Anglican Missions in Singapore the 1850s to 1880s

Extract from Charles Burton Buckley's An Anecdotal History of Old Times in Singapore 1819-1867, 538-539, 660-662, 676.

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In the Singapore Directory for this year [1850] were the names of the officers of the 51st Regiment Madras Native Infantry, which had arrived in Singapore on the 28th April, 1849. The name of the youngest lieutenant, of whom there were ten, was William Dalrymple Maclagan, who had been stationed at Malacca, where he was still remembered by those alive there only a few years ago, but had just gone home on two years' leave to Europe. His father was a distinguished military officer. The Archbishop was born in Edinburgh in 1826. He left the army, and graduated at St. Peter's College, Cambridge, in 1856, and entered the Church, being first curate at St. Saviour's, Paddington, and in 1875 Vicar of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, then he was Bishop of Lichfield, in 1878, and in 1891 Archbishop of York. He still speaks of his pleasant recollections of the Straits. It is remembered in Malacca that the Archbishop wrote some music which was played there, and it may interest the choir of St. Andrew's Cathedral to know that he is the composer of not less than five of the tunes in Hymns Ancient and Modern, Nos. 280, 318, 445, 454, and 269; and is also the author of the words of four others, Nos. 116, 122, 425, and 428, "The Saints of God! their conflict past" which Sir John Stainer's beautiful tune has helped to make so well known. The Archbishop crowned Quenn Alexandra in Westminster Abbey on August 9th, 1902. (538)

In January [1851], the Bishop of Calcutta with Archdeacon Pratt visited the Straits and went on to Sarawak to consecrate the Church that had been built there. The Sunday morning -when the Bishop preached in the old St. Andrew's Church, there was a regular downpour, and the rain made such a noise on the roof that his voice could not be heard, and complaints were already made about the building, which leaked so short a time after it had been erected. It may be worthy of note as a custom that has long ceased, that the paper said that the Bishop landed "under the accustomed salute due to his rank.” (539)


The Straits Settlements at this time [1857] were in the diocese of Calcutta. Singapore was too distant from India, for the Bishop there to take much interest in the place, with so many important duties close to his hand, and when it was necessary in 1851 to consecrate the first Church of St. Thomas at Sarawak, which Mr. McDougall, afterwards the Bishop, had built, Bishop Daniel Wilson of Calcutta came down to Singapore, and went to Sarawak for the purpose, with the authority, and in the name, of the Bishop of London, under whose jurisdiction the Church in Sarawak was assumed to be.

In the same way Bishop McDougall performed certain acts in Singapore in the character of Bishop, as, for example, the consecration of the new Cemetery in the year 1865, afterwards spoken of, which was done under the special power of a commission from the Bishop of Calcutta, Singapore being out of Bishop McDougall’s diocese.

In connection with the matter of the bishopric, the following passage was written in September, 1857, in a letter in Sarawak by Bishop McDougall. It is to be found at page 167 of the Memoirs written by his brother-in-law, published in London in 1889. "Much as I prefer Sarawak as a place of residence, I feel more and more that Singapore ought to be the centre of the Church's Mission for these parts, and the site of a Missionary College and Cathedral Church. If, as it is anticipated out here, the Straits stations are turned over to the Queen's Government, my station ought to be Singapore, and the noble Church there now in erection, with the design of which I have had a great deal to do, ought to be my Cathedral. The present free schools at Singapore, Penang and Malacca, would be excellent feeders for a Missionary College, as they contain lads from all parts of the Archipelago, as well as from Siam and Burmah. Why should not our Church take up as large a field as the Roman Catholics, who are making the Straits their point d'appui for their Missions, not only to the different parts of the Archipelago, but also for Siam and Cochin-China. ?... The more I think of these views, the more desirable I feel them to be for the Church's sake,"

It is clear from this that the Bishop appreciated the result to be expected in the future of Singapore from the work of the Roman Catholic Church in the place. lie could not anticipate the work that would be done by the American Methodist Episcopal Church to be started in the centre of the work of the Church of England thirty years later.

Bishop McDougall resigned in 1868, and went to England, never returning to the East. He was a canon residentiary of Ely, then Archdeacon of Huntingdon, then of Winchester, and Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, besides holding two livings at various times in different parts of England.

