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Memoir of the Late Bishop Coleridge

From The Colonial Church Chronicle, and Missionary Journal, Vol. IV (July, 1850), pages 3-11.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007

[3] Memoir of the Late Bishop Coleridge.

William Hart Coleridge, the son of Luke Herman Coleridge and Sarah, daughter of Mr Richard Hart of the city of Exeter was born at Thorverton, in the county of Devon, on the 27th day of June, 1789. His father was the seventh son of the Rev. John Coleridge, Vicar, Chaplain Priest, and Schoolmaster of Ottery St Mary; and perhaps we may infer from his Christian names that he was therefore destined from his birth to the practice of medicine. He died at the early age of twenty-four, leaving his widow and only child to the fatherly care and protection of his brother, the Rev. George Coleridge, who then presided, with great reputation, over the King's School (formerly kept by his father), and also held the office of Chaplain Priest in the, once collegiate, church of Ottery, St. Mary. That excellent person--"notus in fratres animi paterni"--deserved at the hands of all his family the touching tribute of affection addressed to him by another brother, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in after days:--

"I remember thee, my earliest friend, --
Thee who didst watch my boyhood and my youth,
Didst trace my wanderings with a father's eye,
And boding evil, yet still hoping good,
Rebuked each fault, and over all my woes
Sorrowed in silence.--I have ever loved thee,
Loved as a brother, as a son revered thee."

The subject of this memoir always felt an honest pride in stating that he had known no other school or master, having been educated, as Bishop Sprat tells of himself, "not at Westminster nor Eton, but at a little school by the churchyard side." After twelve years' pupilage under his good uncle's roof, he entered at Christ Church on the 12th of January, 1808. and it is curious to record that he, who in after life was to find so distant a field of labour, had never travelled further than Exeter (a stage of twelve short miles from Ottery), until he was launched at once, a well-grounded scholar, but without a friend, into the society of the largest college in Oxford. Here, however, his steady diligence and exemplary conduct soon recommended him to the notice of Dr. Cyril Jackson, the Dean; and, at his request, joined with that of the Canons, Dr. Howley, Regius Professor of Divinity, nominated him, in June 1811, to a studentship. And the result of the public examinations, in the following term, amply confirmed the choice of the Chapter, for we find the name of William Hart Coleridge in the first class, both In Literis Humanioribus and In Disciplinis Mathematicis et Physicis.

Mr Coleridge was ordained Deacon by the Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1812, and Priest by the Bishop of Oxford in 1814. For a few months he held a public tutorship at Christ Church; but soon relinquished it for the more congenial duties of a parish Priest, and accepted, in the same year, the Perpetual Curacy of Cowley, in the gift of his college. About this time, also, he was nominated a Master in the Schools. In 1816 he was called to a larger sphere of duty, and became Assistant Curate of St. Andrew's, Holborn, where he remained for three years, until the sudden death of the Rector, the Rev. G. T. Clare, when he was appointed Preacher of the Society's Chapel in Ely Place. Although thus relieved from the overwhelming labours of his parochial cure, he found ample occupation in the secretaryship of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, jointly with the Rev. W. Parker; and he also did the Church good service by undertaking the editorship of the "Christian Remembrancer," to whose pages he contributed, among other articles, an interesting series of Ecclesiastical Biographies.

Meanwhile his early patron, Dr. Howley, now advanced to the See of London, had been no inattentive observer of the sound judgment and practical wisdom of his student; and felt that the same discretion, and zeal, and energy, which had already made the Curate of St. Andrew's a marked man among the London Clergy, would be well employed in laying the foundations, broad and deep, of the Anglican Episcopacy in the West Indies. When, therefore, a wise and Christian ministry determined on extending the blessings of a Church in all its fulness, and integrity to those dependencies of the British crown, Mr. Coleridge, at the early age of thirty-five, was recommended, by this Diocesan, to Lord Bathurst for the newly constituted See of Barbados and the Leeward Islands. He accordingly received [4/5] consecration on the 25th of July, 1824, with the Rev. Christopher Lipscombe, Fellow of New College, who was nominated to the See of Jamaica, at the hands of the Primate (Dr. Sutton), and the Bishops of London (Dr. Howley), Lincoln (Dr. Pelham), and Llandaff (Dr. Van Mildert).

The writer of this brief memoir can bear his testimony to the anxious and considerate attention which Bishop Coleridge bestowed (during the interval between his consecration and departure for his diocese) on all the multifarious details connected with the establishment of a new See on sound ecclesiastical principles. At length he sailed in the Herald, on the 16th of December, 1824, and on the 29th of January, 1825, "made the green shores of Barbados, and cast anchor in Carlisle Bay."

