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 XIX. The Last Months

I MUST go back to December, 1917, to give a letter from St. Paul's Home, Calcutta, to Bishop Pakenham Walsh in Assam.

"December 19th, 1917.

"My Lord,

"We are girls of St. Paul's Home and our Bishop is getting an increase of the sickness which troubles him, so we hope you will not mind us asking you to use your great powers of Prayer and healing because we believe that his illness can be lessened by the power of God. We hope you will not mind our request. We enclose a paper we have received in which we are asked to pray for our Bishop. We will be very grateful to you if you can grant our request.

"We are, My Lord,

"Your obedient children,

Then follow the names of eleven girls.

On February 10, 1918, Lefroy writes home:

"You will be interested to know that I have to-day been anointed for healing by Herbert Pakenham Walsh. A few weeks ago he sent on to me a letter which he had received from some Eurasian school girls in a very poor parish here. He has anointed several persons in that parish, with, I understand, good results; at any rate, they believe in his power, and when the children knew I was getting worse, they wrote asking him to see if he could not help me. It was rather touching, and coming in this way I did not like simply to ignore the suggestion, so when he came down for the Synod I had a talk with him, explained my position, of mind and belief, on the subject, and said I should be quite glad to be anointed if he thought it might do good. He said he would like to anoint me, so after morning service to-day we came together in my house-chapel, just a few of my closest friends, 'Molly,' Mr. Godber, Foss Westcott, and Bishop of Madras, Bishop of Bombay and his wife, and Mrs. Walsh. A senior priest in Calcutta, who has often taken part with Herbert in such services, joined in the laying on of hands. It was very quiet and reverent, and I am sure will be helpful some way or other."

I must also print Lefroy's letter to his old friend Allnutt on December 4, 1917. Both were soon to pass through the veil.

"My dear Allnutt,

"'Thirty-eight years ago to-day'" (Ps. xxiii. 6). [They arrived at Delhi.]

"I am sending out the enclosed rather widely--though of course chiefly only in the diocese. Would you distribute to those in the old Mission who really know me and you think would like to have a copy. Of course I will send more if you want them.

"Yours affectionately,

"G. A. Calcutta."

"The Bishop is suffering from a disease which has recently advanced considerably, and makes it uncertain how long he will be able to retain charge of the diocese. He would value prayer:

"1. That if it be God's will the disease may be arrested.

"2. That he may be able to accept whole-heartedly and gladly whatever proves to be God's will in the matter.

"Calcutta. November 36, 1917."

In July, 1918, Lefroy determined to pay a visit to his old friend and chaplain, Bishop Ferguson Davie, at Singapore, and distinctly to give himself a chance of improved health. The result was disastrous, yet he had the best of attendance and nursing, Mrs. Ferguson Davie being a fully trained doctor. Apparently the Metropolitan had heard news of special treatment, and sulphur springs for arthritis, in or near Singapore. There seemed to be nothing of the kind. From Singapore he went to Java. I give two Java letters.

"Sungoriti, near Sourabaja, Java, E.:

"September 4, 1918.

"At last, to-day, I have reached my ultima thule, and it remains to be seen what comes of it. In some ways it seems to me the most daft performance of my life, coming off to this strange and distant land, with practically no single point of contact or friendship, in the present unsatisfactory condition of my health. I am not, however, going to attempt fuller explanation or justification at present, in part because I fancy my last two (one of these never arrived) letters from Singapore will have enabled you to understand something of the difficulties by which I. was surrounded, in part because I am a bit tired with the day's journey, my temperature is going up again a little, and I don't think it would be wise to write much, and the mail leaves at 5 a.m. to-morrow. I had a satisfactory interview with a keen little Dutch doctor in Sourabaja yesterday. He examined me all over, pronounced me absolutely sound in every respect, maintained that I ought not to take the lameness, etc., too seriously, as it was sometimes far worse! and quite approved of my coming on to this little health resort (you will not find it marked on any map, it is merely an hotel and some natural hot sulphur springs) to get the freshness I have been so pining for and to try the baths, though he doesn't lay much stress on these and regards it as purely experimental. The air is pleasant, though it is not so high as I had been told, only about 2000 feet. The hotel is very empty, not a trace of an English face, all Dutch or German, I think chiefly the former. I have been most fortunate in securing a ' courier ' to bring me up here, the one Church of England chaplain in Java, meeting me at Batavia, the first port of call, and then coming on the two days in the steamer and then bringing me up here. Unfortunately he has to start back at 5 a.m. to-morrow, so as to be in time for his Sunday work in Batavia, and then I shall be left wholly alone. How long I shall be able to stick it, or what will come of the whole quaint enterprise, I haven't an idea, the one thing that has driven me to it being the extraordinary difficulty of knowing what else to do or where else to go. Unless I make improvement fairly quickly, I shall simply make a rush back to India by the very first boat I can get, though in these days that leaves a very large margin of uncertainty. But I begin to feel that, whatever there may be to be said on the other side, I simply must get back to friends again. There is a weekly mail from here to Singapore, and I am writing for that, what subsequent delays there may be before the letter travels westwards, no one can say in the least. The low fever in the evenings has not broken yet, and the hip pain is pretty bad, but I think things will improve now. You won't be anxious knowing in Whose keeping am. Mr. Colman and I have just read Evensong with the xxiii. Psalm."

