Project Canterbury

A Sketch of the Life of the Right Reverend George Augustus Selwyn, Late Bishop of Lichfield, and Formerly Bishop and Metropolitan of New Zealand.

By Mrs. G. Herbert Curteis

London: J. Parker and Co., and Newcastle: G. Hickson, 1878.

Chapter VII.--Death of Dean Champneys: Church Congress at Stoke-upon-Trent: Visit to the Isle of Man: Fourth Diocesan Conference. 1875-1878.

The early part of 1875 was saddened by the death of Dean Champneys, a man whose gentle loving nature had drawn the Bishop's heart to him in a remarkable manner. And when the grave was made, deep in the solid rock on which the Cathedral stands, on the south-east side of the Lady Chapel, Bishop Selwyn pointed out that spot as the place where he wished to be laid himself, dose to the remains of his beloved friend, whenever his own time should come. In illustration of this wish he made allusion to a well-known double tomb in Hereford Cathedral, where some ancient bishop and dean are sculptured side by side, hand grasping hand with a friendship not broken, but secured, by death.

In June of the same year, the triennial Foreign Missionary Festival was held in the Cathedral, the sermon being preached by Bishop Webb of Bloemfontein in South Africa. [The Diocesan festivals at Lichfield are held in a cycle of three years: 1, Choral festival: 2, Home missionary festival: 3, Foreign missionary festival.] A public meeting was afterwards held in the palace garden; where the Bishop stationed himself under a laburnum tree laden with golden blossoms, while the Bishops of Brechin, Bloemfontein, [63/64] and Nassau stood near him, each addressing the meeting in turn. The collections were divided between the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Church Missionary Society by the Bishop's special desire. This was almost the last appearance of the Bishop of Brechin in public before his death. The Bishop of Nassau too has since been taken to his rest.

In October of this year the Church Congress was held at Stoke-on-Trent. Careful preparation had been made by the local committee, assisted by the judgment and energy of the Chairman and Rector, the Rev. Sir Lovelace Stamen and under the Bishop's guidance it proved one of the most successful of those gatherings of clergy and laity that has as yet taken place. The Guardian, (October 13th, 1875), remarked that the chief characteristic of this Congress was its cheerful hopeful view of the future, and an absence of anything like despondency. In education, the modern advances were cordially accepted; and in mission work, both home and foreign, the whole effect of the discussions was decidedly encouraging. That the success of the Congress was due, in a great measure to the management of the president, all were agreed; as any sign of disturbance at once stopped on the slightest hint from him. In his opening address the Bishop said, "I cannot doubt the Anglican church is the true centre round which may be called, in God's own time, all the scattered forces of those who agree in accepting Holy Scripture as their standard of faith and the creeds of the undivided church as their summary of doctrine. She stretches out her arms to the great English-speaking race now widely scattered round the earth, welcoming to her communion the old Catholic, the Greek, the Russian, the Lutheran, the Scandinavian, the Wesleyan, bearing with any errors she [64/65] may discern in other branches of the church as she hopes her own may be forgiven."

Amongst the earliest speakers at the Congress were a Bishop and two representative members of the American church. They bore testimony to the cordial good feeling which had sprung up between their Church and our own, as a direct result of God's blessing on Bishop Selwyn's visits. The working-class was largely represented at this Congress, especially at the evening meetings when the larger part of the audience consisted of artizans and their wives. The churches at Stoke--as well as those of the neighbouring parishes in the potteries--were also crowded every evening to hear the special preachers; and the whole town seemed to share the enthusiasm generated by the meetings in the large hall. At the conclusion of the Congress the Bishop spoke a few words on the offering of praise to Almighty God. As he passed on to speak of the soul's best time of praise, the holy Eucharist, the Congress became more and more reverently attentive; and when he concluded with the glorious words of the Tersanctus, 'Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to Thee, O Lord most high!' the whole meeting rose simultaneously to its feet, standing with bowed heads while he recited them. The Benediction followed: and when, after a marked silence, the multitude rose from their knees to depart, many must have felt that the Congress had indeed been a means of grace and a blessing to them.

