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The Bishopric of the Falkland Islands

From Mission Life, Vol. III (new series) (1872), pages 622-629.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006



The Rev. Waite Hockin Stirling, D.D., was consecrated the first Bishop of the Falkland Islands, on the 21st of December, 1869. The See takes its name from a British colony, but the work of this new episcopate, either directly or by commission from the Bishop of London, extends to all the chaplaincies in South America which are not within the limits of British Guiana. Exclusive of the Bishopric of Guiana, founded thirty years ago, the only points at which the Church of England touched the great continent of South America were the British consulates

For the benefit of such English communities as are gathered round the British consulates, a system of consular chaplaincies was established. Seven of these chaplaincies were formed,--five on the east coast, at Bahia, Pernambuco, Rio Janeiro, Montevideo, and Buenos Ayres, and two on the west coast, at Valparaiso and Lima. The chaplains receive their license from the Bishop of London, who, by a fiction of the law, is assumed to hold Episcopal jurisdiction over all clergymen of the Church of England whose sphere of labour does not fall within any recognized diocese. The Consular Act held out hopes that, if the English residing in any Consulate or Vice-consulate desired the services of a chaplain, the Government would duplicate any sum raised for his income by the British residents. Attempts have been made by the South American Missionary Society to increase the number of the chaplaincies on the basis of this Act, but the Government has declined their appeal.

In the meantime British enterprise in South America far outstripped the limits of the British consulates, while the energies of the church lagged far behind the necessities of her children. Wherever there is a demand for industry and skill, our countrymen flock in thousands. The attractions of South America are very great, not only to men of science, travelers, and naturalists, like Humboldt, Agassiz, and Wallace, but to those who have fortunes to make, and health and ability to make them--to merchants, contractors, engineers, agriculturists, and miners. In all the chief seats of industry and commercial activity, from Panama to Valdinia on the west, and in the sheep-farming districts of the east, our countrymen are to be found. The Central Argentine Railway has been designed by English engineers, is being made by English contractors, and bids fair to rival the Great Pacific Railway of North America. The formation of railways in Brazil has attracted English enterprise. The Pacific Steam Navigation Company, which supplies the western coast with [623/624] a fleet of mail steamers, is a Liverpool Company. The same English Company send another fleet through the Strait of Magelhaen to Valparaiso, thereby avoiding the dangers of Cape Horn. There is an incessant passing and repassing of our countrymen between England and South America, and also between all the principal ports of the latter country. English settlers are steadily increasing in all parts. It is of necessity therefore that we now inquire into the efforts of the Church to administer to them the blessings of the Gospel.

The South American Missionary Society has been instrumental in effecting a very remarkable reform in this matter. In the year 1860 the Rev. Allen Gardiner, in connection with that society, established himself at Lota, in the Republic of Chili, as chaplain to a settlement of miners. The wish of his heart was to promote a Mission among the American Indians, from the basis of a chaplaincy among the English residents. We are not at present concerned with the result of the attempt to promote direct Missionary enterprise.

We simply record this fact as the first attempt made to establish a chaplaincy in connection with the Church of England, beyond the limits of the original seven consular chaplaincies. Since that period the work has been vigorously pushed forward. With great liberality the Pacific Steam Navigation Company have guaranteed the expenses of the chaplaincy at Callao, the Port of Lima. Other chaplaincies have been established at Panama, where a narrow isthmus is washed by two oceans; at the Chincha Islands, till the guano was exhausted; at Arica and Tacke, till Anu was destroyed by the earthquake of 1868, and its inhabitants ruined; at Coqimbo for a time, soon we trust to be revived again; at Santiago, the capital of Chili; at Pategones, on the River Negro; at Rosario, the terminus of the Great Central Railway; at Fray Bentos, Paysandre, Colonia, and Salto, on the Uruguay; and recently at San Paulo in Brazil.

These chaplaincies are supported generally by the English settlers, assisted by a grant in aid from the Society. Those in the province of Uruguay were mainly established through the energy of the Rev. S. Adams, Consular Chaplain at Montevideo; that at San Paulo has been recently founded by the enterprise of the Rev. A. A. Welby, an English clergyman who was traveling for his health. A glance at the map will show the immense distances which separate these places from one another.

