HL Deb 18 March 1828 vol 18 cc1161-70
Lord King

said, it was with great satisfaction that he saw so large an assembly of reverend prelates, as he wished to draw their attention to a subject which was well worthy of it. He had to present a petition from a clergyman who had been officiating in the colonies of North America, against any further grant of public money to the Society incorporated for the Propagation of the Gospel in foreign, parts. The petitioner objected to any further grant, on the ground of the inefficacy of that society, of the ignorance of the persons who directed the distribution of its funds, and likewise upon the grounds of the existence of considerable abuse in the distribution of those funds. He believed the petitioner to be a person against whose moral character nothing could be urged. The petitioner stated, that an offer of 50l., and after of 100l., had been made to him by a person from the society, to induce him not to bring the subject forward. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was incorporated in 1701, and had existed for more than a century, upon voluntary subscriptions and donations. In 1813 or 1814 first began grants of money from the public to the society. From that time they had gone on gradually increasing, until they had reached the sum of 16,180l., as appeared from the estimates of the present year. He had reason to think, too, that the society now called for a good deal more, from the report which they had published, and from the last sermon which had been preached on its account. The society had found out that government was a good milch cow. Their lordships had all heard of this society; but very few knew the purposes for which it was originally formed. The object of it at the time it was first incorporated was to form a society for the purpose of providing learned and orthodox clergymen for the administration of God's word and sacraments in the North American colonies, where, for the lack of spirit, the king's subjects were abandoned to infidelity, atheism, popery, superstition, and idolatry. In those colonies, the great majority of the inhabitants were not of the church of England, but Presbyterians, Baptists, and other persuasions, yet the funds of the society derived from the public were solely devoted to the maintenance of church of England clergymen. The society stated their object to be the maintenance of learned and orthodox clergymen. Did they then mean to say that Presbyterians were not orthodox? The government had, however, given salaries to Presbyterians, yet the society confined their funds strictly to the maintenance of clergymen of the church of England, in those colonies where the majority of the inhabitants were not of that persuasion. This he asserted, was not a fair distribution of the funds. Was it proper that money should be taken from the public for the maintenance of an establishment which did not suit the population of the country?—Having stated the original objects for which the society had been formed, he would call to their lordships' recollection one material alteration which had taken place since its institution. In 1792 or 1793, when the bill for settling Canada passed the parliament, one-tenth part of the lands were set apart for the maintenance of the Protestant clergy. An attempt had lately been made exclusively to appropriate that grant to the benefit of the episcopal clergy. That attempt had been resisted, and he hoped successfully; for a more narrow interpretation could not be given to that law, than by appropriating exclusively to the church of England that which was given for the maintenance of the Protestant clergy of all denominations, whether Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, or any other persuasion. The church of England establishment, he was sorry to say, when carried out across the Atlantic, exported with it the original sins which beset it in this country; namely, a useless expense, pluralities, and non-residence. In the colony of Nova Scotia one clergyman was archdeacon of the rectory of St. Paul's with an income of 800l. per annum, ecclesiastical commissioner, with a salary of 300l. per annum, and he received from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 200l. yearly, as a missionary. That was what he called being a pluralist; and this person was the proto-pluralist of the North American colonies. The first person who united in his person those three offices was bishop Inglis, bishop of Nova Scotia, who, he thought, resembled very much a certain minister of state in this country, who some years ago united in his person the offices of the President of the Board of Control, the Treasurer of the Navy, and Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland. Bishop Inglis might very properly be described as the ecclesiastical Dundas of the colonies. To return to the subject of the ultra-pluralists. There were three professors of divinity in the colonies, with a salary of 800l. a-year. Each of these professors also received from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 200l. yearly. Now, he did not think that that was a proper distribution of the funds of the society. He could not see, if a person received a salary as a professor of divinity, what need there was to give him 200l. besides as a missionary. There were also one or two instances of archdeacons getting 200l. from the society as missionaries.