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Codrington College, Barbados

By W. T. Webb

From Mission Life (periodical), Vol. V (1874), pp. 206-213.

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


BY THE REV. W. T. WEBB, Principal.

AMONG the wants of a new colonial diocese that soon make themselves felt may be mentioned a theological college. It is not only required for training clergy, but for keeping up through its professors a certain standard of theological and other learning, which are sorely needed where there is as a rule only one pastor, and that a hard-worked one, to a flock, with no supernumeraries. It is, or ought to be, the good fortune of the West Indian dioceses to possess an institution of this kind, the endowment of which dates from the beginning of the last century. That institution is Codrington College.

Its founder, Christopher Codrington, of whom there is an interesting account in the Biographica Britannica, was a native of Barbados, and came to England "as soon as he was of age to undergo the hardships of a voyage." After some stay at a good private school, he entered Christ Church, Oxford, as a Gentleman Commoner, and became in time Fellow of All Souls, with the reputation of an accomplished gentleman and cultivated scholar. Still retaining his fellowship, he entered the army, became successively captain and colonial of the First Foot Guards, and was engaged in some of the campaign of his "good master, William III," having been present at the siege of Namur, 1695. Upon the conclusion of the peace of Ryswick,* [Footnote: * See following paragraph] he was made governor of the Leeward Islands, but he was too upright a ruler for some of the lawless spirits of those parts at that time, and consequently several charges were brought against him in Articles exhibited to the House of Commons in 1701. These were triumphantly answered, and the Governor and [206/207] Legislature of Nevis, in connection with which island the complaints had been made, signed Declarations in his favour. In 1703 he joined with great credit in an attack on Guadaloupe, which, however, was unsuccessful, and he soon after resigned his government, and retired to his estates in Barbados, spending his time mostly in study, and associating with one or two kindred spirits, one of whom is said to have been Mr. Gordon, rector of St. Michael's, the town parish of the island, who preached his funeral sermon.

[Footnote: * He is highly eulogised in Addison's "Pax Gulielmi auspicii Europæ reddita, 1697." The following lines may serve as a specimen:--

"Quem varias edoctum artes, studiisque Minervæ
Omnibus ornatum, Marti Rhedycina furenti
Credidit invita, et tanto se jactat alumno.
Hunc nempe ardorem atque immensos pectoria stus
. . . . . . .
India progenuit, tenerisque incoxit ab annis
Virtutem immodicam et generosæ incendia mentis."]

He died in the mansion-house of one of his estates, which is now the "Lodge" of the Principal of the college, on Good Friday, April 7th, 1710, aged forty-two, and was buried the day following in the Codrington vault at the parish church of St. Michael's. But the visitor to All Souls' College will, no doubt, be shown in the antechapel a slab with the simple inscription, "Codrington," beneath which his remains now rest. For as he was a benefactor* [Footnote: * He left it £10,000 and his books, a bequest which has done much to render the Codrington Library at All Souls' the finest college library in Oxford. In 1867, a portion of the money that had been invested yielded an income of £500.] to his college also, his body was brought to England and buried as above stated June 19, 1716. On that occasion two Latin orations in his honour were delivered by two Fellows of the college--the one at his interment by Digby Cotes, the public orator; the other the next day by Young, Author of the Night Thoughts, at the laying of the foundation-stone of the Codrington Library.

Many characteristic particulars of the later years of his life are said to have been mentioned in his friend Gordon's funeral sermon, a copy of which, however, we have not been able to obtain. Judging from his portraits, of which there are two in the possession of All Souls' College, his features were somewhat feminine, such as we should expect those of the soldier and scholar to be. One of these was exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery, 1867, and was photographed by the Arundel Society.+ [Footnote: + See following paragraphs.]

[Footnote: + He was a friend of Garth, author of The Dispensary, and sent him, "desiring my opinion of his poem," the following lines among others:--

"I read thee over with a lover's eye;
Thou has not faults, or I no faults can spy;
Thou art all beauty, or all blindness I."

One other production of his pen, an interesting and valuable political paper, has been preserved in Caribbeana, a West Indian magazine of the last century, published in Barbados.]

