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Memoir of the Life and Episcopate of Edward Feild, D.D.
Bishop of Newfoundland, 1844-1876.

By the Rev. H.W. Tucker, M.A.

London: W. Wells Gardner, 1877.

Chapter II. 1844

Go to the harvest-whitened West,
Ye surpliced Priests of God,
In all the Christian armour drest,
And with the Gospel shod:
Go, for the midnight wanes apace,
The Sun himself is nigh!
Go to the wild and lonely place,
And in the desert cry."


THE Island of Newfoundland in its early days had suffered, perhaps irretrievably, from the neglect of the Mother Church. As long ago as 1704 there were English clergy settled in the country and ministering to the resident population, then very limited in numbers, and to the thousands of sea-faring folk who in the fishing season crowded the harbours with their ships. These for the most part came from Dorsetshire, Devonshire, and the Channel Islands; there has always been likewise a considerable influx of Irish immigrants. Ecclesiastically, Newfoundland was a part of the diocese of Nova Scotia, but it may be truly said that its fruition of episcopal care was wholly nominal, for although the See of Nova Scotia was established in 1787, it was not until forty years had elapsed that a bishop of that diocese was enabled to visit this distant portion of his charge.

Whatever was done in those days was the result of private devotion and zeal. In 1828, a Newfoundland merchant, Samuel Codner, grieved at the lamentable state of ignorance in which the people were living, and the more' lamentable prospects of the next generation, founded a School Society for the education of poor children. This society, commenced with such excellent intentions, has not always been managed wisely, or for the good of the Church, and it often gave infinite trouble to the bishop; but it was at this time the means of bringing into the country a body of Christian teachers, although of humble attainments, and it had an interest of its own in being the free-will offering of a layman in days of great spiritual apathy. [This organization has been known under many names which it has adopted in succession. Beginning us the "Newfoundland School Society," it has in turn passed under the following titles:--"School Society for Newfoundland and British North America," "The Church of England School Society for Newfoundland and the Colonies," "The Colonial Church and School Society," and "The Colonial and Continental Church Society."] In 1830 a courageous clergyman, Archdeacon Wix, whose honourable, career as a pioneer of the Church of Christ is worthy of a more formal chronicle than this passing allusion, made a tour of the southern shore of the island, and a considerable tract of the Labrador coast. In 1835 he spent six months ill similar labours, and appears to have made a complete visitation of the whole coast-line. Newfoundland has been well described as a "rough shore with no interior;" and this is true, for although in area it is equal to Ireland, there are no roads except in the neighbourhood of the capital; the queen's highway is to be found only on the water and, in the winter, on the ice; a glance at the map shows a jagged coast-line marking a series of coves and creeks, and lanes of water locally called "Tickles," and these separated from each other in a way that renders communication between the populations of the several coves a matter of much difficulty, while inland it is an untraversed and almost unknown country, abounding with bogs and rocks; isolation is a fruitful source of ignorance and vice, and Mr. Wix' account of his experience is in all respects consistent with what we should expect to find. He wrote:--

"I was frequently, during my journey, struck with surprise at the very marked difference which might be observed between the inhabitants of places only separated by a few leagues from each other. The difference of extraction has occasioned, as may be supposed, a marked dissimilarity between the descendants of Jersey-men, Frenchmen, Irish, Scotch, and English people. The people, too, with whom the first settlers and their immediate descendants may have had contact or intercourse have contributed much to the formation of the dialect, character, and habits of the present settlers. The inhabitants of Conception Bay, although a neck of land of only a few miles in extent separates them from Trinity Bay, differ from the inhabitants of the latter as much as if they were a distant nation; the same may be said of the difference between those who live in Placentia and those who live in Fortune Bay. But a single league may often carry the traveller upon the same shore; from a people whose habits are extremely coarse and revolting, to a population which has suffered nothing--perhaps has gained--from its being far removed from the seat of advanced civilization and refinement. Much of the character of a settlement must, of course, depend, for several generations, on the character of its original settlers. The descendants of some profane run-away man-of-war's man, or of some other character as regardless or ignorant of decorum and delicacy, are likely to show, to a third and fourth generation, a general licentiousness of conversation and conduct which betray the foul origin of their stock. Between the people of the Bay of Islands, and those of St. George, there was a difference as wide as between the untutored Indian and the more favoured child of refinement. There were acts of profligacy practised, indeed, in this bay, at which the Micmac Indians expressed to me their horror and disgust. I met with more feminine delicacy, I must further own, in the wigwams of the Micmac and Canokok Indians than in the tilts of many of our own people. Except some sympathy be excited for the improvement of our people in this and like places, they must fast merge into a state similar to that in which the first missionaries found the inhabitants of the islands in the South Seas; unless, indeed, which seems not improbable, nature vindicates herself, and the vices and excesses by which their natural vigour and constitutional energies do seem already impaired, shall, in a generation or two, exterminate them as completely as drunkenness has some of the tribes of Indians."

