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A Munificent Gift; Or, The New Church-Ship for Newfoundland

By H. Mather

From Mission Life, Vol. III (new series) (1872), pages 214-217.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006




BY THE REV. H. MATHER, of St. John's, Newfoundland.

THE church-ship is one of our peculiar, but most necessary institutions in Newfoundland. In that large and inclement colony there are but few roads, and these merely in the neighbourhood of the capital, St. John's; and the only means of communication, therefore, between the different settlements is by sea.

When our present venerable Bishop was appointed to the see, he determined, before he came out to his diocese, that it would be absolutely necessary for him to have a ship of his own, for the purpose of visiting the various Missions under his charge. His want was most nobly supplied by the present Primus of Scotland, then an Essex clergyman, who gave him a vessel, which proved most suitable for the purpose. This was the "Hawk," a square-topsail schooner, of about seventy tons. She was fitted up for her special purpose--that of a church as well as a ship--and could accommodate a very fair congregation in the cabin, when she went to those many creeks and coves and harbours where there are no churches but many people.

Every other year the good Bishop used to put his ship in commission, and, attended by his chaplain and one of the students of the Theological College in St. John's, and with a crew of seven men all told, visited alternately the different sides of the Island of Newfoundland and the southern part of his diocese on the Labrador: so managing his voyages that every Mission should be visited once in four years.

Fitting out a ship is as expensive and troublesome as furnishing a house. Special furniture, linen, crockery, and kitchen utensils, are all required for use at sea; and, notwithstanding every care, the amount of destruction done to all these is most lamentable. The expenses of the necessary repairs to the hull, the standing and running rigging and the sails; of the fitting-out and provisions for a four-months' voyage, together with the wages of the crew and the insurance of the ship, amount to £400. But at last the "Hawk" was pronounced unfit for any further employment in her perilous work of coasting on a rockbound shore, and beating in and out of dangerous harbours. Accordingly, when Archdeacon Kelly came home to be consecrated Coadjutor-Bishop, a strong effort was made, in the first instance, at a large S. P. G. meeting at Derby, to raise funds for the purchase of a new church-ship. These efforts were most successful, and resulted in a fine [214/215] fore-and-aft schooner being built for the purpose in Nova Scotia. The "Star," as she was named, though inferior to the "Hawk" in point of accommodation, was a very superior sailer, and accomplished in three months the same amount of work which before had required four months. In addition to this material saving of expense, the difference of the rig of the "Star" enabled the Coadjutor-Bishop, to whose charge the work of visitation had now fallen, to dispense with one man out of the crew, thereby permitting him to make a voyage every year, instead of every other year. The intermediate voyage was more of a purely Missionary than of an episcopal character, being directed, for the most part, to supplying the ministration of the Church to the more neglected districts, where there are either no Missionaries at all, or to which they are able to go but very seldom.

Very pleasant these voyages were. The work of the day, whether at sea or in harbour, always was regularly planned and punctually executed. In order to avoid the too frequent waste of time at sea, some devotional work was read aloud in the morning, and another theological work, such as Archbishop Trench's "Studies in the Gospels," or Liddon's "Bampton Lectures," in the afternoon; and the Bishop and the chaplain each devoted some time to assisting the student in his reading. Besides these useful occupations, and the recitation of the daily offices, and the writing of journals, prevented the time at sea from being wasted, or from hanging heavily.

In harbour the daily routine had to be slightly varied, according to circumstances; but it always included the assembling the people for prayer in the church, if there was one in the place, or, if not, on board twice every day, with a sermon in the evening, and as much pastoral visitation as could be accomplished. A celebration of the Holy Communion of course formed part of the visitation at each settlement, wherever it was practicable. Occasionally a new church was consecrated, erected after many months, or even years, of anxious, self-denying toil. Sometimes there was a little cemetery to be consecrated in some quiet, sequestered nook. Sometimes young people were confirmed. Often there were children to be received into the Church, who had been baptized by laymen: and, in some instances, persons came to be married, who had previously been united by laymen, under a solemn written engagement that they would embrace the first opportunity of any clergyman visiting the place in order to have their union sanctioned by the blessing of the Church. These services, together with the sale and distribution of Bibles and Prayer-Books, of which a small supply was carried, and the dispensing a few simple medicines, made the visit of the church-ship a memorable and a happy event in every harbour.


But last year the visitation voyage of the "Star" came to a most melancholy and untimely end, in the wreck of the vessel on Friday, [215/216] August 18th. This sad event was thus described by Bishop Kelly: "We were in charge of a very experienced pilot, and had a boat, with four hands, to help us in case of difficulty (coming out of a place called Little River). But when we reached the mouth of the river, which is very narrow, the wind suddenly dropped, and as a heavy sea was coming in upon the shore, it and the under-tow carried the poor church-ship upon the rocks, where she struck very heavily three or four times, and the sea broke over us. She split her rudder, knocked a hole in her bottom, and the water began to pour in very rapidly. As no boat could live alongside, the captain laid out a cable and warped her off; but she filled so quickly, that we feared she would go down in deep water, and so we were obliged to run her ashore again on the sheltered side of the harbour; here the boats came and took us off. We are all so thankful [216/217] for our preservation, that the loss of the ship, grievous though it be, is only a slight trouble."

The Bishop concluded his sorrowful narrative with words of noble courage and unshaken faith: "If a church-ship be necessary for the Church's work in this diocese, and the Bishop is content to carry his life in his hand in the prosecution of that work, I am sure that some way will appear by which a successor to the poor 'Star' may be obtained."

It is very pleasant to be able to record the fact that this strong faith has not been in vain. One who has already shown himself a most munificent helper of the Church in the other part of our diocese, at Bermuda--Mr. Curling, a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, and for some time Aide-de-Camp to the Governor of Bermuda--has most nobly and generously placed his yacht at the disposal of the Bishop of Newfoundland, for the purposes of the church-ship. Mr. Curling's offer is as considerate as it is noble.

In order to prevent, as far as possible, a recurrence of the sad disaster with the "Star," he intends to provide a steam launch for his ship, which will be able to tow her in and out of harbours, and in dangerous places; and further, in order that she may be well tested for her work, he suggests that the Bishop should take her for trial for a voyage, and if at the end of it he should think her not suited for her work, he is to be at perfect liberty to sell her, or exchange her for one better prepared for the peculiar nature of her occupation.

Mr. Curling is particularly anxious that the fact of his gift should not divert any offerings which have been made, or might yet be made, towards the church-ship, as he wishes to see a fund raised for the necessary repairs and working expenses of the ship. The insurance of the "Star" will form a nucleus for this fund; and it is hoped that those kind friends who have already contributed towards the attempt to purchase a new ship, will allow their donations to swell this very moderate sum.

Mr. Curling intends taking the "Laverock" out himself to Halifax in the middle of April, to meet the Bishop of Newfoundland at Halifax, on his way from Bermuda, where he has been spending the winter. The Bishop intends to go himself on a visitation voyage, and hopes to pay a long-intended visit to the Moravian settlements on the extreme northern part of the Labrador. We heartily wish him God speed in his untiring energy in his Master's work, which not even old age has been able to slacken; and we pray that his munificent helper may have recompense for his thoughtful liberality in that day when not even a cup of cold water, given to the poorest of Christ's disciples, shall go without its reward.

[The Bishop of Newfoundland is in want of a clergyman to act as Curate to the Rector of the parish in Bermuda in which he resides. The Rector is in infirm health. Salary £150 a-year, and passage out paid. Apply to the Bishop's Commissary, Rev. E, J. Beck, Rectory, Rotherhithe, S.E.]

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