Chapter III. 1845-6
"Where the remote Bermudas ride
In Ocean's bosom unespied."
THE Bermudas, or Somers Islands, which had formed part of the original diocese of Nova Scotia, were added to the charge of the Bishop of Newfoundland when that See was founded. They are a cluster of islets, connected by bridges, in the midst of the great Atlantic, extending from one end to the other for about twenty-five miles, while nowhere are they more than three miles in breadth. To most persons it would have been a welcome change to spend the winter in these sunny islands, and to leave the larger and more important Island of Newfoundland to the mercy of fog and storm and ice; to Bishop Feild it was a perpetual source of regret to have to make a long voyage of more than 1,200 miles across the Atlantic, and to be distracted by the thought that the diocese must at all times surfer loss in one extremity or the other by the absence of its chief pastor. "It is quite outrageous," he wrote, "to tie Bermuda and Newfoundland together;
'Nequidquam Deus abscidit
Prudens oceano dissociabili
"if these regions with so little in common are to form one diocese." He offered thus early in his episcopate to give up the portion of his income which was attached to the Archdeaconry of Bermuda if only a new See might be founded: on a subsequent occasion he offered to give up one half of his income if his diocese might be thus divided, and to take either portion of the divided See, "expressing and, if possible, exhibiting no preference," and after longer experience of the difficulties of his position he expressed a wish to resign the whole diocese with its income, and to continue to act as coadjutor and rector of S. John's, But although a diocese thus widely severed in its component parts can never be satisfactory, the evils were reduced to a minimum by the zeal and devoted care of the bishop. His rule was to visit Bermuda every alternate winter, and in course of time he saw reasons to modify materially his objection to the arrangement: but as his sojourns in the islands rarely lasted more than ten or twelve weeks, his visits exposed him to two voyages of an especially dangerous character at the very worst seasons of the year. In the autumn of 1844 his first visit enabled him thoroughly to grasp the needs of the island, and largely to supply them. He wrote-
"During the months of November and December, 1844, I remained in S. George's, the garrison town and ancient seat of Government. At the commencement of the year I removed to the parish of Warwick, a central spot, and near to the town of Hamilton, and residence of the Governor. There I remained during the rest of my stay in Bermuda, except a few days which I spent in the parish of Somerset, at the western extremity of the colony. I thus became acquainted with every parish and part of the islands, which, indeed, is no very difficult or long task.
"I preached three times in each of the churches but one, and in that twice, and in S. George's, in Paget's, and in Warwick, much more frequently.
"I visited and preached in each of the three convict hulks; visited all the parochial and free schools, and carefully examined the children; baptized four adult negroes, confirmed eight times, in as many different churches; held a Visitation of the Clergy of the Islands, when I delivered a Charge which was printed at their request. I addressed copious articles of inquiry to all the clergy, both rectors of parishes and chaplains of the hulks, and in other ways endeavoured to make myself acquainted with their circumstances and proceedings, and have offered such advice, and given sucli directions, as seemed to me necessary in each case."
Two sermons, preached on S. Matthias' Day and the Feast of the Annunciation respectively, were printed; in the one "plainness of speech," in the other the observance of Saints' Days was insisted on.
His work in Bermuda was characteristic of his whole episcopate; nothing was overlooked; none were too poor or too degraded-indeed, poverty and degradation seem ever to have called forth his special sympathy and care. There was much in the condition of the Church to discourage him; the Governor alone issued marriage licences "as Sole Ordinary in and over these Islands;" the clergy were accustomed to marry in private houses and at any hour, and Holy Matrimony was supplanted by profane wedlock, which was regarded only as a civil contract. His efforts to adjust these anomalies were very offensive to the Governor, who conceived his dignity to be compromised by the proposal to curtail his functions, but by the clergy and laity the bishop's action was cordially approved. The negroes of the island and their efforts to raise themselves socially were matters of real concern to him; he saw that they would in time become a powerful section of the population, and was most anxious that suitable education should be provided for them. "At present," he wrote, "their sole possessions are their clothes, and on Sundays these, it must be confessed, are gaudy enough." Early in the spring of 1845 he returned to S. John's, there to discover that he had not yet learned the limits of his diocese. Were ever Letters Patent issued yet without a blunder? Hardly a diocese is to be found that has not its own story or tradition of errors, geographical or otherwise, in these now happily obsolete documents. He wrote to one to whom he was wont to have recourse in all his difficulties:-
"Do tell me whether or not the coast of Labrador is part of my diocese? It is not mentioned in my commission. I am frequently entreated to send a clergyman there, but I need not tell you that I have no ability even if I have authority. But can I refer the poor people to any other bishop; and is it really so, that no clergyman of the Church of England can be found to put his life in his hand and go forth among them for Christ and His Church's sake I Hundreds of our people go to the Labrador with their families every summer, and never see a church or a clergyman during their stay. Then I have applications from all parts of this island, and what can I do? Nothing but hurry skurry, run and drive here and there, which indeed is worse than nothing, and after all nothing done."
