Project Canterbury

Addington Venables, Bishop of Nassau
A Sketch of His Life and Labours for the Church of God

By W. Francis Henry King

London: W. Wells Gardner, 1877.

Chapter II. Removal to St. Paul's, Oxford--Character of His Ten Year's Pastorate--Accepts the See of Nassau

"Ye who your Lord's commission bear,
His way of mercy to prepare:
Angels He calls ye; be your strife
To lead on earth an angel's life.
Think not of rest; though dreams be sweet,
Start up, and ply your heavenward feet.

Till, when the shadows thickest fall.
Ye hear your Master's midnight call."

--Christian Year, Second Sunday in Advent.

"WHO would calmly and complacently assume the power of the keys, and turn them over in his hand with the fond grasp and delighted eye of sacerdotal ambition, who at the same time considered that the care of the eternal welfare of even one immortal soul, beside his own, had been committed to him; that in this sense the keys of heaven and hell had indeed been put into his hands. . . . Why, surely, surely, such thoughts were enough to drive the brain of man mad! But blessed art thou if thou entertainest them: for then thou hast entered the gate of the gracious promises which Christ hath bequeathed to His workmen; and there, as in a temple, thou hearest them sung as it were by the voices of angels, one after another, in a louder and more encouraging strain; bursting from the mouths of the heavenly choristers, which are the suggestions of meditation and memory in a faithful heart. 'My grace is sufficient for thee: My peace I give unto you: Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world!'"

Evan's Bishoprick of Souls.

At Cuddesden Mr. Venables remained till 1853, when, wishing for more active work, he was transferred to a [9/10] curacy in Oxford itself, St. Paul's; which, better known to Oxford men by its soubriquet of "Jericho," represented the lowest and poorest quarter of the university city. It was at that time one large parish, but has since then been relieved by the formation of the separate district and church of St. Barnabas. Here he continued for nearly eleven years--in fact, until his consecration to the episcopal order; and his pastorate for that time was an uninterrupted round of self-sacrificing devotion towards all classes and ages under his care. He was known amongst his people as "The Curate," and was practically the head of the parish, as the incumbent, the Rev. Alfred Hackman, had but little stipend, and was forced to live by employment in the Bodleian Library, which used up all his daylight hours. On coming into the parish, Mr. Venables took up his abode in the house occupied by his predecessor, Mr. (afterwards Canon) Ridgway, one of a row of humble dwellings, amongst his own people, where his simple, almost ascetic life, in company with his one aged servant, was nearly that of an anchorite. To this it should be added that his services were wholly gratuitous, and one-tenth of his income was, by rule, always given to the poor, although in practice his charities amounted to considerably more. In such a populous and increasing parish there was necessarily abundance of work waiting for a willing hand, and many needs to supply from so generous a purse. In the first place, St. Paul's had no boys' school of its own. The university maintained its own free school in land [10/11] situated in the parish, into which boys, at the age of ten years, were drafted, and who attended on Sundays at the parish church; but the clergy of St. Paul's had only such a footing in this institution as the courtesy of the master might permit, and had no control whatever over its religious teaching. This Mr. Venables felt to be an anomaly which could not be allowed to continue. His own boys were being taken out of his hands"; and to remedy the deficiency, a temporary building was run up, at Mr. Venables' expense, in the garden behind his lodging, where, with the aid of a trained master who lived with him (one of the first students of Culham College), a boys' school was at once begun. The undertaking proved so successful that Mr. Venables was encouraged to commence building upon a larger scale, and the present admirable suite of school-buildings now standing in Clarendon Street was the result; their completeness in every particular, and their noted efficiency, rendering them for some time the typical schools in the neighbourhood. Class-rooms, workshop, garden, playground, and gymnasium were added; and from first to last no one was more active in seeing that everything necessary was provided than the founder of the school himself. The whole was crowned by his favourite verse--"God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The result of this effort was the final abandonment by the university of their Free School, the curate's new buildings not only providing an ample and sufficient [11/12] education within their own radius, but so stimulating and raising the standard of other schools, that Mr. Venables' far-sighted exertions may be said to have made him the pioneer of a higher and more extended system of education for the lower classes of the university city at large. These works were not achieved, as it may be supposed, without considerable cost; and in addition to his own munificent contributions, Mr. Venables was occupied at the time in raising the necessary funds in every way that he could devise. On one occasion (I am indebted to Mr. Moss, his old schoolmaster, for the story), while taking a country walk with a friend, Venables led the conversation to the subject of the buildings then in progress, and endeavoured to get a subscription out of his companion towards the school.

