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Life of Robert Machray, Archbishop of Rupert's Land

By His Nephew, Robert Machray

Toronto: Macmillan, 1909.


"IN the Providence of God I have been present at the birth of a new people," said Archbishop Machray when addressing in London a meeting of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The words were spoken in 1888, and he did not die until 1904; if to them be added the statement that he played a great part played it greatly--in the shaping of that new people it will be evident that his life is one of exceptional and enduring interest. During an episcopate of nearly forty years, first as Bishop, then as Metropolitan, and finally as Archbishop of Rupert's Land, he witnessed and actively participated in the rise and progress of Manitoba and North-West Canada, the splendid territory, with an area as large as Europe, which for two centuries was known to the world by the name of his See.

Consecrated at Lambeth in 1865 he went out from England as second Bishop of Rupert's Land to the only district in his Diocese of much consequence, the Red River Settlement, from which in 1870 sprang the Province of Manitoba, its capital, Winnipeg, having its origin in Fort Garry, the chief trading-post of the Hudson's Bay Company in that region. The great bulk of the population of Rupert's Land in those days consisted of wandering tribes of Indians, at no time numerous; the pure white population was probably well under a thousand souls, and there may have been besides from ten to twelve thousand inhabitants of mixed blood. The sole value the land possessed was derived from its fur-bearing animals; the buffalo still roamed the great plains, though no longer in enormous herds; save to the hunter, the trapper, and the fur trader, the country remained terra incognita. The change began a little before 1870, when it was more clearly indicated on the transfer of Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company to the Dominion, but it was not observable to any marked extent until 1880, in which year a railway from the south reached Winnipeg; five years later the Canadian Pacific Railway stretched east and west of Winnipeg across the continent, and the change was patent to all the world. A new people had been born, and the old order had forever passed away. Settlers in their thousands invaded the great solitudes, and towns, villages, municipalities, and innumerable homesteads came into quick existence on the far-sweeping prairies. The movement continues to-day, and will continue with accelerating force for at least another generation or more, for the land is vast and capable of supporting many millions.

By far the greater part of Archbishop Machray's episcopate lies in this period of change and transition. He not only saw the change, but foresaw it, and, so far as was possible, prepared for it; when it came he strove, in such manner as his position permitted, to give to it a high and noble character. Naturally, he was not a politician, though, as a matter of fact, to the country, Canada, and the Empire, he rendered the greatest political services in the course of the Red River Rebellion of 18 that have never been properly acknowledged or appreciated--by a wise pacificist policy which preserved the colony from civil war, and probably from annexation (see Chapters IX. and X.). There was a time when the destiny of Manitoba and the North-West hung in the balance, and there was good reason to doubt whether they were to remain British or pass into other hands; to him, more than to any other one man, is it due that this magnificent heritage does remain to Canada and the Empire. But the life of a Bishop of the English Church in. the Colonies is, as a rule, but little concerned with politics; its sphere lies elsewhere. While Archbishop Machray brought to the new people of the land the gifts of sympathy and understanding in their efforts to possess it, his influence on them was mainly exercised, as might be expected, in and through the Church of which he was the head in the country, and by his action with respect to education not only from the Church point of view, but in the general interests of the community. In his opinion religion and education were not to be divorced, but to go on hand in hand in happy accord. Acknowledging fully the necessity of a wide and efficient secular education, he strenuously opposed the complete secularisation of the schools on public as well as religious grounds.

It is first as a great Churchman, and then as a great educationist, that the Archbishop is to be deemed truly remarkable.

