In 1874, George Lefroy went up to Trinity College, Cambridge. So far as I can judge he did not exhibit in his University life any special indication that he would be distinguished in after years. But undoubtedly he did not neglect his studies since in 1878 he gained a first class in the Theological Tripos. Speaking of Lefroy, Dr. Stanton writes, "Emphatically he was one of those Christian lads from our great English Public Schools of whom Archbishop Benson once said, 'The army of Heaven which follows the Son of man on white horses has no more fair, more beautiful recruits.'" Home, School, University were training the man, and he was one who had no need for a special moment of conversion. Continuing in one stay he grew, and there is a noble work in a world that needs all types of Christian life for those who by all testimony go from strength to strength, earning the gratitude of schoolmasters and college tutors, and carrying on for themselves the happiest of associations of their early days for after life. It was during his time at Cambridge that he was brought into touch with those who were planning a Cambridge Mission to Delhi. The story has already been well and completely told by Canon Bickersteth in his Life of his brother, and I am permitted to give the substance of what is there stated as well as to print an extract from one of Lefroy's letters which appears in that volume. ["Life and Letters of Edward Bickersteth" (Sampson Low).]
The conception of such a Mission seems to have occurred first to Edward Bickersteth some time in 1875 and under the influence of two distinguished men, Dr. Valpy French, some time fellow of University College, Oxford, a great missionary and linguist and soon to become Bishop of Lahore, and also of Professor Westcott at Cambridge. French, of course, had been visiting Cambridge in the cause of Missions in the Punjab. Both these men felt that, in the words of Dr. Westcott, "the Universities are providentially fitted to train men who shall interpret the Faith of the West to the East and bring back to us new illustrations of the one infinite and eternal Gospel." In 1876 the scheme was proposed in papers read before the Cambridge University Church Society and the Cambridge Graduates Mission Aid Society, by Dr. French and the Rev. E. Bickersteth. The general idea was "the formation of a band of fellow workers whose special object should be, in addition to evangelistic labours, to promote higher education, to provide a home for Christian students, and to undertake literary and other work which might reach the more educated and thoughtful." The S.P.G. promised cordial assistance; Delhi was proposed as the best centre, and Sir Bartle Frere wrote a letter warmly supporting the scheme and pointing out the advantage to be gained by associating Cambridge with the fine work already being carried out at Delhi by the Rev. R. R. Winter under the auspices of the S.P.G. The Rev. E. Bickersteth and the Rev. J. D. M. Murray actually joined Mr, Winter in Delhi in 1877. In 1878 Mr. Winter took furlough and the whole of the Mission work in Delhi was entrusted temporarily to the two Cambridge men. In 1878 the Rev. H. C. Carlyon and the Rev. H. F. Blackett joined the others in Delhi. All four were either fellows or scholars of their colleges. But to return to Lefroy at Cambridge. After taking his degree he spent the greater part of his time at Cambridge in the study of Hebrew and Persian. He also began to teach in Jesus Lane Sunday school, and to give lectures in Barnwell to young men. In that year he writes home upon a subject which earns for him the intense sympathy of his biographer: "I was asked," he says, "not only to teach in the Sunday school but also to collect subscriptions for the C.M.S. It is terrible work, about the most unpleasant I think that I was ever employed on, but I try to keep my naturally depressed spirits as high as possible, and I believe' that so far I have met with average success." It may help if I add my experience to Lefroy's. As a Sunday school teacher at Jesus Lane throughout my Cambridge career I was given a list of names at Trinity of men whom I was to visit for the purpose of obtaining sums of 5s. for the C.M.S. Nothing I have ever had to do since has seemed formidable after that experience! I can understand better how Lefroy could face angry crowds in the Delhi Bazaar since he also persevered in obtaining those sums (at what a cost!). To knock at a man's door, probably a senior man, to find him at breakfast with others, to explain in halting terms what I wanted to a man who may have had the dimmest idea of the C.M.S., and to be asked in return how much I wanted in order to get rid of me as soon as possible, and to feel that $s. was a cheap riddance! No, nothing in after life has been a more distressing duty. But to continue: let Lefroy speak for himself in regard to his early associations with Bickersteth.
