and not in 1920).

Let me now give humour a chance.

June, 1886.--"I am much amused to see how admirably your memory serves you, though you complain of' forgetting.' I am alluding to your reminiscence of the Shanghai paper, in which you say that you 'cannot tell what it was, except that they wanted such a man for dean or chaplain, or something, as they would never be likely to meet with.' Nothing could possibly have described the state of things more accurately or more acutely."

Mission Anxieties.--On December 31, 1887-, the bishop writes from Tai-an-fu: "Sprent and Brown go on quietly in a house too small for them to do much active work at home. There are the usual efforts to dislodge us, the only open opposition at present being the posting of anonymous placards threatening those who shall rent, mortgage or sell houses to the foreigners, and those who provide them with food." (The American ladies from Tsi-nan-fu sent them a Christmas dinner.) "All roads seem closed to us as the old year departs with disappointment and perplexity. We all know, however, that God knows best, and has wise purposes in keeping us at present from finding a home in Tai-an-fu. I hope Sprent and Brown will not have to settle further away. People are quite civil and quiet, but the magistrates want to get us out."

The patience of Scott and his brethren won the day.

Corea (1887). He writes: "I hope to go to Corea with Bishop Bickersteth, of Japan, after Easter, so you must pray for us."

He finally went in September of this year, saying he would land "at a port called Chemulpo." So much has happened since it was an unknown place.

September, 27.--"I suppose I am the first English bishop who has set foot in this land, for my companion is still expected from the land of the rising sun. . . . From all I can hear of the Coreans, they will prove far more ready listeners than the Chinese. The political complications are extraordinary. The Americans are the great influence. The Roman Catholics have a truly noble record of martyrs, French and Corean, and the many converts now existing are said to be unusually favourable specimens of Christianity. . . . Americans are mostly urging Corea to assert independence of China, Japanese also, because they, like the latter, also consider they have suzerain claims on the country. Thus the Corean Government is in terror of China, Japan, Russia and, since we took Port Hamilton, of us also, though we have given it back. . . . The poor King is feeble--very; and the Queen, who is not, is pro-Japanese."

He says also, "My brother bishop is three years younger, but looks fifteen years older, and a man of real power and learning, like a home bishop! I felt frightened, but I liked him very much and rejoice that he is in Japan. Our host in Corea instinctively sent him in first with the lady, never dreaming that he was junior, both in age and by consecration; we did not quarrel about it, but if we had had wives, would there ever have been an end of it?"

Scott surely appraises the Corean situation excellently. He little knew that he was preparing the way for his friend Corfe.


Scott left China for England in March, 1888. Ere he departed, he had three causes for thankfulness:--

He had finished the first part of the new edition of the Prayer Book in Chinese. Moreover--and it was with much rejoicing--he ordained the first Chinese deacon, February 26, 1888. And Sprent and Brown had at length secured a house in Tai-an-fu.

It is delightful to know that the Lord's much-tried servant could now go to the Lambeth Conference of bishops carrying some "sheaves with him." He was also going to his marriage, and the happiest possible.

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