Project Canterbury

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 VI.

DR. CHRISTOPHER LIPSCOMB, formerly Vicar of Sutton Benger, in the county of Wiltshire, the first Bishop of Jamaica, was consecrated in Lambeth Palace Chapel on the 25th of July, 1824, and arrived in Jamaica on the 11th of February, 1825.

His letters patent, issued by George IV., state that: "Whereas the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England are professed and observed by a great majority of our loving subjects in the islands and settlements of the West Indies, and whereas the churches of the said islands and settlements are not without difficulty supplied with ministers duly ordained, and the people thereof are deprived of some offices prescribed by the Liturgy and usage of the Church of England for want of a bishop residing in the said islands and settlements. For the remedy of the aforesaid inconveniences and defects we have determined to erect the said islands and settlements into a Bishop's See. And we do by these presents erect, ordain, make and constitute the Island of Jamaica, the Bahama Islands, and the settlements in the Bay of Honduras, and their respective dependencies to be a Bishop's See, and to be called from henceforth the Bishopric of Jamaica."

Bishop Lipscomb's arrival coincided with an extremely critical period in the social and political history of the colony and the work which lay before him was of a delicate and difficult character. The abolition agitation was at its height: the relations between the colony and the mother-country were so far strained that the majority of the Assembly threatened "to transfer their allegiance to the United States or even to assert their independence after the manner of their continental neighbours." Much disaffection prevailed among the slave population, while planters foresaw in the approaching emancipation nothing but ruin and disaster both to themselves and to the colony at large. During the early years of Dr. Lipscomb's episcopate, outbreaks, or risings, or rebellions--so they were variously called--were almost common enough to be considered constant among the slaves, who somehow or other had gathered, from conversation overheard and misunderstood, that emancipation had been agreed on in England and was being withheld in Jamaica. Some of these rebellions were of a most serious character; not only were lives lost on both sides and bad feeling intensified, but property to an enormous value was destroyed. Almost the only weapon, except the tools used in agriculture, within reach of the insurgents was fire, and the beginning of nearly every outbreak was signalised by the burning of crops and houses. How serious such outbreaks sometimes were may be gathered from the fact that on one occasion property--largely consisting of crops ripe for reaping--to the value of £606,977 were destroyed, and the resultant distress was so great that a loan of £200,000 was made by the Home Government to replenish the devastated estates. Surroundings such as these did not tend to facilitate the Bishop's work. Nor, unfortunately, did he receive from the clergy of the Establishment that cordial cooperation and sympathetic assistance which he was on every ground entitled to expect.

Dr. Lipscomb on landing in Jamaica was received with military and other honours. Addresses of welcome \vere presented to him, and in his replies he recommended the adoption of measures which he thought "might improve the spiritual condition of the slave population and render effectual the object of his mission." The Bishop, who brought out with him six clergymen from England, was installed on the i5th of February, 1825, and on the 13th of the following April held the first Church of England Ordination in Jamaica. As far as I can gather--the records are rather confusing--there were then 40 clergymen in the diocese, of whom 19 were rectors, 14 Island curates, 3 missionary auxiliaries, and 4 garrison chaplains: 4 of the Bishop's companions were appointed auxiliary curates, bringing the total up to 44. There was a slave population of 317,338 distributed among 5,632 proprietors. The available finances of the Establishment may thus be summarised:

Stipends of rectors £8,820
Stipends of curates £10,550
Vestry allowances £3,430
Fees £5,372
Total: £28,172

These figures, which do not include the cost of the upkeep of thirty-nine churches and chapels, would be misleading if it were not mentioned that they and all stipends referred to in previous chapters were in current money, not in sterling, and that £100 currency equaled £60 sterling. [It was not until 1851 that the Jamaica currency was assimilated to that of Great Britain.] Even with this explanation the provision seems to be quite sufficiently generous. The Episcopal Establishment was endowed by the British Government and amounted to £10,900 currency, which was a charge on the Consolidated Fund of England, and provided incomes for the bishop, an archdeacon and six auxiliary curates. Unfortunately, there are no records available by which we can learn the average attendance at Divine Service when Bishop Lipscomb arrived. Prior to the establishment of Episcopacy the Assembly was apparently content to vote large sums of money for Church purposes, without inquiring too closely how the money was earned or spent so long as it was free from the taint of slave-emancipation.