"Sungoriti: September n, 1918.

"How very nice it would be if I could give you something in a brighter strain than my last few effusions, but it would only be unreal if I were to try to do so to-day. Apparently things have got to get worse before they can get better, at any rate, I am very nearly^on my beam ends, or is it beam's end! I have put in just a week here to-day: in many ways the place is quite nice, with charming quiet, and I am taking the hot sulphur baths twice daily, though without the smallest perceptible result. But the pain in my hip has got worse, and sometimes I feel that I cannot stick it out longer up here, cut off from doctors and all medical appliances, and must make a bolt for Sourabaja, where I believe they have a quite good European hospital, and see what they can do for me in it. The fever also returns regularly every day, and altogether perhaps you can imagine that things don't look rosy. One little relief to my loneliness I have found, a nice young Dutchman living in the hotel comes in every evening to translate the war news for me from his Dutch newspaper. He knows very little English and the process is quaint, but I have procured a dictionary, and we get along somehow. Also, as a return, I gave him a beating at chess yesterday. But as to one thing I have quite made up my mind at last, and I think it will be a relief to you, to get back to India as soon as I possibly can so as to be amongst friends again, with proper appliances, etc., etc. Of course it doesn't mean that I shall resume charge at once. I am utterly unfit for that at present, indeed, the whole future is wrapt in uncertainty at present, and I am not even trying to look ahead. But I am simply craving to be back, it outweighs every consideration. Sailings are, however, most irregular in these parts, and it is one thing to say I have determined to get back as quick as I can, quite another to make the least forecast as to when that will be, I was told in Sourabaja, where I was the guest of one of the partners in the chief shipping firm, that there may be a cargo boat sailing very shortly from there direct to Calcutta. This would mean a great deal to me, and I have asked my friend to do all he can to manage it. The alternative is to go back to Singapore, sailing from here D.V. 19th inst., then get a steamer for Penang, about thirty-six hours, then wait there for one to Rangoon, six or seven days' run, and from there boats go twice weekly to Calcutta. But you can imagine what all this knocking about would mean in my present condition. Well, my very dear ones, I won't depress you further or needlessly. As you know, I am all the time in the very best of keeping and things will work together for good some way or other. I will do my best to write cheerier before long."

Wearily but as courageous as ever, Lefroy returned to India, and to Ranchi to Foss Westcott.

"Bishop's Lodge, Ranchi: October i6, 1918.

"I reached my Mecca this morning, with thankfulness and joy. The drier, colder air, for which I have been pining so long, when I awoke this morning acted like a tonic, and I feel better, and in better heart, than I have for long."

On October 29 he writes to Archdeacon Firminger preparing him for resignation. In November he wrote home for the first time by another hand, preparing his relatives for it. He was taken to Calcutta on December 3, with what care some letters I give will show. Then on December 6 he wrote his last letter home.

"Woodburn Ward, Presidency General Hospital, Calcutta:

"December 6, 1918.

"My darling Sisters,

"Once again a communication in this way is the only alternative to silence practicable, viz., by an amanuensis.