I. The great Churchman. Born a Presbyterian and reared in the atmosphere of the Church of Scotland, he very early in life came to the conclusion to be an Episcopalian, and to cherish the ambition of becoming a clergyman of the Church of England. When that ambition was realised, his attitude was expressed when he said that he could see "no way of doing things better" than the Church had directed, but he did not unchurch others who could not see eye to eye with him. There was nothing of the bigot about the man, and he desired to live, and did live, on good terms with those who did not hold his views, but he was devoted to the Church of England, and upheld its distinctive polity--Orders, Services, and methods. He was not a great Churchman in the sense of being one of those who hand over all outside the Church to "the uncovenanted mercies of God." He was a great Churchman because of his services to the Church as a leader, a wise master-builder and governor, and an ecclesiastical statesman. Of an intensely practical turn of mind, every process of which was clear and logical, he had a genius for organisation, for making plans and--what is a much rarer thing--for carrying them out, for translating thought and ideas into living and effective action for obtaining results. In 1865 the Diocese of Rupert's Land had little or no organisation, and depended almost entirely on subsidies from Church Societies; the only endowment was that of the Bishopric. The new Bishop began by organising the parishes and inculcating the principle of self- support. In some of the obituary notices of the Archbishop it was stated that he was far-sighted enough to see that the day would come when the English Church Societies that subsidised the Diocese would withdraw their grants, and therefore pressed on his people this principle of self-support; but this is to misstate the fact, which is that he taught his people that self-support was right in itself; and that it was a wrong thing for churches that could support themselves to be dependent on outside aid.

The Church of England is a "voluntary" Church in Canada--it receives no assistance from the State, and moves, so far as an Episcopal Church can, on democratic lines. Very early in his episcopate Arch bishop Machray summoned a Conference of his Clergy and Laity, and the Conference soon developed into a representative Synod--a self-supporting Church was to be self-governing. The Synod elected an Executive Committee, which became, as it were, the Council and the Cabinet of the Bishop. The Bishop did not interfere with or intervene in the elections of lay representatives to the Synod or the election of the Executive Committee, but he retained the episcopal veto--which he never had occasion to exercise. For several years the circumstances of the Diocese were such that he acted as its treasurer and financier, and the custody of the Church property was vested in him as a corporation sole, but so soon as suitable arrangements could be made he handed over everything to the Synod. In every way he strove to make the Synod a real, responsible, efficient Parliament of the Diocese. But the Diocese was huge and, as regards episcopal supervision, unmanageable; a Visitation of its far North Western missions entailed an absence of nearly two years from his headquarters. His next great step in organisation was the division of the See into four Dioceses under himself as Metropolitan of an Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert's Land, and the formation of a Provincial Synod, consisting of a House of Bishops and a House of Delegates elected by the Synods of the Dioceses. As the country grew further divisions took place. In 1865 Rupert's Land was one See, with eighteen clergy; in 1904, when the Archbishop died, the original See had become nine Sees, with some two hundred clergy. Of all this great development the Archbishop was the chief moving and inspiring spirit. In the union of all the Canadian Dioceses under the General Synod he did not take the initiative, but he played a commanding part in the formation of that Synod; with the unanimous approval of the Church he was elected Primate of All Canada, and it was largely through his influence and guidance that the General Synod became a living reality, fruitful in great results throughout the Dominion, as the Supreme Governing Body of the Church.

For the greater part of his episcopate the Diocese of Rupert's Land became, by successive divisions, practically identical with the Province of Manitoba, which was the first portion of the North-West, or as it is often called, simply, the West, to be opened up for settlement on a considerable scale by the introduction of railways. Anticipating what was to happen, the Archbishop, then Bishop, made such preparation as was in his power to make. He was anxious to "hold the ground for the Church," as he himself expressed it. In Eastern Canada, as in the United States, the Church was largely a Church of the towns, with but little hold on the rural districts; many members of the Church who had settled on farms away from the towns had been lost to it owing to the absence of its ministrations and the aggressiveness of other religious bodies; the Archbishop took thought and planned, worked, and fought with all his might to prevent this state of things from being reproduced in his Diocese. As has been said, he had no ill-will to other religious organisations; to the day of his death he lived in great amity with Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Wesleyans, and Baptists, but as he was intensely loyal to the Church of England, and saw "no way of doing things better," it was pain and grief to him that any of the Church's Sons and daughters should be lost to it. The larger part of this book is mostly concerned with the story of this great struggle of his, this fight for the starting and the keeping going of missions to the settlers in the Diocese, generally with means quite inadequate to the effort. He began this part of his work by establishing a College-Cathedral centre at St. John's, Winnipeg, which was also the centre of the Diocesan missions--settlement missions as well as Indian; for the Diocese had two sides, which may be called a White and a Red, but as the Whites poured into the country the missions to the Red Men necessarily took a second place, though they were in no way neglected.

