Wordsworth's nephew

Hans Rollmann
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Edward Feild, the colonial bishop who left his stamp on the Church of England, was not a man who sugarcoated the challenges that missionaries would face in Newfoundland and Labrador. He once invited clergy in England "to undertake a mission of peculiar difficulty or privation, with no prospect of worldly preferment or recompense, but to be content in this life with food and raiment." For the ascetic 19th-century Tractarian leader of Anglicans in the colony such sacrifice and self-denial merely followed a commitment Christ himself had lived.
Despite the obvious lack of attractive working conditions, competitive benefits, and generous retirement prospects, Feild was able to recruit some remarkable graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, who in turn became teachers and leaders in the Victorian church, such as the aristocrat William Grey, who doubled as the bishop's diocesan architect, and J. G. Mountain, grandson of the first Bishop of Quebec, who turned down a prestigious position at Eton College to serve as rural Dean of Harbour Breton and later Principal of Queen's College.
In Labrador yet another cultured Anglican answered Feild's invitation and exchanged in 1853 a comfortable living beneath the Malvern Hills for the arduous mission of Battle Harbour. George Hutchinson, a well-connected Englishman in an exceedingly literate family, had, after his ordination, received a well-endowed vicariate in Worcestershire.
No less a personage than the English poet laureate William Wordsworth had exerted influence to obtain his nephew's living. Wordsworth had married Mary Hutchinson, an older sister of George's father, Thomas Hutchinson. Tom, as he was known in his family, was one of the witnesses in Wordsworth's wedding and later came to live at his son's Malvern manse. While a student at the prestigious Sedbergh School in Cumbria, George Hutchinson had spent summer holidays with the Wordsworths at Rydal Mount and had there been introduced to the English literary elite.
Hutchinson moved to Battle Harbour five years after Bishop Feild's first visit to Labrador. At the time, the Rev. Algernon Gifford in Forteau was the only other Anglican priest in Labrador.
On occasion, students from Queen's College assisted him in teaching and catechetical duties, such as Ulricus Zwinglius Rule, afterwards a missionary to the Bay of Islands, and Edward Botwood, the future Archdeacon and Rural Dean of Avalon, after whom the community of Botwood is named.
Hutchinson was in charge of as many as 700 Anglicans, who lived in more than 60 bays and coves along a 90-mile coastline.
His mission extended from Henley Harbour in the south to Seal Islands in the north. Before leaving Hutchinson in Labrador, the bishop consecrated the recently erected church at St. Francis Harbour, an event twice repeated during Hutchinson's stay in Labrador, in 1857 at Battle Harbour and in 1865 in Henley Harbour.
Hutchinson was by no means psychologically robust. Prior to his arrival in Labrador he had experienced a serious breakdown over an unhappy love, but the coastal parish renewed the clergyman, who felt such a strong sense of service and commitment that he could hardly be convinced to take any break or vacation from his pastoral and educational duties.
The Labrador missionary stayed in touch with English life and letters and occasionally found conversation partners with whom he could engage. To his student assistant Rule he often recited Wordsworth's and Keble's poetry and told stories from Scott's novels. In the summer of 1859, the American romantic painter Frederic Edwin Church stayed with him in Battle Harbour and subsequently painted his masterful Icebergs. Church's travel companion, the Rev. Louis Legrand Noble, remembered later, in his book "After Icebergs with a Painter," how Hutchinson had "talked much of Hartley Coleridge, of whose abilities he had a high opinion." "[Robert] Southey, of all," Noble wrote, "seemed to be his admiration."
Hutchinson grew fond of Labrador, its settlers and Inuit, as well as its natural environment, so that his planned two-year service stretched into a ministry of 14 years. While at Battle Harbour he continued an active correspondence with his family.
In October 1863, he wrote to his sister poetically about a quiet autumnal evening in the Big Land: "The view from the hill was beautiful. In the harbour the water was still, but at sea there was a ripple; at the shoals and on parts of the shore there were breakers. I could not help saying:

In busy thoughts the stream flowed on
In foaming agitation,
And slept in many a crystal cave
In quiet contemplation."

"In some places," Hutchinson remembered, "the outlines were most distinct; in others there was a haze and even fog, causing ocean to blend with land, and land with sky. The ground was a blending and harmonizing of greenish yellow and red, all tinged with rain drops, and overhung with steam. It was beautiful, and the air was calm and delicious."
After leaving Battle Harbour in 1867, Hutchinson served Saint John the Evangelist Church in Topsail. There he married Selina Hayward and died in 1876.
Their only daughter, Julia, married Sir William Henry Horwood, Chief Justice of Newfoundland. Lady Julia received for her community contributions in 1941 the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Hans Rollmann is professor of Religious Studies at Memorial University and can be reached by e-mail at hrollman@mun.ca.

Organizations: Queen's College, Eton College, Church of England Victorian church Sedbergh School Frederic Edwin Church Evangelist Church British Empire

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Battle Harbour, England Malvern Hills Tractarian Oxford Cambridge Quebec Henley Harbour Worcestershire Cumbria Forteau Bay of Islands Botwood Seal Islands Saint John

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page