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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 VII. Last Visit to England--Death of His Only Daughter--Return to Nassau,
and First Session of the New Synod--Attack of Dysentery--Departure for America--New York--Hartford--Death

"Thus he lived, and thus he died, like a saint, unspotted by the world, full of alms-deeds, full of humility.....I cannot conclude better than with this borrowed observation:--

'All must to their cold grave,
But the religious actions of the just
Smell sweet in death, and blossom in the dust.'

I wish (if God shall be so pleased) that I may be so happy as to die like him."--Iz. Wa., Life of Herbert.

This little sketch is now drawing to a close. In 1875, the Bishop was preparing for a return, after six years' absence, to England. In February he writes to Miss Mackenzie:--

"... I am sorry I cannot write you a more interesting letter. Missionary work is not always less commonplace because it is done abroad. The, to me, most interesting incident that has lately befallen my ministry is one that might take place in any parish in England. I was called in to see a young American, who had come here for his health: he had been in the army, and in [99/100] the late war had so distinguished himself, that our Staff-surgeon spoke of him to me as one who, had he been in our service, would have won the Victoria Cross. An excellent clergyman, in whose parish he was long, tried in vain to see him, and he was, as the doctor informed me, calmly awaiting his end, supported by philosophy, which had been his study. On reaching his bedside, I found him in the last stage of consumption. It appeared from what he told me, that when quite young he had been brought under the influence of the revival movement; then, whether in consequence of a reaction, or from other causes, there ensued a spiritual declension, which ended in Rationalism. This had been his stay. Lecky and Matthew Arnold were on his table; but when the end came, his philosophy had broken down, and there was nothing to take its place. He could not bring himself to believe in the Divinity of our Blessed Lord, and his distress of mind was very great. I did not attempt argument, for which I am not qualified, but persuaded him to pray, and, by God's mercy, the gift of faith was vouchsafed in a most remarkable manner. Such was the peace which succeeded to the mental struggle, that his physical improvement was most marked. He rallied, and we had hopes that his life might be prolonged for some time. The doctor himself admitted that the spiritual was the best prescription. The short time he was spared after this--some ten days--he spent in communing with God, even grudging the moments which had to be given to sleep. I have some [100/101] hesitation in putting on paper matters of this land; though I do not know why I should shrink from bearing testimony to what I trust was a work of God's grace."

In the early summer of 1875, Bishop Venables revisited England for the second and last time, weary in mind and body, and so shattered in health, that his friends at home were startled to see the wreck that he had become. Rest seemed imperative, at least during the sojourn at home, yet it was the last thing which the Bishop would allow himself even on holiday. It appeared to be impossible for him to be quiet, and his visit was an almost uninterrupted round of journeys to all parts of the country, preaching and speaking upon the wants and difficulties of his diocese, and collecting funds for the re-endowment of the see. The sight of old friends and faces, such as remained, and the return to loved and familiar scenes, revived the Bishop a good deal. Among the latter, Oxford, which filled so large a place in his heart, was, of course, not forgotten. He went down to see his old parish, and he wrote to the Rev. H. Castell at Nassau:--

"The 'Jericho' people received me as heartily as ever. I am still 'Mr. Venables' to them, which I feel more than any amount of 'My lord '-ing. I had a little meeting in the schoolroom, which was very pleasant. Mr. Noel has got hold of the people in a wonderful way. I never made anything like the way with them that he has done."

While in England his youngest child was born; and [101/102] not long before his return, a sorrow deeper and more poignant perhaps than any that had yet pierced his bosom as a father, came upon him in the unlooked-for death of his only daughter, a most sweet and engaging child, on December 8, 1875. He thus writes of it to a friend:--

December 23, 1875.

