Project Canterbury

The Life and Letters of George Alfred Lefroy, D.D.
Bishop of Calcutta, and Metropolitan

By H. H. Montgomery

London, etc.: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920.

Chapter I. Home and School Life

The Lefroys trace their descent from a family which fled from the Netherlands during the Spanish wars. They arrived in England in 1569 and settled first in Canterbury; afterwards at Ewshott in Hampshire. Then in 1763 one branch of the family is found in Ireland. George Alfred Lefroy's greatgrandfather was an officer in the British army, and was quartered in Ireland for many years, and so founded the Irish branch. The grandfather, Thomas Langlois, an eminent Irish lawyer, became Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench, and married trie daughter of Sir Robert Paul of Silversprings, County Waterford. Four sons and three daughters were born to them. The third son, Jeffry, was the father of the future Metropolitan of India. He took Holy Orders, and in 1836 became Rector of Aghaderg in the Diocese of Dromore, County Down, and here he remained for fifty years, dying in 1885 in the Rectory where all his family were reared. The Rev. Jeffry Lefroy was the humblest of men, and was genuinely surprised when honours fell to him. In 1876 his Bishop conferred upon him the Deanery of Dromore, some seven miles from Aghaderg; this, however, did not mean departure from home and parish. Naturally, too, he served on all important Bodies, such as the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, the Representative Church Body, and the chief Diocesan Committees. It will be seen later what his son, the Bishop, owed to his father's character and influence. In 1844 the Rector of Aghaderg married Helena, eldest daughter of the Rev. Frederick Stewart and Lady Helena Trench of Kilmorony near Athy. Six sons and three daughters were born to them, George Alfred being the fourth son, born August 11, 1854.

No mother ever had a nobler influence on her children than the wife of the Rector of Aghaderg. Two of her children have written a memoir of their mother for private circulation, a beautiful story, and I regret that I can only summarise the account there given of a very gracious personality. Mrs. Lefroy, née Trench, was born in Dublin in 1820, her mother, Lady Helena, being the daughter of the first Lord Arden, an elder brother of Spencer Perceval, who was assassinated in the Lobby of the House of Commons in 1812.

The Trenches moved to Kilmorony when Helena was fourteen. Here she became not only a first-rate horsewoman, a gardener and a botanist, but was also thoroughly grounded in the classics by her father, and learnt to read and to speak French, German and Italian. Her father, the Rector of Athy, was one of the old-fashioned Evangelical clergy, one of the best of them, deeply versed in Bible and Prayer-book, imbuing his family with a solid personal religion, a splendid foundation on which to build wider convictions of the Church and its Sacraments. These last influences were soon felt by the Trench family through Sir William Heathcote, of Hursley Park, the friend and patron of John Keble, the former having married Lady Caroline Perceval, another daughter of Lord Arden. Sir William often visited Kilmorony, and in 1841 the Trenches met Dr. Pusey in Ireland, being introduced by John Keble. In 1844 Helena married Mr. Lefroy, and left Kilmorony for the Rectory of Aghaderg. It may be noted that from her earliest days she had felt the true importance of missions and had consistently supported the S.P.G. In 1853 she heard George Augustus Selwyn preach, and then and there she dedicated to God, and for the work of the Church abroad, her yet unborn babe, to be baptized in due course George Alfred.

The Lefroys, and George not least, have always looked back with joy to the summer holidays, annually repeated, when the whole family in patriarchal fashion migrated from the Rectory in a body to Newcastle at the foot of the Mourne mountains, then a little fishing village. The cow and the pony, and the cart with the luggage, started in the evening, the family in an old-fashioned carriage began their migration next morning. Once settled in, the whole party engaged in constant excursions into the hills; they bathed and boated, of course, and it was the mother who rejoiced to arrange all the plans and picnics. Forty years afterwards, George and a brother were in the Orkneys and struck up a friendship with other visitors at the inn, when one of them said, "Are you the Lefroys who used to go off the pier at Newcastle?"

In the years that followed, the mother took the greatest pains to keep in touch with her sons, and was an indefatigable letter writer. Her handwriting was beautiful, for she had been brought up to believe that letters should be written with care and accuracy. There is no doubt that her example in this respect moulded George's own habits all through his life, and it may be as well to stafe here that the future missionary wrote almost weekly throughout his Indian career either to his mother or to one of his sisters; long and careful letters they almost all are, and clearly written. All these have been preserved, and the biographer's perplexity consists in choosing his material from a mass of wealth almost unprecedented in amount and quality.