"My recollections of contact at Cambridge with Edward Bickersteth, before the mission started for Delhi, are very slight indeed. I remember a walk in the Botanical Gardens shortly after I had, in consequence of a sermon preached by Dr. Lightfoot in Great St. Mary's, asked to be accepted as a member of the Brotherhood. One or two similar walks I know followed, and then I have a clear recollection of a characteristically University gathering at which, the full number of six who had been asked for to start the mission having been completed, we inaugurated our undertaking by a breakfast in Pembroke College in the rooms of our leader. And I have often thought that it was a marked sign of the hand of our God upon us for good from the first, that although of the six who so sat down to breakfast in the spring of 1877 only two were able to go out that year, two more the next year, and the remaining two not till the autumn of 1879, yet eventually, without a single loss or withdrawal from any cause, the same six met in December, 1879, for breakfast and a truly "common" life in Delhi. Of the subjects of conversation in those first walks I remember nothing, but I do know that the sense of enthusiasm and of keen, though restrained, energy which so markedly characterised Bickersteth did not wholly fail of their due effect upon me."
In June, 1879, George Lefroy was ordained Deacon by the Bishop of Ely. He came home for a few weeks before he sailed in November for India. And it happened that on his last Sunday at Aghaderg he read the lesson in which the words occur "to preach the word, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear." For his sermon ere he left, his text was "Brethren, pray for us," and his words were long remembered by many of his hearers. His companion for the voyage was the Rev. S. S. Allnutt, these two making up the number of the Cambridge mission to six: And it is surely a touching and inspiring fact to remember that three of them have just passed away all within a year, forty years after they went to India: all three, Allnutt, Lefroy, Carlyon, lie buried among the people for whom they gave their lives. Lefroy's brother, the Rev. F. Lefroy, gives us the last peep of the young missionary in a letter to his mother written from his grandmother, Lady Helena Trench's house, at Rownhams.
"You will like to hear about old George. . . . He met us yesterday just before we got here and we had a delightful talk together on such a perfect evening, still and clear with a glorious sunset. Then there was service at five and a chat with Grandmother and dinner altogether with a sit round the fire and gossip with Uncle very like a bit of home. We didn't go to bed very early for we had a good deal to say, and we thought it might be some time before we had an opportunity for an evening chat again. Then this morning we had Communion at eight to strengthen and refresh us, and then a big breakfast party at the Parsonage, and about ten thirty we three G., E., and I set off for Southampton. We found the great steamer lying alongside in the docks and went down at once to inspect the cabin. George and Allnutt are together in a very tiny place, but they are glad to be alone and there is just room to turn round, but no more. . . . We met Dickinson on board, who had come from town to see his tutor off, and when we had made things straight on board we went up into the town again. It is needless to say that there were several little things which G. wanted to buy including a housewife and thimble. We had a good luncheon together and directly afterwards walked to the steamer again. There we met Mr. Winter, Mr. Allnutt and his father and had a good deal of pleasant talk with them. They seemed to appreciate George as much as we could wish. And so the time passed too quickly until the bell rang for all who were not passengers to leave the ship. . . . We ran round as hard as we could to the mouth of the dock through which she had to pass, and we got so near again that we were able to speak to him and hear him speak to us and then there was nothing more for it but to wave and watch and wave as long as we could until the dear figure became quite indistinguishable. ... I needn't say that old George was himself up to the very last, and it is impossible for us to realise that we are not to see him again for who knows how long. I could not believe it right to see so little comparatively of those whom we love best and revere most in this life if it were not that we hope to know and love them infinitely better in another. How wonderfully the Epistle came in at the morning's Communion, Eph. vi. 10."