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 IX.

WHILE Bishop Courtenay was contemplating the local missionary efforts referred to at the end of the previous chapter he was relieved in 1861 of a portion of his diocese by the creation of the See of Nassau. The increasing duties and responsibilities of the Church in Jamaica had rendered the supervision of the Bahamas very difficult, and latterly almost perfunctory. Facilities for travelling were scarce in these days; even now there is little direct communication between Jamaica and the Bahamas. The number of the islands--one missionary had no less than seven under his charge--made it quite out of the question for a bishop, resident in Jamaica, to visit regularly every church and congregation. A separate diocese was necessary. The new diocese comprised the Bahama Islands, the Turks Islands, and the Caicos Islands, and left the island of Jamaica and the colony of British Honduras to form the diocese of Jamaica.

Realising, then, as we have seen, the most pressing needs of the Church and of the colony, Bishop Courtenay in January 1861, acting in concert with some of the leading laity and clergy of the diocese, inaugurated the Jamaica Church of England Home and Foreign Missionary Society. The purpose of this society, which still exists with an unchanged name, and with both the fulfilment and the promise of useful activity, was the furtherance of missionary operations:--

(1) in those districts of Jamaica which are still, from peculiar circumstances, destitute to a certain extent of the means of grace;

(2) In that portion of Western Africa, bordering on the River Pongas;

(3) In the territory of the Mosquito Indians on the coast of Central America.

Apart from the great need of Home missionary work, it was rightly felt that the Church of England in Jamaica needed some of that stimulus which is always to be found where a missionary spirit exists. If, indeed, the presence or the absence of this missionary spirit is the sign of a standing or a falling Church, then was the Jamaica Church in a somewhat tottering condition. In 1824 the parish of St. Thomas had sent £100 as a contribution to S.P.C.K., a performance which remains an unbroken "record" in Jamaica. Small contributions had from time to time been sent to the "West Indian Church Association for the Furtherance of the Gospel in Western Africa," but little or no organised effort had been made. The propriety of the choice of the two outside channels for missionary support is too apparent to require explanation here. They will more fitly be referred to later on in this sketch.

The birth of this new society was cordially welcomed both by laity and by clergy. It began with four stations, which at the time of disestablishment had increased to 26, and now number 122. Most of these stations were, and still are, served by Catechist-schoolmasters, acting under the superintendence and direction of the nearest available clergyman. The direct good done in past years by these mission stations and their direct influence over the present condition of the Church, are perhaps only exceeded by their indirect. For not merely was Christian teaching spread over a wider range of ground, but the established clergy were led to take an active interest in others besides the members of their own congregations, and both laity and clergy were able to avail themselves of the privilege of systematic giving. Nor was this all. Several of the present country churches were originally mission stations founded by this Society and, when the early needs of the disestablished Church pointed to a difficulty in finding men to fill vacancies in the ranks of the clergy, caused by death or resignation, there were found among the agents of the Missionary Society men fit to be prepared for ordination, possessing a practical acquaintance with ministerial duties, and some experience of the methods of the voluntary system of Church organisation and work.

Partly because of the formation of this Society, but mainly because of other claims, and of the continued liberality of the Jamaica Legislation for the maintenance of the Church, S.P.G. considered that it was justified in withdrawing its grants at the end of 1865. There were then 92 clergy in the island supported by the State; and it was calculated that 200,000 persons, or two-fifths of the population, were "wholly inaccessible to the ministrations of the clergy, or of the ministers of any religious denomination." At the time of its withdrawal S.P.G. estimated that the average population of each of the ecclesiastical parishes on the State Establishment was 3,240. The area of the town parishes would naturally be small, but some of the country cures had an area of 60 square miles. These figures, and those of the 200,000 "wholly inaccessible persons," bear out what has been said about the dispersion of the population, and point to the wisdom of forming the Jamaica Missionary Society, if the Church were not to lose touch with nearly half the population of the island.

A few months before this withdrawal of S.P.G. from Jamaica, political and social troubles drew general attention to the Colony. With the rising, or rebellion, in October, 1865, the Church cannot be said to have had any direct connection, and therefore it is unnecessary, even if it were desirable, to enter at any length in these pages, either into the causes, or into the details, of that most unfortunate occurrence. But a certain amount of responsibility must, of necessity, belong to the Church of England. Years, almost centuries, of duties shirked, and of opportunities neglected, must have their consequences. It is true that there were many and encouraging signs of growth, development, improvement, but when we think of the provision made for the maintenance of the Church by successive legislatures of Jamaica, and of the liberality of English societies and friends, one cannot but also think--and that too without defaming the dead--that if the Church in the bygone days of her wealth and of her ease had been more loyal to her true mission, the rebellion of 1865 would have been as impossible then as a similar outbreak is improbable now. A very fair account of these disturbances is to be found in the forty-ninth chapter of Mr. Justin McCarthy's "History of our own Times."