As was natural, at the first session of the Assembly after the Bishop's installation an Act--the Clergy Act--was passed to consolidate and amend all the ecclesiastical laws then on the statute-book of the colony, and to bring them into conformity with the new condition of things. The Act decreed that "all such laws, ordinances, and canons ecclesiastical as are now used in England, so far as relates to the due ordering and ecclesiastical regimen of, and jurisdiction over, the clergy, shall be in force within this island." This jurisdiction did not extend to any judicial authority, spiritual or temporal, over the "lay inhabitants," or affect the jurisdiction of the Governor, in whose hands was still left the power of presentation to vacant livings. The "Clergy Act," differed from previous legislation affecting the Church in that it had a duration clause of eleven years attached to it, after which it had to be renewed, or re-enacted, as was done in 1836, 1847 and 1858. We shall see later on what happened in 1869. Turning to some of the provisions of the Act, we find that the rectors' stipends were increased to £600 a year, exclusive of fees, and that the number of churches was increased to forty-two, though no clergy were to be appointed until a place of worship had been built or provided. The fees of the rectors were fixed at what seem nowadays almost incredible sums. The fee, for instance, for meeting a corpse at the parochial burial-ground and reading the grave service was £1 6s. 8d., double that amount being charged for the full funeral service. Churches were scattered and at a great distance from many of the houses, and funerals often took place in private grounds; in such cases, if a service were held by a clergyman, the fees were again doubled. The fee for baptism in church on Sunday was five shillings and in any other place or on any other day it was £1. A fee of £1 for every mile beyond the first mile was exacted for every service in addition to the ordinary fee. Thus, a rector would receive, or at any rate he might legally claim, £3 for riding three miles to baptize a sick child. Slaves were exempt from the payment of fees, which means that their owners were exempt from paying for them, which was distinctly a step in the right direction, for it gave the slaves a right to the ministrations of the Church. Necessary provision was made in the Act for enabling the Bishop to discharge the duties of his office. Unfortunately, one or two clauses of the Act gave offence to the clergy. These clauses put certain powers in the Bishop's hands, where it was obvious they ought to be.

Thus, rectors or curates absent for three months in any year without the Bishop's consent were liable to forfeit £200. If any clergyman absented himself without leave for more than eighteen months from his cure the Bishop had power to declare the living vacant. No stipend was to be paid unless a certificate of residence and service signed by the Bishop was produced. It is not easy to see how complaint could reasonably be made of the hardship of these regulations. But complaint was made. Perhaps it is not in human, and clerical, nature to expect that clergymen, who had for years enjoyed whatever freedom or license is worth enjoying in the absence of episcopal supervision, should have uncomplainingly accepted their altered conditions of service. Friction early set in. The Rev. G. W. Bridges, who oddly filled the double rôle of the advocate of negro slavery and the champion of clerical independence, writes in 1828:--