"No," said his friend; "the school is not wanted, and I will not give you a halfpenny."

"Well," said Venables, bent on getting his money in some way, "will you bet me, then, ten shillings I can't jump that hurdle?"

Athletics were not then much in vogue, and the curate of St. Paul's had, moreover, no special reputation for hurdle-racing, so his friend instantly closed with him and accepted the bet. The curate took a short run, cleared his hurdle in very fair style, and gaily added his winnings to the school subscription list.

In connection with Mr. Venables' work amongst the younger members of his flock, ought not to be forgotten the special services which he began soon after his arrival, [12/13] for his own boys and the lads employed during the week at the University Printing Press. They were, in fact, "Children's Services"--some of the earliest of the kind; now a popular and almost necessary adjunct of our Church worship, but then almost unknown. Every Sunday morning he gathered his boys together in the Chapel of St. Sepulchre, and a shortened form of Morning Prayer, with hymns and a plain address, constituted the service. These gatherings were most successful; and Mr. Venables' addresses to his boys are even now remembered, for their simple, loving earnestness, by many who have long since grown up to manhood and passed away.

At all times his influence over the young, and particularly over young men, was very great; indeed his vocation seemed to a great extent to be that of "strengthening" his younger brethren; one of whom, recovered by him in Oxford days from an irreligious life, writes, after receiving the news of the Bishop's death: "Your kind letter has quite distressed me. I had such a deep regard for the dear Bishop--and who that knew him had not? It was through him that I was baptized, and he confirmed me. I shall always remember him with feelings of thankfulness, and cherish his memory with affection. He is a loss to the Church and to the world!"

Amidst all these several avocations, the duties of the parish at large were not forgotten. In pastoral visitation Venables had indeed few equals. The whole day was spent among his people, and in times of [13/14] violent sickness he was often up at all hours of the night besides.

"He found his work" (writes an old parishioner) "in every class. His time, from after Morning Service till his dinner, which he generally put late, was spent by him in the parish, calling occasionally at one or other of his parishioners for a refreshing cup of tea before going home; and thus it was," continues the simple narrator, "that he won the hearts of so many among us."

And nothing daunted him. The terrible infections from which most men pardonably shrink had little or no personal terrors for himself; indeed, as in the case of the awful scourge of cholera in his parish, they exercised upon him (as he once told me) a kind of strange and unearthly fascination, drawing him into the pestilence-stricken quarters, and within the houses and chambers of the dying, where he, perhaps the only watcher beside some rapidly ebbing life, soothed the last moments of the sufferer by his word and touch, and kissed the pallid brows upon which the dews of a horrible death were already gathering.

In many ways his resolute will was also shown: where a sin could be stopped, or a soul be saved from death, thither he went, whether it was to follow the "unfortunate" to the house of ill-fame, or the drunkard into the dram-shop. "A man" (says his schoolmaster), "well known for his violence and drunkenness, was one day making a great disturbance in a public-house. The [14/15] 'Curate' (he was always called so) went inside at once, and lectured the man before the people, and frightened him very much by telling him that if he died in one of his fits he would not read the Burial Service over him."

In 1862 Mr. Venables married his cousin Lilla, fourth daughter of the Rev. William Moss King, rector of Critchill, in Dorsetshire, and leaving his old abode in Walton Street, went to reside in a little better house in the Park Crescent. His first child was born and died in the autumn of the year following; and in everything identifying himself with his people, he laid his little son in a plot of ground where the poor who had died of cholera were buried. A tall churchyard cross marks the spot.

With the end of the year (1863) Mr. Venables' work as an English parish clergyman came to an end. The lately-formed See of Nassau, Bahama Islands, fell vacant, and the Duke of Newcastle, as Colonial Secretary, offered the post to Mr. Venables. He accepted it; and on St. Andrew's Day, December 1, 1863, was consecrated at Lambeth by Archbishop Longley, the sermon being preached by Mr. Liddon. Early in the following year the Bishop started for his diocese, but not before a very disheartening event had befallen him. The vessel which was to carry his books, papers, and personal effects foundered in the Channel. He had, so to speak, to begin the world again. The lost library was, however, in some measure replaced by a handsome present of books from his university, in recognition of [15/16] his care of the boys at the University Press while curate of St. Paul's.

In February the Bishop and his wife sailed from Liverpool; and we will precede them on their outward journey by a few moments to take a glance at the English colony, where a new home and new sphere of labour were awaiting the travellers in the West.

