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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 VIII.--Last Illness and Death: The Funeral. Proposed Memorials at Lichfield and Cambridge: Conclusion. 1878.

His own end was now approaching. In the early part of the year (March 1878) as he happened to be in London, the [71/72] Bishop consulted an eminent physician, in consequence of an unusual sensation of weakness which troubled him. No serious cause of mischief, however, was discovered; and the patient was dismissed with a simple recommendation to "rest." This simple remedy might possibly have availed, at least to prolong his life for some years, had it been in the Bishop's nature to use it. But he had several Confirmations impending in Derbyshire and Shropshire: and such engagements as these he was always determined, if possible, to fulfil. The symptoms of indisposition soon became more apparent. But even yet no serious apprehensions were aroused, as it was still considered that the Bishop was suffering from overwork, and only needed repose to restore him to health. On the 18th of March he was present at a meeting of the College-Council at Lichfield; and although he looked ill he seemed as cheerful as usual, humorously observing that the lawn which the Students had left half-mown was like the king's half-shaven beard in the Eastern story. But in Shropshire the Confirmations told heavily on his already over-taxed powers. At one church he seemed to feel unusually cold and asked for something to throw over his shoulders, saying "I feel as if I had got my death-chill, I am so shivering." On another occasion he asked to have refreshment in a separate room after the Confirmation, feeling too ill to join the party gathered in the Vicarage dining-room to meet him. At Shrewsbury he was again very unwell, but with characteristic determination he rose from his sick bed to attend the Confirmation at S. Mary's on March 24th,--where he performed his last act of public ministration. On this occasion Bishop Hobhouse was present to help him; but he persevered to the end, though he had Ro retire for rest three times during the service; and at length he concluded an affectionate and fatherly address with the words "Safe in the arms of Jesus." Bishop Hobhouse--being aware of his enfeebled state of health--afterwards made some remark on the length and vigour of the address. "Yes," said the Bishop, who had been suffering great pain throughout, "it was like holding on to a ship in a storm; I held on by my hands and my feet." He then laid his head back in a chair in the vestry, saying "The end is come."

On the following day he returned to Lichfield, feeling seriously ill and suffering from nausea and inability to take food. As the remedies hitherto prescribed for him seemed of no avail, a new medical adviser was called in, whose experienced eye soon discovered the serious subtle malady which was undermining the Bishop's powerful frame. [Dr. Browne, of Lichfield.] He could not, however, at first determine how far it had taken fatal possession; and for a whole week the patient fluctuated, sometimes better and sometimes worse, till on the 4th of April a consultation was held with Dr. Heslop, of Birmingham. They both agreed in their opinion as to the critical nature of the ease; but they hoped that the Bishop's fine constitution might pull him through. On Saturday morning he received the Holy Communion with his family and servants, and was able to speak a few words of Christian exhortation to them. But in the evening he became worse, and on Sunday morning Dr. Browne had but little hope of his life. Prayers were offered on that day throughout the Diocese on his behalf--even Dissenting Congregations uniting their intercessions with those of Churchmen--and at the Communion Service in the Cathedral all hearts were full with thoughts of their beloved Bishop's danger. During several days the Cathedral bells were hushed [73/74] for fear he should he disturbed, and a steady gloom settled down on the anxious City as the critical state of the Bishop came to be realized. On Sunday night however, he slept more comfortably-: and on Monday he seemed to have rallied considerably, until the evening brought signs of fever and delirium; and then all hope died down in the hearts of those who loved him, and they resigned themselves to yield him up to God. Since the beginning of his illness it had been nothing but ebb and flow: but now the ebb steadily proceeded until the end. Early on Tuesday morning he asked for the children, and the little ones were brought out of their beds to see him. His words to them were playful and loving as of yore: "I wish you were little robins, so that you might sit on my finger." Then, recognizing Sir William Martin, he remarked it was like the old days at Auckland, and talked in cheerful strain with his sister and all the members of his family who were gathered around him. He even remembered that Bishop Abraham was going to a Confirmation at Sudbury that day, and mentioned what he wanted said and done. He then said 'good-bye' to all, and relapsed into quietness and apparent sleep. The nurse who attended him was heard to say, "He is such a good patient! Whatever has to be done, even if it is painful to him, he makes up his mind to it at once." For him death had no terrors, and pain no bitterness. More than once he was heard to say "Thank God for pain! thank God!" The habit of living in close communion with God, which he had formed during his days of health, was evident throughout his last illness; and even in his unconscious wanderings such words as "A light to lighten the Gentiles," and passages from hymns, were constantly on his lips. On Tuesday he was unable to take the food which was offered to him, and shook [74/75] his head, saying "don't! don't! you are only keeping me from happiness." Nearly his last words of consciousness were spoken to Sir W. Martin, words by which the dying Maori Christian is wont to tell his friends that he sees Heaven clearly before him; they mean in the Maori language "It is light." Throughout Wednesday he was tranquil, his life ebbing slowly away. On Thursday the 11th of April, he spoke some few words of faith in God and love to his wife, and about noon he calmly sank to rest.