In June, 1876, the Home Mission Festival was held in the Cathedral. The Bishop preached a heart-stirring sermon in the Cathedral to the vast crowd, who felt that, well as the Bishop was used to plead for foreign missions, he could also [65/66] make an irresistible appeal for church-work at home among the almost heathen in our own, land. The money collected was divided, by the Bishop's wish, between the "Additional Curates' Society" and the "Pastoral Aid Society," testifying (as usual) to the breadth of his sympathy with all good works. Besides the hospitality afforded in the large hall at the Palace on this occasion, a tent was erected in the garden, in the old moat of the Close, where large numbers of Sunday school teachers and Church-workers were entertained: and could the Bishop have heard the expressions of hearty satisfaction with which all who were present described their enjoyment of this festival and the kindness they had received, he would have felt more than repaid for his trouble in thus amply providing for these many pilgrims to the mother-church of the diocese.

The same month witnessed the annual prize-giving to the children who had been successful in the diocesan religious examination. After service in the Cathedral, a crowd of happy faces gathered in the palace-garden and the Bishop distributed the prizes to the children with a kindly shake of the hand to each in turn. All were afterwards liberally provided with refreshments, the children sitting in picturesque rows on a grassy bank, the teachers at long tables in the Hall, where part-songs and hymns formed afterwards a pleasant conclusion to the day's proceedings.

The month of September was spent by the Bishop with a large family-party (over twenty in number) in the Isle of Man. [A characteristic anecdote was afterwards currently reported in Lichfield. When the party were preparing to start for the Island, the servants asked Who were to do the work for so numerous a party? "Do it amongst you," replied the Bishop, "and what you can't do I will help you with."] He lived in the official residence at Bishops-court, and held Confirmations for the Diocesan who had for some time been invalided. Among other interesting events was a [66/67] Choral Festival, held amid the ruins of S. Germain's Cathedral within the walls of Peel Castle, at which the Bishop preached; and his clear and powerful voice was distinctly heard by a large concourse of people thronging every part of the unroofed church.

It was in this year that an important event occurred in the southern hemisphere. The General Synod of New Zealand elected the Bishop's second son, the Rev. John Richardson Selwyn, to succeed the martyred Bishop Patteson in Melanesia; and the consecration took place at Auckland, Feb. 17th, 1877. Here he was joined by his wife and youngest child, on their return home from a visit to England--two little daughters having been left at Lichfield to be brought up with Lord Justice Selwyn's orphan children, who had already for some years found their home at the palace. The day of the consecration of the younger Bishop Selwyn was one of unusual interest at Lichfield. At 11 p.m.--the hour which accorded with that of the solemn laying on of hands at the other side of the globe--a simultaneous service was held in the Cathedral. The Bishop preached in words that were few but weighty and touching, and caused the hearts of all present to beat in warmest sympathy with the father and mother of one now consecrated to so high and perilous a duty. Tidings of this special service at Lichfield reached the new Bishop on Sunday, August 19th, when he was on a voyage among the islands; and he writes of it in his journal as "a very bright Sunday indeed."

On Sept. 27th, the fourth Diocesan Conference was held at Lichfield: and the Bishop in his opening address spoke as follows, "The meeting of our fourth diocesan conference reminds us that nine whole years have passed away since we first met on the 17th of June, 1868. Solemn thoughts must come into the [67/68] mind of every one who reflects upon the changes which have happened in the diocese since that time,--namely, two Deans, two out of three Archdeacons, three out of four Canons-Residentiary, twelve out of nineteen Prebendaries, and twenty-four out of forty-nine Rural Deans. This record of changes, caused chiefly by death, cannot fail to warn us who are alive and remain that we must 'Work the works of Him that sent us while it is day; for the night cometh when no man can work.' The personal warning thus addressed to each of us 'Set thine house in order' must be followed by another lesson of the same kind and no less important. The rapid change of office-bearers in the diocese points to the need of fixed principles upon which our work may be securely built up. As short-lived men, who know that we must soon die, we learn the value of institutions which may last for ages. Private opinions pass away with the mind which conceived them, unless they have been stamped upon the permanent records of the Church. Our own views of doctrine and forms of ritual may satisfy us in our life-time and comfort us on our death-bed: but if they are merely our own, they are like a life annuity which will expire with us.'