After about seven weeks' residence in Barbados, he started in H. M. S. Eden, sloop of war, on the visitation of his Diocese, [Footnote: (1) Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice, were not originally included in the Diocese of Barbados, but were annexed, by letters patent, in 1826.] which occupied him until the 24th of June. He shortly after returned to England to confer with the authorities as to the condition and necessities of his See; and in Oct. 1825, was united in marriage to Sarah Elizabeth Rennell, daughter of the Very Reverend the Dean of Winchester, and sister to his dearly loved and lamented friend, the pious and exemplary Vicar of Kensington. A son and daughter are the surviving fruits of this happy union.

The pages of a magazine will ill suffice to chronicle the events of Bishop Coleridge's episcopate, which extended over a space of nearly eighteen years. We must be content, then, with glancing at a few of the most striking facts connected with it.

And, first, in regard to the impulse invariably given to the extension of the Church system by the appointment of a Bishop, it may be affirmed, without fear of contradiction, that the results of Bishop Coleridge's exertions far exceeded the most sanguine expectations. Every portion of his scattered Diocese (consisting of thirteen islands and British Guiana) enjoyed; in turn, the benefits of his personal superintendence; for he was usually out on his Visitation-tours during three months of every year. The entire result of his labours cannot be understood without the help of voluminous statistics, but it may be sufficient here to insert an extract from the Address of the Clergy of Barbados on his retirement, which certifies, that in that island alone, since the Bishop's arrival, the number of Clergy had increased from 15 to 31; the places of worship from 14 to 35; the sittings in Church from 5,000 to 22,500; the schools from [5/6] 8 to 83, and the children receiving their education in those schools from 500 to 7,000.

It must be remembered, moreover, that the progress of improvement in Barbados received a sudden check in August, 1831, by the hurricane, which destroyed 8 churches and 7 consecrated chapels, (these last had all been erected since the Bishop's arrival in 1825,) and occasioned a loss of life, estimated at from 3,000 to 5,000. This calamity, however, only served to give fresh energy to the Bishop's exertions. He was to be found moving among the dying and the dead--administering alike to the bodily and spiritual wants of the sufferers--visiting the few remaining churches, which were converted into so many hospitals for the wounded--exercising the public ministrations of the Church (under the overwhelming necessities of the occasion) in the open air, to crowded congregations, who pressed to hear the word of God under the constraining power of His present judgments--and sharing with the houseless and destitute the only apartments of his own private dwelling-place which the fury of the storm had spared.

Just before this visitation, he had succeeded in placing Codrington College on a more strictly Collegiate footing, in conformity with the original intention of its munificent founder. For the first eighty-five years of its existence it had been little more than a school, with varying success; but in 1829 the young pupils were removed to the residence provided for the Chaplain of the Trust estate, and placed under his care; and in 1830, the College was opened for students "in Physic and Chirurgery as well as Divinity," under the judicious superintendence of the Rev. J. H. Pinder, who now presides so ably over the Theological College at Wells. In all his arrangements for this important step, the Bishop met with the most liberal co-operation from the Trustees of the Codrington Estates, who fully entered into his design of rearing a native ministry in this seed-plot of the Colonial Church. And most heartily did he exert himself in this labour of love. The College was ever uppermost in his mind. He made a point of visiting it frequently, taking a warm interest in the well-being of the students individually, and opening his house freely to them during the vacations, if they had no home or private friends to receive them. Personal inconvenience or expense was never allowed to thwart his kind intentions. One, who had the best opportunities of' judging, described his liberality as unbounded. His words were--"he was for ever giving:" to public institutions--to private charities--to the establishment of numerous Friendly Societies on Church principles, throughout the Diocese, which were blessed with eminent success,--and, above all, in [6/7] secret aid to poor and struggling students, who were hereafter to labour in the Lord's vineyard, many of whom are indebted to Bishop Coleridge for assistance, to an extent which the world will never know until "the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books are opened."

In 1838, the Emancipation Act took full effect, and the safe result of that momentous experiment is the highest testimony that can be borne to the successful labours of the Bishop and Clergy, in disarming the prejudices of the Planters, awakening them to deeper views of their responsibilities, and preparing the minds of the Negroes to receive the boon of freedom with chastened joy. The memorable first of August was "appointed by proclamation for public supplication and thanksgiving to Almighty God for the happy termination of slavery;" and the Bishop set forth authoritatively a form of prayer to be used on that occasion throughout his Diocese. And the first day of freedom was spent, not in boisterous mirth and ungodly revellings, but in attendance on the solemn services of the Church, throughout the islands, and in praising and glorifying "God's holy name, for that it had pleased Him to dispose the Legislature to seal by a public act the deliverance of so large a portion of His servants from the bondage of the body into the full enjoyment of freedom."--(Special Service.) Great satisfaction was expressed in England at the crisis having passed so favourably. Titles and distinctions were showered in abundance on the civil functionaries who happened to be in office at the time; but the silent working of the Church and her ministers was left for its reward to Him "that seeth in secret."

