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In Memoriam John Richardson Selwyn, Bishop.

From the Southern Cross Log,

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008

From a recent photograph.



John Richardson Selwyn,


BORN, MAY 20, 1844; AT REST, FEB. 12, 1898.


By the lamented death of Bishop Selwyn, the third in the list of noble hero saints by whom the Melanesian Mission was founded, and has been carried on, has been removed from us. Our loss is great, beyond words. Crippled in body though he has been, and at times a terrible sufferer during many years past, the Bishop has done as effective work on behalf of the Mission since he was obliged to return to England as ever he was permitted to accomplish in the field of the Mission itself, important and far-reaching in its results though that work was. Others may, and we trust will, take up and carry on his work in England; but he, with his wonderfully attractive personality, cannot be replaced. The Commissary of the present Bishop, and a leading member of the Council of the Mission in England, his intimate knowledge of the work up to a late date was invaluable to his colleagues; while his unsparing labours in preaching and lecturing in all parts of the country on the Mission's behalf have been the means of its character and operations becoming known far and wide, spreading and deepening the missionary spirit that is now so important a factor in the life of our Church.

Bishop Selwyn possessed in no small degree the singular personal charm of his father. A New Zealander by birth, having been born in Waimate on May 20, 1844, he delighted to speak of himself as a member of the Ngapuhi tribe (the tribe of Maoris to [1/2] which that part of the country originally belonged). As a young child he sometimes accompanied his parents in the little Undine and in the Border Maid, and his passionate devotion to his mother was very touching. The mother spent some years in England while the lad, together with his elder brother William, passed through Eton and the earlier part of his course at Cambridge. After taking his degree at Cambridge, in the year 1866, he came out to New Zealand for a short visit, returning with his parents when his father finally left New Zealand to take up his new work at Lichfield. John Selwyn did not return, however, before contemplation of his father's noble work in this country and talks with Bishop Patteson had practically decided him to give up the study of the law, and to seek holy orders. Ordained by his father in 1869, he served in the Diocese of Lichfield in various capacities till 1871, when the death of Bishop Patteson at Nukapu, Santa Cruz group, drew him out to New Zealand, with his friend the Rev. John Still, to join the Melanesian Mission. At the General Synod in 1874, he was recommended by the members of the Mission for consecration as their bishop; but having regard to his youth (he was barely 30 years of age), and to the fact that he had hardly yet tested his power to endure the climate of Melanesia, it was deemed by the Primate and the General Synod prudent to postpone his consecration for three years. At the end of that time opinion within and without the Mission was unanimous, and, accordingly, on February 18th, 1877, he was consecrated in the Cathedral at Nelson, in a bright and happy service, his father holding a midnight service in his Cathedral at Lichfield, England, to synchronise with that going on at the Antipodes. Very touching and appropriate were the words of the newly-consecrated Bishop in the evening as he preached from the text, "So they went both of them together," and spoke of his father's Abraham-like readiness to sacrifice all to God.

The period of Bishop Selwyn's episcopate--fourteen years, to the year 1891--was one of steady development of the work of the Mission, and of quiet preparation for the still greater development that is taking place under his successor. Daring the greater part of the time he was favoured with the presence and assistance at Norfolk Island of that Mentor among missionaries and prince of philologists, Dr. Codrington. Archdeacon Palmer also, in the Mission before him, was present to take up the reins until his successor was appointed, when he was obliged to lay them down.

[3] The personal relations of the Bishop with the members of his staff--both European and native--were of the most affectionate kind. Brave, kindly, genial, generous to a fault, unsparing of himself, tender to others, sympathetic, eager to impetuosity, yet deferential to authority, humble and patient under trial and disappointment--who could help loving him dearly? When he attended the General Synod in Dunedin, in 1889, his brother Bishops unanimously requested him to take a holiday trip to England, for the benefit of his health. He obeyed them, returning, to all appearances, wonderfully better, in the following year. When, in July, 1890, he started for the long voyage to the islands, his wife said that she had never sent him off with such ease of mind, he seemed so fit in every way. Alas! at the return to Norfolk Island a few months later, instead of seeing his welcome form at the helm, and the episcopal hat waved in greeting to the waiting company on the wharf, she was to receive, from the bottom of the boat where he was lying, a broken-down, emaciated cripple, the victim of "malarial sciatica," as the doctors in Norfolk Island pronounced it, caught during his strenuous labours in the Banks' Islands, in which he persisted through agonising pain until he could do no more. Under Dr. Welchman's careful escort he proceeded the next year to England, soon to be informed, after the best surgical skill had been employed in vain, that he must give up all thought of returning to his Island Diocese.

The verdict almost broke his heart, which was bound up in the work and the workers: but he found his new vocation in the mastership of Selwyn College, where he speedily became a power for good, increasingly felt throughout the University of Cambridge: spending his vacations and such other days as he could spare in work on behalf of the Mission. He has worn himself out in the service: but early--all too early--as he has been taken, his time would have been still more brief, humanly speaking, but for the loving care with which he was always tended, and to which we can only now briefly allude.

Bishop Selwyn's mother survives him; and he leaves a widow and six children, three of whom are by his first wife; the youngest of these three, Stephen, is a candidate for holy orders: the youngest of the second three is named George Augustus, after his noble grandfather. Let us all pray that the bereaved may be comforted: that the good works of the late Bishop may follow him, and that the name, illustrious by reason of so many associations, may be kept untarnished and passed on by his children, with added honour, to the next generation,--still associated, we trust, with New Zealand and the Melanesian Mission.

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