Project Canterbury

The Life of Father Dolling

By Charles E. Osborne

London: Edward Arnold, 1903.

Chapter I.

Parentage and birth (February 10, 1851)--Early life at Kilrea, co. Derry, Ireland--School-life, Stevenage (Herts)--Harrow (1864-1868)--Trinity College, Cambridge (1868-1869)--Life in Italy--His mother's death (1870)--Coming of age (1872)--Land agencies in Ireland--Work among men and lads at Kilrea.

'A youth without enthusiasm means a maturity without faith, and an old age without hope.'--BISHOP WESTCOTT: The Incarnation and Common Life.

'The child is father of the man.'--WORDSWORTH.

ROBERT WILLIAM RADCLYFFE DOLLING was born, February 10, 1851, in the old Rectory, Magheralin, co. Down, North of Ireland. His father was Mr. Robert Holbeach Dolling, of Edenmore, Magheralin, and Tamlaght O'Crilly, co. Derry, who was the landlord of important estates in co. Down, and had been at one time High Sheriff of Londonderry. His mother was Eliza, daughter of Josias Dupres Alexander, M.P. (who was a director of the East India Company), and niece of the first Earl of Caledon. His mother's descent was partly from Scotch ancestors who had settled in Ulster, it is believed, in Cromwell's time, and partly from North-Country English people. Her early home had been in England.

Although often considered to be a characteristic Celt, yet Robert Dolling had little, if any, Celtic blood. If he had any, it was from French or Scotch sources; there is no evidence that he had anything by race of the Irish Celtic strain. The of his strongly Protestant ancestry, from the Huguenots on the one side, and from the Puritan settlers in Ulster on the other, is also remarkable, and suggests the consideration that the religious temperament is often hereditary in a manner that any particular form of religious belief is not. Dolling's apparently Celtic traits were not so much the results of blood and heredity as of that mental and spiritual atmosphere of Ireland which penetrates all her children, and even, as it were, against their will, constrains the Anglo-Irish minority to exhibit a character often more akin to the Celts of their own land than to the English whom they so admire and imitate.

On the father's side, Dolling, if directly English, was also indirectly French. The family of Dolling was living in France, near Toulouse, in the sixteenth century. About 1580 a cadet of the family, having become a Huguenot, fled to England, and settled in the Isle of Purbeck in Dorsetshire, where he was living in 1613, in the reign of James I. The present Dolling arms were granted in 1616. A certain Robert Dolling, a descendant of this refugee, came to London, and his son James married Mary Ratcliff, only child of J. Ratcliff of Stockport and Hatton Garden, London, cousin-german to that famous last Earl of Derwentwater (known to readers of Besant's 'Dorothy Foster') who was beheaded in 1745 as a Jacobite rebel. Mr. Ratcliff, who was also a Jacobite, was drowned near St. Albans, when escaping from the Flight of Derby (1745), as he was attempting to cross a brook swollen by heavy rains.

James Dolling had an only son, the Rev. Robert Ratcliff Dolling, D.D., Rector of Tilsey, Surrey; Vicar of Aldenham, Herts; and Rector of Bonhurst, Bedfordshire. He was also J.P. for Herts, and became Canon of Westminster and Chaplain to Admiral Lord Effingham. He married a Miss Mary Saunders, and it was their son (Dolling's grandfather) who migrated to Ireland. Like his father, he was a clergyman, the Rev. Boughey William Dolling, and had achieved the distinction of attaining a Fellowship at Exeter College, Oxford, when only eighteen years of age. He came to Ireland with Bishop Percy, having exchanged his living of Bonhurst for that of Magheralin, co. Down. Dollingstown, a village in the same county, is named after the Rev. B. W. Dolling. He married Mary Short, daughter of John Short, of Solihull, Warwickshire. Their son was Mr. Robert Hoi-beach Dolling, father of the subject of this memoir, who, therefore, on that side of the family was of purely English and French descent.

