Friday, 24 February 2017

A reminder of mission connections
at a meeting of USPG in London

The classical-style gate lodge at the entrance to Townley Hall, where the Revd Willoughby William Townley Balfour was born (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015) Patrick Comerford

I spent a day earlier this week working in London, at a full-day meeting of the Trustees of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). At every meeting of trustees, we close by remembering in prayer people associated with USPG who have died since the previous meeting. This week, those we remembered at the end of the day included, of course, the Revd Dr Una Kroll, a former SPG missionary in Namibia, who died last month [6 January 2017], and the Revd Herbert Joseph Edwards, who died in Lichfield at the age of 87 at the end of last year [5 December 2016].

I first met Joe when he was a lecturer at Lichfield Theological College (1968-1971). Later, he was a USPG missionary in the Diocese of Mashonaland in Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe (1971-1980), and in the Diocese of Botswana (1974). I got to know him again in recent years in Lichfield where he lived in retirement in Saint John’s Hospital. We met occasionally in both Lichfield Cathedral, and he was always welcoming in Saint John’s Hospital. He died at Beechfields Nursing Home, Lichfield, and his memorial service was held at Christmastime in the Chapel of Saint John’s.

On the wall behind me in he board room throughout Wednesday’s meeting of USPG trustees were three large stained glass windows, moved from previous premises and depicting saintly SPG missionary pioneers of the past.

I am interested to note that one of predecessors in Askeaton had strongly family links with USPG when it was SPG (the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) in the 19th century, and another predecessor in Kilnaughtin had been a missionary in Central America for two years and then spent years in Southern Africa as an SPG missionary for seven years.

The Revd Willoughby William Townley Balfour (1801-1888) was Vicar of Askeaton from 1833 to 1837. He was the second son of Blayney Townley-Balfour or Blayney Townley Balfour (1769–1856), who came from a long line of politicians, and who was MP for Belturbet when the Act of Union was passed in 1800. He owned a large flour mill outside Slane, Co Meath, and it was he who commissioned the architect Francis Johnston to rebuild Townley Hall, the family seat on the banks of the Boyne, between Drogheda and Slane.

Blayney Townley-Balfour married Florence Cole, and they had 10 children. Their eldest son, also Blayney Townley-Balfour (1799-1882), was Governor of the Bahamas from 1833 to 1835, while their second son was the Revd Willoughby William Townley Balfour. Willoughby was born in 1801 at Townley Hall, near Drogheda, Co Louth, and went to school at Harrow before entering Trinity College Dublin in 1819. He graduated BA in 1823 and was ordained deacon in 1829 and priest in 1832.

Willoughby Balfour became Vicar of Askeaton in May 1833, and held this post until 1837, when his successor was the Revd George Naxwell, who worked tirelessly and ceaselessly in the parish during the Great Famine.

Balfour became Vicar of Stone Flanville, Leicestershire, where he remained until 1878. When he retired, he returned to Ireland and died in Rostrevor, Co Down, on 29 June 1888.

His elder brother, Blayney Townley-Balfour (1799-1882), was Lieutenant Governor of the Bahamas (1833-1835). He too was born in Townley Hall, and later inherited the family home close to the banks of the Boyne. Townley Hall, is a magnificent Georgian mansion built in 1799 on a hilltop setting. Townley Hall is a masterpiece in the classical style of Francis Johnston, the foremost Irish architect of his day. Today it is surrounded by 60 acres of rolling parkland overlooking the Boyne Valley, close to the site of the Battle of the Boyne.

Sir John Betjeman, in a survey of the works of Francis Johnston wrote: ‘I have seen many Irish houses, but I know none at once so dignified, so restrained and so original as Francis Johnston’s Townley Hall.’

His first son, Blayney Reynell Townley Balfour, was born in Townley Hall near Drogheda, Co Louth, on 15 April 1845. But the family found the climate in the Bay of Naples was more amenable, and they moved to Sorrento, where their second son, Francis Richard Townley Balfour, was born ion 21 June 1846.

Like their uncle Willoughby, the two Balfour brothers went to school in Harrow, where their younger contemporaries included a future Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Thomas Davidson (1848-1903), a future secretary of the the Anglican mission agency, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, now USPG), Bishop Henry Hutchinson Montgomery (1847-1932) from Co Donegal, the slum priest Father Robert Dolling (1851-1902) from Co Down, and a much younger Bishop Charles Gore (1853-1932), whose parents were from Ireland.

