Project Canterbury

The Life of John Travers Lewis, D.D.
First Archbishop of Ontario

By His Wife

London: Skeffington and Son, no date.

Chapter II. Education and Ordination

As a youth John Travers Lewis was very fond of yachting, and one day he and a cousin who often joined him for a sail went out and were overtaken by a storm. After four days they landed on the coast of Spain, having had nothing to eat but a few raw potatoes. They were brought back in their yacht by some steamer sailing to Cork, and landed at Kinsale, Queenstown. Being Sunday, they found their way to the church in their shipwrecked condition, just as the clergyman was giving out; "The prayers of the congregation are desired for John Travers Lewis and--(naming his cousin)--supposed to be lost at sea, not having been heard of for ten days." They were dumb-stricken, but, though too unpresentable to acknowledge who they were, they knelt in praise for answered prayer. Another interesting incident occurred when he was taking a holiday in Dublin. He was leisurely walking down a street when he saw a man thrust his hand into a lady's pocket. In a moment he seized him and kept him till the policeman came, then he calmly gave the man up on the charge of having attempted to steal. This case excited the interest of a well-known lawyer named Curran, who, knowing the young man who [28/29] had acted so boldly, was determined to oppose him and see the game out. When the case came on, Curran endeavoured to extract information from him by questioning him as to the size of the purse and the depth of the pocket into which the man's hand had disappeared when he seized him. The youth held to the man's "attempt to steal." The lawyer questioned "Had this lady a purse?" "What size was the purse?" "How deep was the pocket?" The reply was: "I don't know the size of the purse, or the depth of the pocket. It covered the hand of this man." He was asked why he tried to prevent the theft, being only an attempt to steal, and he replied that he thought it was right to prevent a crime. In those days stealing was considered a crime, and he had heard of a man being hung for sheep-stealing. Curran afterwards expressed admiration for the way he had acted, but the affair had emptied John Travers' purse and spoilt his holiday.

When he entered Trinity College, Dublin, in order to graduate and take Holy Orders, he was described as being of very studious habits and honourable in conduct, and at the same time good at athletic sports. Nature had done much for him, for he stood six feet one inch, was a fine, spare, muscular youth of graceful movements and delicate features, with a winsome personality, gently born and bred. He was full of spirit, as the following incident shows. He and three of his college friends determined to spend a holiday in Scotland. After a very rough crossing from Dublin, they found themselves at last on terra-firma, after midnight, and upon entering Edinburgh early in the [29/30] morning, were so elated that they burst into a hilarious song with a refrain, in which all joined with hearty goodwill.

When the train stopped at Edinburgh, to their surprise they were arrested for breaking the Sabbath Day by singing songs which "gave not God the glory." Despite their protestations as to who they were and why they came, they were lodged in the Tolbooth that night. With sobered indignation they tried to console each other. In the morning they were brought before the magistrate, who, on hearing what the charge against them was, exclaimed: "They are na' but four rollicking Irishmen, let them gang!"--with a look of contempt. It was a very sober beginning to what was intended to be a holiday of great fun.

While at Trinity College he passed through times of doubt, and once, when speaking on the words "Search the Scriptures," said it really meant: "Dig down deep into the mine"--not the surface meaning which was usually given--"It (the Truth) is There." His power of study was appreciated by the Provost, who reported him to be not only studious, but deeply attached to his family, who were completely separated from him, being in Canada. He easily passed the examinations, and obtained the Primate's first Hebrew prize. He graduated as senior moderator in ethics and logic, obtained his LL.D. degree, and held the distinguished position of gold medallist.

He was ready to be ordained in 1848, and, being called to appear at Cambridge for the service, he decided to have two or three quiet days there before [30/31] taking so solemn a step. Luckily, upon arrival he interviewed the Bishop of Chester's Chaplain and showed him his licence, when the Chaplain at once pointed out that a mistake had been made in the Christian name of the Bishop, and he must get it altered before he could be ordained. He therefore rushed off to London--a journey in those days of great difficulty and expense. He sought out the Registrar for it to be altered, and found it was only a matter of three or four letters--"James" for "John." Thankfully receiving it back he was surprised to have to pay two guineas for the new document. He journeyed back to Cambridge with very mixed feelings, wondering if this were really the right path he was taking and, if so, why so many straight things had been made crooked! He remembered, however, the smile which had lingered on the handsome face of his father ashe had last seen it, quickening and encouraging him, speaking of triumph.

