Newfoundland’s second Anglican bishop, Edward Feild (1801-76), was consecrated in Canterbury in April 1844. Shortly after, he assumed duties commensurate with his position.
He began a private diary, in which he reflected on his challenge and detailed his voyage. He was preoccupied with church architecture and arrangement, colonial practices for church ritual, and the erection of a new cathedral. He included his personal opinions of both public figures and clergy, not shying away from passing judgment when he felt it was necessary.
Today, it is instructive to review the bishop’s experiences at Bay Roberts on 30 July 1844.
Feild found the settlement to be “very long-struggling.” To reach the church, he “proceeded along a very decent road upwards of a mile.”
Nearing the church, he spied the parson who, apparently, “had been expecting us in the morning and had designed that his people should receive the Sacrament at my hands.”
The Anglican minister at Bay Roberts in 1844 was Robert Traill Spence Lowell (1816-91). He is remembered as the author of New Priest in Conception Bay, the first novel ever to be based on firsthand experience of Newfoundland life.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Lowell trained for ministry in the Protestant Episcopal Church. In 1842, he was admitted for ordination.
That fall, Lowell met Aubrey George Spencer (1785-1872), Newfoundland’s first Church of England Bishop, later following him to Bermuda.
Lowell was deaconed in December and priested in March 1843. He served as domestic chaplain to Bishop Spencer and school inspector.
Lowell requested to be transferred to Bay Roberts. Arriving in Newfoundland in May 1843, he became the third resident minister of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church.
Except for a three-month stint in the States in 1845, when he married Mary Ann (known as Marianna) Duane of Duanesburg, New York, Lowell lived in Newfoundland until July 1847. The couple had three daughters and four sons. Their first child was born in Bay Roberts in 1847.
Lowell took Feild to the schoolroom, where the American bragged about the Sunday school children who, in his opinion, were “well instructed in the church Catechism.” Feild begged to differ.
Lowell also boasted of the numbers he had enlisted in Sunday school. He had established a daily afternoon church service. He had also obtained and fenced ground for a cemetery. He had “great influence” with people.
Feild committed his caustic feelings about Lowell to his diary: “He is a genuine American – a young and unfortunately a single man, [who] fancies himself a decided Churchman.” His ways were “truly American.”
For example, Lowell had a dog by the name of Chrysostom. “The dog was introduced to me as a son of the Church,” Feild noted humourlessly.
Chrysostom accompanied his master and the bishop to the church, evidently “a common practice.” Field was not amused.
Feild was also unimpressed with the way Lowell “said the prayers,” making “such pauses between the sentences of the Confession that it was quite painful to hear him.” Feild thought Lowell had simply put on a performance.
Not only that, but “people kept coming in during the whole service, and the children were moving about, coming and going out in a degree that was almost intolerable.”
Feild mounted the pulpit to preach. Suddenly, “John Chrysostom marched deliberately up the church, as it might be supposed to inquire who was got into his, or his master’s, place, but as it turned out to join his master at the altar!”
Decidedly upset, Feild stopped preaching and insisted that the dog be “thrown out, which his master, in great confusion, was obliged to perform.”
The bishop noted in his diary: “I greatly fear that Mr. Lowell has another American gift, viz. that of lying,” as Lowell had assured the bishop that the canine would not venture “beyond the vestry.”
Following the service, Feild accompanied Lowell to his lodgings, which consisted of two small rooms. The American endeavoured to make the Englishman “feel more comfortable and at ease by expatiating on the house he shortly intends to build,” a stone structure on a site he had already obtained.
Lowell served his guest plenty of tea, bread and butter, along with “some very nice scrods – which is the young cod – and was the first variety of the fish I have liked.” Feild sarcastically noted, “The fishermen cook it better than professed artists.”
Lowell then “informed us of his powers and perfections, among other things equally wonderful that he was regularly descended from Mahnus Troil,” a character in a novel written by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832).
Bishop Feild then took his leave of Bay Roberts and moved on to neighbouring Port de Grave.