HL Deb 22 May 1848 vol 98 cc1221-4

In reply to a question by Earl BROWN-LOW, having reference to some recent statements respecting the clergy of Lincoln,

The BISHOP of LINCOLN said: I feel obliged to the noble Earl for putting the question, and enabling me to offer an explanation upon the subject to which it relates. As soon as I read the report of the hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Horsman's) speech in the Times newspaper, which represented him to have said that two clergymen in Lincoln or the neighbourhood had died of starvation, thinking that such a statement cast a great stigma upon the clergy of the county, I requested the hon. Gentleman to furnish me with the names of the two clergymen. In his answer he tells me that the report in the Times is incorrect—that he did not state that two clergymen had died of starvation; but that he could give instances of clergymen who had died in such a state of destitution that it would hardly be too much to say that it was bordering on starvation. In confirmation of this, as I asked him for two cases, he enclosed an extract from a report made to him on the subject in January last, and of the correctness of which, in all essential points, he had no doubt. He adds, they are by no means the only cases of extreme destitution and suffering which he could cite:— In the parish of Auborne, six miles and a quarter from Lincoln, there died, in the year 1834, the Rev. Mr. Watkins, the vicar of that parish. He came there in 1810, a widower. Some years after he became afflicted with a cancer. Of course he stood in urgent need of the best medical assistance; but his income, 54l. per annum, and that sometimes not regularly paid, precluded the possibility of his obtaining such advice. His disease became so terrible, and superadded to the misery of his position, weighed down his health and spirits so heavily, that he was driven to the consumption of opium in order to produce stupefaction. Thus he went on for several years. The services of the Church were of course neglected. Sometimes there was no service for six or nine weeks together. No administration of the sacrament for two years. A large dissenting chapel sprung up, and the district soon became, what it still remains, the focus of dissent. Sometimes, when the poor vicar awoke completely to a sense of his position, it is reported his feelings proved almost maddening. He had no one to care for him—not even a servant to look after him. He was obliged sometimes—so deep was his poverty—even to beg his daily bread. He was forced to the humiliating necessity of asking for the smallest sums of money from neighbouring clergy—not as a loan, but absolutely as a gift. At last death put an end to his sufferings, which it must indeed have required all the fortitude of a Christian minister to endure—agony of body, agony of spirit, agony of mind! He died with no other attendant about him than a charwoman; and he was buried at the cost and by the direction of the clergy of the adjacent villages. Nor is this a singular case of distress. Within the last few days a case has occurred in this very city, by no means dissimilar from that I have depicted. The incumbent of a parish of 95l. a year, two miles from the cathedral, has died. His death was occasioned, I am sorry to say, by his own excesses, and therefore that amount of pity cannot be entertained for him that must be felt for the poor vicar of Auborne. But the account of his death—I have it from one cognisant of all the facts—is dreadful. He had been sometime ill; his wife was ill also. The only other person in the house was a little workhouse girl of fifteen or sixteen years of age—a dreadful beginning of life, indeed, for her. In the middle of the night this child was awoke by the poor man's groans. She went to his room, found him writhing in extreme agony, threw a sheet over him, and left him to expire. A dog could scarcely have died more wretchedly. It was not till late in the evening that any one could be got to approach the wretched death-bed. When they searched the house not a single coin of any kind, nor a single article of food, was to be found. The body of this clergyman of the Established Church of England and Ireland was interred at the cost of Archdeacon Bonney.

On the first of the two cases, which occurred fourteen years ago, when I was not resident in the county, and consequently could not be acquainted with the circumstances of individual clergymen in it, I can say little. I remember only that Mr. Watkins was represented to me as very poor; and, if my memory does not deceive me, he had once been confined for debt in Lincoln Castle; but I am confident that the neighbouring clergy would never have allowed him to die of starvation. The second is a recent case, and I know that Mr. Baker died in circumstances of extreme destitution; but he had contracted inveterate habits of drinking, and his death was the consequence of those habits. I know that he had borrowed money of the Dean of Lincoln within six weeks or two months of his death; but if a clergyman spends all that he receives in the purchase of intoxicating liquors, how can he do otherwise than die in extreme destitution? I will offer no further remarks on the hon. Gentleman's statement, because as the report in the Times, the only one which I have read, appears to be incorrect, I may be commenting on that which the hon. Gentleman did not actually say. He quoted a letter from a correspondent, giving an account of a clergyman who rode over the country performing several duties on the Lord's day, in churches at great distances from each other. My persuasion is, that this statement, if inquired into, would be found to relate to facts which took place some years ago. But I must be permitted to remark, that if the hon. Gentleman's correspondent had communicated the facts to the bishop of the diocese at the time when they took place, in order that means might be taken to prevent their recurrence, he would have shown a more sincere desire to correct the abuses in the Church than by the course which he has taken.

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