Now, however great the faithfulness and zeal of the men employed, it must be acknowledged that they labour under special and disheartening difficulties, and have no facilities for combined action. Place fifty men in fifty different places out of reach of each other, and combined action is hopeless, and yet it may be quite right, and even necessary, to place them there to fulfil a long-neglected duty. Our Saviour has taught us that men without ministers of the Gospel [624/625] are like sheep without shepherds; and where there are many pastors, a chief pastor is needed as spiritual overseer to strengthen them by friendly counsel, to sympathise with them in their trials, and to link them all together in united effort. Without an Episcopal superintendent, each man may indeed be devoted to his work, without any self-seeking, and with a single eye to the glory of God, but his isolation is extreme, and he feels himself to have embarked in a task which is too much for his strength. Let the men be increased in number, and efficient superintendence provided, then only may we hope for great results; for if all these chaplains have one aim and one desire, if their endeavour is, not only to gather congregations of their own countrymen who shall be faithful to Christ and faithful to the Church of their fathers, but also through them to influence all men of all nationalities--Spaniards, Portuguese, Indians, Chinese--by the power of the Gospel, then it is evident that some outer communication is desirable, if not absolutely necessary, to keep the ultimate object before the minds of all, in the face of the many obstacles that must of necessity beset them in the prosecution of their daily work. Some connecting link is wanted by which each chaplain and each Missionary may feel that he is part of one great whole, and that if one member suffer all the members suffer with it. The separate parts of a broken chain can only be effectively used for a much narrower purpose than the whole chain was designed to accomplish. The chain is once more completed by the appointment of a true Missionary Bishop, who, passing from one to another of the different centres of influence, may promote mutual confidence, and secure the combined action of all.

We shall not dwell on the difficulties which had to be surmounted before the appointment of a new Colonial or Missionary Bishopric, nor refer (except just to record the fact) to the visit of the Bishop of Honolulu to South America, under a commission from the Bishop of London, in 1869. That visit serves to show how pressing was the need of a bishop for the confirmation of many of the younger members of English congregations. We come therefore to the appointment of Dr. Stirling as the first Bishop of the Falkland Islands.

It is desirable that something should be said as to his previous connection with South America. The Rev. Waite H. Stirling was ordained by the present Bishop of London when holding the See of Lincoln. For many years he officiated as curate in two of the largest parishes of Nottingham, and then became Secretary of the South American Missionary Society at Clifton. The Society was then engaged in promoting a most arduous Mission to Terra del Fuego. Keppel Island, a little to the north of the West Falkland, was their station. They had a schooner called the "Allen Gardiner," by the aid of which they held friendly intercourse with the Fuegians, and in which they were able to bring natives to the station for instruction. The Rev. G. Pakenham Despard was the superintendent of [625/626] this Mission. It was chiefly through his prayerful efforts that the Society was resuscitated after the death of Captain Gardiner and six companions on the shore of Terra del Fuego; it was chiefly through his untiring energy that the schooner was built as a floating monument to the memory of Captain Gardiner. But in 1859 another great calamity occurred; a Mission party, while conducting Divine worship on shore, was suddenly attacked and massacred by Fuegians. After this Mr. Despard returned home. The effect of that massacre was to bring the work to a stand for three years, for during that period there was no intercourse between the Falklands and Terra del Fuego.

It was in this interval of time that Mr. Stirling offered to go out as a Missionary to revive the work, and with God's blessing to carry it forward. The schooner, which had come to England for repairs, now conveyed him and his family to the scene of the interrupted work. Some forty or fifty of the islanders were brought in groups of eight or ten to the station, fed, clothed, and instructed, and then conducted back to their own country, to be succeeded by others. Some of these Fuegians were very affectionate and teachable. Some were wild and untractable, but experience soon enabled the Missionaries to select the more hopeful pupils from the numbers of naked savages who were ready to accept their invitation of spending a winter at the Falkland Mission Station. Mr. Stirling's principal helper in the instruction and management of these wild people was a young man named Thomas Bridges, who, when quite a youth, had gone out with Mr. Despard, and as he grew older had become a most valuable teacher. He it was who reduced the language to writing, and in the year 1868 was, with the sanction of his committee, sent by Mr. Stirling to England for the benefit of his health, and if possible for ordination from the Bishop of London.

During the absence of Mr. Bridges, Mr. Stirling thought that the time had come for making the first trial of a station on the mainland, and in January, 1869, he landed at a spot notr far from the scene of the massacre, bringing with him a small band of the friendly natives who had been under instruction at Keppel. Having built a small hut, which was to be church, school, and house, he sent away the schooner, trusting himself and his work to the Lord's protection and guidance. He began every day with a simple form of worship, which included prayer, reading the Scriptures, teaching, and singing, and during much of the day endeavoured to form among a savage people habits of labour and mutual help. He made regulations, and was able, amid much personal danger, to enforce them, notwithstanding the opposition of the more riotous. His exercise of authority was the more remarkable, as it depended solely on the moral influence, there being no semblance of government among the natives, not even a chief over a tribe. But those who had been under training at the Mission station stood by him, and their faithful devotion was a great protection. [626/627] Some of these natives were able to read the English Bible, and had formed habits of prayer.