—He now came to the class of non-residents. Bishop Stanser, not finding it convenient to stay in America, came to reside in England, and received from the funds of the society a pension of 1,000l. Four missionaries who resided in England were also receiving a pension from the society; and the missionary sent to Quebec lived in Prince of Wales's Island, which was eight hundred miles distant from Quebec, and received a salary of 200l. a-year. In looking over the report printed by the society, he found that there were forty missionaries in Canada receiving each 200l. yearly. The greater part of these salaries were paid out of taxes collected from the people in England. There were twelve missionaries, each with 100l. a-year, and also four schoolmasters there, who only received salaries from 15l. to 20l., though they were quite as useful, he thought, as missionaries. Their lordships should remember, too, that the people of England were paying for the maintenance of the clergy, in a country where one-tenth part of the whole lands were set apart for that very purpose; but the clergy were not satisfied with that provision, but were calling out for further grants. That provision for their maintenance had been first made in the year 1813, under a noble lord who was much interested in the colonies, in the times of profusion, extravagance, and Mr. Vansittart, who made a very bad chancellor of the Exchequer. In looking at the estimates of the present year, he found that government gave salaries of 70l. to two ministers, to a minister of the church of Scotland, 50l.; to another, 100l.; and to the lord chief justice, 850l. In comparing the salaries paid by government to those clergymen, with the salaries granted by the society, he found a great disproportion. He therefore asserted that the controllers of the funds of the society were most unprofitable stewards. He would advise the right rev. prelates, if they did not credit his statement, to turn to the noble duke, the first lord of the Treasury, and ask him what he paid for the ministers of the church of England and Scotland in the colonies. When the noble duke informed them that he paid 70l. to those ministers, while the stewards of the society's fund wrote down 200l. and 300l., they would be convinced that those stewards were verily and indeed wise in their generation.—He would now draw their lordships' attention to the expenses of this society at home. He found in the report, that the total income of the society amounted to 28,000l.; and their lordships would be surprised to hear what proportion of that sum was appropriated to the management of the society's affairs. No less a sum than 1,960l. was applied to that purpose. The different items of that expense were for officers' salaries, about 760l.; for taxes, 21l.; for printing and binding the anniversary sermon and report, 666l.; expenses attending the public meeting, 70l.; committee and other expenses, about 245l.; making in the whole nearly 2,000l. He did not believe that government had ever, in the most extravagant times, expended the same proportion of; its income for paying the expenses of the administration. If the society were only expending their own money, they might do as they pleased; but it was quite another matter when they called upon the public to pay the sum which they required. It might perhaps be told him, that the petitioner was extremely troublesome, and that it was very difficult to find any one to agree with him. The petitioner had, however, explained to him the reason of that difficulty. By a general rule of the society, the missionaries were directed to send home a report of the exact state of affairs in the places to which they were sent— to state where they found no churches, nor congregations, and always to report the truth. The petitioner followed the direction, but was informed by bishop Inglis, that he must not do so, as the society did not like to hear unfavourable accounts. The bishop who thus put himself forth as the keeper of the conscience of the society was the proto-pluralist, he had spoken of. The petition stated, that in the space of fourteen years the society had received 131,812l. drawn from taxes imposed on the people, and 43,000l. collected under the king's authority, making a total, exclusive of voluntary contributions, of 174,812l. Still, more money was re- quired, if he were to judge from the report of the society, and the sermon preached, by Dr. Philpotts. The petitioner was a clergyman of the church of England, who had gone out to Nova Scotia, and had been transferred from place to place, with great inconvenience to himself, and from being a witness to the abuses in the management of the society's funds, he was prepared to prove that more injury than benefit to the objects of the society was the result. The petitioner stated, that the trustees were grossly imposed upon by artful representations. His lordship then mentioned several instances of reports having been made of new churches being built, and congregations attending in them, in consequence of which salaries were given to missionaries to perform religious duties; which reports were in the end found to be false, the new churches, in many cases, being nothing more than empty shells, without boards or coverings. He stated, that the established religion, instead of increasing was losing ground, and public money was granted for the purpose of paying missionaries to persuade the people of Lower Canada, where the Roman Catholic was the established religion, to reject the errors of Popery—thus maintaining a war against the established religion of the country. His lordship then presented the petition, which was signed by Cornelius Griffin.