"Three days ago I received your letters of October 14th, 23rd, and 28th. I will not stop to comment on them, though there is so much to say, especially about the Leinster (I) but will proceed at once to give you what I know you chiefly desire, the latest news about myself. I haven't got here a copy of my letter to you covering the Archbishop's, but I fancy that was the last thing to bring you up to date. Not long after that, the doctor in whose charge I was at Ranchi advised me to return to Calcutta, not as being in any way better but because he thought the cold was too great there, and that the milder climate of Calcutta would be better. It was a great pleasure to me. I must say a word about the railway journey down, for it really was very remarkable. The first part, at any rate, of the road, is very jolty and shaky, and every one was anxious as to how it would affect me in view of the great tenderness of my right leg. I fully shared the feeling myself. In the result I reached Calcutta having had a much better night than I had had in my own bed for some time past, having had no single twinge of pain, and slept well. Of course all kinds of arrangements had been made for me beforehand to soften the difficulties of the journey, but I cannot help thinking that this is very remarkable. I reached Calcutta on Wednesday and the pleasure of being in my own bed again was greater than I can tell you. And then, lo! this morning my doctor came and said he was quite sure that I was not giving myself the best chance by staying in my own house with somewhat imperfect nursing and other arrangements, and he very strongly advised me to move across to a first-class European hospital there is here, name at the top of the paper. Of course I did what he advised, but the disappointment was very great. When I tell you that the only way in which I could get from the station to my house and from there to the hospital was by being carried on a stretcher in a motor ambulance, you will understand a little the condition of impotence to which I am reduced. Here, however, I am in the hands of what many consider the leading doctor in Calcutta, while a wonderful man, whose name may possibly have reached you, Sir Leonard Rogers, a great bacteriologist, has also thrown himself keenly into the case, and most assuredly they will do all that lies in their power.

"I will not disguise from you that personally I consider the issue very uncertain, though I have no doubt whatever as to the necessity of my resignation at a comparatively early date. It is very sad indeed that at such a time, when it would mean so much to us to be together, we are so very, very far apart, but this is part of God's ordering for our life, and there is nothing more to be said.

"May the Heavenly Father bless and keep you at all times."

It is not easy to decide how much he of whom I am honoured to write would have cared to have details of his illness published, but his thousands of friends will be glad if I add a few words from some who tended him in his last days.

Bishop Foss Westcdtt writes from Ranchi:

"The fever baffled the Ranchi doctors, as it had those elsewhere, and when it refused to yield to treatment it seemed best that he should be moved to the Cottage Hospital where he could receive the skilled attendance he needed. The hospital had only recently been opened and is beautifully fitted up, and he could not have been more comfortable than he was there. It is situated about a mile and a half from the Mission, which imposed limits on the frequency of one's visits, but I saw him daily, and other members of the missionary body looked in from time to time, for he liked to receive visitors and missed the friends who would have called to see him had he been in Calcutta. Despite the fever he continued to deal with his correspondence and spoke of various subjects which were occupying his thoughts at the time. One matter in particular weighed much upon his mind--a case of discipline dating back to the time when he was Bishop of Lahore in which while accepted at the time, the justice of his action had later been called in question. He dwelt upon this subject much, and it deeply troubled him; he felt that he could not modify his decision in the matter, and that misunderstanding was largely responsible for the situation that had arisen. Believing that C. F. Andrews might be able to help him in the case he wired an invitation to him to come up to Ranchi, which met with a ready response, though Andrews was at the time on the opposite side of India. The interview was encouraging, for Lefroy was able to explain certain features of the case which Andrews had not rightly understood before, and he left full of hope that he would be able to remove the misunderstandings and secure the recognition of the essential justice of the Bishop's action. Shortly afterwards Lefroy received letters both from Andrews and the priest concerned which greatly cheered him, and before the Bishop's death Andrews was able to assure him that the matter was completely settled, an assurance which brought immense relief to the Bishop's mind,

"Ranchi is fortunate in that the Civil Surgeon has at his command a supply of radium, and the doctors, without being able to give any sure prediction of benefit from its application in the Bishop's case, thought that at least it was worth while trying it. Accordingly the trial was made, but was continued only a short time, for certain distressing symptoms which later supervened were at any rate in the Bishop's mind definitely associated with its application.

"On Thursdays and Sundays when in Ranchi I celebrated the Holy Communion in his room, and in my absence the Rev. R. Gee was generally able to do so. I had to leave Ranchi on the 13th of November to attend the annual meeting of the National Missionary Council at Benares. Of that Council the Bishop had been president since its first inception, and in that capacity he had won the affection and admiration of all its members. As chairman at its meetings, his transparent fairness, the patience with which he listened to every one who felt he had views to express, the delightful humour which often relieved the tension when divergent opinions seemed to threaten the maintenance of harmony, and above all his deep spirituality which helped us at all times to feel the reality of the Divine Presence, and never allowed us to forget that the business on which we were engaged was the King's business, and our aim His glory. The account I had to give of the Bishop's health evoked deep sympathy, and a message was sent him. On the second day of our meeting a telegram reached me saying that pneumonia had supervened on an attack of influenza, and that he was very low. While in doubt as to whether I ought not to return a second message brought more reassuring news, and from that time he made good progress. His chaplain, the Rev. J. Godber, had by now returned from his duty in Kashmir, to the great relief of the Bishop who had sorely missed him from the office in Calcutta. He at once went up to Ranchi to see the Bishop, and during the week he spent there was able to assist the Bishop in clearing off various items of business, to his great relief, for he intensely disliked delay in dealing with matters which were brought before him. At this time he sent out a letter to the Bishops of the Province preparing them for resignation.

