Project Canterbury

Bishop Montgomery: A Memoir

By M.M.

[London] The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1933.

Chapter VII. Tasmania: Home life

Outside his visitations, two duties appealed to Bishop Montgomery as being the most important of all the year: his synod address and his Quiet Day for the clergy. He spent months of preparation over these. The bishop has been called a mystic and a dreamer, but combined with these was a most practical mind. The synod was unlike anything held in England. He spent months getting up the rules of procedure, with the result that when he presided at his first synod he astonished the clergy and laity alike by his knowledge of procedure and his grasp of essentials.

The moment one synod was over he began preparing for the next. He carried a large pocket-book in which he made notes as they occurred to him; then near the time he went away for a week and wrote the address. The same with the Quiet Days. He judged it wrong to call busy clergymen together unless you gave them of the very best. And in time almost all the clergy came. There were thirty-seven parishes in the whole diocese then, with about sixty priests. The bishop was a real father-in-God to his clergy in a way that is perhaps hardly possible in England. He tried to make Bishopscourt a home to them. The wife of one of them and the wife of the cathedral organist came there for their first confinements. Many of the clergy spent days of convalescence there after illness; it was "open house" to them all. Bishop Montgomery considered that the first duty of a bishop was to be very close to his clergy, and he never forgot the mutual affection of bishop and clergy in Tasmania. He felt that their future depended in large measure upon him, and certainly the future of the diocese depended upon them. The meetings of synod became times when the family seemed to meet, and he held that a bishop could pass anything he wished if he was really at one with his clergy. He was the bishop of the clergy rather than of the laity. "To the laity through the clergy"--that he considered the right course for a bishop. On his visits to the parishes he made a point of staying with the parson, but certainly the affection and esteem with which the laity in Tasmania regarded him did not suffer from this.

"Quiet Days," or rather "days of refreshment," were held too for clergymen's wives, when the bishop gave the addresses in his little chapel. Silence was not enforced on these occasions, for it was felt that many of them came from distant Bush parishes where they had few opportunities of intercourse with those of their own class. They were encouraged by the bishop to talk over their difficulties with him, and many went back to their lonely lives cheered by his words of sympathy and advice.

Once every three years the general synod was held in Sydney. Bishop Montgomery preached the synod sermon on his first visit there in 1891. He always considered that he had a very poor delivery in the pulpit, but Archdeacon Whitington declared that "he produced stops in his voice then that he had never heard before." Certainly the bishop put his whole heart into that sermon, and to him it was an overwhelming occasion.

At succeeding synods Bishop Montgomery became more and more a force on the Australian bench of bishops. His untiring zeal for the cause of foreign missions carried all with him. He was not content that Australian bishops should look after their own heathen; he tried to give them the larger vision, to make them see the missionary work of the Church as a whole. The Australian Board of Missions had been founded some years previously. Bishop Montgomery threw himself wholeheartedly into the work of the A.B.M., and at the request of the Australian bishops he organized the Jubilee of the Board in 1900. The chief fruit of this was the founding of the diocese of Carpentaria, of which Bishop Gilbert White became the first bishop. Gilbert White asked Bishop Montgomery to prepare him for his episcopate. They spent ten days together, and from that communion started their lifelong friendship. At the close of that wonderful missionary week in Sydney, Bishop Montgomery received a beautiful pectoral cross from the general synod.

It was during his episcopate that Bishop Montgomery paid a visit of seven months to Melanesia during a vacancy in the see. His experiences during that tour are related in his book, The Light of Melanesia.

One of his friends wrote of him, "Simplicity and sincerity were the marks of his private life." The home life at Bishopscourt was delightful. "What a dear house it was," he wrote later. "We can never again expect one so delightful." The bishop and his wife kept open house and entertained largely. But it was not expensive. They never had late dinners or drank wine.

As their children grew older, a tutor was engaged for them, and a schoolroom built outside the house. The boys had the charge of this room week about, to keep it clean, light the fire, chop wood, etc. Here too they got their own tea. Their mother gave them in turn half a crown a week to spend on "luxuries." One boy would spend the whole sum on biscuits, another on cakes. A canny child would buy a tin of salmon and get the cook to make it up into fish-cakes. One of the boys convulsed his parents by announcing that he had spent his half a crown on "reduced eggs"! Other boys and girls shared their school life. One of these, Andrew Holden, whose father and mother were among the bishop's closest friends, afterwards married his daughter, Una. On Saturdays the family would spend the whole day in picnicing in the Bush or on the seashore, cooking their own food and being introduced to the delights of "billy tea."

Rabbits were looked upon as vermin and no one would eat them, but they figured largely in the meals at Bishopscourt and after a time many were glad to follow the example of the bishop's family. Similarly the bishop found that his clergy considered it infra dig to travel second class on the railways (there was no third), though they could ill afford the first-class fare. Until the bishop was given a first-class pass on the railways he always travelled second class, and his family likewise, and the clergy soon followed their example.

Three of their children were born in Tasmania--Winsome (afterwards Mrs. Holderness), Desmond, and Colin. When Desmond was born the bishop was away from home, his exact whereabouts unknown. A telegram was sent which was forwarded on from place to place till at length it reached him. The bishop wired back, "He will be a mighty missionary." But this beautiful and gifted boy died at Chiswick at the age of thirteen.

As the boys grew older and began to think of their future careers, their father did his best to. help them. He called them one evening into the chapel and read a paper to them on their future lives. In this he begged them, whatever professions they chose, to put God first in their lives and to strive to serve the empire. At his death his five sons were all serving the empire, four of them abroad and one in the home Church.

In 1897 the whole family came over to England for Bishop Montgomery's first Lambeth Conference. [See Chapter XI.] New Park was re-visited, many old friendships renewed, and a very happy six months was spent in the old country. Dr. Farrar was then Dean of Canterbury. The Montgomerys hired one of the Canon's houses in the Close, and the boys were sent temporarily to the King's School. But all their friends were amazed to find that Bishop Montgomery and his wife had no wish to remain in England. They were homesick all the time for Tasmania, and their happiest moment was when they set sail again for the country to which they had dedicated their lives.

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