By his will he bequeathed to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, then recently founded, certain estates, to found a college, in which were to be "maintained a convenient number of professors and scholars who should be under the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and be obliged to study and practise physick and chirurgery as well as Divinity, that by the apparent usefulness [207/208] of the former to all men they might both endear themselves to the people and have the better opportunities of doing good to men's souls whilst taking care of their bodies."

After some difficulties the Society obtained possession of the estates in 1712, and in 1714 a college "for the use of the Mission in those parts of the British dominions" (Society's Report, 1714) was commenced amidst many difficulties and discouragements, which arose chiefly from the disputes respecting the property and debt incumbering it, which continued till 1737. The building was completed in 1743; but it was found impossible to do more than begin with a grammar-school (in 1745), "with twelve scholars for the foundation, to be maintained and instructed at the expense of this Society," with a view of their becoming good and useful Missionaries. From this time to 1780, though a school was kept up, it furnished no Missionaries; and in 1780 came a destructive hurricane, which almost destroyed the college and ruined the estates. The Society had to advance money from its general fund, and to let the estates for a time. Fortunately the lessee, John Brathwaite, Esq., was a noble-minded and generous Barbadian, who besides paying a rent of £500 a-year, at the end of ten years gave up the estates into the Society's hands free of debt and with a balance of many thousands of pounds in their favour. This surplus was invested in the fund, and, the expenditures being low and the estates prosperous, by 1829 the investments amounted to £34,000 three-per-cents.

It will be evident from the above that the West Indies were not ripe for this bequest when it was made. Up to 1829 it had not been taken advantage of at all for its object. The nearest approach to such a course had been the establishment of scholarships to England, whereby foundationers of the school were enabled to go to England to prepare some for the ministry, some for the medical profession. This system gave only one parochial clergyman to the West Indies, though these "Scholars" could have been ordained by the Bishop of London, in whose diocese the West Indies were supposed to be. The following extracts from the S.P.G. Reports, however, will show that the trustees both appreciated their trust, and anxiously sought to administer it faithfully.

1710--11--12. "The Society have been sensible of the want of more Missionaries than do usually offer their service to be employed by them; and how natural it is for young divines to decline the difficulties and dangers of such a Mission if they have any tolerable prospect nearer home. To remedy this great inconvenience, the Society within this year have taken into consideration the most effectual ways and methods of breeding up young scholars to be well qualified and readily inclined in due time to take upon them the [208/209] office and duty of Missionary, in going cheerfully to propagate the Gospel in the West Indies." They go on to waive at present the acceptance of a proposal "for training Missionaries made by the Bishop of Man," "upon a prospect that General Codrington's College in Barbados might be a more convenient seat and seminary to provide for the education of scholars and the supply of ministers for those parts."

In their next report they speak of the "noble bequest of General Codrington for effecting the like purposes (the 'education of catechumens and the supply of Missionaries) within the island of Barbados.' . . . . The balance due to the said estate is at present £222 6s. 11d,* [Footnote: * The annual income was estimated at £2,000 in more than one of the early reports of the Society. This sanguine estimate was never realised even in good years, and bad years were common.] with which, together with the future remittances that shall be made, and benefactions that shall be given,+ [Footnote: + Several of these are recorded down to about 1720, and of books still later.] several being promised thence, particularly in the prospect of a bishop for the government of those parts,# [Footnote: # It is well known that efforts were frequently made in the 18th century to obtain bishops for "the Plantations," especially in North America, but in vain, till after the American Revolution. The Society was willing to place a bishop for the West Indies at the head of Codrington College, by which a portion of his stipend would have been provided.] the Society, God willing, will proceed with the application to answer that noble design of the founder in preparing a college for the Mission."

But to proceed with our history. It is known to many of our readers that in 1824, when slavery was about to be abolished in the West Indies, as a means of securing the moral and religious training of the emancipated negroes, two bishops (each with several archdeacons) were appointed, one for Jamaica, the other for the smaller islands and Guiana, with his see at Barbados. Bishop Coleridge, the first Bishop of Barbados, soon perceived what an admirable institution the college might be made, not for training clergy only, but also for higher education generally. Accordingly in 1829, the school was removed to the chaplain's residence,§ [Footnote: § The founder required by his will that 300 negroes at least should be kept on the estates. The Society not only required that "the greatest tenderness and care should be bestowed on them," but, from the first, provided a chaplain, who, after 1745, was also "usher" of the school till 1818.] and placed in his charge; and the college became such in reality as well as in name. The Rev. J. H. Pinder, the late well-known head of the Wells College, was appointed the first principal, he having been chaplain since1818. Scarcely, however, had this long-desired consummation been attained, when the great hurricane of 1831 gave the institution a severe, though happily only a temporary, check. The following description of an eye-witness may interest our readers:--