St. John's Cathedral, the Mother Church of the Diocese and of the other Western Dioceses, was founded by the Archbishop's predecessor, Bishop Anderson, who had also founded St. John's College, but was unsuccessful in carrying it on. The College had been closed for several years before the Archbishop went out to the country as Bishop of Rupert's Land; one of the first things he did was to revive it, and then to establish Professorships, to procure endowments, to erect new buildings. A large part of his life was devoted to the establishment of the College as an institution, first, for the education and training of clergy, and, second, for higher education generally. The sale of the Cathedral glebe provided endowments for its Dean and Chapter, all of whom, under Statutes he gave to the Cathedral and College, were Professors in the College, so that each Professor was either the Dean or a Canon of the Cathedral. He arranged that this capitular body was also to do missionary work, and most of the domestic missions of the Diocese and some in the other Dioceses of the Ecclesiastical Province were, as a matter of fact, started and nursed, until they were able to support resident clergymen, by the College-Cathedral staff; the College-Cathedral organisation, therefore, was at once on the lines of some of the English Cathedrals, and at the same time on those of the Associate Missions of the American Church. At the time of the Arch bishop's death more than half the clergy of his Diocese were graduates of St. John's College, and it is not too much to say that if it had not been for this plan of the Archbishop's he could never have held the ground for the Church in the manner he did.

"The life of a Colonial Bishop," the Archbishop wrote in 1899 to Mr. Herbert Anderson, a son of his predecessor, "is the history of a constant struggle, work ever branching out, calls on all hands, and such insufficient means." There, in brief, is an epitome of the life of Archbishop Machray for the whole of his episcopate. That it was a successful struggle, however, though not so successful as he could have desired, is evident from the growth of the Church under him, which has already been summarised above. In 1904, when he passed away, there were in the much-reduced Diocese of Rupert's Land nearly a hundred clergy and three hundred congregations; in the old Red River Settlement there had been some half a dozen clergy. A great record, truly, so that it was perhaps not wonderful that even in his lifetime he was spoken of as "The Apostle of Rupert's Land."

2. The great educationist. When the Archbishop arrived in the Red River Settlement in 1865 he found little or no education; there were no public schools, and but one private school. Besides reviving St. John's College, he set to work to establish schools, and soon each parish had its school. When the Province of Manitoba was created the Government took over the schools, placing them under a Board of Education. This Board was divided into two sections, a Protestant and a Roman Catholic, and of the former the Archbishop was Chairman. Some twenty years later new legislation affecting the public schools did away with the Board of Education, which was replaced, to a certain extent, by an Advisory Board, and of this the Archbishop was elected Chairman, retaining the position until his death. Thus he was connected very closely with the education of the country during his whole episcopate, and devoted much thought and time to it. Mention has already been made of his work in connection with St. John's College, but it may be added here that he acted as a Professor in the College, of which he was Warden, and taught in its College School, being its Head Master until the end of his life. An important and striking educational development in the life of Manitoba took place in 1877--the founding of its State University, an institution conceived on lines as original as admirable. The Government appointed the Archbishop Chancellor of the University, and Chancellor he remained to his death. No one exercised so great an influence on the University's development as did the Archbishop, and its flourishing condition is largely due to his broad and liberal views on education, his knowledge at first hand of University work, and the wisdom and tact he showed in reconciling differing and sometimes sharply opposed opinions. It was in recognition of his great services to education that at his death the Government of Manitoba decreed that he should be given a State Funeral.