This picture of a bishop overwhelmed with work which only himself could do, and harassed still more by demands for ministrations which it was out of his power to supply, is surely one that merits sympathy. The bishop himself wasted no time in vain regrets,-what man could do he did. As soon as the waters were open, the Hawk was put in commission, and the bishop visited the eastern coast as far as Twillingate and Fogo. The church ship was received with all the tokens of welcome usual among seafaring-people; flags were hoisted and guns fired, and on all sides warm greetings were offered and given. At Fogo and Twillingate churches were consecrated: already had the bishop made his influence to be felt, and, at his desire, the people who had been accustomed to possess pews, which were bought and sold as private property, now made the buildings over to himself, in trust, for the perpetual use of all the inhabitants. After a week spent in S. John's the Hawk again spread her wings, and the bishop was carried along the southern shore as far as S. George's Bay. Much of the voyage was made through "ever brooding, all concealing fog," but when Cape Ray was reached, on Sunday July 27, the weather became clear and warm, "adding much to the enjoyment of the services of that holy day." Sandy Point, the extreme limit of S. George's Bay, was the limit of this voyage, and here "the church, school, and mission-house were Seen lying together in that happy alliance which forms such an interesting feature, and promises such manifold blessings in many English parishes." Well may the good bishop sigh after his own church and parsonage and goodly schools, in which he took such pride in the distant valley of the Wye, yet the circumstances of Sandy Point may have reconciled him to his position and his work, for many of the inhabitants a few years ago had never seen a church or a clergyman, and now there was among them a Bishop of the Church, with two priests and a deacon, solemnly setting apart this temple, their work and offering, to the honour and service of Almighty God. The next morning the bishop confirmed sixty-two persons, and then, with mutual prayers and blessings, took his leave of the promising settlement.
The southern shore was visited carefully on the return voyage, it having been impossible to land in the fog which prevailed on the outward voyage. Here the bishop came on coves and settlements whose inhabitants were seventy miles from the nearest clergyman; he found traces of Archdeacon Wix' visit of ten years before, the people repeating the prayers which he had taught them, and showing the Bibles and Prayer-books which he had given to them, cheering instances of scattered but not in vain. In some places he found spiritual life sustained by the piety of the resident agent of the merchants, who read prayers in his house every Sunday, and "welcomed all who would join him, but the lack of religious instruction and the means of grace, in these distant settlements, (no Bishop of the Church had ever visited beyond Placentia Bay,) was upon the whole distressing. Thousands of church-people were scattered along the coast, literally as sheep without a shepherd. Between the heads of S. George's and Placentia Bays-a line of coast probably of 400 miles in extent, calculating the various bays and harbours, all more or less inhabited-there was one only clergyman. It will be believed that this was no pleasure excursion to the bishop, when he was continually solicited, even with tears, to provide some remedy or relief for this wretched destitution, of all Christian privileges and means of grace, but at least he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had not spared himself. He had sailed 1,600 miles, and had been afloat three months, and every where had visited the sick, baptized, confirmed, and made such provision as was possible for their spiritual needs. What his own impressions were may be judged by the following letter addressed to the Rev. Cecil Wray:-
"S. JOHN'S, Sept. 24, 1845.
"Can you by any possibility find any men. who, for love of souls and Christ's sake, will come over and help us in this most forlorn and forsaken colony? Oh that the men who are tearing the bowels of our dear Mother (none of them caring or thinking to say
'Nequeo lacrymas perferre parentis,')
would direct their zeal and devotion to the relief of our suffering and sorrowing brethren-brethren in Christ as well as in race! I have visited thousands who have not seen a clergyman for two, three, five, twelve years; and I can truly say, simply and sincerely desiring to be instructed and to hold the truth in righteousness. For 500 miles of stormy coast I have two deacons and one priest, and all these a short time ago (one of them still) Newfoundland schoolmasters 'One clergyman represents the missionary zeal of the two famous Universities, as far as my diocese is concerned. One of our little company is gone home ill; one has asked and obtained leave to go to England to settle his son after a long absence, worn down with toil; two more, at least, are going away ill, while I am looking out for eight more, and there is none-not one. Pray for us. My poor blessing to you and all yours."
