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The Diocese of Jamaica
A Short Account of Its History, Growth and Organisation

By J.B. Ellis, M.A.

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1913.

Chapter V.

BEFORE relating the events of the nineteenth century in their order we must mention two important matters which, though actually occurring in that century, had their foundations laid in the eighteenth. These were the formation of the See of Jamaica in 1824 and the abolition of slavery in 1837. With reference to the former the Order in Council, passed in the reign of Charles I., under which the Bishop of London held jurisdiction over Colonial churches, originally applied to clergy ministering to British subjects resident in foreign parts, and later on to settlers in newly discovered lands. These latter gradually developed into Colonies, and the subsequent increase of Great Britain's Colonial possessions quickly showed that such a jurisdiction could not be more than merely nominal. This is not the place in which to discuss the desirability, or otherwise, of an episcopal form of Church government, but no one is likely to dissent from the statement that an Episcopal Church without an active working Bishop is as incongruous an institution as would be an army without a commander or a monarchy without a monarch. The first suggestion for the establishment of a Colonial Episcopate was made in 1638 by Archbishop Laud, who proposed to send a Bishop to New England, and in the reign of Charles II. Lord Chancellor Clarendon actually obtained the King's sanction to a proposal for a Bishop of Virginia. This proposal fell to the ground. Almost from the beginning of its career in 1701 S.P.G. took up the question most vigorously, missionaries pressing upon it both the desirability and the necessity of sending out a Suffragan Bishop to superintend their missions, to "ordain some, confirm others and bless all." A memorial on the subject was presented to the Queen in 1707. The matter was fairly well received by both Houses of Convocation, but nothing definite was agreed to owing to the absence from England of the Bishop of London. Again another memorial was presented to the Queen in 1713 by S.P.G. and hopes were raised that the Society's efforts would meet with success, hopes only to be crushed by the Queen's death. In 1715 the Society approached George I., submitting to him a plan for the creation of four bishoprics, two for the islands and two for the continent of America. Of the island sees it was proposed that one should be "settled at Jamaica for itself with the Bahama and Bermuda Islands." The rebellion of 1715 and the direetion of political feeling combined to make this scheme a failure. In the same year the Archbishop (Tenison) of Canterbury bequeathed £1,000 "towards the settlement of two Bishops, one for the continent, the other for the isles of America." In 1732 Bishop Berkeley preached his celebrated S.P.G. sermon at the Society's anniversary service, in the course of which he acknowledged the care bestowed by the French and Spanish Roman Catholics upon the Indians and negroes in their colonies and the reproach which that fact cast upon other denominations, after which he goes on to say:

"They have also Bishops and seminaries for their clergy; and it is not found that their colonies are worse subjects or depend less on their mother country on that account."

The S.P.G. continued irrepressible in its persistence, [See "Digest of S.P.G. Records," Chapter XCIV. The above paragraph is a most insufficient summary of the events in a most interesting epoch of Church history.] but more than half a century passed away until, after long and importunate struggles with political obstructions and legal difficulties--not to mention prejudice and red tape and other stupidities--the Home Church was able to arrange for the consecration of a colonial Bishop, and on the 12th of August, 1787, Dr. Charles Inglis was consecrated first Bishop of Nova Scotia. Thirty-seven years later, in 1824, after more than a century of wasted discussions and memorials and time and formalities, the See of Jamaica was created, including the island of Jamaica, the Bahamas, the settlements in the Bay of Honduras and their several dependencies.