After the rush of the journey he arrived, very bewildered, at Christchurch College, Cambridge, only just in time to kneel in his place for the Ordination service.

He was then appointed to the curacy of Newtown-Butler, in the county of Fermanagh, where he was very graciously received, the congregation consisting of a few gentry and the usual peasant folk, who seemed instinctively to know when they were dealing with what they call a "genteel gentleman."

The Vicar of Newtown-Butler, finding his curate so active, took the opportunity of taking a much-needed rest. Soon after he left, difficulties of all kinds seemed [31/32] culminate. One was an attack upon him because he had given Christian burial to Billy, a well-known outrageous fellow who was in all kinds of predicaments bordering on naughtiness. Nearly all the congregation rose against him for having treated him as a saint, instead of as a sinner. The Sunday after the funeral he was attacked by strong words and threats, which he received very calmly, saying that he would give an explanation the following Sunday. On that day he spoke of Billy sending for him, feeling he was nearing eternity, and expressing his sorrow. Upon asking Billy what was his hope for forgiveness in the face of eternity, the man, almost voiceless, began to repeat the Creed, and, throwing his arms round him, with failing strength and with the glare of death in his face, came to the words: "and in Jesus Christ His only Son"--after which he sank back lifeless. "How," said Mr. Lewis, "could I refuse what Jesus Christ, His only Son, had said He would accept? "

It was an eventful Sunday, and many could not refrain from tears, expressing their opinion that he had done rightly.

After this experience the curate had won the people, who began to trust him, almost as a father, in the chief events of their lives. In the pulpit of the church at Newtown-Butler there is a brass tablet recording the fact that the Archbishop of Ontario preached his first sermon in that church.

One of the experiences he had while there was to bring the "Wake" at the funerals of the country people on to a more serious footing. Sometimes these [32/33] "Wakes" lasted for days, all the relatives meeting not for grief so much as for extolling the attributes of the dead. On one occasion he found them dancing round the coffin, so, in spite of having walked five miles, he went away without holding a service. Later they came in a better frame of mind and entreated him to return.

The following is an extract from a testimonial submitted to the Board of Examiners of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1849, to whom he had appealed to be sent out as a missionary. The Venerable Archdeacon Russell, of Clogher, wrote: "I examined him for Deacon's Orders, on which occasion his answering evinced no ordinary talents and attainments, such as I had reason to expect from his high collegiate character. As far as I have been able to observe, 2 should say that he possesses sound discretion and aptness to teach, and that his manners are engaging, his health apparently good. I was so prepossessed in his favour by his high attainment and pleasing manners and appearance that I offered him my own curacy when lately vacant, and I trust he will prove a valuable minister of our Church wherever it may please Providence to place him."

Mr. Lewis was advanced to the priesthood by the Bishop of Down on September 23rd, 1849, at Lisburn Cathedral, after which he went to London, presented his credentials to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, having appealed to be sent out as a missionary to Canada, his object being to be near [33/34] to his mother and family, whom he had not seen for many years. The investigations proving most satisfactory, he went from London to Liverpool, where the Rev. Hugh McNeill called together a meeting to commend him to God, as the journey to Canada in those days had its dangers.

He sailed in a ship crammed with emigrants. A good many babies were born, whom he baptised, and several deaths occurred. The ship was without any of the softening influences of to-day, not a single light was given during the night, so in whatever misery the passengers were, they remained till daylight. Naturally the arrival at Quebec, after sixty-four days on such a crowded ship, was very welcome. He had taken out with him his only friend, a beautiful Irish terrier, and upon landing and seeing his belongings removed, he was shocked to hear the report of a gun and to see his beautiful terrier lying dead, his eyes turned to his master. There was no time for enquiry, as he had to continue his journey, and the man who had done it had disappeared.

