Project Canterbury

The Life of Father Dolling

By Charles E. Osborne

London: Edward Arnold, 1903.

Chapter XXI.

Father Dolling as parish priest of S. Saviour's--His clergy and helpers--Social work--Dances--Mothers Factory--girls--Boys' camp at Broadstairs--Girls' camp at Hay ling--Miss Wells' 'Home' at Heathfield--The schools--Father Dolling as educationalist--Mr. Alfred Harmsworth's recollections of Father Dolling--Love for children.

'Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know. It means teaching them to behave as they do not behave. It is the training them into the perfect exercise and kingly continence of their bodies and souls.'--RUSKIN: Crown of Wild Olive.

WHATEVER difficulties and troubles Dolling had to encounter in his life--and it was full, as we have seen, of conflicts and trials--they were not such as beset the labourer who has to work for God under circumstances of loneliness and impoverishment, with scarcely one near him who understands his motives and his aims, and with one opportunity after another lost through the lack of the means, both helpers and money, to grasp each at the critical moment as it comes. Dolling had often a stiff battle to fight, and many and embittered opponents, but he had always around him an enthusiastic cohort of willing helpers and the generous trust, constant through all the shocks he gave to some of them, of a large body of subscribers, whose friendship, confidence, and support was proved in the most practical way by the unfailing financial backing which kept him always well supplied with the sinews of war. Once only in all his ministry did this help fail him, and that very temporarily for a few weeks at Land-port, when he was reduced to selling his library, which was a comparatively large one, though the books were of very unequal value and importance. This brief decline in financial help was due, probably, to causes apart from any lack of confidence in Dolling or his methods. At any rate, it was soon followed by subscriptions as substantial as before.

As to his helpers at S. Saviour's, the principal members of his body of clerical assistants were as follows:

The Rev. C. E. Curtis, who had worked with Mr. Beardall, and stayed on for some time under Dolling's vicariate; the Rev. W. Hays, from New Brunswick, as a temporary helper; the Rev. J. Elwes, a former fellow-student of Dolling's at Salisbury; the Rev. B. E. Waud, now of All Saints', Edinburgh; the Rev. A. J. S. Melville, now at Plaistow; and the Rev. John Lloyd (an old friend of the clergy of S. Agatha's at the time when he had charge of the Mission of the Good Shepherd at White's Row, Portsea), now Rector of Sutton-on-Derwent, Yorks.

Of the lay-helpers, the Misses Elise and Geraldine Dolling also, as twice before (at Maidman Street and S. Agatha's), threw in their lot with their brother, and undertook the women's work. 'Miss Geraldine,' as usual, made 'themothers' her special care, and Miss Dolling gained a wonderful hold over the factory girls; each carrying on the distinctive line of work to which she was accustomed at Portsmouth. Miss Blair and Miss Rowan also worked with Father Dolling at S. Saviour's as before at S. Agatha's.

A large band of other women workers gathered round the above, several coming to reside in the neighbourhood, others coming from other parts of London as often as they could to help in the mothers' meetings, 'socials,' etc. Miss May Ogilvie, an old friend from Portsmouth times, came to reside with Miss Dolling, and took in hand the dispensary and nursing work, and some of Mr. Beardall's lady workers (Miss Baiss and Miss Clark) also remained in evidence. The health of Miss Wells, Father Dolling's friend, who had presided over the Girls' Home at Southsea, did not permit her to live in Poplar, but she had now opened a house at Heathfield, in Sussex, for rest and health-recruiting for tired and delicate children and adults, especially for those recovering from illness, and this home (for it was such in reality as well as in name) was practically affiliated to S. Saviour's parish, or, at least, always available for its people. It provided a splendid sanatorium, amid beautiful scenery and healthful air. In this good work Miss Wells was well seconded by Miss Knight.

S. Saviour's parish, under Dolling, was singularly happy in opportunities for enabling the parishioners to get away occasionally outside its monotonous confines into good air and brighter scenes. The factory girls and others were often invited by Mrs. Goodlake to visit her beautiful place, Denham Fishery, Uxbridge, and spent there many a delightful day from time to time. To the generosity of Mr, Alfred Harmsworth was due the splendid 'boys' camp' yearly held for S. Saviour's lads at Broadstairs, North Foreland, Kent, near Mr. Harms-worth's place, Elmwood. After a little time, also, a summer camp for girls was started at Hayling Island, near Portsmouth. A large disused vessel, moored in the creek, was chartered for this girls' camp. Miss Dolling presided over the latter, as her brother over that for the boys.