But there is another member of the Aghaderg circle of whom special mention must be made. Happy is the household which has possessed a nurse beloved and honoured, only next in affection to the mother. Among this august band Sarah Anne Curtis must be given a high place; for forty years she was the nurse of the successive children in their infancy, and the friend of all of them in maturer years. She was evidently possessed of great gifts; besides.this, she was a very godly woman, well versed in Scripture; also she had an unfailing supply of stories, and was an expert at all games, puzzles, and charades, being at the same time a stern disciplinarian. Perhaps what she was all in all may be summed up in a remark of the mother: "Yes, I always thought there must be some good in me because I was never jealous of Curty."

In 1885 Dean Lefroy died: Mrs. Lefroy lived on for her children, believing in the wisdom of the old saying, "It is not so important to do extraordinary things as to do common things extraordinarily well." Another trait in her character deserves attention: "There was never in her a trace of that hurry and rush which is more common than attractive in the lives of many self-denying people. No one ever saw her fussed, or what is called 'put out.' It was the result not of carelessness or easy-goingness but of an intensely, but unobtrusively, methodical, disciplined, and thorough life, a calm, strong and happy temperament." There can be no doubt that her son George did not fail to recognise the beauty of this lesson from his mother's character. The day came when as Bishop of Lahore it was his duty at Bannu to preach at a service attended by the present King and Queen. He took as his text the words "Fret not." The Princess, as she then was, asked the Bishop for a copy of his sermon, and I am deeply indebted to her Majesty for giving me permission to use her copy in order to give many others the benefit of the lesson so well inculcated by the Bishop. The sermon will be found on pp. 152 et seq, given almost in full. Mrs. Lefroy had another gift. She read beautifully, and her sons and daughters tell of the delight with which they listened to Scott's novels, and to many of Miss Yonge's works--especially the "Heir of Redclyffe "--read to them of evenings.

After the death of the Rector of Aghaderg the family moved to Killiney, County Dublin, the mother giving as the reason for her choice that her sons were in England; no, she would not go to England. "I shall stay in Ireland, but I shall settle as near England as I can, so that whenever my sons want to come to me they can do so as easily as possible." Killiney church was a long mile off, but up to the time when Mrs. Lefroy was eighty years of age she walked to church and back again Sunday after Sunday. Of course it was an immense joy to the mother when her son George, whom she had dedicated to God when yet unborn, was consecrated Bishop of Lahore in 1899. The Bishop came home in 1908, visiting Palestine on his way, in order to attend the Pan Anglican Congress and the Lambeth Conference, and was in time to see his mother once more. She passed away in that

year in her eighty-eighth year. They tell how she repeated the 27th Psalm perfectly and accurately as was her wont, almost as her last words. Characteristically, too, when asked how she felt, she answered, "Oh! failing, failing, failing; but oh! how I wish that matters would hurry up a little." She was buried beside her husband at Loughbrickland, and great was the gathering at the funeral; all classes and religious denominations were present. A dozen times the bearers were changed, so eager were as many as possible to help to carry "the mistress" to her last resting-place.

The history of one to whom the subject of this memoir owed so much is the best possible background for all that is to follow. Let the Bishop speak for himself. In a sermon preached at Simla on "Womanhood" he said, "Think of the mother's influence and of how she herself--not what she says, not what she does, but above all what she is--is impressed upon the life of her child, and moulds it and shapes it in a thousand ways which we can never trace, of which mother and child may alike be wholly unconscious, but which are as certain as the influence on us of any other of the natural surroundings and circumstances amid which the young plastic life develops and is formed. Nor is it restricted to the time of infancy or childhood only, though even if it were the impress so made, the seed so sown must necessarily be of the greatest possible potency in the development of the whole life. I stand before you myself, as one, and I doubt not there are other men in the congregation who could say the same, to whom the mother is still the guiding power of my life. I turn to her still, not only for counsel in difficulties, though that too, but also which is of infinitely more importance, for that sense of restfulness and calm and quiet, for the inspiration of all things pure and true and beautiful and good, and for the sense of God's presence coming very close to human life, which are surely amongst the most strengthening and helpful influences which can enter into the life of any of us. I owe more to my mother than to any other human influence of which I am conscious." A noble tribute from a son to a mother.

George must early have imbibed influences from his mother since it is related of him that even before he could speak plainly, if asked what he intended to be, he used to lisp "I want to be a Missionary in New Zealand." But we pass on to schooldays.