Arriving at Toronto he presented his credentials to the Bishop of that city, his mother being resident in that diocese. After the first preliminary interviews had passed, he asked the Bishop kindly to give him a post near to his mother. No promise was made, but he soon heard of his appointment to West Hawkesbury, the furthest point away from his mother. Here he worked successfully, as well as in all the surrounding districts, sometimes travelling long distances, and once riding seventy miles to visit one person. The [34/35] appointment to West Hawkesbury was of a missionary nature. The poverty of the clergy, their utter loneliness, and inability to do better, made a very great impression upon him, which he did not delay in making known at Toronto, where he was frequently in conference with the Bishop. Soon the Bishop made him a member of the Synod, and he thus had an opportunity of revealing many of the hitherto hidden necessities of the scattered and outlying Missions, as well as the imperative needs of the children from an educational point of view. His statements were greatly appreciated in Toronto, and during the four years of his stay at Hawkesbury much was done to mitigate suffering and to help lonely workers who had hitherto been overcome by the sense of need and destitution, and were inclined to look despairingly on the results of their toil. Wherever he visited a permanent hope of better things to come was assured.

During his visits to Toronto, then called "Muddy York," he became acquainted with the best families. When going out in the evening a sedan chair took him as near as possible to his destination, then frequently he had to get out and jump over a pool of running water in order to get to the front door, in spite of which he would always manage to arrive spotlessly en ordre.

At this time he became engaged to be married to Annie, one of the daughters of the Hon. Henry Sherwood, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ontario. They were married in Toronto. She left a home of luxury for the lonely, yet interesting, district of Hawkesbury, [35/36] and was admirably adapted to be the helpmate of a refined and home-loving man.

When the living of Brockville became vacant in 1854 he was appointed to it. This was one of the most important residential places in the Diocese of Toronto, being within half an hour's reach of Water-town, in the United States, and was one of the nearest points of contact with the Thousand Islands on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which everyone visited. At Brockville he was privileged to be the first to welcome King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, when he paid his first visit to Canada in 1857. Here, at his Rectory, in his leisure time he was able to attend to the early instruction of his children. The lines upon which this was done may be imagined by the remark of one of his little daughters when she saw a glorious sunset: "Papa, come and see the Benedicite," and once, when they were choosing their evening hymn, one of his sons said in quite a masterly tone: "Let's sing the Te Deum."

Another little incident may show what parental authority meant. The eldest little girl, Charlotte, who had been very rude to her mother, in fact was absolutely unmanageable, refusing to obey anyone, was taken by her father up to an empty attic and shut in screaming, crying, and kicking--in vain. He deposited her there and locked the door. The screaming and kicking continued for a long time. Suddenly it ceased, and her father, who was trembling outside for fear the child had had a fit, drew near to the door to relieve his mind. He heard a poor little fluttering [36/37] voice, amid sobs, crying out: "Please God, ask Papa to let me out and I will be good." The door was immediately opened, and the sobbing child leapt into her father's arms, repeating amid her sobs: "I will be good, I will be good."

He was always an early riser, and in later years the first to ask his hostess to be allowed to retire. His early-morning visit, was to the garden, and the children looked for papa to bring in the vegetables and mamma the flowers.

He often found time to write to several of the leading American journals upon different subjects, and some of the pamphlets are still extant. At first he wrote anonymously, but when his identity was discovered he was the subject of criticism.

During his evenings at home he enjoyed a game of chess, having partly learnt this with the Provost of Trinity College, who was said to be one of the best-known chess players of that day. At Brockville he found one or two canny Scots who were delighted to enjoy this luxury with him for a spare half-hour.

In the autumn of 1854 the first Synod of Toronto was held, at which, as Rector of Brockville, he was present, and the division of the Diocese of Toronto was then first mooted. The discussions continued at each Synod concerning the advisability of certain districts being included. The Bishop of Toronto had only just given a portion of his diocese to Huron, called after that Lake.

In 1855 he received the degree of LL.D. from his [37/38] University, and soon after proceeded to the degrees of B.D. and D.D.