"But it was not only the cooler atmosphere of Ranchi that he had longed for, the Bishop had a great capacity for friendship and he had felt keenly the absence of any companion on his journey. On more than one occasion he had spoken to me in Calcutta of his sense of isolation, and as the advance of the arthritis had increasingly limited his powers of getting about this sense of loneliness had grown upon him. During his voyage he was left practically entirely to himself, and he longed for a companion. Before he left India his friends had been doubtful as to the wisdom of his going, but he felt himself that he must get out of India to gain that complete rest from his work which was imperative, and no other way seemed open to him. Moreover, just when other doors had been closed the invitation from his old friend the Bishop of Singapore arrived, and it seemed providential. To one who lived so constantly under the sense of the reality of God's guidance, this was a sufficient argument for taking the journey, and when speaking of the long tour afterwards he would always say, 'From the point of view of health it has been a grievous disappointment,' and one felt that he believed that it had served some higher purpose and had not been in vain."

Miss Violet Saunders writes:

"Of his visit to Singapore in the summer of 1918 he wrote on his return saying, 'I can safely say it has been the worst experience in my life, it is like a nightmare to look back upon.' The pain in his hip gave him indescribable agony. He had with him all the time a most faithful and devoted Christian servant who helped him in every way he could, but the knocking about and the damp climate did him much harm, from which he never recovered."

On Dec. 3, the Metropolitan supported by loving friends, see his letter of Dec. 6, returned to Calcutta and entered the hospital, where he was nursed by Sister Katherine Maud, of the Clewer Community, and ministered to by his devoted chaplain the Rev. J. Godber as well as Canon Stuart. Near him all the while were also Mrs. McGuire, and his faithful Indian servant, Selwan. Mrs. McGuire was for years the faithful servant of Bishop Matthew. When Bishop Matthew was succeeded by George Lefroy as Bishop of Lahore, Mrs. McGuire continued her services at Lahore and at Simla, and accompanied the Bishop to Calcutta, and remained with him to the end, much beloved, and Bishop Lefroy has provided for her generously in his will. And here it may be as well to say that, with the exception of a few legacies, the Bishop bequeathed all his property for the advancement of Church work in India, directing that the endowment of the Assam Bishopric should have the first claim if the necessary funds had not been obtained at the time of his death. The residue he divided between the Cambridge Mission, Delhi--the S.P.G.--educational work in the Diocese of Lahore, and the Calcutta Diocesan Council, It will also be of interest to know that the Assam Bishopric Endowment Fund had been completed by the time of the Bishop's death. But to continue, the Metropolitan was able to transact business at first and went to the extreme limit of strength to do so. A notice, outside his room precluded visitors, but in spite of this he used to say, "If there are any wishing to speak to me let them come: go and see if any one is waiting outside. I am sure many want to speak to me. I would rather hurt myself a little than harm the Church." He even used to raise his voice and say, "If any one is waiting outside let him come in." It had been arranged that the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, should pay him a visit; but the doctor suggested postponement. Lefroy said, "I think it would be better to ask His Excellency to postpone his visit until the day before he leaves Calcutta." It was on that day, indeed, that the Viceroy came, but it was to attend his funeral. Throughout those days of Advent he received the sacrament when he could, but could endure fatigue less and less, and begged those round him to pray that he might keep his attention. About Christmas Day he became gradually unconscious, but at times ejaculated sentences, such as, "Dear Father of mankind, I only want to do Thy Will: I just want strength to do it." Just as at Ranchi he was continually ministered to by the Rev. R. Gee and Mrs. Gee, so in Calcutta the Rev. T. Godber and Mrs. Godber and Miss Violet Saunders were ever at hand. On Dec. 25 he finally signed his deed of resignation, dated for Jan. 1, 1919. On that very date, the Feast of the Circumcision, he passed away late at night. As soon as he had breathed his last he was clad in his robes and taken to the Palace. On Jan. 2, in the evening, the body was removed to the cathedral, the Processional Cross and Pastoral Staff were laid upon the coffin and the clergy kept watch all night. At 7.30 am. on Jan. 3 there was a celebration of Holy Communion, and a very large company. At 8.30 a.m the Funeral Service was attended by the Viceroy and Lady Chelmsford, the Commander-in-Chief, the Governor of Bengal, and by a great concourse of people, and it added a delightful touch to the Funeral Service that the Greek Archimandrite not only attended but offered a prayer. The body was borne to the grave by officers of the Calcutta Light Horse and laid between two beautiful trees at the east end of the cathedral, the Cross and Staff having previously been taken from off the coffin and placed on the altar of the cathedral. All felt that there was nothing sad about the service: it was the passing in triumph of one of the Lord's standard bearers, and as the band played the last hymn, "Now the labourer's task is o'er," perhaps there was joy that a life of heroic suffering had been ended, and the river crossed to where "the trumpets sounded."