Turning now to the abolition of slavery, we find that at the beginning of the nineteenth century there were more than a quarter of a million slaves in Jamaica. It is almost impossible to fix the exact date when the agitation which culminated in abolition began, for from the days of Queen Elizabeth there have always been found some in England and elsewhere to protest against the institution. Happily, we are nowadays spared any necessity to denounce either the trade or the system; and happily also, certainly in Jamaica, bitter feelings inherited from a bitter past are rapidly dying away, if not already dead. That the system involved cruelty needs no proofs, for a cruel system can only be worked by cruel means and carried out by cruel laws, and the plausible fallacies by which its upholders endeavoured to defend it may fitly be taken as illustrations of the depth of absurdity and of groundless or false statements to which the champions of wrong are bound to be driven in fighting against truth and light. Our space here only allows us to sketch the progress of the agitation to the extent that is necessary to throw light on the history of the Church. In the year 1772, through the instrumentality of Granville Sharpe, the judicial decision was given that" as soon as any slave sets his foot on English ground he is free." One would have thought that this decision would have immediately and permanently settled the question: that, if the possession of slaves was wrong and illegal in England, it was equally wrong and illegal in other parts of the British Empire; that if the setting the foot on British soil in Kent or Devonshire could bestow freedom, the same privilege belonged to British soil in Jamaica or Trinidad. But the day of Justice was far distant. The heart of philanthropic England was indeed roused, but the West Indian interest was then politically, commercially and socially more powerful than any sentiment, however philanthropic, or any sense of justice, however deeply rooted. At length, on the 25th of March, 1807, the Bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade received the Royal Assent. The trade was to stop on the 1st of March, 1808. But the system lingered. The Bill did not, and was not intended to, affect the condition of existing slaves. Meanwhile the Jamaica Assembly had wisely passed several Acts with the professed object, and with the actual result, of modifying and ameliorating the conditions of slavery. At the time of the abolition of the trade there were reported to be 323,827 slaves in Jamaica. In 1817 an Act was passed for the compulsory registration of slaves, the intention of which was to make it impossible to practically revive the trade by secret importations. When this Registry Act came into operation there were 345,252 slaves in the island. Eight years later this number had decreased to 314,305. These figures are worth noting, as showing that when the trade was abolished the system was doomed, for they show that the rate of mortality among the slave population annually exceeded the birth-rate by nearly 4,000. Thus when importation ceased the system, if left alone, must die out, for the reproductive increase of the slaves was less than the loss by death. Figures such as these carry their own teaching when one thinks of the physical and sanitary conditions in which the slaves were compelled to exist.

A similar lesson comes from Cuba, and speaks more strongly than any eloquence and more forcibly than any fiery denunciation. In his preliminary Essay to Humboldt's "Island of Cuba" Mr. J. S. Thrasher shows that in 1811 there were 211,700 slaves in that island and that in 1817 the number had increased to 225,000; during these six years 67,700 negroes were added by importation from Africa. Thus the mortality had swallowed up 54,000 more than the increase of reproduction. The Spaniards, too, prided themselves at that time on treating their slaves with singular humanity. Beyond pointing the moral of these figures, we have here nothing to do with Spain, and they are only mentioned as coinciding in effect with the Jamaica statistics, which show that, when the importation of 5,000 per annum ceased, the population decreased by 4,000 per annum. It is sad to think that the extermination of the Indians should have been followed by this continuous sacrifice of African life. In 150 years the Spaniards annihilated the Aboriginal Indians; in little more than half that time, had not emancipation intervened, the system of slavery, sanctioned by Great Britain, would have exterminated the imported Africans. Without going step by step through the details of this agitation, it will be enough here to note the position which it had reached at the close of the period (1800 to 1824) covered in this chapter. In the year 1823 Canning's Resolutions passed the House of Commons. These Resolutions recommended such reform in the Code as might prepare the slaves for a participation in those civil rights and privileges which were enjoyed by other classes of His Majesty's subjects. The suggested reforms included, among others, the discontinuance of Sunday markets, the cessation of the practice of carrying (and using) a whip in the field, and the exemption of women from corporal punishment under any circumstances whatsoever. When these resolutions had been agreed to the Colonial Office directed the Governors of slave-holding Colonies to give effect to their provisions. This the Jamaica Assembly flatly refused to do, alleging that the Slave Code was as complete in all its enactments as the nature of the circumstances would permit and that the slave population was as happy and comfortable as the labouring classes in any part of the world. This was the condition of the agitation when Jamaica was created a bishopric.

The legislation affecting the Church during this period was limited to two important enactments. The first of these, which was passed in 1799, came into operation in 1800, and its effect was to annul the ordinary jurisdiction of the Bishop of London and to transfer it to persons resident in the island, to be nominated by the Crown. Failure to discharge their duties on the part of many of the clergy, together with the fact that the Bishop of London had never exercised any restraining authority or influence over them and was never likely to do so, made some such measure necessary in order to procure any kind of proper supervision. The Jamaica Assembly proposed to hand over the Bishop of London's jurisdic-tion to the Governor of the Colony for the time being, but the Attorney-General (in England) recommended the alternative measure on the ground that a Colonial Governor could not have "intimate knowledge of the nature and exercise of the pastoral office." The Attorney-General's advice was accepted and accordingly the rectors of the parishes of Kingston, St. Andrew, St. James, St. Elizabeth and St. Catherine were appointed Commissaries in the year 1800. The supervision exercised by five resident Commissaries does not seem to have been much more effectual than that of one non-resident Bishop, for the Assembly again had to deal with the irregular conduct of some of the clergy. This was done by passing an Act which provided that the rectors should not receive their quarterly stipends unless they could show a certificate from the Churchwardens of residence and conformity. The wind, however, was tempered to the shorn shepherd for another clause in the same Act decreed that if the Churchwardens should refuse a certificate on insufficient grounds they would incur a penalty of £500. Very few Churchwardens cared to run such a risk, although there is at least one case on record in which a clergyman was suspended for three years for neglect of duty.