The children of Mr. E. H. Dolling's marriage with Miss Alexander were two sons (of whom Robert Dolling was the eldest) and seven daughters. They were born in the following order: May (who is married to Mr. James H. Staples, second son of the late Sir Nathanael Staples, Bart., of Lissan, Cooks-town, co. Tyrone), Elise, Adelaide, Geraldine, Nina, Robert William Radclyffe, Josephine, Ulrica (deceased) and Caledon.

The parish of Magheralin, in which Dolling was born and of which his grandfather was rector (having been also landlord of the estates of Magheralin and Dollingstown), possessed ruins of great antiquity, it having been in early days a centre of Celtic Christianity of the type common to Ireland, lona, and Northumbria. Dolling's birthplace, which is mentioned under the name of Lann in the 'Annals of the Four Masters,' was a spot hallowed by the memories of saints. It had produced a martyr, the Abbot Caomhanus, who was slain there by the Danes in 841. It was also of ecclesiastical importance in later times, for an episcopal house belonging to the See of Dromore stood there; and the famous Bishop Jeremy Taylor, when occupant of that see, used to reside there, and often preached in old Magheralin Church. Robert Dolling from his grandfather inherited an ecclesiastical chair believed to have belonged to Jeremy Taylor. In 1842 the Rev. B. W. Dolling built a new church at Magheralin, which Bishop Mant consecrated in 1845.

By birth Dolling was connected with several county families both in England and in his own country. All the circumstances of his life--his Irish birth combined with English education; his family connections combined with his life among postmen, soldiers, sailors, and dockers; his quiet boyhood in his northern Irish home and his later years of continental travel, and of roughing it here and there with all sorts of people; the storm and stress of his ministerial life--all united to make him a very complete man, with a rich and varied experience of many phases of humanity such as has been granted to few men, and certainly to few clergymen, in the same degree.

From the old Rectory, Magheralin, when Mr. Dolling senior had obtained the appointment of agent for the estates of Lord Eossmore, the family went to Monaghan. In 1859 Mr. Dolling senior was made agent for the important estates of the Mercers' Company in the North of Ireland, and moved with his family to the Manor House, Kilrea, co. Derry, where they lived for the rest of the time that they remained in the North.

At Kilrea the members of the Dolling family endeared themselves to the people of the neighbourhood. One who lived with them writes as follows:

'The Rev. E. E. Polling's father, Mr. Robert Holbeach Dolling, was a most warm-hearted, genial man, full of wit and humour, without one single touch of malice, abounding in loving-kindness to his fellow-creatures. In that quiet, remote Irish village his presence banished all dulness.'

He was deeply and unaffectedly religious, of the Protestant Evangelical school, but not of the merely political variety of it common enough in Ireland at that time and since. He was a man of very strong prejudices. The Roman Catholic Church and the High Church party in England were objects of his entire antipathy, but this altogether as against the causes and ideas, as distinct from the persons who upheld them.

It was especially, however, Robert Dolling's mother who was the good angel of the home. The friend of the family above quoted writes of her:

'Mrs. Eliza Dolling, Father Polling's mother, was the truest Christian gentlewoman I ever met. She united in her person all the finest qualities of a woman--she was simple, gentle, unselfish; a true woman, wife, and mother, and a high-bred lady in the highest and noblest sense of the word.'

Robert Dolling ever had for her a most tender veneration, and we think that when he alluded in his sermons, as he often did, to a mother's love and urged children to never bring a care into their mother's life, or an ache into her heart, that he was thinking of his own mother, to whom her children were so tenderly devoted. She was a deeply religious woman, and it was at her knees he first learnt to lisp his childish prayers. As one of his sisters writes, 'he was the child of many prayers.' In an article which he wrote for the Pilot in 1901, Dolling thus writes of his mother:

'I look back over forty-five years, and remember how my mother taught us children every day some little story from the life of Christ, and how real she made it by drawing pictures, and telling words which made us almost see the actual event. As I sit writing this, I see them now, those pictures which, please God, I shall never forget.'