"MY DEAR TRINDER,--Thank you very much for your kind words of sympathy and comfort. I have no doubt the sorrow was needed, and I hope that I shall not, through any fault of mine, miss the lesson it is meant to teach. I am going back, somewhat drearily, to my old life the other side of the world, which has now lost so much of its sunshine, but I daresay the brightness will come some day, though perhaps not like 'eventide.' We hope to sail on the 20th January, and about the 7th or 8th I expect to be in London for business, and shall be very glad if you will kindly let me do it from your house. I am much obliged to you for the cheque. It goes to the Endowment Fund. It was very kind of you to think of us on St. Andrew's day. With kind regards to Mrs. Trinder, affectionately yours,


Not long after this the Bishop sailed for Nassau, taking with him two mission ladies--Miss Louisa Fletcher, who had been doing so much already for her black sisters at Nassau, and a new volunteer for the same work, the [102/103] Bishop's cousin, Miss Sturt. A very cordial and generous reception awaited the poor Bishop on landing, and, cheered by the sympathy and good feeling manifested, he endeavoured to brace himself up for the difficult work that lay before him.

The Diocesan Synod assembled in May, and in his opening address the Bishop was able to announce the completion of the funded sum of £10,500, which, with the generous aid of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, had been amassed for the sustentation of the Bishop and clergy of the diocese. The Synod then began its work; and now or never, the Bishop thought, must the attempt be made to remodel its constitution, and render it, what it was not as yet, a satisfactory representation of the diocese at large. The unbeneficed clergy, as has been already stated, had no seat in Synod. Other points also called for correction. Unnecessary restrictions needed removing, essential principles had to be laid down. It was, in fact, a moment of great issues for the struggling Church in the islands. The session of a newly-elected Synod, framing as it would the future constitution of the Bahama Church, and finally fixing its ecclesiastical basis and the terms of its self-government--all this, when added to the Bishop's evidently precarious state of health, made the occasion a most critical conjuncture of circumstances for the diocese, the importance of which the Bishop himself was only too keenly sensible. He said at the time to his friends and others--"The one thing which seems to [103/104] crush me on returning to my diocese is the anticipation of the Synod. Oh! if it could only be believed that what I am doing is no party concern, no mere question of more or less ritual, but one that affects the whole welfare of the Church!"

His wife writes of him at the time: "Any one who had seen him as I have seen him, turn pale and tremble all over when harassing letters reached him during Synod time, would have seen how his constitution was shattered by anxiety. He aged visibly during each session, and the struggles of the Church left their fatal marks upon him. It was almost impossible to raise him from attacks of depression at such times. Often and often he would say to me, 'I am not fit for this work;' and always he maintained that many men would have done it better. The last time, when his 'Declaration of Principles' was rejected in Synod, he remarked, 'That is my Bithynia.' Reading his Testament (which he generally did in Greek daily), his eyes had fallen that morning on St. Paul's essay to 'pass over into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered him not.' Half amused, and already prepared for defeat, he went down to the Synod, and when he returned, greeted me with his watchword, 'Bithynia! Bithynia!'"

The Synod proceeded meanwhile with its deliberations, and an unusual spirit of harmony and good-will manifested itself during its sittings. In the end, every essential point for which the Bishop had contended was secured. The unbeneficed clergy were admitted into [104/105] Synod along with the rest of their order; the consent of all three orders was required for the passing of any Synodical Act; and the restrictions binding the Church to the dicta of English courts and Privy Council decisions were removed. The Bishop had given a constitution to his Church, and liberated his diocese. It was his last act, and his work on earth was finished.

The last canon passed, provided for the appointment of a new Bishop. It was soon to be put in force. On the 2d of June he attended a parochial missionary meeting at St. Mary's in Nassau--his last appearance in public--and was struck down the same night with the illness from which he never afterwards rallied. On the 20th he was considered well enough to be removed to the United States for change of air, and left for New York in a sailing vessel. His malady was, however, much aggravated at sea, and his sufferings returned in an acute form. The captain of the brig, seeing his passenger in such pain, attempted a kind of rough sympathy with him, and said, sailor-like, "Why do you stay there, Bishop? I'd be d------d if I would live in such a climate!" The Bishop had been much grieved at the man's habitual profanity, yet he quietly replied, "Perhaps I should be damned, as you say, if I did not stay there!" and the serious turn thus given to his own coarse expression seemed to abash the man.