The records of the Commissaries' Court give us some idea of a part of Church life under their jurisdiction. A few illustrations must suffice here, premising that they must not be regarded as samples of the whole, but must be looked at as exceptional cases. In 1811 the Lieu-tenant-Governor, Mr. Edward Morrison, drew their attention to the fact that it had been brought to his knowledge that, when no white person was present, it was the habit of many of the clergy to refuse Divine Service to persons .. of different complexion. This was dealt with by sending a judiciously worded circular letter to the clergy. What effect, if any, the letter had is not told. In 1815 the Commissaries had to investigate a strange, and probably unique, complaint. Mr. Edward Gardiner, a retired dragoon, who had settled down on his estate in Jamaica, wrote to the Governor, the Duke of Manchester, to complain of the conduct and language of the Rev. D. W. Rose. This clergyman had called Mr. Gardiner "a cowardly rascal and scoundrel" and had further, in Mr. Gardiner's own words, "wrought him up to frenzy by the accompaniment of an effort to throw a glass, a case bottle and a pitcher of water at his head." No mention is made of the contents of the bottle. The provocation received by Mr. Rose certainly did not justify either his language or his conduct. He had offered to baptize all the negroes on Mr. Gardiner's estate at Flint River in return for a fee consisting of a puncheon of rum. Mr. Gardiner had declined, alleging that, in his opinion, baptism administered under such circumstances could hardly affect the condition of its recipients. Hence Mr. Rose's wrath. In this case, after several sessions of the Ecclesiastical Court, the Commissaries decided that they had no jurisdiction in such a matter, which seems to be rather a lame conclusion, by no means calculated to allay the anger of the ex-dragoon.

We will take one more illustration of this phase of Church life. The Churchwardens of Kingston, in the year 1818, brought a series of charges against the Rev. G. R. G. Hill, for which he was brought to trial. He had neglected to bury a corpse one Sunday. His defence against this was that the funeral arrangements were not complete and that he could not wait on Sundays. [Not a few clergy in modern days will sympathise with this grievance of Mr. Hill: but now they wait and make no complaint.] He had declined to baptize a sick child; here his defence was that he never baptized on Friday, reserving that day for the preparation of his Sunday sermons. Another charge was worded as follows: "that he did appear and officiate in the Parish Church of Kingston, before a large and numerous congregation, with a bandage on one of his eyes, on which he had received a wound whilst engaged, to the great scandal and disgrace of his sacred calling, in a boxing match." To this charge Mr. Hill submitted in reply that his bandage concealed a "contusion" and not a "wound" and that he had merely put on the gloves with a friend, an exercise which could not fairly be called a "boxing match," adding that he "did not consider the wearing the said bandage would be considered improper or derogatory to his profession and was induced to do so by the impression that his not performing the duties of the day would be more reprehensible than his wearing such bandage." These explanations were regarded as satisfactory by the Court. But the Churchwardens had not yet done with Mr. Hill. Burial, Baptism, Boxing were only preliminaries, hors d'ceuvres, side issues, leading to a charge of a much more serious nature. It was that "with a view to degrade, insult and hold up to public odium and contempt the corporate body and magistracy of Kingston he had used the following (amongst other) words in a sermon preached in the Parish Church:

"When we say 'Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath day' we should immediately perceive certain sapient shakes of the head and sudden significant bobs of the under jaws among the ignorant and uninformed part of our congregation expressive of their contempt of our weakness and confused ideas, for say they to themselves ' Mr.--------- desired me himself to make certain entries in his ledger and copy certain letters which will at least take up the greater part of the Sabbath. How inconsistent then, is this, "Thou shalt do no manner of work" for surely he (Mr.--------) knows what is correct and would desire me to do what is proper and right.'" The fate and future destiny of those who thus moralise was then described in graphic and uncomfortably realistic terms by the preacher. The charge proceeded to say that "in the delivery of which passages the said Rev. George R. G. Hill addressed himself more especially to certain members of the corporate body and magistracy present in Church in a very intemperate, angry, pointed and offensive tone and manner." Mr. Hill's language is not perhaps as refined' and choice as we expect in a present-day pulpit, but his sentiments, apart from his "tone and manner," scarcely seem so outrageous as to justify his suspension for nine calendar months.