"The college, a building of 210 feet in length (and with walls [208/210] throughout three feet 4 inches in thickness), was so much injured as to be incapable of being used, till it had been in a manner re-built. The two wings consisted of three stories. The upper story in each was entirely swept away, the roof from one end to the other utterly destroyed, the walls of the hall and chapel in a great measure overthrown. The principal's lodge was stripped of its covering, but the frame-work remained; and this house, under partial repair, was opened in the course of six weeks for carrying on the institution. The chapel for the use of the plantation was heap of stones. The chaplain's house was unroofed. The boiling-house, curing-house, manager's house, and hospital, were all unroofed, and the walls in part thrown down. The houses of the negroes were for the most part scattered to the wind."

The hurricane was, moreover, the beginning of financial decay. The excess of expenditure over income from 1831 to 1848 was so considerable that though a large sum was received in 1837 as compensation for the slaves, in order to save the trust property from bankruptcy, it was found necessary to lease the estates in 1850--a system which has continued to the present time, the rent having been first _1,800, and then _1,900 a-year. A small portion of the funded property was saved, and has since been increased.

Mr. Pinder was obliged by his health to resign in 1835. H was succeeded by the Rev. H. Jones, M.A., of Oxford, who also resigned in 1846. From that time till 1864 the principalship was held by the Rev. R. Rawle, sometime Fellow and assistant tutor of Trinity College, Cambridge, and now Bishop of Trinidad. To his exertions mainly are due the resuscitation of the school, which had ceased to exist, though largely helped from the Trust Fund; and the establishment of the Mission department for students of African descent, in connection with the West Indian Association for the furtherance of the Gospel in Western Africa, of which also he must be considered the chief originator. He was succeeded by the present principal, the Rev. W. T. Webb, a former student, and for some years master of the school.

During the forty years that the college has been on its present footing, about 240 students have been trained in it for the ministry, professions, &c. Of these may be mentioned Bishops Jackson, of Antigua, and Beckles, late of Sierra Leone; Bishop H. H. Parry (lately in charge of the Diocese of Barbados), and the Rev. W. W. Jackson, fellow and tutor of Exeter College, Oxford, were also students of the college before taking their degrees in England. Of the rest, thirty-four are at present clergy in the island of Barbados alone; while probably more than that number are distributed among the other West Indian islands. A few, in most cases after doing good service in the colonies, are settled in England. A considerable number, a large [210/211] proportion, have been removed by death, and at least six will probably be ordained this year. At the Mission-house have been trained, Messrs. Duport and Douglin (who may be said to have made the written Susu language), Turpin, M'Ewen, and others. The first of these lately died at Liverpool of disease contracted in Africa; the other three are still carrying on the Pongas Mission.

During the past three years the number of students have averaged about seventeen, of whom, however, not more than five on an average have been theological scholars on the foundation,* [Footnote: Up to 1850 the number of such scholars, who were expected to take orders in a West Indian or other colonial diocese, was twelve; it is now six, though the Society would doubtless increase it if necessary.] the others having been either commoners or "island scholars." The students of neither of these two classes are necessarily intended for the ministry, those of the last, three in number, enjoying exhibitions given by the Legislature of Barbados for the encouragement of learning. The number in the Mission-house in the same time has varied from three to eight. The inadequate support of late afforded to the West African Mission limits the number of these students, who are very much discouraged when, after two or three years of preparation, there is no opening for them in Africa. Some of them, however, are doing good preparatory service in the West Indies and the United States.

A body of statutes has lately been framed by the Society for the regulation of the trust property, college, mission-house, and school, the chief provisions of which are as follow:--The general superintendence is committed to a trust council, of which the Bishop of Barbados (who is also the Society's "attorney," and visitor of the college) is president, and the other West Indian bishops vice-presidents; the other members being the attorney-general of the island, the principal, the head master of the school (ex officio), and certain other leading clergy and laity of the island. The internal administration of the college and Mission-house is in the hands of the three professors--the principal, tutor, and medical lecturer--who are styled the executive board.