A great difficulty as to boys' sports and games, when not at the camp, was presented by the want of open spaces in the neighbourhood of S. Saviour's, but this was partially overcome by taking the lads to a ground procured at some distance. A rowing club, also, on the Lea was started by the Rev. B. Waud. In order to make this possible, two excellent boats were presented for S. Saviour's use, one by Mr. Walter Eiddell, of Christ Church, Oxford, and the other by Colonel Hon. A. H. Henniker. The Hon. Mrs. Henniker was also a practical friend to S. Saviour's. She often came to present the prizes to the school-children, as also did Mrs. A. Harmsworth on other occasions. Mrs. Henniker also arranged a drawing-room meeting at her house, at which over £70 was raised for the work at S. Saviour's. Mr. Abbott (since ordained) helped Father Dolling much by voluntary work as secretary, and he and his friend Mr. Cornibeer worked among the lads, as also did Mr. F. Bowen, Mr. Creal, and other laymen. To Mr. Cornibeer was largely due the great success of the Sunday-school. A successful men's club, with hardly any rules, and with more personal influence than red tape, was carried on by the Rev. J. Lloyd. Most of the clubs were held in the Mission House, Giraud Street.

It is pleasant also to mention that Dolling's old Winchester College friends, especially the Fearons, Bramstons, and Eichardsons showed a lively interest in his new work and people. On Whit-Monday, 1899, the Vicar, wardens, choir, and acolytes of S. Saviour's paid a delightful visit to Winchester, and were entertained at dinner by Mrs. Bramston and at tea by Mrs. Richardson, with the usual thoughtfulness and hospitality of those ladies. 'The whole success of the day,' said Dolling of this excursion in his next 'Quarterly Letter,' 'was that we were friends among friends.' He was not to have the pleasure of working with a public school in connection with S. Saviour's. Uppingham School, with which the parish had been connected, had withdrawn their mission from it on Dolling's appointment.

In the winter, when outdoor expeditions were not possible, the dancing-class and the 'socials 'were the centres of intercourse and recreation among the younger people. Dolling believed that, properly conducted, dancing enabled lads and girls to meet one another in a pleasant way, without romping or rudeness on the one hand, or unwholesome slyness and secrecy on the other. All through his life he was a strong advocate of turning to good uses the theatre and the dance, the two amusements which used to be viewed with most suspicion by the religious world, whether by old-fashioned Puritans or ascetic Catholics. Dolling was as anxious to get young people to dance together in his parish as the Cure d'Ars was to stop them from doing so in his. It was only, of course, a difference in point of view. The dances so zealously practised at Poplar under Father Dolling's kindly eye were, no doubt, of a very different character to those indulged in by the villagers of the parish over which the saintly Cure presided.

Dolling's conception of an ideal parish was rather that of the 'merry England' of old on its best side, when the Catholic religion shared in men's laughter as well as their tears, than of the pastures under the control of ascetics, however holy and devoted. Self-sacrificing himself to an intense degree, his self-sacrifice was that of human fellowship, simplicity of living, and the needful discipline, discomforts and trials of a life of service rather than any asceticism for its own sake. As regards the mens sana in corpore sano, he sided rather with Kingsley than with some of the Tractarians, and he used to point out how often Christ frequented feasts, and that if the ascetic ideal was, per se, the highest, we must logically arrive at the impossible and un-Christian conclusion that the mode of life of S. John the Baptist was a higher and holier one than that of Our Lord. On this subject he writes:

'I am quite sure that if we measure the character of Jesus Christ, the first thing He would have done here would have been to have fed the hungry, and to have piped to the people that they might dance, till he had exorcised the numbness which poverty and dul-ness always produce. He could not have otherwise touched that Divine spark, the likeness of God, which is in us by right of our creation in His image.'

Dolling was full of the Franciscan spirit of joy. Jesus Christ, in Father Dolling's conception of Him, was not only the Man of Sorrows, but also the Divine Orpheus, as He is represented in the Catacombs, with pipe and song driving out the madness of evil passions by the strains of beauty, harmony, and joy. As He says of Himself: 'We have piped unto you, but ye have not danced.'

Of a visit to the theatre from S. Saviour's its Vicar writes:

'By the generosity of Mr. Compton, the lessee of the Dalston Theatre, we took the mothers and the day-school children to the pantomime there, a perfectly clean, unvulgar, and amusing pantomime. I don't know whether it speaks better for the excellence of the pantomime, or worse for our theology, that on the disclosure of the transformation scene a little boy said to Mr. Matley: "Isn't this just like the kingdom of heaven?" And yet that brings my ending of this story of our Christmas amusements to be very like my beginning. If we can realise more of the spirit of joy, we shall have learnt to realise more of the kingdom of God.'