Nor is the evidence outside the Commissaries' Court much more satisfactory. A visitor to Jamaica in 1808, speaking of the "debauched and profligate lives which so large a proportion of the white inhabitants of Jamaica lead," writes, "All those in the planting line seldom or never attend any religious institution; nor do they either read pious books themselves, nor enjoin their children to do so. Sunday is a day like any other, and religious piety and devotion are terms which may be said to be blotted from the Jamaica vocabulary." The same gentleman also writes: "Of the regular clergy of the island there are few of them who are so solicitous about making proselytes as about making money." Matthew Gregory ("Monk") Lewis's last book relates his experiences in Jamaica in the year 1816, on the return voyage home from which visit he died and was buried at sea. Mr. Lewis was a landed proprietor in Jamaica, and had the reputation of being an indulgent master to his slaves. One day during this visit a slave wished to have one of his children baptized and, as there was no clergyman within many miles, Mr. Lewis undertook to administer the sacrament. The ceremony took place in the dining-room, Mr. Lewis signing the child's forehead with the sign of the Cross and offering an ex tempore prayer. This was followed by the baptismal party giving three cheers for Mr. Lewis, who concluded the ceremony by distributing Madeira among the congregation.

But better, brighter days were beginning to dawn. The progress, indeed, was slow, very slow. It is, however, ill weeds tHat grow apace, while the fruit of the good seed is only brought forth "with patience." We have mentioned in our last chapter the Act of 1797 which directed that rectors should devote a certain portion of every Sunday to the instruction of slaves. This may perhaps be regarded as the first turning point in the history of the Church in Jamaica. At the same time it must be remembered, and this is the most suitable place for recording it, that both before the passing of this Act and after it was in operation the religious welfare of the slaves had been affected by other causes which cannot be overlooked. Earnest ministers of other denominations were working at the education and enlightenment of the negroes. In 1754 the Moravians came and began a good work which is still being carried on and, in many points, presents a model which other churches would do well to imitate. In 1789 a. Wesleyan Methodist Mission commenced, and in 1814 the Baptist Church began its labours; in 1819 the established Church of Scotland started work in Kingston and in 1823 the Scottish Missionary Society began a useful work which is now being carried on by the United Presbyterian Church. It is no part of this story to relate how some of the missionaries of these denominations were thwarted, reviled, hindered and persecuted. Such things are written at length in their own records. Beyond doubt the planters and the Assembly associated the teaching of these missionaries with the emancipation of the slaves. We need not pause to ask whether this association was real or imaginary. Indiscreet some ministers may have been, and probably were, for indiscretion is no infrequent companion of religious zeal; but the heedless indiscretion of Wesleyan or Baptist compares favourably with the apathetic indifference which characterised many of the ministrations of the Established Church. Admitting that some of the efforts of the Nonconformist missionaries produced, directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, consequences which disturbed public order and resulted in riot and bloodshed, no one can deny that these efforts were in the direction of justice to the black population. Honour to whom honour is due. Those who provoked the hostility of the Church and of the planters earned the gratitude of the poor and the oppressed. There were indeed--and their numbers were increasing--men of zeal, perseverance and devotion in the ranks of the Establishment, but the lion's share of the honours of persecution belonged to the Nonconformist churches. The Government was a negrophobic Plantocracy and the Established clergy sympathised with the Government. The mind of the Assembly is seen in a resolution passed in the year 1815, in which it was determined to take into consideration at the next meeting the state of religion among the slaves

"and carefully investigate the means of diffusing the light of genuine Christianity, divested of the dark and dangerous fanaticism of the Methodists, which has been attempted to be propagated, and which, grafted on the African superstitions, and working in the uninstructed minds and ardent temperament of the negroes, has produced the most pernicious consequences to individuals and is pregnant with imminent danger to the community."

In the following year, 1816, an Act was accordingly passed, the preamble of which somewhat strangely contrasts with the language of the above resolution. This preamble states that

"from the extent of many parishes in this island and the number of inhabitants therein, religious instruction cannot be extended to all under the present Ecclesiastical Establishment, therefore it is necessary to increase the number of officiating clergymen for the purpose oi giving religious instruction to the slaves."

