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A Heroine of the North
Memoirs of Charlotte Selina Bompas (1830-1917)
Wife of the First Bishop of Selkirk (Yukon)

With Extracts from Her Journal and Letters

Compiled by S.A. Archer

London: SPCK, 1929.

(Contributed by a Niece)

THE Reverend William Carpenter Bompas, who had been labouring in Northern Canada under the Church Missionary Society for nine years, was recalled to England in 1873 to be consecrated first Bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Athabasca.

The journey from this isolated mission took many months. A vivid description of its dangers and difficulties is given by Archdeacon Cody in his book, "An Apostle of the North." Indeed, these memoirs of Mrs. Bompas will be even more interesting and thrilling if read with a copy of this book at hand.

Mr. Bompas, who was now forty years old, was consecrated early in May, 1874, and was married a few days later, being anxious to return to his work before the short Northern summer was over. His wife, the subject of this memoir, was his cousin Charlotte Selina (Nina), a younger daughter of Joseph Cox, M.D., of Montague Square, London, and was just four years his senior, having been born on February 24, 1830. Dr. Cox belonged to a Worcestershire family, of which a cadet branch had migrated to Gloucestershire, where they owned property in the neighbourhood of Bristol, Overn Hill, with its beautiful grounds, and the old manor house of Fishponds.

Most of this land has now been built over, though some of the trees and the handsome iron gates remained until recently.

He married Charlotte, a daughter of Mr. George Skey, of the Hythe, Upton-on-Severn, and a sister to Mr. Frederick Carpenter Skey, C.B., the celebrated surgeon. [The Skeys—for long settled in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire—are of Dutch extraction; the family possess a tree of uninterrupted descent from Sir William Skeye, Kx., who came to England with Queen Matilda, 1137.] Both she and her sister Sophia were brilliant musicians, and the Skeys, and neighbouring families at the Hythe and Ham House, were noted for their musical parties. This talent was inherited by my Aunt Nina and her sister Julia (Mrs. Bengough), and they had the advantage of the best masters in music and singing when living in Italy for many years.

Her father, with his wife and four surviving children, went to reside in Italy in the forties, as he suffered much from asthma, and hoped to obtain some relief in a warmer climate.

They lived for many years at Castelmare in the Palazza Partana on the heights above the beautiful Bay of Naples, so that the early and most impressionable years of her life were passed in Italy. It was in Naples that she "came out," and we children used to love to hear from the aunts descriptions of all their gaieties: the naval dances when the Fleet was in, sometimes prolonged to breakfast-time; the picnics and excursions to everything of interest in the neighbourhood. At her first ball she had the honour of dancing with the King, an interesting event for a young girl to remember. I can recall my mother saying what a beautiful girl she thought her when they first met—her dazzling, fair complexion and bright blue eyes, with the regular, refined features characteristic of her father's family. She was full of spirit and joie de vivre, musical, cultivated, artistic, loving all that was beautiful in Rome and Florence.

Such was her early youth—a contrast, indeed, to the life that she gave in later years so wholeheartedly to her Master's work.

To write what we remember of our beloved Aunt Nina is not easy, for there are big gaps between youthful memories and the different visits she paid to England after her marriage. One recalls her brightness (for she always looked on the bright side of things), and her vivacity, and that she was by nature self-willed, impulsive, sympathetic, full of kind thoughts for others. She had a wonderfully active brain, and her powers of description are shown by her letters, bringing life in the far West of Canada before us as a series of pictures. In those days it was very far away, for communication was difficult, and the eagerly expected mails were often delayed, perhaps for weeks, even months.

She wrote many stories in early years; her best, perhaps, was "Niccolo Marini," a tale of the Italian revolution; she also contributed to magazines—in fact, her pen was always busy. She wrote many charming verses, beautiful thoughts, grave or gay, just as the fancy took her. "The Aunts" often stayed with us when we were young, and I well remember one room at the top of the Vicarage that we were not allowed to play in, as Aunt Nina used to write there. There were two windows looking different ways over the big chestnut-trees towards the river, and there she loved to stay—leaning on the window-seat with her head in her hands, dreaming and planning many things, little thinking what a wonderful call to the mission field lay before her. In Italy she had drunk in everything that was beautiful in music and art, and acquired, like her brother [The Rev. J. Mason Cox, M.A., St. John's College, Oxford, Vicar of Bishop's Tawton, Prebendary of Exeter] and sisters, a perfect mastery of the Italian language. Even as an old lady she always carried her Dante in her pocket.

For a few years after her return to England from Italy, she lived with her elder sister Emma at Babbacombe, Torquay, and it was there that in 1874 her cousin for the second time asked her to be his wife and share with him his work in the mission field. [Miss Emma Sophia Cox, for many years a resident in the Close at Salisbury, where she was well known and loved by many. She died in February, 1901.] Few knew what a terrible wrench the parting caused by Nina's marriage was to the two sisters. It was to Emma that most of the letters included in this volume were written from Canada.

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