He was himself never ashamed of making use, in due measure and season, of life's opportunities of joy, though always finding his highest enjoyment in that of others. 'I knew you were in the theatre, Mr. Dolling,' a lady once said to him; 'I knew your laugh, and I heard it above them all.'

Amid many disappointments at Poplar, none the less cruel to him because he never wearied his friends with his trials, Dolling's great happiness and hope were in the children of the parish. All his highest interests centred in the day-schools of S. Saviour's, which he made the most efficient probably in East London, with clean, wholesome surroundings, well-appointed buildings, and every encouragement to the scholars to strive for proficiency in their studies. He had a most capable educational staff (which still, we believe, remains at S. Saviour's). Mr. Matley, the Headmaster, was to Dolling at Poplar what Mr. Saunders was to him at Landport, and Mrs. Chisam well superintended the girls' school. Few schools also had one who, like Mr. Ralph Darling, could be at once teacher, leader, and friend to the boys, and whose example and presence was a constant strength to Dolling in his efforts to establish relations of a permanent and personal kind between the boys on the one hand and the Church on the other. The clergy of the parish were constantly seen in the schools, and gave religious instruction in them daily. Messrs. Matley and Darling also went to the boys' camp as principal officers, and their work there, where everything was carried out with military discipline, was of the greatest importance. The night-schools were also a part of the work which was of great promise.

We quote a passage relating to S. Saviour's Schools from Father Dolling's 'Quarterly Letter' for June, 1899, especially as it shows the reason why he valued supremely the opportunity given him by the possession of Church day-schools:

'It won't bore you if I am a little garrulous about the schools. I have spent on the drainage, making new entrances for boys and girls, boys' cloak-rooms and lavatories, and doing up the infants' school, £1,392, and I have collected £1,333.'

He goes on to say that, besides the £60 debt, £1,200 will be required for repointing and painting purposes in regard to all the school buildings, and adds:

'You will say to me, "When you have got it done, what do you gain? Give me statistics of how many have been confirmed through your schools, how many are loyal members of the Church of England through them." Those are questions which ought not to be asked, certainly ought not to be answered. If ever we cease to do our duty because of failure or success, we have denied in Mo the Master's method. Let me say it once for all: the teaching in the Board Schools round here is excellent. I am not prepared even to say that my children would pass a better religious examination than theirs; indeed, I am not sure whether our whole system of teaching religion, even in my own schools, is at all good. But there is an atmosphere in a Church school that you cannot get in a Board School.' [May we not say there ought to be, rather than there is?] 'There is the presence of the clergy and the workers in and out of the school all day; there are a hundred little things in the way of friendliness and encouragement that touch the children not in school hours only. It is this that makes me say without fear of contradiction that I look upon my schools as the most valuable thing in my whole parish, and that I will not rest myself, or, if I have the power, let you rest, until I have made them all that they ought to be.'

Dolling valued the work with the children all the more, inasmuch as it cannot be denied that he did not get into the same direct contact or exercise the same personal influence over many of the grown-up people of S. Saviour's parish that he had done in regard to those of Maidman Street Mission, or of S. Agatha's, Landport. They seemed harder to get to know--the better ones more reserved, the worse ones more suspicious. Of course, this does not apply to all. At S. Saviour's, as elsewhere, he made devoted friends among the poor, but he was slower in establishing with his people the affectionate and mutually trustful relations that had prevailed elsewhere. He says in his 'Quarterly Letter' for December, 1898, writing, in regard to social entertainments, of the stiff spirit of respectability of some of the better behaved people in the parish, a spirit in which, however, he quite recognised a good side amid so much depravity and evil:

' Here we are nothing if not respectable and decorous, and yet one quite understands the enormous safeguard that this is, and how, if a young man or a young woman is really to reach a society which will help instead of hinder, they must fashion themselves as that society demands, and I fear it would be a matter of great danger to hope for much relaxing of this much-needed respectability. So from the bottom of one's heart one blesses God for manners and customs that may appear a little stilted, but the usefulness of which is more apparent when one has grasped the need of them.

' On the other hand, I need not say how continuously I long for the kind of club I had at Maidman Street, Mile End, a perfectly rough-and-tumble place, where we boxed, played skittles, step-danced--a place in which I could say to all these dear street-corner, out-of-work people, "Come in and spend an evening whenever you like," the only needed passport good behaviour when inside. The higher society docs, and will, affect the elite of our parish. Nothing else but this rough kind of club, one for boys and one for men, can affect the vast majority of my parish. Alas! we are so tightly packed together that oven an empty shop or shed cannot be found, even if I had the money to pay for it; but I shall never feel that I am doing my work here till I achieve this.'