But while thus appealing to the chivalrous devotion of the Mother Church, the farseeing bishop knew full well that if the Church of Newfoundland would flourish and extend her borders she must trust to herself. He wrote, "Until the Church is thrown much more upon the people than at present, it cannot be in a sound or safe condition." It is a cruel policy which long maintains for a colonial population the blessings of religion. From the very first the young colony should be compelled to make some efforts for itself, and at the earliest possible day it should be left to provide all that is needful for the sustenance of the Church and her priesthood; as it is, emigrants have so long been accustomed to the endowments which the Church possesses at home, that they are slow to learn the lesson (which Nonconformists instinctively acquire), that if they will have the ministrations of religion they must provide themselves with them. Bishop Feild, with his wonted courage, laid on every parish the obligation of doing its part, and by the establishment of a central fund he obviated the evils of Congregationalism. In a pastoral letter he wrote thus:-"The duty of impressing these truths on the people is incumbent on the clergy; they must declare, they must carry it into operation, it is a duty not to or for themselves only, but to their people,-nay, I will add, to their God and Saviour also. No part of the collection will arise from pew-rents or assessments-all must be received directly from heads of families or individuals, who of course will be entitled, for their payments, severally and collectively, to the ministrations of the clergyman and Church. I have now only to entreat you, for Christ's and the Church's sake, to use your endeavours, with prayers for God's help and blessing, to render this plan as general and effective as possible. You cannot feel more strongly than I do that a very laborious and irksome service will be superadded to duties already sufficiently onerous and ill requited; but if it be, as indeed it is, for the honour of God and His Church, and the maintenance of Scriptural truth and Apostolic order in this country, I confidently expect you will not shrink from performing or attempting it. As far as possible, I am prepared to share with you all the unpopularity or other pain which may at first attach to this new and unexpected demand." [Circular to the Clergy of the Diocese, 1845.]
He insisted with all his power on the Church Society being supported throughout the diocese as the financial machinery of the whole Church, and he endeavoured, spite of unceasing opposition, to make the pledge to contribute to this the sign of Church-membership and of the desire to receive the ministrations of the clergy.
Here were sound principles, both of finance and of something far higher and more important, and high must have been the courage of the bishop who, after little more than twelve months' acquaintance with his people, made such sweeping changes: but the bishop ever acted on principle, and where it was a question of right or wrong he knew no fear. No doubt his popularity was shipwrecked by the line he took, but popularity, as has been already stated more than once, he held very cheaply, and, as always happens when men fearlessly do the right, they gain not only their end, but the respect of their fellows. Thus it has come to pass that in Newfoundland, with its exceptional poverty, the Church has developed a spirit of self-sacrifice and independence; while in the wealthiest diocese of Australia the recent withdrawal, after more than twenty years' enjoyment, and with five years' notice, of a Government subsidy of no less than 23,000l. per annum, made churchmen, both clerical and lay, to wring their hands in despair, no remedy being apparently left to them but shamelessly to beg from England, and to reprehend the indifference of the civil power which would no longer deprive the Church of its highest privilege.
The immediate need of clergy pressed sorely upon the bishop at this time, and, as always, he was forward to make any personal sacrifice. To the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel he offered to give up the 500l. per annum which that Society paid to himself, if by so doing five clergymen could be procured, to whom he said he could promise that they should live as well as he did. He was perpetually challenging men to come forward in the spirit of self-sacrifice, and he had little patience with those who were not content to live as plainly and even as hardly as their bishop. Of a Scripture Reader who had obtained ordination and then disappointed him, he wrote:
"Mr.------ is constantly telling me that he is called to preach the Gospel to every creature, but he seems to have no intention of preaching it, even to a small flock, for less than 200l. a year and a house." Certainly he never tried to bribe men by drawing bright pictures: he insisted on the healthiness of the country, and declared that a missionary had everything supplied to him that was requisite. At the same time he wrote to a correspondent who was searching for fitting men the following graphic picture of a Newfoundland clergyman's lot:-
"What is 150l. per annum for a man and family?-a mere maintenance-bread and fish-a lodging and clothes. Wine and beer are out of his reach, and generally, I believe, out of his thoughts (we have none of either in my house); fresh meat for some months in the out harbours cannot be purchased; fresh butter in many cases is almost equally scarce, and 'bread' means 'biscuit' only (there is a tub of them always standing in my dining-room); bacon is almost as great a rarity as fresh meat, for native pork can never be eaten but by natives, and American is not much better. What is used generally comes from Hamburg. ... I am not without hopes of men devoting themselves to the missionary work in our Church without any desire or necessity of more than food and raiment for themselves-willing, nay rejoicing, to be put into situations of difficulty and privation for Christ's and His Church's sake. Is it vain or presumptuous to hope that we may yet have better, more able, and more devoted men in proportion to the decrease of worldly preferment and recompense? If it be vain, alas for the Church in Newfoundland! alas for the Church of England! If the bishops and pastors of the nock would (as privately as the occasion would allow) require a certain number (say twenty) of promising young-men from the universities, or two from each diocese, to undertake a mission of peculiar difficulty and privation, with no prospect of worldly preferment or recompense, but to be content for this life with food and raiment, I presume to think that some noble and ardent spirits would still be found ready to spend and be spent, here and elsewhere,
'Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw,
Daily devours apace, and nothing said.'