In May, 1861, Bishop McDougall wrote to England in connection with the proposed transfer of the Straits to the Colonial Office, urging that the opportunity should be taken to separate them from the diocese of Calcutta. Among other reasons he pointed out that the average term of service of the Bengal Chaplains in the Straits had only been about two years, and that the missionary work had been left to the Roman Catholics, who had a Bishop, and a considerable body of French clergy, and Sisters of Mercy, while little or nothing had been done for the Church of England.

The seat of the diocese was transferred, as he had proposed, to Singapore in 1870, but the good that he anticipated did not result. What his earnest, sturdy character, (he was spoken of in England after the Lanun pirates' episode, as a good specimen of the "Church Militant!") would have done in Singapore, who can say ? The Cathedral was built ten years before the change, and the work of thirty years has only to show a small Church with occasional services in an unfrequented part of the town; and the Mission Chapel, house, and school mentioned on page 300, largely due to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

If these are compared with all the churches, buildings and schools of the Roman Catholic Church; or with those of the American Methodist Episcopal Mission, a list of which, over a column long, appears each month in their Malaysia Message; it may well be asked what good has resulted from the change which Bishop McDougall expected to produce a great expansion of the Church of England in Singapore. St. Andrew's Cathedral is kept in repair, and the portion of the stipend received by the Bishop from the Straits Settlements, as well as the stipend of the Colonial Chaplain, are all paid by the Government, advantages which no other church possesses.

It has to be remembered, however, that the arrangement that was made in 1870, with the object of making Singapore the headquarters of the Bishop, could not have been anticipated by Bishop McDougall in one respect. The Bishop was consecrated in Calcutta as Bishop of Labuan, because a bishopric could not then be established in a foreign country, so Labuan was chosen as being a Crown Colony available for the purpose. The stipend was provided by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Rajah of Sarawak, and it was styled the Bishopric of Labuan and Sarawak. When the title was changed to that of Singapore, Labuan and Sarawak it was intended to give prominence to the position of Singapore as the head-quarters of the work. But the stipend given by the Government of the Straits Settlements, one hundred pounds a year, is very small compared with that contributed by the S.P.G. and Sarawak, so that the Straits cannot reasonably complain that only a small portion of the year is spent by the Bishop in Singapore. A house was built by subscription among the congregation as a residence for the Bishop, in the expectation that he would be able to give more time to the Church here, but the house is let for some eight months of the year. The result of the work of the Church of England in Singapore and the Straits during the last thirty-two years can be fairly judged by comparison with what others, with far less opportunities, have been able to do.

In 1882 the question of the disestablishment of the Church of England, which was carried out in Ceylon and other Colonies, came under consideration in the Legislative Council, but as the three Roman Catholic members of the Council joined with the rest in urging the Colonial Office not to make the same change in the Straits, matters have hitherto remained as they were under the East India Company.

In 1871 Mr. Thomas Scott, of his own motion, had brought the question of the disendowment of the Church before the Legislative Council, but it was not much discussed and was negatived (to use Mr. Shelford's words in 1882) as a premature step. In February, 1882, the question had again been raised by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and the debate was noteworthy for the speech made by Mr. James Graham, which will be found at page 5 of the Council Proceedings for that year. The speech was spoken of as one of the most interesting and eloquent of those recorded in the Council. Mr. Graham, as he said on this occasion, was not given to speak at length or warmly in the Council, and this made it the more remarkable. No doubt he felt on other occasions that both time and patience are thrown away in discussing questions which have been definitely decided in advance, to be carried by an official majority. One passage in Mr. Graham's speech showing one reason, in his opinion, for upholding the establishment, was as follows:—" It is, therefore, wise and politic of us to insure that a man of education and high moral character, a man in whom the poorest—whether belonging to the church or not—can find a faithful friend, shall be placed in every one of our provinces, interested in the moral and intellectual welfare of our people, and with the sole object of doing good to them." (660-662)


The construction of St. Andrew's Church went on so slowly that several jocose letters appeared in the Free Press upon the bankruptcy of the Government finances. Among others was this poetry:—

"If then would'st view the Church aright,
Go visit it on a moonless night,
For the gay beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to show, the sad decay,
Then roofless porches, choir, aisle, nave,
Are silent as the ocean wave.
Then the warm night's uncertain shower
Pours through the ruined steeple tower;
Then from the roof, in puddles, flop
The rainy streamlets, drop by drop;
And make one sigh in these hard days
At the dire waste the view displays.
Then go at once, nor wait the while,
Would'st view St. Andrew's ruined pile,
And, home returning, softly swear
Never was scene so sad as there." (676)

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