In the above speaks the true Dolling, the Bohemian Celtic strain coming to the surface--' always for the under-dogs'--'the dear street-corner, out-of-work people.' No wonder he found himself completely out of sympathy with the ethos, the 'elderly common-sense,' as one has called it, of the ordinary, well-to-do ratepayer.

His unfailing joy was in the camps, especially the boys' camp at Broadstairs, the entire cost of which was borne, as we have already told our readers, by Mr. Alfred Harmsworth, proprietor of the Daily Mail, who had become in the later years of Dolling's life one of his closest friends. This friendship is all the more remarkable as in former years at Portsmouth Father Dolling had opposed Mr. Harmsworth's candidature for Parliament when the latter stood for that borough.

We print the following recollections of Father Dolling from the pen of this the most intimate friend of his last years:



'My friendship with Mr. Dolling was not of as great a duration as that of many of his friends. I first met him in 1895. He appealed to me, primarily, by reason of his great and somewhat unequalled power of organization. He not only knew how things ought to be done, but he was able to make the most unlikely people do them. He knew how to make weak people self-reliant, how to check the zeal of the exuberant. He was able to take a man who had been a failure the greater part of his life and make him a success towards the end of it. It is not necessary to particularise, but I feel sure that all who were intimately connected with his career will agree that the human material employed in the development of his numberless schemes was of the most unlikely nature. Mr. Dolling never said, "That is an unsuccessful man; I will avoid him." He would rather take an unsuccessful man, and see what could be made of him. Nor was it all done by kindness.

'Of the religious part of Mr. Dolling's work it is not for me to speak. The methods he adopted for controlling the many forms of human mechanism which he had at hand were just those that are adopted by any great organiser. Firstly, he inspired confidence in himself. Then he persuaded the human instrument that he, too, was worthy of confidence. Finally, he adopted the somewhat rough but effective method of throwing him into the swimming-bath, and letting him get out as best he could, if I can use such a metaphor. People did things for Father Dolling because they had to do them. I was associated with him in a very small degree in the management of a camp for poor boys at the seaside. In this matter, as in all other things he undertook, he had a really first-class man at the head, Mr. Matley. He also had the assistance of his clergy, and one or two active lay-helpers. But for the rest, the services of all kinds of persons were called in, not excluding some of his human derelicts--those odd, mysterious people with histories who were often to be found at his table at S. Agatha's or Poplar.

'An immense worker himself, he was a perpetual example to those around him to do likewise. The seaside camp was situated at a promontory of land at Broadstairs, some seventy-seven miles from London. He had also at the same time a camp for girls at Hayling Island. I have known him to get through such a day's artillery as this: Leave Broadstairs in the morning at seven o'clock, go to London, transact business, then down to Hayling Island and settle some knotty point in connection with the management of the children, return to London, and then back to Broadstairs, arriving by a slow train on the London and Chatham Railway. He would, that same night, be full of life and energy at 10 p.m., and able to sit up and amuse people long after others had gone to bed. But it was that kind of thing, in my judgment--and I saw much of him in his latter days--that eventually killed him. I have known him go through such a day as that, and be down at the camp, a mile away from the house, shortly after daybreak next morning.

'Insight and foresight were two of his great attributes as an organiser. He was always ready for the unexpected. In designing a camp, he knew where it should be put, what kind of tents would stand a gale, the kind of provision that should be made for the superintendents, the system of delegation and organisation by which a certain number of the lads could rule the rest. He knew instinctively the kind of danger that should be avoided in managing so great a number of boys.

'The test of all was that, throughout a number of years, in good weather and in bad, amidst all the various amusements of the usual games (which had to be taught to these boys, by the way), amidst the dangers of sea-bathing, and of trips to France, not one of the hundreds of lads ever experienced any mishap. He was among the very best men of business I have ever met, the dearest and most loyal of friends, a unique personality.


This camp at Broadstairs seemed to turn Dolling himself into a boy again, though, indeed, he always was one at heart. He delighted in seeing the youngsters learning to swim, sporting in the water 'like troutlets in a pool.' He felt pride in the smart, soldierly aspect of the lads in their khaki uniforms as they 'fell in 'to the sound of the bugle on the sands or in the fields. There was thorough enjoyment, and yet also thorough discipline, at the boys' camp, and the combination of the two rejoiced Dolling's mind, at once so buoyant and genial, and with such powers of organisation. He could always be young with the young, and his wholeaoine, affectionate nature never really grew old.

Avarice, suspicion, jealousy, envy, the things that age men, in the worst sense, found no entrance to his natural, kindly heart.

Project Canterbury