Hitherto the Bishop had enjoyed excellent health in the midst of his great exertions; his strong constitution and temperate habits having apparently resisted all tropical influences. About this time, however, the anxiety of his friends was excited by occasional fainting fits, and other premonitory symptoms, which gave timely warning, that if he would still serve God in his generation, it must be in some other sphere of duty than that to which the prime of his life had been devoted. He felt within himself that he could not maintain the same activity and energy which had hitherto marked his course of action; and he could
not endure that the Church should languish through his lassitude, or inability, from physical causes, "to set in order the things that were wanting." He, therefore, judged it more advantageous to his Diocese that he should avail himself of the arrangements which had been originally made for his retirement, if necessary, at the end of ten years from his consecration. He had now held the See for nearly double that term, when he tendered his resignation, which was accepted most unwillingly, [7/8] and he was invited to offer his advice as to the future arrangements of his too-extensive Diocese. At his instance, it was determined to divide it into the Sees of Barbados, Antigua, and Guiana, to which his three excellent Archdeacons were appointed by the Crown; and he had the satisfaction of taking part at their consecration in Westminster Abbey, on the Feast of St. Bartholomew, 1842.

Our limits will not admit of any record of the affectionate regrets which accompanied his retirement. Suffice it to say, that one spirit seemed to pervade the whole population of his Diocese, lay its well as clerical. All alike were eager to testify the sense they entertained of the consummate prudence, kindness, and consistency, with which he had exercised the authority committed to him by the Almighty Head of His Church. And the interval which has since elapsed has only strengthened these impressions. The Ecclesiastical Board of Barbados, (comprising all the Clergy, and a Lay Representative, being a communicant, from each vestry in the island,) in the resolutions passed at their first meeting, upon receiving the news of his decease, speak of " he incalculable and, we trust, imperishable blessings which God in His great mercy was pleased to bestow upon these Colonies through the memorable Episcopate of Bishop Coleridge;" and one of those on whom his mantle descended, adds this emphatic testimony,--"Deeply, indeed, are the West Indies indebted to him--far more, I think, than is known in England, or well understood even here."

The next six years of Bishop Coleridge's life were spent chiefly at Salston, in the parish of Ottery St. Mary. He was not, however, the man to crown "a youth of labour with an age of ease;" but he sedulously devoted himself to taking an active part in the public charities of the neighbourhood, and advocating, from the pulpit and otherwise, the cause of the great Church Societies. One day in every week he attended at the Savings Bank at Exeter, (one of the most important institutions of its kind in the kingdom,) where he usually filled the Chair at the Committee Meetings. Another day, on alternate weeks, he gave up to the Board of Guardians at Honiton, of which he was a most efficient member, from his intimate knowledge of the habits of the poor, and his earnest endeavours to ameliorate their condition by a merciful administration of the Poor Laws.

He was also a trustee of an important charity in his own parish, involving the almost daily distribution of large funds among deserving objects, not receiving Parochial relief. Upon joining the trust, he was mainly instrumental in placing the whole machinery by which it is worked on a more efficient footing; and the interest which he took in its successful operation will be [8/9] best estimated by the fact, that he was in the habit of coming purposely from Canterbury, (a distance of not less than 250 miles,) to attend the Quarterly Meetings. So entirely did he make it a point of conscience to perform strictly the duties of any office which he undertook. Nor, in the midst of these engagements, did he lose sight of yet more important obligations. His connexion with his old Diocese, and his successors in the Episcopate, was never suspended. His correspondence on all matters affecting the interests of the Colonial Church was extensive and unremitted. Kindred spirits going forth to fields of labour similar to that which he had quitted, were drawn to Salston for advice and sympathy and encouragement, and that bond of union was thus established between Bishop Coleridge and the various Colonial Sees, which secured for him the unbounded respect and confidence of all those who should look in after years to that noble Institution, over which he was to be soon called to preside, for fresh supplies of labourers in the Lord's vineyard.

He was at length summoned by his earliest friend, (now advanced to the Metropolitan See of Canterbury,) to accept the Wardenship of St. Augustine's College, and he cheerfully obeyed the call. He commenced his residence in the Warden's Lodge in October, 1848, and proceeded to call up students to residence by slow degrees, exercising great caution in the selection, in order that he might gradually form the ____ of his Society in accordance with the great object of their collegiate life, and not, by the introduction of too many freshmen at once, expose the infant Institution to the risk of taking its tone and spirit from the new comers, rather than impressing upon them what he desired to be the stamp and character of the great Missionary College of the English Church.