"I had really and truly no intention, no thought of writing in this way on this subject, but these are the spontaneous expressions of my most deep-rooted convictions, of my hopes and fears; I might truly say-
'hopes, and fears that kindle hope,
An undistinguishable throng.'"
In the spring of 1846 the bishop was in Bermuda: the Hawk was put in commission early and fetched him. back to S. John's in May. His own report stated that the "voyage was made without any discomfort, although I gave up my cabin to a gentleman and lady; God bless those, and especially the one who gave me such accommodation in the good ship Hawk ."
On arriving at S. John's he found an offer awaiting him, the refusal of which utterly destroyed for him all chance of popularity for some years: this was the offer of the Presidentship of the Local Branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He declined the office, stating the ground of his refusal in a printed address "to my own flock and friends, and all friends of the Church in Newfoundland." He justified his refusal by showing (1) that there was no necessity for the existence of such a Society in the Island, as the Sacred Scriptures were already to be procured at the cheapest possible rate; and (2) that the organization of the Society was not such as a churchman could consistently join. The Bishop of Salisbury (Denison) had years before withdrawn from the Society, and the Bishop of Newfoundland availed himself of his English brother's example. He summed up his address with these two conclusions:-
"1st.-That if a bishop of the Church, of great wisdom, piety and experience, is constrained to withdraw from tin-Society, knowing its nature and practical working, a younger bishop may well be excused if he hesitates to join or support it.
2nd.-If one bishop is constrained to withdraw from the Society, and not one, but many, hesitate to join or support it, and your own clergy, influenced by these and other reasons, all reje<?t it; you, as churchmen and friends of the Church, must reflect and pause; especially when you have another Society, long established among you, pursuing the same object, sanctioned and supported by your own bishop and clergy, and by nearly all the bishops and clergy of the Church of England."
The matter was in itself unimportant, but it rightly finds a place here as an instance of the conscientious courage which never failed him.
On Trinity Sunday an Ordination was held, and the bishop was preparing for his next cruise, when a calamity befel the whole community at S. John's, which has since formed an era from which the good people fix all their dates. "The year of the fire" is a well-understood chronological fact even to those who have since been born; but the story shall be told as the bishop told it to a frequent correspondent.
"June 12, 1846.
"Little did I think when on Sunday last I ordained two priests and eight deacons in our old church, and complained that such a structure, so mean and miserable, was ill adapted to the sacred services, that I should never officiate again there, and that in two days not a vestige of the building would remain, and I should wish in vain for half the accommodation I perhaps too lightly esteemed! But such, alas! and far more dreadful and extensive than I can describe, is the destruction wrought in one day by a furious and fatal fire."
In fact, not only the church, but by far the larger portion of the city was destroyed; the distress of the 12,000 poor houseless people was of course excessive, and for the poor bishop the prospect of that self-support which he had so earnestly pressed on the people seemed dark indeed. Then the claims from the neglected Labrador were pressing upon him, and his voyage of Visitation could not be delayed unless the summer was to be lost. On July 10, the Hawk again sailed for the north, and the bishop reached as far as Greenspond, everywhere examining schools, visiting the sick, confirming, baptizing preaching: the wind being dead ahead, he ran back to S. John's after three weeks, his presence being much needed in the distressing condition of the people; but on August 18 he again sailed with a fair wind, and this time reached Twillingate and Fogo on September 2. Meanwhile kindly aid was coining from England in answer to the bishop's sorrowful letters, and while lying at Togo he wrote to the Rev. E. Coleridge of Eton the following letter:-
"THE CHURCH SHIP, Fogo, Sept. 2, 1846.