On arriving at New York, he was received and most tenderly nursed by the Sisters of St. Mary at their Mother House in New York, and after a while was [105/106] taken by his old friend, the Hon. W. E. Curtis, Judge of the Supreme Court of New York, to his summer retreat among the hills of the Connecticut, and there remained for more than two months, receiving the closest care and the best medical attendance. Of returning to Nassau he had no desire or even thought; he felt that his work was done, and rest--the most marked need of his life--was now the one thing for which he yearned. But it became only too evident that his life was not to be prolonged; and unwilling to be a burden to his friends, he sent for his wife from Nassau, and in September was removed at his own desire to the hospital at Hartford, where he was admitted as a private patient. Here he remained to the end. Away from his own diocese, and far distant from England, it was reserved for Addington Venables to die in an hospital, and in a strange land. Yet not wholly strange. His long acquaintance with the United States, his hereditary connection with the Church in America, the many attached and faithful friendships that he had acquired among the ranks of American clergy and laity of all grades--all these circumstances contributed to make New England a not unfitting place, either of death or of burial, for one who in truth embraced both Eastern and Western worlds in his large heart. [His great-grandfather, Dr. Charles Moss, Bishop of Bath and Wells, had specially interested himself in giving a hierarchy to American Churchmen after the conclusion of the War of Independence, and in 1787 was joined with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in consecrating Bishop White.] It [106/107] brought, too, the ministrations of love to his dying bed, and surrounded him with every religious hope that could cheer, and every form of Christian consolation that could soothe, the tortures of his lingering malady. [Internal cancer.] Dean Knight (rector of the Church of the Incarnation at Hartford), a valued friend of the Bishop's, ministered to him in his last hours. "When it became evident" (writes Mr. Knight) "that the end was near, he calmly received the Holy Communion at my hands for the last time, and then made a solemn profession, of which I cannot forbear writing, that 'he desired to die, as he had ever wished to live, a true son of the Church of England; that he had never doubted her real Catholicity, and was thankful for the great spiritual mercies he had received in her communion.' I give you, I believe, his very words. He was also visited by the Rev. A. C. Hall of the Cowley Brotherhood, then at Boston, to whom also he opened his grief, and spoke of things which still troubled him. The great humility of his character, always so full of misgivings regarding himself, shone forth abundantly in his death; and his penitence, especially in what he considered was his lack of true repentance and proper contrition, touched the hearts of all those who were privileged to witness his last days. Notwithstanding, he expressed his entire sense of peace; and for one so mistrustful of self, it is the more remarkable."

Mr. Hall says, "When we reached Hartford, on the 3d [107/108] of October, we found him very weak, and in great suffering. Indeed, he was then evidently dying, and was perfectly convinced of this himself. He could speak but little, being in great pain, and very weak. . . . Twice he said, 'Give my love to dear Benson.' He spoke also of his anxiety for his diocese. Mr. Knight told me that his sufferings during the last few days had been intense. At intervals, however, he was quite himself. During one of these lucid moments he turned to the man who was in attendance as nurse, and pleaded with him, 'Robinson, you know you must one day be as I am. You have seen many people die. Prepare now, while you have time.' True to his pastoral office to the very last!"

