A MASTER was touching the living keys with subtle power in a crowded building on May 1, 1865, at St. Bride's, London, England. He had travelled a long way to attend the anniversary of the Church Missionary Society, and was preaching the sermon which was destined to bear so much fruit.
Bishop Anderson, late of Rupert's Land, was the bearer of a great message to the Church in England. He had much to tell of the vastness of Canada, and the great regions where the children of the wild lived and died without the knowledge of Christ. He told of a lonely mission-station on the mighty Yukon River, where a soldier of the cross, Robert McDonald, with health fast failing, was standing bravely at his post of duty till some one should relieve him. What thoughts must have surged through his mind as he looked on the many upturned faces before him! Who was there among those listeners willing to consecrate his life to the Master's work? Lifting up his voice, the Bishop uttered these words, which have become so memorable:
"Shall no one come forward to take up the standard of the Lord as it falls from his hands, and to occupy the ground?"
The service ended, the clergy retired, and the congregation began to disperse. But there was one whose heart had been deeply touched by the speaker's words, and, walking at once into the vestry, a Lincolnshire curate, in the prime of life, offered to go to Canada to relieve the missionary at Fort Yukon.
William Carpenter Bompas, this young volunteer, was born at 11, Park Road, Regent's Park, London, on January 20, 1834. He was the fourth son of Charles Carpenter Bompas, Serjeant-at-Law, one of the most eminent advocates of his day, and leader of the Western Circuit, and of Mary Steele, daughter of Mr. Joseph Tomkins, of Broughton, Hants. Serjeant Bompas, it is said, was the original of Charles Dickens's celebrated character "Serjeant Buzfuz" in the "Pickwick Papers."
The Bompas family is of French extraction, and the name still exists in the West of France, but it is believed that in the seventeenth century members of the family owned land in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. We find the name spelled in different ways: Bonpar, Bonpart, and de Bonpas in Languedoc, Provence, and near Caen in Normandy, of which last one writer says, "They bear the coat of three lions rampant." There is a tradition that the motto "C'est un Bonpas" was given on the field of Crecy to an ancestor, who was knighted by Edward the Black Prince for his valour in the fight. A bystander remarked, "C'est un Bonpas," and the knight replied that he would take that for his motto. The great-grandfather of Bishop Bompas was lord of the manor of Longden Heath, in Worcestershire, and was descended from the Gwinnetts of Gloucestershire. There are records of an Edward Bompas who sailed, in 1623, in the ship Fortune, which followed the Mayflower, for America, and received a grant of land in the new country, where many of his descendants still reside. The family on the mother's side was partly Royalist and partly Puritan. One member is known to have been private secretary to Henrietta Maria, and was hanged by the Parliamentarians for aiding Charles I.; another, at one time, was secretary to Hampden.
On February 29, 1844, Serjeant Bompas died very suddenly, leaving a widow and eight children, five sons and three daughters, in poor circumstances. The eldest son, Charles, a lovable character, but of delicate constitution, died in 1847. The second son, George, who had been intended for the Bar, was articled to a firm of City solicitors, with whom he worked for fifty-nine years, retiring as senior partner in 1903, and died in May, 1905. To his continued liberality the Dioceses of Mackenzie River and Selkirk (Yukon) have been much indebted. Joseph, the third son, emigrated to Canada, where he died. William and Henry, the two youngest sons, were educated by Mr. Elliott, a distinguished graduate of Cambridge University. Henry, after obtaining a gold medal at the London University, proceeded to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he became Fifth Wrangler. After a short period employed in tuition, he was called to the Bar, and became, like his father, leader of the Western Circuit. He continued to practise until 1896, when he accepted the County Court Judgeship of Bradford Circuit.
William, in early youth, showed most plainly those characteristics which marked his whole life. He was a shy boy, owing partly, no doubt, to private tuition at home, which deprived him to a large extent of the society of other boys. Cricket, football, or such games, he did not play, his chief pleasure being walking, and sketching churches and other buildings that he encountered in his rambles. Gardening he was fond of, and the knowledge thus gained stood him in good stead years later when planning for the mission-farms in his northern diocese.
The influence of a religious home made a deep and lasting impression upon him. His parents were earnest Christians, belonging to the Baptist denomination. Sunday was strictly observed, the father making it a firm rule never to read briefs or hold consultations on the Day of Rest. Bible reading, too, was carefully observed. Serjeant Bompas was a man of liberal views, allowed his children to indulge in harmless amusements, and occasionally permitted them to attend the theatre and to play cards, if not for money.
William from childhood was of a deeply religious nature, and at the age of sixteen was baptized by immersion, on a profession of his faith, by the Hon. and Rev. Baptist Noel. This step caused his mother great joy, and after her death the following was found among her many papers:
"July 7, 1850.--This day I would record the mercy which has rendered it one of peculiar blessing and happiness. The favour and presence of God has been manifested to us again during the past week, and I have enjoyed the best earthly happiness in seeing my dear and dutiful son W. devote himself unreservedly to the service of his Saviour. Having conscientiously decided on baptism by immersion, he was publicly baptized on the 5th by Mr. Baptist Noel, at his chapel in John Street, and was at the same time admitted as member of Mr. Stratten's church, and to-day I have had the privilege of partaking with him of that ordinance which I trust will be most profitable to us both."
At this time William was attending the small day-school kept by Mr. Elliott, and of him the latter wrote:
"I never had a pupil who made such acquisitions of knowledge in so short a time; his attainments in mathematics and classics are far beyond the majority of youths at his age, and would warrant anyone conversant with the state of education in the Universities in predicting a brilliant career for him, should he ever have that path open to him. I think, however, that the development of his mind is still more remarkable than the amount of his knowledge."