If you take a map of the West India group, you will see, lying just outside the Gulf of Florida, a broken chain and congeries of islands, reefs and cays, stretching away for a considerable distance in a south-easterly direction; from the promontory of Florida in the north, down to their southernmost limit in the neighbourhood of San Domingo. These are the Bahamas or Lucayas; and though little known to fame in the present day, they enjoy at least the unique distinction of being the first land sighted by Columbus when he crossed over from the Old World to the New; and the statue of the great discoverer, with the date October 12, 1492, forms at this day a striking and appropriate monument in front of the Government House at Nassau. The settlement of these islands by the English, its original colonists, dates back as far as the reign of Charles I., but their claim was from the first continually being contested by the Spanish, who for a hundred and fifty years afterwards alternately captured, lost, and recaptured the Bahamas, until by the peace of 1783 they were permanently ceded to the British crown. It was at that time also that the colony received an important addition to its population [16/17] in the persons of several American royalist gentry, who, on the conclusion of the War of Independence, transferred the remains of their fortunes, with their families and slaves, to Nassau and the surrounding islands; and parcelling out the country into parishes and churches corresponding to the parochial divisions of the Old Dominion,

"Ilium in Italiam portans victosque Penates,"

endeavoured under somewhat altered circumstances to reproduce the familiar names and hallowed associations of their Georgian and Virginian homes.

But the wanderers, we think, must at first have looked with strangely wondering eyes upon the land of their adoption; and indeed, to any one full of expectations of tropical scenes and beauties of West Indian life, the Bahamas appear at first sight tame and disappointing enough. They boast no mountains, or land even of any altitude, and the vegetation lacks the usual luxuriance of the Archipelago. The suavity of the air, "soft as that of Seville in April," and the beauty of the waters, which Columbus observed with delight as he neared his first landfall, bathe still as freshly as in 1492 the islands of the Lucayas; ["Tuvieron la mar como el rio de Sevilla; gracias a Dios, dice el Almirante: los aires mui dulces como en Abril en Sevilla."--Diario.] but his somewhat highly coloured description of the beauty of the islands themselves must, if [17/18] the face of nature have not marvellously changed, in truth be attributed to the enthusiastic transport in which he regarded every successive feature of his newly discovered world. ["Puestos en tierra yieron arboles muy verdes y aguas muchas y frutas de diversas maneras. . . . Crean vuestras Altezas que es esta tierra la mejor e mas fertil, y temperada, y llana, y buena que haya en el raundo."--Diario del Almirante. Of Inagua (Great) he says, 'This island even exceeds the others in beauty and fertility. Groves of lofty and flourishing trees are abundant; as also large lakes, surrounded and overhung by the foliage in a most enchanting manner. Everything looked as green as in April in Andalusia. The melody of the birds was so exquisite that we were never willing to part from the spot," &c. &c.--Idem.] The islands are for the most part long and narrow stretches of low-lying and rocky land, rising here and there to a hundred and fifty or two hundred feet above the sea-level, and covered in the interior with an unattractive-looking scrub and dwarf bush: the palmetto, sea-grape, or an occasional grove of cocoa-nut, fringe the shore. Of a coral formation, the ground is nothing more than naked rock, with a sparse covering in places of soil. Yet even here the orange, mango, guava, and other fruit-trees manage to thrive; the cells and cavities with which the surface of the rock is everywhere honeycombed forming a natural receptacle for the young plants, in which they grow well and yield an excellent crop.

And upon a nearer acquaintance the colony is not without a certain beauty of its own. The bright little city of Nassau, the metropolis, with its white stone buildings and shadowed verandahs fronting the sea, where the by-streets rise gently to the hill above by garden walls hung with the rosy blossoms of the oleander, with quivering masses of the bamboo, and the large drooping leaf of the banana, is, not the least pleasing [18/19] reminiscence of West Indian travel. Or if, regardless of the sun's rays, you will climb with me to the steps of Government House, the scene at your feet is certainly one of no ordinary character. There, beyond the shingle roofs and dotted palm-trees of the town, and beyond the mastheads of the ships along the wharf, lies one of the most beautiful objects that the eye can rest upon--the sea of the tropics. Nearer inshore, and within the harbour, the transparent waters show the white sandy bottom underneath, and glitter in the sunlight in a variety of blended hues--white, amber, pale green, vivid emerald, shoaling away into pure turquoise blue, which again melts into a bar of purple. But beyond, and on the farther side of the narrow neck of land which forms the harbour, the shore sinks almost at once by a perpendicular wall of rock into fathomless depths, and the Atlantic stretches away on every side with a sweep of the most intense and changeless blue.

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