The course of instruction comprises divinity, mental and moral science, classics, history, mathematics, and medical science, in any of which honours can be obtained. The mathematical lectures for the greater part of the last twenty-five years have been given by Cambridge wranglers. The founder's will is not exactly carried out as regards "physic and chirurgery," the practice of which is neglected, though those students at least who are intended for foreign Mission ought certainly to be able to commend their care for men's souls by ability to do good to their bodies. Since, however, the parish in which the college is situated has opened a dispensary, where medi-[211/212]cine as well as advice is given gratis, it has been found both difficult and less necessary to keep up the college one, in which medicine was charged for.

The ordinary course lasts three years (the year being divided nearly as at Cambridge); but there is a shorter one of two years; and theological students are admitted for a still shorter period on recommendation of a West Indian bishop. Bishop Beckles belonged to this class.

The buildings consist of a hall,* [Footnote: * The hall possesses a bust of the founder, the gift of All Souls' College, copied from the statue in the Codrington Library. There is a baldachino of very imposing proportions in the chapel, for which also a new organ has just been built, the gift chiefly of the students. In 1720 a gentleman gave £100 for "ornaments for the altar." The Library, notwithstanding many valuable contributions, has suffered so much from hurricanes and bookworms, that its contents are rather meager.] chapel, library, lecture-room, laboratory, rooms for about twenty students (though more have been occasionally accommodated), a lodge for the principal, rooms for the tutor (who is at present chaplain also), the Mission-house, and "offices." They stand in about twenty acres of ground, in one part of which is a bath 50 feet long, fed by a spring which also belongs to the college. The windward windows look out on the Atlantic, towards Africa, which now, more than ever, seems calling for help.

The income of the trust must be at present £2,400 a-year at least, besides which the Mission-house has five scholarships worth _30 a-year each, the income of endowments which are accumulating. No doubt much more ought to be done, and it is hoped will for the future be done, with these resources, both as regards the supply of clergy and Missionaries and sound learning generally. It is true the number of eligible candidates for admission furnished by the island, except Barbados, and by Guiana, is very small; but the Barbados contingent could easily be made very large. Wealthy parents would doubtless, and naturally, under any circumstances, send their sons to England--"to college," if not to school and the best of these will not return, as experience proves. This class in not likely to contribute largely either to Codrington College or the ministry in the West Indies. But there is a large residue of youth who have at least a taste for learning, though they are at present without the means of carrying it on beyond the school age. And this though the college expenses are very low; the "Battel's" bills, including all board, having in some terms of the last year been less than 2s. 6d. a-day.+ [Footnote: + Many of the above particulars have been obtained from a little work on Codrington College, compiled by the late Bishop Parry of Barbados, and published by the S.P.G.]

If the ministry in the West Indies could be made more attractive, not merely in a pecuniary point of view, and if the college could be affiliated to some English university, or a way be devised by which its [212/213] certificates could have an universally recognised value; and lastly, if it had a greater number of general scholarships, it would probably soon have to lengthen its cords and extend its stakes. English youths might "go over to help," and those who were delicate might avoid the northern winter and still continue their studies.* [Footnote: * This remark applies to the school also, which keeps up an average of fifty, mostly borders. It is mainly self-supporting, the building belonging to the Codrington Trust. The present Head Master is the Rev. W. H. Prideaux, formerly scholar of Lincoln College, Oxford.] At any rate, great as is the improvement of the system of the last forty years on that which preceded it, it still remains to be proved that the West Indies can rise to the level of, and carry out the simple yet grand idea of, Christopher Codrington. One administrator of the institution has entered fully into its spirit, but even Principal Rawle could not clothe that spirit with an adequate body. His aspirations and efforts remind one of the Israelites, "scattered all over the land to gather stubble instead of straw." In other words, whereas he deserved half a hundred of good students, he sometimes had only half a score of mostly indifferent ones. May he and his brethren in the West Indian episcopate derive a good supply of faithful and true pastors from their college; and to this end may the Lord of the harvest send forth labourers into those fields of His harvest!

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