At ten years of age he was sent with an elder brother to Temple Grove near Mortlake, a famous school, occupying the house of Sir William Temple, ambassador in Holland in the reign of William III., and where Swift was Secretary and where also it is said he first met Stella. George only spent one year there, and in 1865 he went to Marlborough, where he remained for nine years. Starting at the bottom of the school he worked his way up to the top. Strong in body he succeeded in winning the school mile after several efforts; but his happiest memories were connected with many a ramble in Savernake Forest, where he gained a love for wild life which led him in after years to seek his recreation as often as possible in the higher Himalayas; letters in due time will reveal his joy in expeditions at altitudes up to 15,000 feet and within view of mighty peaks.

Memories of George's school life as given by school fellows and masters are all delightful, and the following lines seem to reveal the man as we knew him up to the end. The Rev. G. H. Purdue writes:

"I was at Marlborough with him in 1869-73 and for the last two or three years he was one of my chief friends. He was a splendid type of a public-school boy, a first class mile-runner--winning the mile his last year as a 'dark horse' owing to his splendid stamina and pluck--but above all things high-principled and not ashamed to show his colours when necessary, always cheery and good tempered. It would be difficult to find a finer character in the rough and tumble of public-school life in those days. One incident respecting him I always recall with gratitude. Knowing that I like himself was hoping to be ordained, he suggested that we should meet in his study and read Greek Testament together. This we did on several occasions. It was one of the most precious memories of my friendship with him. No wonder that a boy of his age who could, with so many claims on his time, so propose a plan for his friend's benefit, should have lived to become the much loved and honoured helper and friend of so many souls."

"Lefroy had a charming disposition which disarmed opposition and won him friends among all classes. I remember on one occasion how he took me to the house of a farmer who lived near Marlborough. Farmers and College boys were not always the best of friends, but in this instance we were generously entertained to walnuts and wine. It appeared that previously to this the farmer had caught Lefroy trespassing on his ground. Lefroy explained that he had done no harm and would do no harm. Thus a friendship commenced and peace reigned in the place of war."

From the Rev. W. H. Churchill (1880) to Mrs. Lefroy:

"Frank sent me George's letter to read which I am now returning. I am so glad to see he is cheery and well, but I doubt if it is possible for him to be otherwise. I have known him for 14 years now: we went to Marlborough together as small bairns, and I never knew him say or do anything that would have brought a blush to your cheek. In after life it was just the same. At our ordination we saw a great deal of each other, and there he was, a man of such disinterested holiness, together with such winning, tolerant, unselfish ways, that it made one hang down one's head and sigh to be a little more like him. You who know him will know that this is not extravagance, but merely the truth. It is honour enough to have such a friend: what joy it must be to have such a son."

"Thank you so much for letting me see George's letter. I have just packed off one to him, 15 pages of sermon sheets, giving an account of Trinity Sunday at Ely. Many a time my thoughts wandered back a year and visions of George, on his knees, alone with me, made me wish, not a little, that he too were there. He is one of those men whose very presence drives sin away. Good-bye."

From the Rev. C. W. Bourne (his house master):

"The impression that Lefroy's character made on me was of 'straightness' and 'alertness.' He was one of those persons whom one always took for granted: that he would under all circumstances do the right thing in the right way seemed to be a matter of course. Such a character goes on its way, sweetening all its surroundings, but so unostentatiously that one does not realise at first how much good such a person is doing. I have tried to recall some of those who were boys with him in the same house at Marlborough. I fancy I am correct in naming the following: R. E. Prothero (now Lord Ernie); H. Vassall, the famous Oxford footballer, and his cousin R. L. S. Vansall, who died while serving in one of our frontier campaigns in India; C. L. M. Des Gray, the diplomatist; A. P. Codd, the most brilliant mathematician I ever taught; R. G. Kekewich, the defender of Kimberley, and his cousin, H. L. Lopes; J. B. Kite, Dean of Hobart; G. W. Grey, at that time a Queen's Page; G. Mackintosh and W. L. Mackintosh, two brothers who have done great things, one in the service of the Army, and the other of the Church; K. W. Murray, the Genealogist; R. W. Doyne, the well-known ophthalmic surgeon; and two notable trios of brothers, Sieveking and Pickard-Cambridge. I kept in touch with Lefroy till he went out to India, but after that time ill-luck always prevented my seeing anything of him in his visits to England."

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