It was to a country whose inhabitants could be thus described without exaggeration, and whose physical features, combined with a winter of six months' duration, tend to make it a place of residence unattractive to the last degree to all save the seekers of gold or of souls, that in 1839 the episcopate was tardily given. Bishop Spencer, who is better known to the present generation as having for many years held the See of Jamaica, became first Bishop of Newfoundland. To him belongs the credit of first grappling with the confusion and chaos in which all ecclesiastical matters were involved; he made two long visitations by sea, for the most part in open boats; he found alarming spiritual destitution everywhere; the means of education were insufficient, but the absolute dearth of clergy induced him to admit to the Diaconate some of the schoolmasters of the Newfoundland School Society, already mentioned, with the understanding that they would continue as deacons their work as schoolmasters; he confirmed nearly 3,000 persons; he mapped out the diocese into rural deaneries for the better administration of ecclesiastical matters; he established a seminary for Divinity students, which became the nucleus of a Theological College, and raised a considerable sum of money with the hope of building a Cathedral, the first stone of which he laid before quitting the diocese, The severity of the climate, however, combined with the difficulty of locomotion to one who had not a ship always at his command, and the thought that even with such a possession there would be many harbours and settlements utterly beyond his reach, seem to have disheartened him, and his translation to the See of Jamaica, in 1839, was welcomed as a relief from a burden under which he was evidently sinking.

He left Newfoundland too late in the year to allow of a successor being sent out until the following spring; the authorities of the Mother Church had, therefore, ample time in which to make their selection, and for their guidance Bishop Spencer wrote the following memorandum:--"The Missionary in Newfoundland has certainly greater hardships to endure and more difficult obstacles to surmount than those which await the messenger of the Gospel in New Zealand or India, or perhaps any field of Christian labour yet opened to the known world. He must have strength of constitution to support him under a climate as rigorous as that of Iceland: a stomach insensible to the attacks of sea-sickness; pedestrian powers beyond those of an Irish Gossoon, and an ability to rest occasionally on the bed of a fisherman or the hard boards in a woodman's tilt. With these physical capabilities he must combine a patient temper, an energetic spirit, a facility to adapt his speech to the lowest grade of intellect, a ready power of illustrating and explaining the leading doctrines of the Gospel and the Church to the earnest though dull and ill-informed inquirer, and a thorough preparation for controversy with the Romanist, together with the discretion and charity which will induce him to live, as far as may be possible, peaceably with all men."

This passage has been quoted at length. Those who know what manner of man was the second Bishop of Newfoundland, well know that all the qualifications described above were found in him; nor were these all: others he possessed, not less valuable, although more uncommon. With profound learning he combined humility and simplicity of character which made even his admirers occasionally smile. "If there is one man's character and memory which I revere more than another's," writes the Rev. Edward Coleridge, "it is that of the guileless saint who has just ended his earthly labours. He spent his last Sunday with us at Eton [in 1847] and I shall not forget the impression of sincerity, eilikrineia, which he made on us all." Undaunted in spirit, clear in his convictions and sense of duty, he never hesitated as to his action, and this not from an impulsive temper, but from a habit of instinctively and promptly following what his conscience told him was his duty: full of the spirit of his Mother Church and thoroughly trained in her discipline and laws, be simply followed this Divine leading; I suppose he never for a moment thought of paring down and adjusting the faith or practice of the Church to conciliate the world or to satisfy the unbeliever; and it would be inconceivable to any who knew him that he should have changed his course by a hairs-breadth through fear of what the world or uninstructed public opinion would say. Whether as priest or bishop, he had the grace to disregard and even despise popularity, and so he escaped the snare which in the present day especially hinders ministerial usefulness in the highest as well as in the humblest positions. "If I were popular," he wrote on one occasion, "I could do mush--much to exalt myself, degrade the Church, and ruin souls;" but having valued popularity at its true worth he went on his way, and in time, as ever happens, he gained, not indeed the indiscriminating applause of the vulgar and irreligious, but the respect and affection of all good men--and the respect thus acquired was not merely for his personal character, which to a right-minded man is a secondary matter altogether, but was extended to the Church whose servant he was. It seems well here to give the impartial judgment of a military critic, who nearly thirty years later formed his estimate of the bishop and his episcopate during a protracted residence in the island:--