I gather up a few expressions of the feelings of those who knew him best, in public or in private life, as they looked back on his completed earthly life.

Lord Curzon writes: "He was a man for whom I had the warmest regard and admiration. Bishop Lefroy seemed to me to combine in a wholly exceptional degree personal sanctity of character and life, with mundane sympathies and practical ability. He had the zeal of a crusader, the heart of a woman, and the spirits of a boy. He was a man to love and to remember."

In 1913 Canon and Mrs. Barnett visited the Punjab on their Indian tour. The following extract is from a letter in Canon Barnett's "Life": "We spent ten days with Lefroy, and remember him as a man with the power of God in him. I hope indeed he may be consulted so that government may be carried on as in the presence of God."

The Harvest Field of February, 1919, voices the opinion of the Free Churches, as follows: "India is the poorer for the translation of Bishop Lefroy from earth to heaven. . . . We interviewed him for the Harvest Field more than thirty years ago, and we were then impressed with his courtesy, frankness, and high Christian principle. The idea was current that the members of the Cambridge Brotherhood had embraced a life of asceticism and devotion. He assured us that they had all they needed, and that from a temporal point of view they lacked nothing, nevertheless one could see that these scholarly men had made the supreme sacrifice. The offering in Lefroy's case was never recalled. The sacrifice remained on the altar to the end. Advancement in ecclesiastical rank made no difference."

A lady writes: "He had no idea how he was honoured for his saintly life and for the humble dignity with which he filled his office."

The above will suffice as quotations. Appreciations of him are piled beside me, but I think he of whom I have written would rather I reproduced no more. I will try and gather up the words of love and reverence of all who knew him in as few sentences as possible. Surely he was, if I may use a phrase already consecrated, "a very gallant gentleman."

One of his striking graces was generosity. He always judged generously, with the result that persons so judged lived up to the estimate. In the same way his acts of kindness gained by the manner in which they were done. Nor can any one doubt that there never was an honester or more outspoken person. Evidently it was hard for him to keep anything back, and his extreme candour was occasionally a source of trouble to those who gave him advice, presumably confidential, about the merits or otherwise of individuals.

A glance at his face would, I think, tell any one that he was not a man to browbeat or threaten. Then he became adamant, and would take action regardless of consequences. Nor can any one help being struck by the fearlessness of his utterances. It seemed natural to him, after observing the existence of an abuse, to devote himself to its extinction, and such was the transparency of his character that he excited admiration rather than hostility even among those whom he attacked. If we couple with this his Irish humour, his love of fun, his boyish spirits, his immense courage under the attacks of pain and disablement, we get a character to be loved and reverenced. Add once more an intensely devotional nature, a faith which never had a cloud upon it, a life of prayer if ever there was one in the case of a first-rate man of affairs, and we may assert that he adorned the offices he held. High and noble indeed are the traditions of Indian missionaries and of Indian bishops. It would be impossible to raise them higher; all that the best can do is to sustain them, to add one more example for inspiration for succeeding generations. George Lefroy was not found wanting; he did sustain the highest of those traditions as a fearless and devoted missionary, and as a great Bishop and Metropolitan. He lies, where I think he would desire to be laid, among the people for whom he gave his whole working life; with Allnutt and Carlyon, his earliest companions as missionaries; with the majority of the Bishops of Calcutta;--a very gallant Christian gentleman.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, at my request, has sent me the following words. There could be no better conclusion for this biography.

"I do not think that among the scores of men with whom I am in constant or occasional touch about the Missionary problems of the world there is any one who has given me quite the same sense of continued enthusiasm and steadiness. The width of his knowledge was great. But what impressed me, time after time, even more than what he knew, was the deep Christian sanity of the man himself. He was in many respects my ideal of a Missionary leader, and I have been deeply stirred by noticing the impression he left upon statesmen and other public men to whom I introduced him. In regard to our larger Missionary polity I can truly say that I miss him at every turn."

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