"It would have been well if the power with which the country so inconsiderately invested the office of its Bishop had been confined in its operation and consequences within the island: but the clergy have unfortunately found it otherwise--their prospects, and even those of their children, have been sacrificed to an arbitrary feeling and even the privilege of carrying an appeal to the foot of the throne has been denied them. Upon his arrival the Bishop of Jamaica found the livings and curacies occupied chiefly by Creoles, but some of them by British clergymen; and, looking forward to the possession of the patronage, his avowed principle was that no good could be expected from his mission until 'the old clergy, that is, those who owed their appointments to the Duke of Manchester, were exterminated.' [The Duke of Manchester was Governor of Jamaica from 1808 to 1827. The parish of Manchester is named after him and the town of Mandeville after the courtesy title of his eldest son.] The climate did much to effect his purpose, but prejudice and oppression did more. The Governor, though still holding the patronage, was bereft of the discretionary power of granting leave of absence on emergent occasions of ill-health or private business, and the lives or fortunes of those who have been longest in the active discharge of their duties have been sported with or destroyed by their unreasonable detention. The consequence has been that at no period within the last thirty years has the island been so destitute of regularly ordained clergymen as at the present moment, for none could venture to a country where, besides the natural disadvantages of climate, they have to encounter a partial and arbitrary system of ecclesiastical Government, where irregularity is in so many respects degrading to the profession and injurious to the credit of the Church."

This is strong language and plainly Mr. Bridges was very angry. Perhaps the Bishop had refused to give him leave of absence, which in former days clergy had taken without asking for it. Seeing, however, that Mr. Bridges, a strong and capable man, is entitled to be regarded as the mouthpiece of the majority of his brother clergy, we can easily understand the difficult position in which the Bishop found himself.

In spite of all such difficulties and in defiance of such discouragements as those alluded to above, Bishop Lipscomb resolutely set to work to organise his diocese, always bearing in mind that the object, as he said, of his mission was to improve the spiritual condition of the slave population. An Archdeacon (the Ven. Edward Pope, D.D.) was appointed in 1825 and in 1828 the diocese was divided into three rural deaneries, the first Rural Deans being the Rev. L. Bowerbank, the Rev. A. Campbell and the Rev, J. Mclntyre. Ordinations were held from time to time and, if the number of clergy in 1828 was less than in 1824, the younger men were free from many of the prejudices, and not blindly addicted to many of the customs, of those who were licensed before the days of episcopal rule. In 1826 the Bishop paid his first visit to the Bahamas and British Honduras, and in the same year he consecrated at Harewood the first new church built in Jamaica after his arrival.1 The Incorporated Society continued its good labours, and the Established Church began to free itself from much of the reproach of former days and, without losing the patronage and regard of the planters, was rapidly winning the attachment and affection of the slaves. The attention of other Home Missionary Societies was also being drawn to Jamaica's needs. The Church Missionary Society's agents were in the field before those of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In 1825, on the invitation of the owner, two catechists and their wives were sent out by the C.M.S. to reside on an estate in the parish of St. Thomas for the "purpose of imparting religious instruction to the negroes." Suitable buildings were provided for worship and instruction, and by allotting one day every week to the slaves for their own use Sunday could be devoted to rest and religious instruction instead of being spent at the Sunday market or in tilling the plot apportioned to the slave for a provision ground. Sometimes at the expressed wish, sometimes with the ready concurrence, of the proprietors similar arrange-ments were made in other parts of the colony. Here again we see the attitude taken by many of the planters in the matter of slave-instruction. They had no wish to keep their slaves in heathenism and ignorance, but they claimed to have a voice in the method, means and choice of agents for instruction and they objected, point-blank, to any teaching which, in their judgment, tended to foster the advance of freedom. Soon after Bishop Lipscomb's arrival the C.M.S. missionaries were put under his authority, and an annual grant of £200 was made to him to be employed at his discretion for the spiritual benefit of the negroes. In 1831 the C.M.S. had 9 schoolmasters and catechists in the diocese, 19 schools and 903 scholars. Constant reference is made in letters and reports at this time to the sympathy and assistance given to C.M.S. agents by owners of estates and by several of the clergy of the Establishment. Their work was of that extremely elementary character which calls for an extraordinary amount of patience. It was sowing with but little prospect of reaping; or, rather it was preparing the soil with only a very slight chance of being permitted to sow the seed. The mere persuading of negroes to substitute an assent to the truths of Christianity for an acquiescence in some phase of African superstition was far from being the main purpose of these good men. Untaught minds had to be taught: intellectual faculties, hitherto latent, had to be trained. Some years before this the clergymen of the Establishment, endeavouring to rival the records of Nonconformist missionaries, had, as it were, administered baptism wholesale, with little thought or care as to the mental or spiritual condition of the recipient. Not so with these first missionaries. Step by step and inch by inch were light and knowledge imparted before there was any thought of formal admission to the Church. At some stations pupils of all ages were to be found in the same class; an old slave, his son and his grandson were to be seen standing side by side learning to spell and to read. At other stations an infant school was held from 8.0 to ii.o a.m., a school for older children from n.o a.m. to 4.0 p.m., and a class for adults, when their day's work was done, from 6.0 to 9.0 p.m. The reports which detail these patient labours contain little or no reference to persecution, hindrance or obstruction. They are simple, unadorned records of the doings of self-denying men, working in some obscure corner of the island, living a useful life of uninteresting drudgery, many of them dying at their post with no other consolation than the reflection that they had done their duty and made the way easier for others to follow them.