"My dear Friend,-Your letter, full of words of comfort, and reporting the substantial acts of kindness to me and my afflicted flock in S. John's of many fellow-helpers, overtook me, to cheer and refresh my heart in my Visitation, about 200 miles from the capital. You are of course aware that I perform my Visitation, only and entirely by sea; none of the people living more than two or three miles, and very few even one mile, from the shore, and there being no roads from one settlement to another, except in the neighbourhood of S. John's. Indeed, most of the settlements are on separate islands, and therefore can be approached only by sea. The most barren and unpoetical imagination could hardly descend to a scene so bare and desolate as this island of Fogo-a mere rock of bluff heads and huge boulders, with occasional patches of grass in the valleys, but not a tree or shrub of any kind. The houses are all of wood, and generally coloured red, and all stand, as do the churches and other buildings, on sticks or shores; and the fish-stages and flakes in like manner, supported from rock to rock, and running into the sea, present an appearance and scene which is so foreign and strange, that no description could, I think, make you understand it. The people of course are all fishermen, or in some way connected with the fishing trade, and they have no other occupation, except that of building their houses, boats, and stages. Many of them retire into the distant woods in winter for shelter and fuel. Even at this time there are some huge icebergs at the mouth of the harbour, so that you will easily understand they seldom lose sight of snow and ice during the whole year. But if you were to think of the people, as in like manner strange and different in their thoughts and feelings from the rest of mankind, or from your poor English neighbours, those particularly of Dorset and Devonshire, you might err and do them wrong. There are upwards of 1,200 church-people in this Mission, the poor of this world indeed, but as capable of instruction, and generally as willing to receive it, as the like number in any of your rich and fruitful and quiet parishes. Their misfortune is, that being so scattered in different bays and creeks, and even, in this one mission, on different islands, they can but seldom receive the visits of their missionary, or attend the services of the Church. One church is completed and two more in progress in this mission-all of wood. I expect to confirm some seventy candidates in the finished church this morning. This circumstance will account for, and I hope partly excuse, my wandering from the subject, which you will perhaps think ought solely or primarily to occupy my thoughts, and receive notice in writing to you-I mean, your very great kindness in appealing to so many of your good Christian friends to pity and succour my suffering flock in S. John's, and their equally great generosity in answering that appeal. I cannot pretend to thank you and them as I ought and would wish to do. I can but return you my poor blessing, and assure you of remembrance, not in my prayers only, but in those of many comforted and assisted, together with me, by your truly Christian sympathy.
"There will be now no difficulty or delay (except what may arise from our long, long winter) in at least commencing a church, to be an enduring memorial of your piety and charity, and in which many generations, I trust, of devout worshippers may enjoy communion with their Christian friends and fellow-helpers, and may requite your liberality in prayers and blessings. Nearly 5,000l. have already been contributed in England, and we have stone on the spot of the value of 2,000l., and I have good hopes that both in this country and from other quarters, considerable additions may be made. It must not, however, be concealed, at least from our friends in this country, that nearly or quite double the amount now subscribed will be required to erect the plainest church, sufficiently capacious and substantial. No persons who are not well acquainted with the country and climate can form any idea of the difficulty in erecting a large stone structure, which must be two or three years in progress, and be exposed in an unfinished state to the frost and snow of our inclement winter. We must expect also all expenses to be increased by the increased demand for workmen and materials. But having such succour, nay, having but the assurance of the sympathy of so many Christian friends, we thank God and take courage. You, my dear friend, who know so well how to awaken the concern and benevolence of the brethren, will best know, or better at least than I, how to assure them of my most sincere and earnest gratitude. God bless and recompense you and them for His dear Son's sake.
"Ever your most affectionate brother and friend,
On his return to S. John's, the bishop was urged by the clergy and laity to visit England and secure substantial aid for the impoverished Church and people. He hesitated much-but not for long; he saw it was the proper course, and forthwith the Hawk was put in requisition. An invalid clergyman, a theological student, and two other persons who wanted a passage, were the bishop's guests. The Hawk was graciously preserved in a hurricane which "strewed the Atlantic with wreck," and on Oct. 6, she made Torbay, having lost mainsail, gaff, topmast, and staysail; her bulwarks were started in several places, and other damage was done; she therefore was laid up at Teignmouth for rest and repairs, having been in commission for six months, and having sailed in a direct course 5,000 miles. The rest of this year this bishop devoted to the necessities of his flock, and gained sympathy money, and what was more precious, fellow-labourers for his diocese.