At a church in Eoath, Cardiff, in 1896, Dolling, when preaching, made a touching reference to his parents, speaking of the deep piety with which they both approached the Holy Communion at the monthly Celebration in Kilrea Church.

In short, the Manor House was a home of genuine and unaffected religion, of innocent mirth, of intense family affections.

It was also a centre of all kinds of active benevolence among the tenantry and other inhabitants around. There was the sort of family feeling that is likely to vanish as the cash nexus establishes itself everywhere as the bond that alone holds life together. The house itself is of the old-fashioned type of country house, ample, spacious, and thoroughly comfortable. It is situated close to a lake, which is fringed by a picturesque grove or plantation. 'Master Robert's garden' extended through the trees to the edge of the adjoining lake. Here his Kilrea 'boys' worked for him in digging and planting. Though the scenery around is not exceptionally striking, yet there are delightful glimpses of wood and water, and a quiet air of old-world picturesqueness broods over the whole place. A large grove of trees forms the 'rookery' near the house. The town of Kilrea itself is not far off, with its market-house or court-house, where 'Master Robert' had his entertainments performed. For in regard to everything--family affections, benevolence, social instincts, religion, love of surrounding himself with 'boys,' power of organising recreations, even in his desire to get his own way, and his generally succeeding in getting it--in all these respects the child was father of the man.

Kilrea Church is a plain, bare-looking building, very like a country kirk in Scotland. The present occupant of the rectory is the Rev. A. E. Sixsmith, but he was not, of course, the incumbent at the time we are writing of. The appearance of town, church, and people has about it a certain tone as of Scotland, but how far the people of Kilrea are originally of Scotch descent we do not know. As we have written elsewhere:

'Father Dolling was an outcome of the Orangemen of Ulster. Such strange surprises are, however, among the commonplaces of ecclesiastical history. At any rate, his ready humour, his urbanity, his elastic sympathies were more characteristic of the Irish of the South than of the somewhat dour and unimaginative North. His large business capacities, however, and his go-ahead temper, which led some to call him an ecclesiastical Cecil Ehodes, constituted affinities rather with the grit of strenuous Ulster than with the dreamy, go-as-you-please disposition which, though varied by spasms of enthusiastic energy, is the more prevailing mental atmosphere of the distinctively Celtic portions of Ireland.'

There was much pleasant freedom of intercourse of the Dolling family with the villagers and with the country people around--a freedom which Irish tact and courtesy can always prevent from degenerating into disrespect or contempt. At Kilrea people learned on both sides that 'it is love' and not merely the almighty dollar 'whichmakes the world go round.' The river Bann flows not far from the house. It is the chief river of that part of Ireland, rising in the Mourne Mountains, pouring itself into Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the country (which is within measurable distance of Kilrea), and then making its way out again and going on its course until it enters the sea close to Coleraine.

So Robert Dolling's childish years passed, among these peaceful surroundings. Affectionate hearts met him at home and in the cottages around; for all Kilrea was like one family. In these his early times there are noticeable two points--(1) his very early development of strong religious instincts; (2) his complete unselfishness. Some anecdotes of his childhood which have been preserved show that he early exhibited these traits. When his fourth birthday arrived (February 10, 1855) he was very ill, and the doctors despaired of his life; but he was able to say, 'Mother, this is my birthday. Where is my cake?' It was brought to his bedside. 'Cut a piece for everyone in this house;' and then he added, 'And for those in the kitchen.' As has been truly remarked, 'those in the kitchen 'were never forgotten by him.