"In truth it was not long before I found the good bishop was either loved or respected by the whole community. The secret simply lay in a conviction now firmly rooted, hut long time struggling for growth in a rocky ungenial soil, that in striving after the glory of his Master and the good of his fellows, the man had forgotten his own self and his own pleasure. He had, in as much as he could, obeyed that Divine yet hard command, to forsake his own home, his own comforts, his own belongings, to follow, amid much opportunity for the dazzling things of earth, a self-denying pathway. That path men saw that he kept straight towards his end, doing the allotted work along its narrow sides, nobly, honestly to all; without fear or affection undue to any. It was said of him that he had engaged in the labour not willingly; but that having accepted it, he took up the burden and heat of the day at once, calling on and expecting others in his vineyard to do likewise." [Lost Amid the Fogs, by Lieut.-Col. K. B. Macrae. London: Sampson Low.]

Among the minor gifts which he possessed was one not to be undervalued as a sustaining power under continual discouragements, a sense of humour which was simply unfailing; it appears in all his letters, and sparkled in his conversation; always playful, nothing interrupted it; however sore were his discouragements and anxieties, under stress of these things it became grim, but it was simply proof against all the conditions which, in ordinary men, would have extinguished it; to this must be added a keen love of nature, which discovered beauties in the most desolate scenes: the other gifts and graces which marked his daily life, both public and private, his voluntary endurance of hardness, his forgetfulness of self, his indifference to discomfort, his munificent charities--these will appear from time to time in the following pages. With this not unnecessary digression we go back to the commencement of his episcopate.

He was consecrated in the chapel of Lambeth Palace, on April 28,1844, the sermon on the occasion being preached by the Rev. Pilchard Davies, Rector of Staunton, from Rev. xiii. 10, "Here is the patience and the faith of the saints." Mr. Davies and the bishop had been at Rugby together, and they remained fast and attached friends through life---and the rector of the quiet little English parish always felt the warmest sympathy with the great work which was being carried on by his old friend and neighbour on the bleak shores of Newfoundland. This sympathy and interest were a great support and comfort to the bishop, and he acknowledges in most grateful terms the receipt of long letters from Mr. Davies, containing often copious extracts from now publications, elaborate discussions on the various questions of the day, as well as minute and various particulars of all that was going on among his old friends and parishioners in English Bicknor. Mr. Davies died in 1857, and the bishop's letters on that occasion show that distance, and separation had by no means chilled the warmth of his regard and esteem for his departed brother.

On June 4, the bishop sailed from Liverpool in the Acadia. He had the privilege of celebrating Holy Communion in S. Martin's, Liverpool, the church of which his friend the Rev. Cecil Wray was vicar, and a large body of churchmen went with him immediately after the service to the ship. A fortnight was spent at Halifax for the purpose of conferring with the Bishop of Nova Scotia, and it is characteristic of his unfailing love of children that amid the many distractions of his novel position the bishop should have found time to write the following letter:---

"HALIFAX, July 1, 1844.

"Dear Friends,--The almanac this morning carries me in thought and good wishes to your happy home and nursery, 1'or I promised your little girl that I would remember her on her birthday, a promise easily kept, for from the time of making it to this, the season for its fulfilment, scarcely a day has passed without my thinking of you and your hospitable house, and all the kindness yon showed me for our common Master's and His Church's sake. May there he to all of you many happy returns of this day."

On July 4, he landed at S. John's amid signs and ceremonies of welcome which were eminently distasteful to him, but which he accepted for the sake of the kindly spirit which prompted them.

"I found," he wrote, "to my surprise, great preparations had been made to receive me. Two boats came off to meet the packet on her entering the harbour: one containing the clergy of S. John's, with their churchwardens and some other respectable inhabitants, the other from H.M.S. Eurydice, having on board the Governor's son and private, secretary. I was directed to enter the latter, into which also the two clergymen (for, alas! there are but two in the district of S. John's, containing nearly 20,000 souls widely scattered,) entered, having first ascended the packet to salute me. In three or four minutes we were at the wharf, and there I found the Royal Newfoundland Companies, with their officers, drawn up to receive me, who presented arms on my landing, and the officers most kindly and courteously welcomed me to Newfoundland. I hardly knew how to acknowledge such novel and unexpected salutations, but having done what I could, I was directed to Lady Harvey's carriage, waiting for me at the head of the wharf. The two clergymen still accompanied me, and we soon reached Government House, where I was received by his Excellency, Sir John Harvey, the Governor of Newfoundland......

