Project Canterbury

Bishop Spencer. In Memoriam.

From Mission Life, Vol. III (new series) (1872), pages 218-220.

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



[Footnote: * Prepared partly from private sources, and partly from a notice in the John Bull of March 9th, 1872.]

AUBREY GEORGE SPENCER, born in 1795, was the eldest son of the Honourable William Spencer and his German wife Susan, Countess Jenison Walworth. He was educated by Dr. Burney, of Greenwich, who educated many eminent naval and military officers at the beginning of the present century, and who became greatly attached to his young pupil. His classical attainments were so good (his Latinity especially, which never lost its force and grace), that the doctor would never receive any payment of his education. From school, in very stirring times, he entered the Royal Navy, and accompanied Mr. Clive, as midshipman, in his embassy to Morocco. He was present at several engagements, and carried his first prize-money as an offering to his mother.

Leaving the navy (on account of delicate health), he was mainly dependent on his own exertions in literature for the future; but in the midst of the brilliant society in which he moved there grew up the desire for another career, and (after reading with Archdeacon Paley for some time) he went to Magdalene Hall, Oxford, somewhat late in life, and expressly to prepare for Holy Orders. He did not aim at academical distinction, and his peculiar temperament and tastes were so buoyant and free as to be against the millwheel work of steady acquisition in any subject not voluntarily chosen. Fond of society, a frequent guest at Blenheim, full of poetic instinct, and of great facility in melodious verse, he, at College, apart from his devout attention to his chief subject, theology, "lusit amabiliter," and took only an ordinary degree.

Whilst an undergraduate, he wrote two prize poems of great merit, one of which, on the Coliseum, the judges specially approved, but he declined to cut it down to the limited number of lines necessary to success. Mr. Murray afterwards purchased it for £50. The other, thought by his friends to be the finer, he withdrew from competition on account of his anxiety for the success of a poet friend (the late Rev. J. S. Boone), who, much younger than himself, was also a competitor.

His first curacy was at Prittlewell, in Essex. He then passed to another parish in Norfolk, in both of which he was much beloved; but life was a hard struggle to the young clergyman, brought up in the midst of brilliant society, yet entirely dependent, from the time of his leaving the navy, on his own exertions. His heart was set on Missionary work, and he went out to Newfoundland in 1819. There, [218/219] after a time, his health failed him, and he was ordered to try the soft climate of Bermuda, where the governor, Sir William Lumley, warmly received him, appointed him to a living, and he was afterwards made Archdeacon of the island. His services were great to the Church and to the cause of education and freedom in that island. He married into a well-known island family (the Mussons). He was then successively Bishop of Newfoundland (1839) and of Jamaica (1843). Altogether he served thirty-five years (twenty as a Missionary) in the Colonial Church, until his health, never robust, was broken down by hard work and various climates. He retired in his sixty-second year to England, and finally settled at Torquay, a place chosen for its exquisite scenery and soft climate, where he died. There he, with never-resting activity, generously and self-denyingly for several years took the place of the still more aged Bishop of Exeter in ordaining, confirming, and other episcopal functions, and was ever at call for sermons, clerical help, and wise counsels to the clergy. With no direct duty (after the appointment of his Coadjutor-Bishop of Kingston) he yet was always alert and ministering to some sick and weary ones, and in a place like Torquay this was real work, in which he continued to the last. As a preacher, in his latter days, his physical power was feeble, but not so his mental vigour and eloquent sweep of language.

The Bishop was devout, of a genial and affectionate disposition, a warm and unchanging friend; unaffectedly kind and generous, and largely charitable; in manner and feeling a true gentlemen; elegant in his taste and habits, yet simple in his daily intercourse; accessible and courteous to every one. He had a remarkable memory, and with his large experience and varied reading was a charming literary companion; full of quotations and anecdote, playful and wise. As a poet, he was perpetually pouring forth bird-like snatches of song--some gems of lyrical sweetness--on every occasion and subject befitting his sacred office, but withal he never aimed at any great literary work His prose, in a charge, sermon, or other form, was vigorous, clear, and accurate, with the charm of an antique classical ring throughout. He was a frequent contributor to Blackwood and The Guardian. The verses below were copied from the latter by Canon Trevor, in the reprint of Anglo-Catholic Theology.


"Well we know our heavenly Father
Will the bread of heaven supply,
From whose grace alone we gather
Strength to live and calm to die.

"Kneeling at the sacred altar,
Prone in penitence and prayer,
With a love that cannot falter,
We shall find our Saviour there.

[220] "Of His Body--for us broken,
Of His Blood--for us outpoured,
Take we then the blessed token,
And confess a present Lord.

"Mortal eyes may not discern Him,
Mortal sense may not receive,
But within the faithful bosom
Dwells the Presence we believe."

His private charities were very large in proportion to his means. "I have never forgotten," writes one of his friends, "how he took in some poor, deplorably starved, neglected, ignorant children of a drunken, reprobate clergyman, and treated them quite as loving guests--as if they had been the children of some dear friend--and his kindness ceased not until he had entirely provided for their every need."

The Bishop held no preferment in England after leaving Jamaica, but, within six months of his death, he had offered to him, under very gratifying circumstances, as a testimony of esteem for his ministry at Torquay, a living of large value, which his broken health prevented him from accepting.

His last illness had been borne with the sweetest calm and resignation; but the past year has been a year of much physical suffering. He was attacked by severe illness while staying last summer with his beloved old friend and fellow-curate at Prittlewell, the Rev. Almaric Belli (now in his eighty-first year), the Rector of South Weald, in Essex. This was succeeded by frequent attacks and recoveries; but though his health had been feeble and failing, the last few weeks brought no additional cause for alarm, beyond the increasing weakness of old age, until a few days ago, when congestion of the lungs set in and rapidly spread, until the life so dear and precious to us passed away from this earth, on Saturday, St. Mathias' Day, at one o'clock.

The Bishop and his wife have been companions for nearly fifty years. Their golden wedding-day would have been this year, and a few days before his death he told her he would try to live for it.

During his illness he repeatedly spoke of his grateful affection for those who loved him, as they were many in Torquay. He lamented the feebleness which prevented his expressing to them by word or letter all that he felt; and the kindly attentions with which he was greeted, day by day, were to him the last welcome to him. The evening of his life, a long and eventful one, has been very happy in this place. And Lord Derby wrote very lately: "He must--though active men rarely reconcile themselves to repose--feel that he has done more than one life's work already, and is well entitled to his rest." These words pleased and touched him; but his rest is now beyond all that earthly joys could give. His has been the perfect faith, the unshaken hope, the love that never failed, and his Lord and Master has taken him to His arms in peace.

Project Canterbury