The Bishop of London

said, that the petition was incorrect in many particulars, and a spirit of misrepresentation pervaded it throughout. Hemustsay, that the great misfortune of the society was, that it had been chosen by the government to be the means of conveying aid to the clergy of the established church in America. It was in 1813, that the government had first given pecuniary assistance through the society. The noble lord might imagine that 70l. a-year was enough for a clergyman of the church of England, but he did not think 200l. a-year more than enough, when he considered how dear many of the necessaries of life were in that country. The government had applied to the society to be the channel of conveying assistance to the ministers of our church in America; and he could assure the noble lord, that no individual belonging to the society derived either emolument or patronage from the circumstance. Nor did the society obtain by it any influence, it only relieved the government from the charge of pro- viding for the clergy of the colonies. With respect to the grant of 1813, it was made that ministers, whose income did not exceed 70l. a-year, might receive an addition through the society. At that period, lord Bathurst agreed to recommend the grant to parliament. In 1820, in consequence of representations made to this country from Nova Scotia, the grant was extended; and it had since been, on the same account, increased from time to time. Whatever the noble lord might think, it seemed to him that these grants were judicious: they were given to support religion in North America, and not for the support of the society. As to what the petition stated about churches not being built when clergymen were appointed, the increase of the population rendered more clergymen necessary, and one had always been appointed whenever it had been represented that a church was built. The average expense of building a church there was probably from seven to eight hundred pounds, and it sometimes happened, that the people who wanted a pastor had not been always able to build a church. Some of the people were very indigent; and being attached to the religious principles they had always followed, were willing to submit to privations for their sake. Under such circumstances, he thought it was right to grant them assistance in building a church. These churches might be longer in building than was desirable; they might remain shells after the time announced for their completion; but, at present, he believed, that all the churches stated to be built were in a fair way of completion. There had been 101 churches built in Nova Scotia, twenty were now building, and some progress had been made in erecting twenty more. The number of clergy was not proportionate to the number of churches; for, in many cases, they did duty at two or three churches; and it was to them an increase of labour, but not of emolument. He must also state, that there were a number of persons who would follow the church of England, being attached to its doctrine and discipline, but there was a want of the means of building churches; and therefore they went to the Dissenting chapels. The fact was, that the increase of Dissenters arose, in a great measure, from the want of churches of the established religion; wherever the people found no such church, they went to the first teacher they could meet with. He believed the petitioner to be a well meaning, but very much deluded, man, having a mind open to suspicion, and a vehement temper. The right rev. prelate then read an extract of a letter from Dr. Inglis, bishop of Nova Scotia, dated February 11th, 1826, stating his reasons for sending the petitioner home, and describing him as speaking so harshly of other persons, that it was impossible he could be of any use. He had been tried in two or three situations, and had failed in all. It was on account of his having displeased both his ecclesiastical superiors and the civil authorities, that it was found impossible to keep him in that country.—Whatever blame might attach to the proceedings of the society, he was willing to bear his full share of it: he denied that, on the part of the society, there was any lavish expenditure of public money. In fact, the society was desirous of being relieved of that part of their duties, which exposed them to such an imputation. A proposal of this nature had been made to government a few years ago, and it was only owing to some peculiar circumstances of the times that it was not accepted. It should be remembered, that the society had very large concerns in the East, which had nothing to do with America, and that the greatest portion of its revenue was applied to defray the services in the former. The expenses of management fell entirely upon the private funds of the society.

Lord King

said, that the real question to consider was, whether the society did or did not mismanage the funds it received from the public. He would, on Friday next, move for a committee to inquire into the conduct of the society.

Earl Bathurst

said, there was no ground for the imputations which had been cast upon the society. From every opportunity he had had of examining into its conduct, he could bear witness to its zeal, probity, and discretion. The service of North America constituted but a small part of its duties. The society held an extensive correspondence with all parts of the world, and the charge of 600l. a year was, in his opinion, very moderate. The noble lord had referred to measures which he (lord B.) had suggested, when he was Secretary of State for the Colonies; but the fact was, that money had been advanced on that service prior to the period alluded to. The noble lord had argued, that as the public bore so large a portion of the expense, no new missionary ought to be sent out until the people of the colony had expressed their want of a spiritual teacher, and that they should then bear their portion of the burthen of supporting him. But he would remind the noble lord, that when an establishment of the church of England was formed for North America, the government forgot to form any provision for the support of the clergy, and for the building of churches, or of places of residence for the ministers. It was owing to the exertions of the society that these objects had been accomplished. The noble lord had said, that in every parish in North America a complete provision had been made for the support of the clergy, by appropriating to their service one-tenth of all the waste lands. The proportion set apart for this service was not one-tenth, but one-seventh; but then, it must be recollected, that the lands so appropriated were perfectly unproductive. He was perfectly satisfied that 200l. a-year was a small sum to induce any clergyman to submit to a banishment to North America; and he had found it difficult to procure fit persons for so inadequate a remuneration.

Lord Calthorpe

said, that, from all he knew of the society, it had no reason whatever to shrink from any inquiry that might be instituted into its conduct. He should rather be the advocate for the inquiry proposed; but he thought the House, after what they had heard from the noble lord opposite, must be satisfied, that it would be dealing most unsparingly to refuse to judge of the real merits of the society, merely upon what had passed in that House. With respect to the proceedings of the society in North America, he was by no means sufficiently informed to speak in a satisfactory manner; but from what he did know of the general management of the funds by the society, he should be inclined to think that its resources were applied in North America usefully, beneficially, and with judgment. There were a hundred millions of individuals who had claims upon this country, and when this was considered, the House might form some idea of the immense field of labour on which the religious societies had entered. They were diffusing spiritual assistance to people who were living, not in the practice of harmless immoralities, but in habits of all that was hateful and impure in superstition. It was clear that the utmost range should be given to such a society. After all that could be done, a vast portion of that territory would remain buried in the darkness of superstition and idolatry. As far as he was acquainted with the measures taken for the mitigation of that deplorable state of ignorance in which the Indian empire was plunged, they were highly valuable. Their prejudices were not insulted wantonly, but the pure spirit of Christianity was insinuated in a way the most likely to conciliate and improve. For his own part, he could not regard the exertions of this society in any other light than as indispensable preliminaries to those civil immunities and advantages, which it was the duty as well as the interest of this country to bestow upon her colonial possessions. The labours of that society were calculated to prepare their minds for those benefits which it must be the desire of every man to see them possess.

Ordered to lie on the table.