The vocation for the ministry was innate in him, and early manifested itself. He was a little priest from the cradle, but never, as sometimes happens in such cases, a little prig as well. His instincts, if spiritual, were natural also. He used to make his sisters, when all alike were children, sit on chairs in the nursery, while he, vested in an improvised surplice, conducted service for them, ending with the inevitable 'few words.' At another time, when he was seven years old and his sister Josephine six, they were both being driven on an outside car through a very lonely part of the country, and as they passed under some thick trees, and darkness had come on, the children became frightened. Bobby said to his sister, 'We will pray, Joey, then nothing can hurt us;' and then he said the collect, 'Lighten our darkness,' which he knew by heart. But his strongly religious nature took from the first a turn towards practical benevolence. His social and affectionate qualities prevented his devotional instincts from getting out of relation to the facts of human life. He had nothing of the acrid or sentimental precocity of the unnaturally religious children of a certain type of pious fiction, Catholic or Protestant.

God's love was made manifest to Robert Dolling in the love of father and mother, of brother and sisters, of the 'boys 'and children of Kilrea; in fact, of every living thing with which he had to do. His enthusiasms were always, all through his life, human, warm-hearted, and kindled by contact with the concrete. There was no touch in him of that fanaticism which marks the one-sided idealist whose human affections are weak or non-existent. As Dolling grew up he became the brother, friend, and helper of all the people, especially of all the lads of Kilrea.

'Master Robert' was the idol of the latter, nor will they ever forget him. The 'Dolling Guild' (which binds together for mutual improvement and recreation the young men of Kilrea) perpetuates his influence and honours his memory. What is most remarkable is that even when the news of his proceedings in after-years as an extreme Eitualist penetrated to the North of Ireland, no difference of opinion could make those sturdy Orange Protestants, the men of Kilrea, ever regard him in any other light than as the noble-minded friend and brother whom it was their pride and pleasure to have known so well in the days that were past. We are grateful to one of them, Mr. Richard McFadden, Hon. Treasurer of the Dolling Guild, for allowing us to print the following recollections of 'Master Robert,' his dear old friend:

'Mr. E. H. Dolling came to Kilrea as agent to the Mercers' Company in 1859. Master Robert was then an amiable boy of about eight years old. In the course of a few years he seemed to take a great interest in the school-treats that were given by the Mercers' Company to the children on the estate yearly. Afterwards he began to gather them around himself at the Manor House. Later on he held a night-school. All classes and creeds were welcome; writing, spelling, and arithmetic were the subjects taught. It was mostly intended for boys who could not attend the day-school. He also held classes at the Manor House for boys to study the Bible and Prayer-Book. On these occasions he wore a brown cassock. On Sunday evening he held the class at the Manor House. About 4.30 o'clock, p.m. we were all marched to church, and sat in the gallery, he being a member of the choir. He was a believer in labour; sometimes he took a rood of ground in the country and planted it with potatoes^ the labour being done by his boys. He made a beautiful flower-garden at Manor House, and in order to make this garden his boys had to stub out a portion of a plantation, where many a pick and spade were broken. Refreshments were supplied to the workers, and each got a new suit of clothes. Sometimes he would take about a dozen boys to the sea-side, especially those who were not strong, and when sitting on the rocks he would tell them beautiful stories about the sea, and the wonderful works of God. He also taught his boys many games. He himself was not very athletic, but he took a great delight in swimming, and of all his hobbies this was the chief. He practised in the river Bann, which was near to his home. On one occasion he had a swimming competition, and gave prizes, some of which were as high as £1.

'He had a library at home, in which every boy was supposed to read one evening in each week. When a boy showed signs of a taste for the occupation, whatever he was, that he was most suited for, Master Robert assisted him financially to carry out his ideas. In fact, every poor person who was in difficulties he assisted. There was no end of his charity. If there was a poor old woman in any district near Kilrea who was in want and he heard of it, he would give notice of a charity dance in that district, and would go himself and take some of his boys and a violin player, he himself dancing as an ordinary member of the ball. On many of these occasions 'there were large gatherings, and about thirty shillings would be collected for the poor person. In all cases of sickness among the poorer classes, he went daily to their houses, dressed wounds when necessary, carried them food, and supplied them with clothing, if required. I have known cases where he took the patient to a specialist in Belfast and paid £11 for advice and medicines.