But a University career was not practicable, and William was therefore articled in 1852 to the same firm of solicitors with whom his brother George was working. At the expiration of his five years of service he transferred himself to another City firm, Messrs. Ashurst, Morris, and Company, with whom he remained about two years. While here a catastrophe occurred in the failure of a great company, involving ruin to unnumbered families. The harrowing spectacle of the poorer shareholders who brought their claims into court, having lost their all without remedy, was a terrible strain upon the young man's nervous system, which had been weakened by a severe illness but a short time before. This, together with strenuous labour, brought on a second breakdown, and early in 1858 he was forced to give up work altogether. He declared that it took him three months to learn to do nothing. During his year of inaction the Greek Testament was his constant companion. Change of scene became necessary, and he spent some time at his mother's home, Broughton, Hants, and later, with his sister, visited the Normandy coast.
"The summer after his illness," writes his brother, Judge Bompas, "we went on a walking tour to Scotland, and one evening it got dark before we had reached our destination, and we had to sleep out in the mountains with no shelter, and amidst frequent showers of rain. William, though in weak health, was perfectly fearless, and in great spirits, repeating part of Macaulay's 'Lays' and other poems for much of the night."
As his strength returned, his mind reverted more and more to his early desire of entering the ministry. Leaving the communion of his early associations, he decided to seek ordination in the Church of England, and in 1858 was confirmed by the Bishop of London at St. Mary's, Bryanston Square. His remarkable linguistic ability enabled him soon to add by private study a good knowledge of Hebrew to that of Latin and Greek, which he already possessed.
In 1859 he was accepted by Dr. Jackson, the Bishop of Lincoln, as a literate candidate for Holy Orders, and was ordained deacon by him at the Advent ordination the same year, and appointed curate to the Rev. H. Owen, rector of Trusthorpe and Sutton-in-the-Marsh.
This first charge was a trying experience. The parish of Sutton was a wild district, with a rough and primitive population, and most of the men had smugglers in former times. No school was established, and there had been no resident clergyman since the time of the Reformation. Mr. Bompas at once began a great work among the children, gathering them into his own house, and teaching them, at first by himself, and later with the help of his sister and a girl from a neighbouring village. By his care for the children, and by the unfailing sympathy shown in his visits to his parishioners, he succeeded in winning their gratitude and confidence. His plan for the erection of a school was at first strongly opposed by some of the farmers, who were unwilling to give land for the purpose. But Mr. Bompas, with that tact and gentleness which marked all his dealings, at length overcame the opposition, and when he left at the end of two years the building was completed and opened.
"I can well remember," writes one, in reference to the young curate's work at Sutton, "as quite a little child, how he won my heart by carrying my poor pet cat, that had been hurt by a heavy piece of wood falling on it, into a place of safety, and doing all he could to ease its pain. Also, about the same time, in a heavy gale of wind, he was going out to dinner at Mablethorpe, and, passing through Trusthorpe, found a little girl blown into the thick black mud at the side of a big drain, and unable to free herself. He not only went to the rescue, but carried her to her home at the far end of Sutton, regardless of dinner! The once" continues the same writer, "that he revisited Sutton and preached there the people lined the path from church to gate, and stood waiting for him to leave the church, that they might get a word as he passed--a very unusual demonstration from our true but undemonstrative Lincolnshire folk of those days."
While at Sutton, in the second year of his clerical life, a great sorrow came to Mr. Bompas in the death of his mother, to whose bedside he was summoned in January, 1861. He was devotedly attached to her, and was able to take part, with the rest of the family, in ministering comfort to her during her last days.
In the midst of early discouragements, Mr. Bompas found a valuable friend and helper in Mrs. Loft, of Trusthorpe Hall. He was always sure of a hearty welcome at her house, and in after-years she followed his course with the warmest interest, and corresponded with him to the end of her life.
In 1862 he accepted the curacy of New Radford, Nottingham, a poor and crowded parish, populated largely by lace-workers. The number of souls, about 10,000, within the small triangle of New Radford was about the same as the population of the vast diocese of 900,000 square miles of which he was later to have episcopal supervision. To this circumstance he referred when preaching in the parish on his return to England for consecration in 1874.
From Nottingham Mr. Bompas went for a short time as curate to Holy Trinity, South Lincolnshire, returning in 1864 to his former neighbourhood as curate to the Rev. H. Oldrid at Alf ord, Lincolnshire. As the earnest curate passed from house to house in his daily work, his parishioners little thought what a bright fire of enthusiasm was burning in his heart. He had been much stirred by the stories told by missionaries of heathen dying without the knowledge of Christ in far-away lands, and he longed to go abroad and bear the message of salvation. His mind turned to China and India, with their seething millions; but as he was a little over thirty years of age at that time, the Church Missionary Society thought him rather old to grapple with the difficulties of the Eastern languages. But when one door closes another opens, and at the right moment Bishop Anderson arrived from Rupert's Land, and made the great appeal for a volunteer to relieve the Rev. Robert McDonald at Fort Yukon. So stirred was Mr. Bompas by the address that he offered himself for the work. He was at once accepted by the Church Missionary Society, and ordained to the priesthood by Bishop, afterwards Archbishop, Machray, who had just been consecrated successor to Bishop Anderson.
How little did those who attended that ordination service realize the important part those two men would take in Christ's great work, or that among the heroes of the Church in Canada in years to come no names would be held in greater reverence than those of Machray and Bompas!
Only three weeks did Mr. Bompas have in which to prepare for his long journey. But they were sufficient, as he was anxious to be on his way. So complete was his consecration to the work before him that "he decided," so his brother tells us, "to take nothing with him that might lead back his thoughts to home, and he gave away all his books and other tokens of remembrance, even the paragraph Bible which he had always used."