The Bishop then went on to speak of the Sub-division of the Diocese, (for which be asked £50,000), the establishment of a Diocesan Sunday with offertories for Diocesan purposes, the Probationer-system, the Clergy House in the Close, the Barge Mission lately started with a Church-barge attached to it, the establishment of Working-men's Clubs, and the pastoral charge of the workmen and their families employed at the new barracks on Whittington Heath. He concluded with some remarks on the churchyards. These, he said, "undoubtedly belong to the Church, and are only to be yielded up if [68/69] Parliament insist upon such a course,--in fact, if it take them by force from the Church. Then, as loyal subjects we must submit." Words of weight, which seem to bear a double power now that the voice which uttered them has become so unexpectedly silent in death: for many who heard this address may have thought of their own death as possible before another Conference should meet; but that the vigorous frame of the Bishop, which seemed to give promise of many years of service to the Church, should be laid low before many months were over--this thought probably never crossed the mind of anyone who was present. A few months later, his words on this "Burials" question were even more impressive. In Convocation, on 12th of February, 1878, he presented a declaration to the Archbishop of Canterbury, signed by 15,000 clergy and more than 30,000 laity, against Lord Harrowby's proposal in Parliament to throw open the churchyards indiscriminately to dissenters. On presenting this address he said, "In administering for ten years a diocese with a population of 1,300,000 souls, I have never met with a single grievance in connection with this burial question. The grievance now alleged as so important for furnishing a claim to break the ancient laws of the Church of England has never come within my knowledge. I have made many inquiries on the subject among the clergy, and have never yet found a single clergyman who could tell me that, in the course of his ministry, he has met with such a grievance as that which has been put forward as a justification for this alteration in the Burial Laws. On the other hand, the grievance proposed to be inflicted on the clergy is so great, that I, for my part, should concur with the whole body of my clergy, in offering the utmost possible opposition to the bill in all its stages."

[70] The sad news of the death of Mrs. John Selwyn at Norfolk Island reached Lichfield by telegram on the 15th of Feb., and was received by the Bishop during the session of Convocation. The blow was a heavy one, especially as it came suddenly by a bare telegram without the possibility of a letter for some weeks. But he continued his labours unceasingly, although the thought of his dear son in his lonely widowed state, far from home and relations, must have been ever present to his mind. It was beautiful to see his tenderness to the little ones thus suddenly left motherless; and to watch him as he pressed them to his heart--like the Good Shepherd "gathering the lambs in his bosom"--saying, "Poor little things, they have no mother now!" As if the sense of their orphaned helplessness had made him resolve, with a stronger determination than ever, to shelter them from every stormy blast, and to extend to them every needful care.

Nor was it only for the children of his own family that the Bishop seemed to have a special tenderness. All "little ones" and all who were poor or weak, at once called forth his sympathy and offers of fatherly help and guidance. Bishop Patteson mentions how on one occasion he paced the deck of a ship with a little sick boy from the islands in his arms. A story is also told of his taking charge of a baby during one of his voyages, the mother being incapacitated from looking after it: and how with the help of an English lad he fulfilled his task so efficiently that not only did the little one flourish under his care, but at the end of the voyage it was unwilling to leave its temporary guardian to return to its own mother. In the same spirit, when driving along the high road he mould stop his carriage to take up a woman laden with a heavy child; and he would frequently lend a hand to help a poor [70/71] person carrying a basket from the railway station--or, on one occasion, across Cannock Chase. On Easter Day, 1877, he gladly embraced an opportunity of conducting the children's service at the Cathedral, and gave a graphic account of a funeral at sea, such as he himself had often witnessed. He once held a special Confirmation in the Lady chapel for a sailor lad called away suddenly to his ship. During the last few months of his life he went constantly into the Black Country, to hold services for the barge men, where he might often be seen with the Mission Chaplain sitting on the cinder heaps to partake of some simple refreshment. Many will remember his visits to the grief-stricken crowd round the mouth of the pit at Pelsall after the accident there in 1872. And not long before his final illness he walked out frequently to minister at the quiet bedside of a dying clergyman at the neighbouring village of Wall.

It is not the first time that the strong hand and the tender heart have been found in close conjunction; nor, thank God, is it likely to be the last. But examples like these serve, assuredly, to maintain that Christ-like spirit of gentleness and simplicity which, through all ages, forms the leading characteristic in the religious life of the Church.

Project Canterbury