The Archbishop was not a great preacher, had no gift of eloquence, and did not love to appear prominently on public occasions. Though the highest honours came to him freely, he was the least ambitious of men. When unanimously elected by his brother Bishops to the Primacy of All Canada he shrank from the position, but accepted it remembering that grace is given to him that seeks it aright. Of course he was pleased when honours came; he highly valued the distinction of being appointed Prelate of the Order of St. Michael and St. George by Queen Victoria. His chief characteristic was a high and noble sense of duty. Munificent in disposition, untiring in industry, indomitable in perseverance, he lived a long, full life, marked by singleness of purpose and no little self-sacrifice. Withal he was a sympathetic, loving, tender-hearted man. Nothing of a mystic, he yet lived by faith in the Unseen and the Eternal; not in the least a pietist, and hating cant, his religious feeling flowed deep and strong, nourishing all the roots of his being. His was a great personality--even to his bodily appearance, which was singularly striking and impressive, particularly in his later years. His was a well-rounded life of hope and fulfilment, of effort and achievement, and ere he died it was his happy lot to see the prospering of the work of his hands, and the rising up of a stately fabric on the foundations he had well and truly laid.

To present such a life, such a career, such a character at all adequately is an impossible task; performance limps far behind the will. It has seemed to me to be best to set forth his life as simply, straightforwardly, and directly as was possible to me, making but few comments of my own. I have tried to let the story tell itself. Panegyric is the bane of biography, and I have endeavoured to avoid it, so far as might be. I did not like having this book consist of a great collection of the Archbishop's letters, with a sort of running commentary; in biographies of that kind the letters are often "skipped," to say nothing of the fact that such biographies are frequently of inordinate length. But I trust that nothing of importance or of an illuminating character has been left out.

Fortunately the materials were abundant. For his early years--from his birth to his becoming Dean of Sidney College, Cambridge--there was a narrative in MS., written by the Archbishop himself, at my suggestion, to wile away the tedium of his convalescence in 1902-3, and Chapters I. to V. are largely based upon it. A great part of the Archbishop's correspondence was accidentally destroyed, but enough remained in his numerous and often lengthy letters to the great English Church Societies -- the Church Missionary Society, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the Colonial and Continental Church Society, and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge--and to friends in Canada, England, and elsewhere. To the heads and other officials of the Societies, and to the other friends who helped by lending letters, documents of various kinds, and photographs, I am very much indebted. I am specially under obligation to the Rev. C. Alfred Jones, till lately Vicar of Dedham, for so many years my uncle's Commissary and his life-long friend, not only for the loan of letters and papers, but for a kind and helpful revision of my text. I am also deep in debt to other old and dear English friends of the Archbishop, notably the Rev. J. C. Williams-Ellis, of Glasfryn, Wales, and the Bishop of St. Germans, Truro. Mr. Williams-Ellis very kindly revised the chapters of the biography which deal with the Arch bishop's career at Cambridge.

I have found a great store of information in the Archbishop's Addresses to the various Diocesan, Provincial, and General Synods over which he presided. In his Addresses to the Synod of Rupert's Land, it was his custom not only to pass in review the history of the Church in his adopted country, but also to make some comment on its civil history: of these I have made full use. Archbishop Matheson, his successor in the See, and now also Primate of All Canada, Bishop Pinkham of Calgary, and Bishop Grisdale of Qu'Appelle, have been of material assistance. All three stood by the Archbishop's side in the early years of his episcopate, and remained fellow-workers with him for considerable periods; nearly the whole of Archbishop Matheson's life was spent with him. I have received invaluable help from relatives, especially my brother, John A. Machray of Winnipeg, who lived as a son with the Archbishop for more than twenty years. Both Archbishop Matheson and my brother have revised my text. I may be permitted to add that I spent ten years under the Archbishop at St. John's, Winnipeg, first as a student of the College from 1874 to 1879, and second as a Canon of the Cathedral from 1883 to 1889, and that I acted as his secretary during his illness and convalescence in 1902-3. It was intended that this biography should be published three or four years ago, but various circumstances conspired to delay its writing. A little distance of view and a somewhat better perspective have been gained. Looking over my uncle's life as a whole, never, it seems to me, was the saying more vividly exemplified--laborare est orare.


Authors Club,
London, 1909.

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