Sunday, Oct. 8, his last day on earth. Dies Natalis. [Natalem sanctorum cum auditis, carissimi, nolite putare illum dici, quo nascuntur in terrain de carne, sed de terra in coelum, de labore ad requiem, de cruciatibus ad delicias, &c. P. Chrysol., Serm. 129.] He had had a peculiar wish to die on a Saturday, and on the previous day, conscious that his end was now very near, he had said to his wife, "I wish it could have been to-day, because of the 'Rest' which remaineth to the people of God!" Yet he had to tarry till the "Lord's" Day. The mind was wandering nearly all day. He was at times evidently re-enacting one of his missionary cruises, and fancied himself on board his little schooner, shouting out, "Let go the anchor!" Again he was calm, and once looking upward, he said, "Domine in manus tuas commendo spiritum!" His pains still continued, [108/109] but it was the agony of death, and release was near at hand. As the end visibly approached, so also did the glimpses of the Beatific Vision seem already to be opening to him, as the last whispered accents were faintly caught, "I shall... see. . . Him, . ..I... shall . . . behold . . . Him!" And so it came to pass that at evening time there was light, and he passed, "to where beyond these voices there is peace."

"Intraverat post omnia
Devicta mundi proelia,
Carnis solutus vinculis
Vitae perennis Sabbatum!"

In a letter to the Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, Dean Knight added, "I write now, not only to inform you of his death, but to deliver an earnest message from him. Not long before he died he asked me to inform the Primate, and also yourself, when the end should have come, of his decease, and also that you would, if possible, save the diocese 'from being blotted out of Christendom.' The fear of this seemed to lie heavily upon him. He felt sure that much of the spiritual, and all the missionary, work of those islands would greatly suffer, if they should no longer have a Bishop of their own. The physicians in attendance made examination of the body after death, and found that their surmises had been correct. His disease was cancerous affection of the bowels, in their judgment the result, upon a frame not naturally robust, of continuous [109/110] travel, irregular and often unwholesome food, constant cares, and unceasing mental labour. He literally, like his Master, gave his life for the sheep! And I am confident that this will be a new argument, if you needed it, for complying with his appeal that his flock may still have a shepherd of their own."


The Bishop received an honourable burial. The funeral took place at the Church of the Incarnation in Hartford, and was attended by a large congregation, spite of very threatening weather. The Bishop of the diocese had sent a letter expressing his extreme regret, that the sitting at the time of an important Council of bishops in Philadelphia, made it impossible for him to attend the service, and several more of the American prelates were [110/111] kept away by the same reason. The body of the deceased Bishop was carried to the church on Tuesday afternoon, the 10th of October, and there was watched through the night, and before the service lay in state near the principal door. The traces of his great suffering had gone, leaving the expression of the features calm and peaceful. The coffin, of solid oak, in the ancient form, had a long Latin cross on its lid, at the foot of which was the inscription--"Addington, Lord Bishop of Nassau. Died Oct. 8, 1876, aged 49." A purple pall, surmounted by a bishop's pastoral staff, covered the coffin; the chancel, too, was draped in purple, and a profusion of flowers decorated the sanctuary. All was most reverent and seemly. A little before noon the procession entered the church, headed by the surpliced choir of men and boys, many of the Connecticut clergy and others, and followed by the President and Faculty of Trinity College in their robes, and the whole body of students. Six of the latter--H. M. Sherman, H. B. Scott, W. M. Elbert, E. M. Scudders, Henry Martindale, and Frank de P. Hall--were the bearers. The first part of the funeral service over, a choral celebration of the Holy Eucharist followed, and it is perhaps worthy of remark that the proper Epistle and Gospel for burials from Edward the Sixth's First Book were used. The De Profundis was sung during the service, and after the consecration the Eucharistic hymn, "Behold the innumerable host!"

The cemetery to which all that is mortal of the Bishop [111/112] was conveyed, is at some little distance from the town of Hartford, standing on high ground, and commanding a beautiful prospect, and Addington Venables' last earthly resting-place is now marked by a granite cross, encircled by the legend, "In Pace cum Christo."


Oh! Human love! whose yearning heart,
Through all things vainly true,
So stamps upon thy mortal part
Its passionate adieu!
Surely thou hast another lot,
There is some home for thee,
Where thou shalt rest, remembering not
The moaning of the sea.

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