Bishop Coleridge rightly felt that St. Augustine's "was not of an age, but for all time," and in all its arrangements he consulted its permanent stability and practical usefulness. The utmost regularity marked the routine of College duties. The meals were put on a plain and economical, but most comfortable system; and the Warden invariably dined in the hall with the students at 2 o'clock. He also said daily prayers in the chapel at 7 A. M. and 9.30 P. M., preached to the students once every Sunday, and (by statute) administered the Holy Communion on all Sundays and holy days. The curfew bell tolled at 10.30 P. M., which was a signal for all lights within the College being extinguished.

No more satisfactory testimony to the merits of the rising institution can be produced than the following extracts from an interesting letter inserted in the Guardian paper of [9/10] December 27, 1849, embodying the observations, during a visit to St. Augustine's, of one who has lately sailed for New Zealand in the true spirit of a Christian Missionary.

"The first requisite," writes C. J. A. to his friend, the Rev. Edward Coleridge, with whom, it is not too much to say, the grand idea of the College originated, and through whose exertions, aided by the munificence of Mr. Hope, it has been mainly established, "to the successful conduct of such an institution is found there in the active, energetic, and fatherly care and superintendence of the Warden. Every one felt that he was under his watchful and considerate eye, and nothing seemed to escape him. From the servants upwards, he knew what each had to do, and saw that he did it. The studies, the amusements, the health, the spiritual welfare of the young men individually were objects of his interest and regard. From the tradesmen's bills to the cure of souls, he gave his mind to the least and greatest things in their due proportion. * * * * Another most essential element is not lacking in the ruling body--and that is, a frank, hearty, and friendly sympathy with the young men. They know that they are treated as friends, and seem to respond to it, while still retaining their respect and deference. * * * * I had conversations with them about their present and future duties, and found nothing sentimental or merely enthusiastic about their views, but a stern common-sense yet devoted appreciation of their mission, which augurs well for themselves and the general tone of the College, as well as for those among whom they will labour." [Footnote: (1) We take this opportunity of stating a fact which is not generally known, and which all who are interested in the Missions of the Church should bear in mind. The funds of this noble institution are far from adequate to the great purposes for which it is designed. A considerable increase in its vested capital is required before it can be carried out efficiently, even to the extent of its present limited accommodations.--ED.]

Such were the cheering prospects of the College, when it pleased God, in his inscrutable wisdom, to take the Right Reverend Warden unto Himself. He had returned to Salston for the Christmas vacation, apparently in perfect health, on St. Thomas's Eve, 1849. Early in the afternoon of the following day he was attacked with illness, while walking over his grounds, and conveyed to a farm-house hard by, where he drew three deep sighs, and expired (before medical aid could be procured), from the rupture of one of the vessels of the heart. He was buried at Thorverton, his native parish, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, "by the grave of his father and of his mother."

No one could know Bishop Coleridge intimately, without admiring his habits of patient investigation, his practical mode [10/11] of dealing with all questions which came before him, his straight-forward honesty of purpose, his indomitable courage in facing difficulties, and his entire confidence in the strength of those principles by which his whole life was directed. Coupled with a keen sense of wrong, and an honest indignation at sophistry or injustice, his kindness and courtesy towards all men never forsook him. He was ever ready to put the most charitable construction on any doubtful word or deed. No harsh expression escaped his lips. It was his simple aim to do all the good he could to all men; and with a happy mixture of cheerful simplicity and (where the occasion called for it) of dignified reserve, he never forgot what was due to others, or to himself.

This distinguished Prelate's life was too much occupied with active duties to leave him time for the toils of authorship; and he published nothing but what seemed to arise naturally out of his office and circumstances. His charges and pastoral letters to his Clergy, his addresses to candidates for Holy Orders, and occasional sermons, abound in valuable advice and information touching the Ministerial Commission and its manifold responsibilities. They are deeply imbued with the spirit of the great masters of our Israel during the seventeenth century, in an intimate acquaintance with whose writings few theological scholars of the present day surpassed him. His extensive library was especially rich in that department; and he possessed a remarkable readiness of reference to his books, on all subjects about which his opinion or advice was desired.

It remains only to add that, both in the mother country and in the three West Indian dioceses, arrangements are in progress for testifying, in various ways, the high sense entertained of his important services. In addition to the erection of a tablet in every church in Barbados, a fund is being collected for the endowment of Coleridge Exhibitions in Codrington College; and his personal friends in England propose to raise a similar monument of their affection and veneration for his memory at St. Augustine's. They will thus add their united voices to the testimony of one whose opinion is on many accounts especially valuable: "I know too well (better than any but those who have witnessed them can understand) the immense services which Bishop Coleridge rendered to the cause of Christianity and the Church in the West Indies, by his untiring zeal and thoughtfulness for the various and wide-spread people committed to his care--by his support of his Clergy, and by his kindness and liberality to those of them who were poor--to allow me to hesitate for a moment in helping to raise to his memory a tribute so appropriate as a Scholarship in a Missionary College." S. W. C.

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