Many who had loved him came to take a. farewell look at their Bishop, as he lay in death, with a smile of singular beauty on his placid countenance, though all unconscious of their presence and for the first time unable to greet them with kindly words of welcome. On Palm Sunday, Bishop Abraham preached a touching sermon, in the Cathedral, about the bereavement which all had undergone; and in every pulpit throughout the Diocese reference was made to the sad event, and attention was directed to the noble example afforded by the late Bishop's life.

At length the funeral-day came. On the previous evening the coffin had been removed into the private Chapel at the Palace; and on Tuesday, April 16th, several of the friends and near relations gathered together in the early morning, and kneeling beside it partook of the Holy Communion. Offerings of flowers--amongst others a Cross from the Students of the Theological College, and wreaths from the Missionary Work Party--were placed during the Service on the Altar. On the coffin was laid the Pastoral Staff of ebony and silver, which had been presented some years before, as a parting gift from the Church of New Zealand.

[76] After the usual morning service at the Cathedral, preparations began to be made for paying the last honours to the deceased prelate.

"It is probable (says a local paper) that such a scene as that enacted in Lichfield Close, on Tuesday, was never before there witnessed, when all that remained of Bishop Selwyn was laid in its last resting place by the side of his own Cathedral. A general invitation had been forwarded to the Clergy of the Diocese, and the laity were also invited to attend. The morning rose over the Cathedral-city with a perceptible heaviness which well accorded with the sad nature of the day's proceedings. People moved to and fro with a serious demeanour, and on every side the outward emblems of mourning were apparent. Everyone seemed to have lost a friend, a pastor, a head. The form of the Missionary Bishop would be seen no more. People would fain tell each to the other of their own personal experiences of their late Diocesan. During the morning the church bells tolled in a solemn manner; and the gloom seemed to darken, for it began to rain sharply just as the clergy and laity began to assemble. By eleven o'clock--two hours before the funeral--the Cathedral was well filled; and from that time until one, the clergy were assembling at the Palace, the entrance to which was thronged with spectators, the workingclass being very perceptible. A few minutes after one o'clock the procession began to move from the Palace. At the same moment the organ pealed forth from the Cathedral, producing to those without a very impressive effect. The pall was borne by Archdeacon Allen, the Provost of Eton, the Earl of Powis, Lord Hatherton, Sir Percival Heywood, Sir William Martin, and the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone; and the Pastoral Staff was carried before the coffin by the Rev. F. Thatcher, the [76/77] Bishop's Secretary. The procession left the Cathedral in the same order; and on approaching the grave the choir broke into the well-known hymn

"We are but strangers here,
Heaven is our Home;"

As the body was lowered into the grave, the sentences commencing 'Man that is born of woman' were sung by the choir: and at the conclusion of the service, a hymn was sung by the choir and people together

'The strife is o'er, the battle done.'

Bishop Abraham then gave the blessing, and all was over."

So closed the grave over all that remained of Bishop Selwyn. All the arrangements for his funeral were as simple as possible, in accordance with the simplicity of his life. [On the occasion of consecrating a cemetery at Longton, 1877, the Bishop made use of the following words: There is nothing more out of place than stent atinus pomp and ceremony at the funeral of the dead. A feeling in favour of doing away with the numerous surroundings of ordinary funerals is growing in the country, and I would arm, all Christians to unite for the purpose of conducting interments at as little cost and with as little ceremony as possible."] The crowded attendance, the long procession of clergy and laity, were but the spontaneous outcome of the heart's reverence and love. It was this feeling which brought one young workman from the Potteries to pay the last tribute of respect to the Bishop who had confirmed hint, and who had made such a deep and lasting impression on him that he had been a steady communicant ever since. To him, as to all his class,--the mighty army who toil with their hands--the words and acts of the Bishop came home with a peculiar power, from their simple straightforward manliness. The poor who were present at his funeral testified their affection for him by their quiet reverential demeanour, and many held up their little ones to see him as he was carried by, saying "Look at him, we shall never see his like again." They, in common [77/78] with all who were present, felt that it was not merely a Bishop who had been laid there to rest, but that in the well known words

"His life was gentle and the elements
So mixed in him that nature might stand up
And say to all the world 'This was a MAN.'