At the Synod of 1856 very encouraging reports were given from the West (Huron) regarding the raising of funds for the endowment of a new See; but those from the East were not so favourable. There seemed to be a hesitancy to subscribe until it should be made quite clear that the clergy and laity were to be allowed to choose their own bishop. The necessary endowment was not made up until the year 1861. In the meantime Dr. Lewis had taken a good position in the Synod of Toronto. He was a member of the Executive Committee, and among the delegates elected to the first Provincial Synod. His reasoning powers were appreciated in advising patience and not arriving at any hasty conclusions as to the limits, or otherwise, of a new venture. Naturally the great difficulty of forming a new diocese was the money to support it. The efficient administration of the present was the surest method to pave the way for the future.

On May 28th, 1861, the following notice was issued by the order of the Bishop of Toronto:

Diocesan Synod, Toronto--Official Notice--The clergy and lay delegates of parishes and missions within the boundaries of the proposed new Eastern Diocese are hereby notified that the Lord Bishop of the Diocese of Toronto requires their attendance at St. George's Church, in the city of Kingston, on Wednesday, the 12th day of June next, at the hour of eleven o'clock in the forenoon, for the purpose of selecting one godly and well-learned [38/39] man to be Bishop of said new Eastern Diocese, and also of proceeding to the consideration of such other business as may be submitted.

By order of the Bishop.

Stephen Lett, Clerical Secretary.
James Bovell, Lay Secretary.

At the appointed time the Synod assembled, all the clergy of the proposed Diocese, save one, being present (fifty-four), and a full attendance of lay delegates, together with many others, both clergy and laity, attracted by the solemn interests of the pending election.

For several months it had been well known throughout the Province that either the Venerable Archdeacon Bethune, or the Rev. Dr. Lewis, Rector of Brockville, would be elected Bishop. With respect to their Churchmanship there was little choice. Both were sound Churchmen, equally zealous, earnest-minded, and faithful in their sacred vocation. The Archdeacon, upwards of sixty years of age, from his very long and faithful services to the Church in Canada was the choice of the older clergy, and the few Low Churchmen in the proposed diocese also supported him as the "lesser of two evils."

On the other hand, Dr. Lewis, a high honour man of Trinity College, Dublin, and still under forty, was very popular with the younger clergy, a great many of whom were Irish. He was a man of much eloquence and readiness in debate.

The general impression was that there would be a majority of the lay delegates for Dr. Lewis, and that [39/40] the clergy would be nearly divided. After the administration of the Holy Communion, the Synod was constituted by the Bishop of Toronto, and the certificates of delegates examined. Then arose a question upon which indirectly the whole election depended. There were present two clergymen, one a chaplain in the penitentiary, and the other to the troops in the fort, and also three deacons, all supporters of Dr. Lewis. Some of Dr. Bethune's friends objected to these gentlemen voting; the first two because they were not strictly connected with the diocese, the latter because they were only in deacon's orders.

The Bishop of Toronto, with that strict impartiality which marked his conduct throughout, left the decision on the questions involved to the clergy themselves, and by a large majority it was decided that those gentlemen were entitled to vote. The Synod then adjourned to the following day.

During the evening Dr. Bethune wrote to his friends requesting them to withdraw his name, and on the following day the greater part of his supporters remained absent during the time of the election, and those who were present did not vote. The vote was taken by ballot, and on examination it was found that Dr. Lewis had received thirty-one clerical votes and forty-one lay delegate votes. The result being announced, the Bishop-elect, Dr. Lewis, was led from his seat by the Chancellor of the Diocese, the Hon. J. H. Cameron, and formally introduced to the Bishop of Toronto, by whom he was warmly congratulated on his election. He received also the hearty congratulations [40/41] of the members of the Synod, lay and clerical. Many of those who did not vote for him expressed their determination to co-operate with him, and assist him so far as lay in their power.

Dr. Lewis then briefly, but eloquently, thanked the Synod for the high honour conferred upon him, expressed his sense of the many and solemn responsibilities of the holy office to which he had been chosen, and hoped that by God's grace he would be enabled faithfully to discharge them.

There was some discussion as to the name to be given to the new Diocese, which embraced all Upper Canada east of the River Trent. The matter was finally left to the Bishop of Toronto, who expressed a preference for the name Ontario. The Bishop's seat was to be in the city of Kingston, then the capital of Canada.

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