The years 1831-1834 were anxious and critical. Slavery, long since doomed, died in 1834, though not without a terrible death struggle. Its last state was in many ways worse and more cruel than its first. In December, 1831, there were simultaneous risings of slaves in the western county of Cornwall, which were only suppressed at the price of many lives. Martial law was proclaimed throughout the island and troops, together with the island militia, at once took the field. The wrath of the planters was poured out on the teachers of religion, but most of it fell on the Nonconformist missionaries. The Church of England teachers and clergy, though here and there inconvenienced, annoyed and subjected to opposition, escaped actual persecution. But if they were unscathed by persecution, they were also innocent of any attempt to incite to rebellion. That other Christian ministers suffered with their converts and were accused of being implicated in rebellion gives greater prominence to their names but does not detract from the fact that Church of England ministers and missionaries were quietly working and gaining power and influence over the people. In fact, where the Church was weakest the rebellion was strongest. "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength," and it is quite possible that the sobriety of devotion which is characteristic of the Church's teaching had its soothing influence on the minds of thousands who were eagerly panting for freedom, but who were satisfied patiently to wait the issue of events rather than to attempt to anticipate the inevitable. If, therefore, the honours of persecution were not to the Church, the equally great honour of having prevented disaffected feelings from breaking out into open rebellion may well be awarded to many a conscientious missionary. To prevent mischief is at least as noble, though not perhaps so dazzlingly heroic, as to suffer the consequences of mischief.

This rebellion being crushed, and during the time that the ringleaders, together with Baptist and other missionaries, were waiting their trial for sedition, an extraordinary movement in the name, though surely not in the spirit, of the Church occurred. This was the formation on the 26th of January, 1832, of the Colonial Church Union, a society the proposed objects of which were to defend by constitutional means the interests of the colony, to expose the falsehoods of the Anti-Slavery Society, and to uphold the Established Church and Kirk. The constitutional defence of a colony, the maintenance of the Church, and the exposure of falsehood are all excellent mainsprings of action, but unhappily these words were used to conceal, not to define, the real motive of the Society, which was to delay the day of emancipation by silencing the Nonconformist missionaries, and by destroying their places of worship. It is--to put it very mildly--a matter for regret that the name ot the Church should have been in any way associated with this discreditable business, and it is still more to be regretted that the Union had the sympathy and support of many churchmen, including some of the rectors. For some days the Union was inactive; but when, on the 5th of February, 1832, martial law ceased, it broke out again with all the fury of bigotry and passion. Salter's Hill Chapel was first burnt by the militia of St. James's parish. Then followed similar riotous destruction of chapels at Stewart Town, Lucea, Brown's Town, Sav.-la-Mar, St. Ann's Bay, Fuller's Field, and other centres of Wesleyan and Baptist activity. After a short and infamous career the Colonial Church Union was declared by proclamation to be an illegal association, and it received its death-blow by the vigorous action of the Governor, who deprived of their commissions the magistrates and officers who persisted in their connection with it.