It was of this period that Mr. Stirling wrote as follows:--

"We have our evening service of praise and prayer. Foreign voices started and sustained our evening hymn."

"This day week the 'Allen Gardiner' left Ushuwia, and I have, with God's mercy, passed in safety and comfort a Sunday in these secluded parts. My nearest countrymen are probably careering in gallant ships over the billows of Cape Horn. As I pace up and down at evening before my hut, I fancy myself a sentinel--God's sentinel, I trust--stationed at the southernmost outpost of His great army. A dim torch of heaven surprises the heart with joy, and I forget my loneliness in realising the privilege of being permitted to stand here in Christ's name."

For seven months was Mr. Stirling engaged in this attempt to form a settlement on the mainland, in the midst of the barbarous people. We may reverently say, "and the Lord was with him" From this work he was summoned home for consecration. Happily, soon after his departure Mr. Bridges, having been ordained by the Bishop of London, returned to the Falklands, and was directed to carry on the work among the natives on the mainland.

We have already stated that the Consecration took place in December, 1869; since that time the Bishop has visited all the English chaplaincies on the west coast, several of those on the east coast, the Falkland Islands, and the Mission station at Terra del Fuego. On arriving at the latter country he found the work prospering, and many of the natives changed in habits and character.

We extract from the July number of the South American Missionary Magazine a short passage from the Bishop's letter respecting this interesting visit:--

"It is not, we must allow, a slight change which has taken place in the character of the natives of those parts, when we contrast the peaceful development of our plans now in their very midst, with the fitful, hesitative, timid efforts we were compelled by their former savage habits to put forth.

"But it is delightful now to feel that we are working amongst a softened, respectful, and receptive population for the most part, and to be able to report a native Christian nucleus formed in the centre of Terra del Fuego.

"I joined with Mr. Bridges in baptizing thirty-six of the Indians' children and adults, and in uniting in Christian marriage seven couples. The service took place in the open air in the presence of, I suppose, a total of 150 persons, including ourselves. The responses by the candidates were firmly and intelligently made; and I trust, with God's grace, they will be kept.

"There is a movement Christward among the natives, I believe. The [627/629] baptized had organised evening worship spontaneously, and were meeting in the houses of one another for prayer and praise when I was there.


"One evening I was present, and a more touching, encouraging assembly for prayer I never was at.

"The prayers were beautifully uttered, deeply reverent in tone, eloquent in expression, full of pathos. I rejoice to have lived to witness so marked a proof of past success, so hopeful an indication of greater spiritual triumphs in the future."

We are glad to hear that the visit of Bishop Stirling to the chaplaincies of the west coast has already resulted in the formation and adoption of a plan for the appointment of able men as chaplains, who may each take charge of a group of two or three stations where the population is too small or too poor to enable them to bear the expense which is involved in a separate chaplaincy. We hail the intimation, as showing the vigour with which the Bishop has entered upon his great work.

The Bishop has also called attention to the excessive and exhausting nature of the work expected from the chaplains in the sheep-farming districts of Uruguay and the Argentine provinces.

Besides the services of the church in a large town, there is what is called the camp--an immense surrounding district, perhaps a hundred miles in length; and the sheep-farmers and their families, scattered over the wide tract, should be visited, and occasional services held. Then come the claims and necessities of education, and if the chaplain does not attend to them, there appears to be no one else to do so. It is quite clear that there is work for not less than two men, where only one has been sent. Much kindness seems to have been shown by the English residents to the chaplains, but, on the other hand, much is expected from them. We think that there is reason to believe that the occasional visits of the Bishop will remove many difficulties which now exist. Both he and his clergy have our hearty sympathy in their important work.

We must not conclude this paper without a word as to those islands from which the new Bishop takes his title. We recall their early history: discovered by an Englishman, occupied and abandoned in turn by France, Spain, and England, the subject of much rival invective between Dr. Johnson and Junius, till they became a British naval station and colony. But interesting as are the details of their history, and useful as they have proved as a naval station and refuge for distressed vessels, we are now beginning to understand their greatest value, when we see issuing from them not only a Mission to some of the heathen tribes of South America, but also a second Bishop for the English Church in that continent. Such a conjunction of circumstances points to the conversion of the heathen as the ultimate object of the Church's action, and we trust that this great object will be promoted by all members of our Church residing in South America.

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