"Such was my introduction to my diocese; not, it is too manifest, in primitive or apostolic fashion, yet so, I should hope, as not to give offence to any charitable right-minded Christians. The respect and ceremony were paid to me as a bishop of the Church; and though I should have preferred a procession with litanies and holy services attended by priests and choristers leading me to the church, yet, where none could be found to make or understand such ceremonies, the mixture of secular with ecclesiastical respect was not to be contemptuously rejected. To me, personally, the whole proceedings were as distasteful as they were unsought for and unexpected,--which helped to reconcile me to them, and made me hope they might have a good effect upon others, if God will."

Little time was lost in making plans: but before any schemes were published for the good of the diocese, the spiritual life of the capital was at once cared for. The new bishop immediately commenced, daily morning prayer in S. Thomas' Church, and announced that as soon as he could take possession of his own home--for at first he was the guest of the Governor--he should have daily evensong as well; and it may here be stated, that this rule of the Church has been the diligently observed rule of the diocese. In S. Thomas' Church there was no font; and pulpit, desk, and clerk's desk occupied the centre of the church, obscuring the altar: as a Visitation of the clergy and an Ordination were to be held in this church in September, the bishop determined at once to make such alterations as might "exhibit to the clergy the proper arrangements of a church." His own house was no sooner occupied than he opened a school for children of the upper classes, who attended church in the morning: this, the bishop thought, would "prevent the establishment or mitigate the evil of a public academy on liberal principles (i.e. religion excluded), for the establishment of which an Act had already passed the House of Assembly."

The Theological Seminary which his predecessor had established was found to be a poor wooden building in which six students attended daily to receive instruction from the clergyman of S. Thomas' Church: they lived in lodgings, and were under no surveillance. These the bishop required to attend daily prayers in church, and he caused them to he instructed in church-music, that they might take part in the services. He saw the need of their living under collegiate discipline, and in time a theological college was established, which has trained many clergy for the diocese, and by the bishop's exertions was ultimately endowed to the amount of 7.500l. Amid his many plans he felt the obvious necessity for more clergy; but although fresh from England with her endowments, he was quite free from the feeling which, then more than now, led churchmen to look to Government or to England for help. He consistently, and from the very beginning, insisted on churchmen helping themselves. "No assistance," he wrote, "can be expected from the Government either at home or here, except clogged with conditions, or followed by consequences which do more harm than their money can do good."

By the kindness of the present Primus of Scotland, then rector of Leigh in Essex, the bishop was not allowed to suffer, as his predecessor had suffered, for lack of a suitable vessel in which to make his visitations. Mr. Eden presented to the diocese the Emma Eden, a brig of 80 tons which should be the Church ship; but as her rig and size did not fit her for the new work for which she was intended, the generous donor allowed her to be sold, and with the proceeds a smaller, but more handy vessel, the Hawk, was purchased. This was arranged before the bishop left England, but the necessary alterations detained the vessel in the Thames for some weeks. At length all was ready, and Bishop Blomfield, who amid all the great and varied works which he originated or directed for the good of the Church at home, ever found time for the interests of the Colonial Churches, visited the ship at Blackball on August 10, and held a solemn and impressive service of dedication on board. Her voyage was prosperous, and the bishop welcomed her and her precious freight of missionaries, present and prospective, with thankfulness. The cost of her alteration and outfit had been great, and already expenses were pressing on the bishop and making him anxious. It may be here stated that his episcopal income was 1,200l. per annum, of which 500l. were granted by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and 700l. from parliamentary and colonial funds. The following letter will serve as an instance of the profuse liberality with which he ever spent all that he had for the good of the Church and the glory of God, while his personal expenditure was altogether insignificant:--

"S. JOHN'S, September 6, 1844.

"While I have any grace left I hope I shall never speak or think of any of your labours or proceedings on my behalf but with the sincerest and warmest gratitude; but what is to be done respecting these bills? . . . .

"I am obliged to put some furniture into my house and to provide for housekeeping; and though all is done in the most economical way, there will and must be an outlay of nearly 300l., no very large sum for furnishing an episcopal residence for a bishop, chaplain, schoolmaster, two catechists and two students. I have bought nothing new but of plain deal, and have no curtains in the house--no looking-glasses, except little hand-mirrors stuck against the walls--no carpets upstairs. Then I am just about to open the Collegiate School, and am obliged to pay for all books and furniture and to take another house on my own risk and responsibility. At this time I have not a farthing of money either private or episcopal. My goods and effects were only just enough to pay my debts in England."

The first Visitation was held on S. Matthew's Day. An Ordination had been held on the previous Sunday; twenty-four out of twenty-five clergymen of the diocese had attended and received their bishop's charge and experienced his hospitality; and these events over, the bishop turned his attention to another and very dissimilar part of his diocese.

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