Still the struggle continued, and still the Bishop, with his loyal clergy and faithful missionaries, kept on quietly preparing the way for the further progress of the Church and development of the slave population. A statement, presented to the Assembly in 1832, enables us both to see the condition of the Church on the eve of emancipation, and also to gather some idea of Bishop Lipscomb's work in the earlier years of his episcopate. Contemporary writers have failed to do justice to the Bishop's energy and success in the face of many difficulties and much opposition. It is shown in this Statement that since 1824, that is in eight years, thirteen churches had been built, and that nine others were then in course of construction. The funds for these buildings had been readily provided by the Assembly and the vestries. There were forty-five clergymen, and thirty-two catechists and schoolmasters in the Diocese, and religious instruction was given to slaves on 280 estates. Archdeacon Pope reported at the same time that on 70 of these estates the number of slaves under instruction exceeded 18,000.

The Jamaica Assembly continued to assert its independence of the British Parliament, and to refuse any further legislation in the spirit of Canning's Resolutions in 1823, until on the 28th of August, 1833, the Emancipa- tion Act was passed. This Act decreed that on, and after, the 1st of August, 1834, all slaves should be free, though complete freedom was not to be given till after an intermediate period of apprenticeship of six years for predials, or field labourers, and of four years for domestic servants. The Home Government's proposal to advance a loan of £15,000,000 was altered into a grant of £20,000,000 as compensation to the slaveowners. This compensation is often misunderstood. As recently as 1907, at least two members of the House of Commons are reported to have spoken of compensation being given for the abolition of the slave trade. Of course it was nothing of the sort; the slave-traders had already had their compensation in the purchase money for the slaves, many of whom they had stolen. The actual compensation was given to those who had, in open market, bought and paid for these stolen goods, and who by the Act of Emancipation were deprived of property legally their own. It was meant to be an equitable business transaction quite apart from the morality or righteousness of a system to which it put an end.

The Jamaica Assembly, in the following October, ungraciously accepted the Act, protesting that the conduct of the Imperial Parliament was unconstitutional, and involved a policy of "spoliation which could produce nothing but discontent and rebellion." Thus, on the 1st of August, 1834, slavery ceased, and the apprenticeship began. Jamaica owners--many of them resident in England--received as compensation £5,853,975 in consideration of the manumission of 255,290 slaves, while 55,780 slaves, consisting of children, old people, and runaways, were excluded from compensation. Slaves were allowed to release themselves by purchase from their apprenticeship, and a goodly number took the opportunity if doing so. The Journal of Messrs. Joseph Sturge and Thomas Harvey contains the following "communicated" statement:

"From the 1st of August, 1834, to 3ist May, 1835, 998 apprentices purchased their freedom by valuation, and paid £33,998. From the 31st May, 1836, to the 1st November in the same year 582 apprentices purchased themselves and paid £18,217, making in all £52,215; a prodigious sum to be furnished by the negroes in two years. This makes a large community of persons of provident habits, spread throughout the country, who are establishing themselves as small settlers."

The above quoted figures seem almost incredible, though the authority is good, and the comment is certainly worth noting. It is just possible that some apprentices were surprised to find how much they were worth when they had to pay for themselves.

The subject of compensation attracted a good deal of attention in England, which is thus casually alluded to here because of a striking remark made by Hugh Stowell at the C.M.S. Annual Meeting in 1834. "Where," he exclaimed, "is the compensation for the slaves?" The answer to Mr. Stowell's question is to be found in the increased activity shown by all Christian denominations. Church vied with Church to make the best and the most of the years of apprenticeship. The C.M.S. increased the number of its agents and of its stations; the Incorporated Society continued its work; the S.P.G. began that connection with the Diocese which has been productive of so much good; the Religious Tract Society gave its aid, and the S.P.C.K. was to the fore with liberal grants.

Project Canterbury