From Harrow, Francis Balfour went on to Trinity College Cambridge, graduating BA in 1869, and trained for ordination at Cuddesdon College, Oxford. In 1872, the year he received his MA from Cambridge, he was ordained deacon, and he was ordained priest in 1874 by the Bishop of Oxford.

He was the curate of Buckingham for three years until 1875, and then moved to Southern Africa as a missionary with SPG. He first worked in the Orange Free State, as a bishop’s chaplain, on the diamond diggings with the miners in Kimberley, lecturing in a theological college in Bloemfontein, and as a parish rector and cathedral canon. He then went to Mashonaland in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he built the first Anglican Church in Fort Salisbury (now Harare).

He later moved to Basutoland (present-day Lesotho), where he was the Director of the Mission of the Epiphany in Sekuba (1894-1898). Throughout all this time he preached in Sesotho and translated Bible and the Book of Common Prayer into Sesotho.

He regularly returned to Ireland when he was on leave, and when ill-health forced him to return home in 1900-1901, he acted as an honorary curate in All Saints’ Parish in Raheny, Dublin, where the rector, the Revd Francis Carlile Harper (1838-1931), was known for his missionary interests and was father-in-law of Herbert Packenham Walsh, the Irish missionary bishop in Assam.

In Raheny, he had a profound influence on the rector’s daughter, Dr Marie Elizabeth Hayes, who went to work with the Dublin University Mission in Chota Nagpur in 1905, and died as a medical missionary in Saint Stephen’s Hospital, Delhi, in 1908.

When Balfour returned to South Africa from Raheny in 1901 he became the Archdeacon of Bloemfontein (1901-1906) and then Archdeacon of Basutoland (1908-1922). When he was consecrated in Cape Town as an Assistant Bishop for the Diocese of Bloemfontein in 1911, he was effectively the first Anglican Bishop of Lesotho.

He was proud of his Irish identity and heritage, and there is a wonderful photograph of him from 1914 in a mitre and cope decorated in shamrocks and ‘Celtic’ designs.

When Balfour retired in 1923, there was no question of going back to Sorrento. He returned to Ireland, but died shortly afterwards in Shankill, Co Dublin, on 3 February 1924. He is buried in the grounds of Mellifont Abbey, Co Louth – the ruins of Mellifont had been owned by his family for generations.

The Revd James Napier Clarke (1870-1934),who was the curate of Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry), in 1905-1908 after serving with SPG in Southern Africa for about seven years. He was born in 1870, the son of the Revd Dr JW Clarke, and His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle and great-uncle were priests in the Church of Ireland. He was educated at Rathmines School in Dublin.

Clarke was a missionary in the Diocese of Honduras (1896-1897) and in Belize (1897-1898), before going to Southern Africa with SPG in 1898. There he was a missionary in Kaffraria (1898-1905), where he worked as a chaplain in Saint John’s College, Kaffraria (1893-1903), Headmaster of Saint Cuthbert’s School, Tsolo (1904), and Rector of Port Saint John’s (1904-1905). When he returned to Ireland, he worked first as Curate of Kilnaughtin (1905-1908), and later worked in parishes in the dioceses of Ardfert, Ferns, Glendalough and Kildare until his death on 13 April 1934.

another SPG missionary in Southern Africa with connections with the Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe was Nurse Rosanna (Rose) Blennerhassett (ca 1840-1907). She was a daughter of Sir Arthur Blennerhassett (1794-1849) of Churchtown, near Killarney, Co Kerry. Her uncle and great-uncle were priests in the Church of Ireland, and her brother, Sir Rowland Blennerhassett (1839-1909), was MP for Galway and Co Kerry. She was a nurse with SPG in the Diocese of Mashonaland (1891-1893), and she was the co-author, with Lucy Sleeman, of Adventures in Mashonaland by two hospital nurses (London, Macmillan, 1893).

Which brings me back to Joe Edwards in Mashonaland and in Lichfield, and how glad I am that we remembered him in our prayers at this week’s meeting of USPG trustees in London.

Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield … the Revd Joe Edwards lived here in his later years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)