'In fact, all the Dolling family were the very essence of charity and the very life of the poor. In all cases of home trouble ho visited, prayed with, and comforted those who were sorrowful, and tried to make the dark cloud bright. His first appearance as a public speaker was at a meeting of the Kilrea Literary Society in the Town Hall, Kilrea. On this occasion he read a paper, entitled "Our Boys"; this he did with great credit to himself. On another occasion he gave a lecture in Tamlaght O'Crilly, co. Derry. His subject was "Home." All expressed their high appreciation of his ability in handling the subject.

'Later in life he visited Kilrea. He preached to one of the largest congregations ever seen within the walls of this church. Many went to see and hear " the great High Church preacher," but to their great surprise he only wore a plain white surplice. He told the congregation how rejoiced ho was to be present that evening, and to see so many of the dear faces of those he had so dearly loved, and also the old family pew in the corner of the church, where father and mother, brothers and sisters, so often had knelt and worshipped God together. He said he loved every tree in the grove, every flower in the fields, and every stone on the streets of Kilrea. He said he hoped that every soul within that church felt thankful that God would be the Judge at the last great Day, and not our fellow-man, for with God there was great mercy for our poor fallen nature. On this occasion everyone said he was a true disciple of the Great Creator, and a meek and lowly preacher. In courtships he took a lively interest, but if a boy deserted his girl without sufficient cause, he was against it as a cruel and cowardly action.'

We have been allowed to see a number of old photographs taken in Dolling's youth, representing him with his Kilrea boys (members of choir, night-schools, etc.), and also giving a view of the 'diggings 'or addition to the Manor House, in which he had his classes and 'boys' evenings.' We notice in these the keen, intelligent faces of the youths, the friendly, social character of the gatherings, and in many of the photographs the incipient ritualism manifested in banners, sashes, devices, badges borne by the office-bearers and members of the different organisations. We must remember, however, that the Orange Societies are accustomed to a florid ceremonial. The scarfs and banners were made by his sisters and by his cousin, Mrs. Moss, of Montrose, Belfast, and then Miss Montgomery, whose mother was sister to the elder Mrs. Dolling. In his boyhood Robert Dolling spent many happy days with his uncle, the Rev. T. H. Montgomery, and his aunt at their house, Ballykeel House, co. Down.

Every man has a sort of environment or background, which we mentally associate with him. That of Robert Dolling was supplied by his 'boys.' We cannot think of him but as the centre of a social group, whether at the Manor House, Kilrea, or the London Postmen's League House, Borough Eoad, S.E., or 34, Mountjoy Square, Dublin, or the roughs at Maidman Street, East End, or the soldiers at Woolwich. The great gymnasium and club work at S. Agatha's, Landport, was bat the culmination of all these earlier experiences. Of all men of any power, there never was one less alone, all through his life, than Robert Dolling. Troops of friends encompass him from first to last.

He was not, however, at Kilrea during all the youthful period of his life, but only at intervals after he first went to school, and for longer periods when he took up land agency work.

In 1861, when he was ten years old, he was sent to a preparatory school in England, at the Grange, Stevenage, Herts, under the late Rev. J. Osborn Seager, where he remained until he entered Harrow in 1864. It was probably Dean Blakesley (whose son, Mr. T. H. Blakesley, afterwards became Master of the Mercers' Company), who recommended Mr. Dolling senior to send his son to Stevenage School. At school the latter was noted for truthfulness, and one of his old schoolfellows writes, 'He always hated cruelty in every form.' We are told that he once tried to run away from school in order to go to sea in company with another boy, Arthur Deline Eadcliff, but that as Eadcliff was climbing the garden wall Dolling repented of the rash attempt, and seized his companion by the foot to pull him back. Meanwhile the gardener arrived and captured both culprits. We may remark that when the 'old boys' of Stevenage wished to present a clock as a testimonial to Mr. Seager, Dolling was chosen to make the presentation.