Either then with the intention of competing with the sectarian missionaries or with the benevolent wish to relieve the overburdened rectors, the Governor was empowered by this Act to appoint Curates, not exceeding the number of the beneficed clergy, to assist in propagating the Gospel among the slaves. The parishes were to provide suitable places of worship and the baptismal fee for a slave was fixed at two shillings and sixpence. The stipend of these curates was fixed at £300 a year, which was increased in 1818 to £500, as the Bishop of London was unable to secure suitable men at the lower rate. In 1822 there were twelve curates in the nineteen parishes in the island, but in very few parishes had churches or chapels been built in which they might conduct service. The Governor was then requested not to nominate any curate to any parish unless some chapel had been provided. Under this legislation several clergymen of excellent character and fired with a missionary spirit were appointed to various districts in the island and were zealously atoning for the Church's past neglect when, in July, 1824, letters patent were issued by George IV. creating the Bishopric of Jamaica. With reference to the jurisdiction of the Bishops of London, now about to cease, an unconsciously amusing side-light is thrown on their choice of clergy in a letter from the excellent Bishop Porteus to William Wilberforce. Bishop Porteus was a supporter in the House of Lords of the Slave Trade Abolition Bill, and was known and bitterly condemned as a "missionary favourer." But when a Mr. Creevey in the House of Commons accused him of giving an English living to a missionary, the good Bishop was very much annoyed at what he called a "groundless assertion" and a "preposterous calumny." To what extent things are changed now is beyond the scope of these pages.

One more event, affecting the future progress of the Church, must be mentioned before we leave this section of our history. About the year 1820 a Society was formed in England, bearing the name of "The Incorporated Society for the Conversion and Religious Instruction and Education of the Negro Slaves in the British West Indies." The name, if somewhat long, is sufficiently explicit to make unnecessary any explanation of the Society's objects. The origin of the Society is interesting. Many years previously the Hon. Robert Boyle had left a considerable property to be applied to the advancement and propagation of the Christian religion among the heathen. An estate was purchased by his executors and, with the sanction of the High Court of Chancery, the rents were vested in trustees to be applied to the education and Christian instruction of Indian children in Virginia. After the American War of Independence it was felt that, in accordance with the spirit of the testator's will, the charity should take a different direction and be applied to heathens who lived under the control of the British Crown. The Court of Chancery approved of this change, and hence the formation of the Incorporated Society. This Society was entirely non-political as far as the abolition agitation was concerned, its avowed purpose being rather to improve the existing condition of slaves than to attempt to abolish the system of slavery. As such it was in sympathy with the spirit of recent legislation in Jamaica and with the wishes of the best and most humane of the planters. There was a great willingness to receive the missionary agents of the Society and to put facilities in the way of their teaching, the chief hindrance being the frequent risings or rebellions. The Rev. Hugh Beams, for instance, in the parish of St. James, obtained permission to use the barracks on the estate of Mont-pelier for Divine Service and secured as clerk the good offices of a neighbouring proprietor, who was also a member of the House of Assembly. For a short time his labours were interrupted by a rising of slaves on Argyle Estate, but when this was put down he was allowed to resume his teaching and was also invited to preach on the estates of Seven Rivers, Hazelymph, Duckett's Spring, Content and Shettlewood, while before long the proprietor of Argyle Estate, the scene of the rising, invited him to conduct service there. Similarly the Rev. Thomas Stewart writes from St. Elizabeth that "the proprietors seem most desirous of the moral and religious improvement of their slaves; but unfortunately at this moment they are so harassed and distressed by the unhappy acts of rebellion in this part of the country that they are unable to adopt the measures they may wish until tranquillity be restored." Another case is that of the Rev. John Stainsby, who worked in the parish of St. Thomas with the sympathy and active assistance both of the planters and of the state-paid rector. Mr. Stainsby, it may be said, had a varied experience, for a few years later in another parish he earned for himself the reputation of being "worse than a Baptist." These instances, out of many, chosen from opposite and distinct parts of the island, are mentioned here because they teach a lesson which should not be forgotten. It may, of course, be said that the planters were beginning to realise that the abolition of the system of slavery must sooner or later follow the abolition of the trade; but it is only fair to them and right to say also that, however strenuously they resisted emancipation, they and their representatives in the Assembly encouraged religious instruction of the slaves when there was no suspicion of its connection with emancipation and with, as they thought, their own consequent and inevitable ruin. Those aspects of the Christian religion which taught the slave to be patient and resigned and contented with his present condition may well have found appreciative advocates in persons who were opposed to any change in that condition. The missionaries of the Incorporated Society did their work well. On the one hand they so carried out their instructions that they did not come into collision with the secular powers, and on the other hand they shared with other Christian teachers the privilege of imparting instruction and knowledge to those who had for years been disgracefully neglected.

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