Bishop Selwyn will no doubt be always especially remembered as the great Missionary Bishop who--like Theodore of Tarsus in England--organized, though he did not found, the Church of New Zealand; who welded together two incoherent races into a nation; who pioneered a way for future missions among the North Pacific Islands with an intrepidity and skill which astonished even the sailors of her Majesty's navy cruising in those unknown waters; and did more than any man of his own day towards moulding into one body the whole Anglican Communion. Indeed it was in graceful recognition of such services that her Majesty last year (1877) selected him as the first Prelate of the new Colonial Order of St. Michael and St. George.

But still, when all has been said, there will remain, in English hearts--especially throughout the Midlands--the memory that he had also poured a new life into the old organization of the Church at home, and,--in the words of a preacher on the Sunday after his death--"it may be that, fifty years hence, men will trace up to its source in Bishop Selwyn's Episcopate at Lichfield a grand system of synodical action, a regular cycle of diocesan visitations by means of annual Confirmations, a probationer-system for rearing up young sons of the Church for her Ministry, and other such works, all spreading through the length and breadth of our land,--perhaps of our communion."

[79] After the funeral a meeting was held in the large hall at the Palace, to consider the question of raising a Memorial to the late Bishop; and Mr. Gladstone speaking of him said, "I have known him from his boyhood upwards, and I will only now say that there is one epithet which I hope will always be associated with his name beyond any other in the recollection of those who loved him, and that is the epithet of `noble.' This epithet attached to him by so distinguished a statesman is of itself a memorial; and its appropriateness has been evidenced by the almost universal adoption of the title, when subsequent speakers and writers have had occasion to mention Bishop Selwyn's name. But in order to meet the universal desire for a substantial and enduring monument to his memory, a committee was formed to consider in what way it could best be carried out. At a meeting of this committee held on April 26th, in the Chapter House of the Cathedral, it was agreed that part of such memorial should be the restoration of the mortuary chapels near to the Bishop's grave, in one of which an effigy of him should be placed. [See appendix.] The restoration of these chapels had been a favourite idea of the Bishop's, and he had caused plans to be made for the purpose by the late Sir Gilbert Scott.

A further proposal was then made for a memorial of a wider and more general character: and, on the suggestion of Bishop Abraham, it was agreed in the terms of a resolution proposed by Lord Bagot and seconded by the Earl of Dartmouth, "That the foundation of a College at Cambridge, to be called the `Selwyn College,' be submitted to the Church at home and abroad as a worthy object by which to perpetuate the noble name and labours of the late Bishop of [79/80] Lichfield, such College to include provision for the education of the sons of clergymen and others to fill posts of missionary work, whether at home or abroad." Subscriptions to the amount of £2,210 were promised before the meeting separated; and there is every reason to believe that this scheme for worthily perpetuating the name of one who has done so much for the Church will be carried into effect.

But besides the gifts of the noble and the wealthy, the widow's mite and the school-children's offerings must be allowed to have a place in a work of such common interest to rich and poor, old and young. For it was to the service of the poor and of the young that Bishop Selwyn's life was more especially devoted. The poor in the workhouses, the hospitals, and the prisons, all received his unwearied care; and it was to the young, in the crowded congregations at Derby and at Shrewsbury, that his latest ministrations were given. In confidence therefore, that many of those who have been confirmed in the Diocese during his ten years' Episcopate (nearly 100,000 in number) will desire to contribute to the Memorial, a movement has been set on foot to offer to all who wore confirmed between 1868 and 1878 an opportunity of giving what their means may allow. Amongst the long list of subscribers--some it may be among the highest in the land,--no greater interest will attach to any contribution than to that of the "Confirmation Candidates;" for it will represent the joint offerings of many a "little one," (in the Lord's own sense of the word) many an heir of future glory, gathered in by the loving hand of Bishop Selwyn, and kept from after-wanderings by the memory of his simple loving words who "being dead yet speaketh."

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