He entered Harrow in 1864, at the age of fourteen. Dr. Butler was then Headmaster, and Dr. Farrar (afterwards Dean of Canterbury) was his class master. He stayed with Mons. Euault, the French teacher, until the Rev. E. H. Vaughan (brother of the famous Master of the Temple) had room for him in his house. Mr. Bull, Dr. Vaughan's successor at Harrow, received a good account of him from the latter when Dolling passed from the charge of one to that of the other. He was noted at Harrow for his high standard of honour and purity. His was a chivalric, unstained boyhood. He also gained the affection of the Vaughan children. Children always loved him all through his life.

From Harrow he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he spent about a year, ending with the Easter term of 1869. He did not distinguish himself there in scholarship, nor did he take any prominent part in the physical exercises associated with University life, as his health about this time became extremely bad. Weakness of the eyes in particular made study well-nigh impossible for him. He never was, in any case, a man of books, though he was fond of exaggerating his own ignorance of academic studies. As his health got weaker, he left the University without completing his course and taking his degree.

He made, however, many valuable friends at Cambridge. Among them was a remarkable man, who no doubt quickened the development of Catholic germs in Dolling's mind--Mr. Gerard Cobb, Fellow and Bursar of Trinity College. He was the author of a famous or notorious theological work, 'The Kiss of Peace; or, England and Home at One on the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.' Dolling's chief friend in Cambridge, however, was a fellow Irishman, Henry G. Meara, now Yicar of S. Luke's, Maidenhead.

After Dolling left the University he lived for some time abroad for his health, staying much in Italy and principally at Florence, where he gained entry into a set of English people of much literary and artistic taste. He became very intimate with Mr. Thomas A. Trollope, author of 'Paul the Friar and Paul the Pope,' and his wife, who was the authoress of several novels. Here also he met Robert Browning.

The death of Mrs. Dolling in January, 1870, was to her children not only the loss of a mother, but of the dearest companion and friend. In writing to his two youngest sisters soon after this time, Robert Dolling said:

'May the remembrance of her you have lost, and who now is permitted to watch over you in heaven, be ever to you the great means of bringing you nearer to Himself.'

Dolling was now much more in Ireland than he had been for some time, assisting his father with land agency work, and gaining that business experience which afterwards was so great an advantage to him in his mission labours. His coming of age (February 10, 1872) was marked by a visit to the family estates of Magheralin and Dollingstown, co. Down. There were enthusiastic proceedings on the part of the tenantry, and with genuine feeling his own virtues and those of his father and grandfather were extolled. They concluded by saying, 'We pray that you may be enabled to uphold the honourable, the Christian, the charitable, and the deathless name of your forefathers.' In his reply Dolling spoke of his father and relatives as having ever tried 'to rejoice with you in your joy and to sorrow with you in your grief.'

Shortly after this time he made an enjoyable tour through the South and West of Ireland with his college friend (now ordained), the Rev. H. G. Meara. He also saw a great deal of other parts of Ireland than the North in his rent-collecting expeditions, for he had various agencies--one, for instance, for a Drogheda property. He became just as popular with the people outside Ulster as he had been with all those who knew him within that part of the country. A relative of his tells us the following:

'He had been appointed to collect rents at a certain place in Westmeath. The police warned him not to go, but he did. When he arrived he met the tenants in a barn. As soon as he began to speak they made such a noise that he could not be heard, so he quietly took out his pipe, lit it, and began to smoke, saying he advised them to do the same till they were more calm. After a little, when they were more inclined to listen, he spoke to them in his manly, straightforward way, and they all, to a man, came forward and paid their rents.'

He was almost unique in having been able to gain and to hold the affection equally of both sections of the labouring Irish people--Northern Protestants and even Orangemen on the one hand, and the Roman Catholic people of other parts of Ireland on the other. Well might Mr. T. P. O'Connor say of him in M.A.P.:

'I mention with pardonable pride that Father Dolling was an Irishman. North of Ireland in blood and upbringing; South of Ireland in the tenderness of his heart and the readiness of his sympathy.'

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