It is difficult, as readers of that chapter will readily admit, to know where to apportion blame, and unhappily there is not much occasion for the apportionment of praise. To what extent the trouble was misunderstood in England may be gathered from the fact that so very careful a chooser of words as Sir Leslie Stephen described it as "a servile insurrection." The verdict of 50 years hence will probably be that there were on both sides misapprehensions, exaggerations, groundless ill-feelings, frenzy born of fear and panic, uncontrolled excitement, leading to unnatural conduct. The outbreak might have been inevitable owing to strained feelings: whether or no there was reasonable provocation for it, there is no doubt that it was purposeless and uncalled for. It was promptly suppressed: in Governor Eyre's words, "within three days of the first intelligence of the rebellion reaching Kingston it was headed, checked and hemmed in: within a week it was fairly crushed." The soldiers can hardly be said to have had any fighting, as distinct from shooting, to do, for the rioters never took the field against them: and lastly the revenge exacted was as purposeless and uncalled for as was the outbreak itself. There was fear on both sides: hatred is the child of fear and the parent of cruelty. For what is true of the "rebels," if the disaffected persons are entitled to be so called, is equally true of those who suppressed the rebellion. If it is true, as stated in a petition sent to England at the time by the Jamaica Church, that the "heathenism and barbarism still existing among the negroes have in one district suddenly and unexpectedly exhibited a ferocity almost African" it is equally true that this ferocity was responded to by an amount of unnecessary cruelty and relentless revenge which we may well hope is entitled to be called "un-English." It is ridiculous to predicate any virtue, or any vice, as an universal characteristic of the inhabitants of an entire continent, and "a ferocity almost African" is, in the light of the events of this sad time, as meaningless a phrase as would be "a revenge almost European in its unreasonable cruelty." It is an open question whether the student of the history of ferocity would go to Africa for his most pointed illustrations. The dispositions and habits of different African tribes present features quite as varied as do those of different European nations, and the natives of one continent are quite as susceptible to the humanising influences of Christianity as are those of the other.

One clergyman of the Church of England was killed in these disturbances, namely, the Rev. Victor Herschell, curate of Bath. Mr. Herschell was present at the Morant Bay Court House when the riots broke out, having gone there to confer with the magistrates on some business connected with the repair of his church. His name is prominently mentioned in a proclamation inciting to riot which was supposed to have emanated from Mr. G. W. Gordon. Amidst the rattle of musketry and the roaring of flames and the falling of a burning roof Mr. Herschell did not forget his sacred functions, and he and his ill-fated companions were engaged in prayer when the heat of the burning building became so intense that they had to try to leave it, many of them, including Mr. Herschell, to meet a possibly worse doom than that of being burnt alive. There is no reason for supposing that Mr. Herschell's fate was in any way due to opposition to the Church. No fault was found with his performance of ministerial duties, and his name appeared in the proclamation above referred to entirely on account of his action as a citizen.

As was natural, one consequence of this rising was to cause anxious inquiry to be made into the position, work and possibilities of the Church, with the view of creating such an influence as would tend to prevent the recurrence of a similar calamity. There was plainly need for more vigorous and widespread effort, and especially for more missionary work among the African population. Nothing could in reason be expected from the Government which helped parochial, not missionary, work, and had its hands full of its own difficulties and embarrassments, financial and other: C.M.S. had withdrawn from Jamaica twenty-five years ago: S.P.G. was on the point of doing so. Accordingly, the Jamaica Home and Foreign Missionary Society, whose stations were then seventeen in number, determined to appeal to England for help wherewith to extend its operations. The appeal was unsuccessful. Perhaps the time was unsuitable: a deputation that was sent home found that English people were willing enough to argue whether Governor Eyre had pursued a right or a wrong policy: they were ready to discuss Jamaica, its problems and its politics, but otherwise they were almost indifferent. Past events were a more absorbing topic than present needs or future prospects. Nor were appeals to English Societies more successful. C.M.S. through its Secretary, the Rev. Henry Venn, sent in reply a kindly and well-meaning lecture, in the form of a letter which contained valuable suggestions, most of which were already partially in operation in Jamaica, It was one of those letters which are wise in the abstract but miss the point from a want of knowledge of local facts and requirements. The C.M.S. also used language which seemed to imply that the labours of its own missionaries years before had beenafailure. Plainly this was not so, andthe Jamaica Committee was able to correct this misapprehension by pointing to many of the Society's old stations, which were then, as they are now, centres of Church activity and of Christian usefulness. Exception must, however, to taken to one remark contained in Mr. Venn's letter, and repeated in substance in Dr. Eugene Stock's "History of the C.M.S.," that "at the end of twenty-five years the social and religious condition of the negro population, numbering more than 400,000, is below what it was at the time of emancipation." Mr. Venn makes this statement" in the opinion of many competent judges;" the accusation is so sweeping as to be unjust and to make us doubt the competence of the judges on whose opinion he relied. It is a point that had better not be discussed. Perhaps the truth is that the Society, which had done so much good work in Jamaica, hoped to reap too soon after it had sown.

With S.P.G. the Jamaica appeal fared no better. On being asked to resume its labours in Jamaica, the Missions Committee of the Society reviewed the appeal favourably, but the Standing Committee rejected it, stating that it did so on a full conviction that the present number of clergy and schoolmasters in the diocese were sufficient for the spiritual education and wants of the people if clergy and schoolmasters "devoted themselves zealously to their duties." Not unnaturally, some indignation was both felt and expressed at the implication underlying this statement. Its tendency seemed likely to be to check any interest that home friends might be willing to take in the struggles and difficulties of a Missionary Church. The decided and peremptory language in which it was worded was taken to mean that the Standing Committee had actual facts before it on which to base its conviction. Happily, indignation soon cooled down. S.P.G. had been such a good friend to Jamaica that it was fairly entitled to a friend's privilege of freedom of speech.

Thus the Church in Jamaica was again taught the salutary lesson that she must look to herself for the maintenance of her missions and the extension of her work among the scattered people living in large and thinly-populated districts. The failure of these appeals drove home the need for self-reliance and self-denial. Church-life, necessary in exceptional cases, is not the highest ideal either for Churches or for individuals. Hitherto the Church had limped along supported by State subsidies and societies grants; now she had to learn to feel her own feet firm on the ground, to dispense with her crutches and be strong in her own inherent strength. For disendowment was more than in the air. Years ago the question had been asked: "Will the State withdraw its aid?" Lately the question had been changed to "When will the State withdraw its aid?" Now men did not ask "When?" but "How soon?"

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