Posts Tagged ‘Bishop John Grisdale’

When a young unemployed cotton bleacher from Bolton in Lancashire walked into the annual meeting of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) being held at Exeter Hall in London’s Strand in May 1865, he didn’t know that his life was about to change. A hymn inspired him and a discussion would lead him down the path to becoming a missionary himself, and later on a Bishop in the Canadian prairies. The young man’s name was John Grisdale. This is the first part of his fascinating story.

Preaching at Exeter Hall

Preaching at Exeter Hall

The hymn that inspired John was a favourite of his former teacher, the Rev. Canon Henry Powell, who was present at the London meeting. The hymn referred, as John’s obituary in a Bolton newspaper in 1922 tells us, to ‘India’s Coral Strand’; it is called From Greenland’s Icy Mountains and was written in 1819 by Indian missionary Reginald Heber. I include it here because the sentiments tell us a lot about about how missionaries such as Powell, and later John Grisdale, saw their job and the world at large:

From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral strand;
Where Afric’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand:
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their land from error’s chain.

What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.

Shall we, whose souls are lighted with wisdom from on high,
Shall we to those benighted the lamp of life deny?
Salvation! O salvation! The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth’s remotest nation has learned Messiah’s Name.

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters, roll
Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:
Till o’er our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator, in bliss returns to reign.

After the meeting John talked with Canon Powell. He “expressed a desire to enter upon Christian work in a larger field”. Powell was obviously pleased that his former pupil wanted to follow him into a missionary life and “used his influence” to get John admitted to the CMS’s  Islington Missionary College, where he would spend the next five years training to be a missionary.

Let’s go back a bit to see what had led John to be in London in 1865.

He was born in 1845, in Tongue Moor, Bolton, Lancashire, the second child of Bolton cotton weaver Robert Grisdale (1819-1897) and his wife Alice Yates (1821-1897). The family soon moved to another part of Bolton: to Slater’s Lane in Little Bolton. In the year of John’s birth Frederick Engels wrote this about the Lancashire towns and about Bolton in particular:

Among the worst of these towns after Preston and Oldham is Bolton, eleven miles north-west of Manchester. It has, so far as I have been able to observe in my repeated visits, but one main street, a very dirty one, Deansgate, which serves as a market, and is even in the finest weather a dark, unattractive hole in spite of the fact that, except for the factories, its sides are formed by low one and two-storied houses. Here, as everywhere, the older part of the town is especially ruinous and miserable. A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles, flows through the town and contributes its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.   – The Condition of the Working Class in England (Leipzig, 1845)

St Peter's, Bolton Le Moors

St Peter’s, Bolton Le Moors

Later in life John would tell of how he was “formerly an errand lad” around the town. While his father toiled in the mills John attended the Bolton Parish School. This was an Anglican school attached to Bolton Parish Church (Saint Peter’s) and was overseen at the time by the vicar of Bolton: the Rev. Canon Henry Powell we have already met. Henry had been made vicar of Bolton after many years as a missionary in Ceylon. Canon Powell taught John at the school. Another of his teachers was the Rev J Farrell Wright (whose own son was to become an Archbishop). Given John’s subsequent career as a missionary in India and then in Canada, it might prove informative to try to get a little flavour of how Canon Powell saw the “heathens” whose job it was the CMS’s missionaries to convert. In 1840, two years after arriving in Ceylon, Powell wrote home to his friend the Rev. Francis Trench in Reading:

The natives, among whom we live and labour, are a mild, inoffensive race of beings, but very indolent, uncleanly, indifferent, and deceptive. In fact, without charging them with any particular breaches of morality, I should designate their character as low, weak, and in nowise to be depended on. The men have no dress but a cloth tied round the waist, reaching to the knees. The women dress precisely the same, except in missionary stations, where they have been induced to add a jacket. The hair, both of the men and women, is turned up and fastened with a comb, as ladies’ hair in England; so that it is with great difficulty a new comer can distinguish male from female.

The religion which is commonly professed amongst the natives is Bhuddhism; though many are given up to devil worship, and others are Atheists, and of no religion at all. Idolatry, it seems, is very productive of Infidelity and Atheism. Satan may here almost literally be said ‘ to lead the poor creatures captive at his will;’ and so infatuated are they of their superstitions, that nothing but the power of the Divine grace can, I am sure, drive them out of those fastnesses in which they have entrenched themselves.

Their ignorance, also, is fearful in the extreme; and their minds have been so long neglected, and so unused to consideration, that it seems almost impossible to communicate ideas to them. Words seem to make no impression; they are listened to as a pleasant sound; they recreate, but fail to instruct. It is a fact, that the natives will sometimes listen to my instruction and conversation for a tolerable length of time; and though I broach none but the most elementary truths, yet even these are not understood or remembered, and they are unable to answer a single question upon what has been told them.

An old woman, indeed, told me the other day that she had heard the missionaries preach here for years; but she did not understand or remember what they said, for it was not her place to think, and she could not. This arises from their own destructive system; for, when they go to hear their idolatrous books read, which is, however, only once a year (but then for a whole week, night and day), they are not required to attend to what is said, but only to be present to hear, which is all that Bhuddh requires of them, and for which he will dispense merits according to the time that they attend. Indeed, they could not understand the reading, were they to pay attention to it, for it is in the Pali and Sanscrit languages, which they have never learnt.

Their indifference to religion, however, is even a greater obstacle to our success than their ignorance. This seems almost invincible. They do not care for the event; nor do they look upon religion as important. They are, indeed, a set of fatalists; and, holding very strongly the cold doctrine of metempsychosis, they look upon their present condition as the result of their conduct in some former state of existence; and, in consequence, seem to care very little what becomes of them for the future. Indeed, they have very few notions of religion in common with ourselves, and, apparently, do not wish to have. They acknowledge Christianity to be a good religion, but they cannot see why they should become Christians.

Of course that they didn’t want to be Christians didn’t stop the missionaries from trying to make them be; a pattern that John Grisdale would later follow in Canada.

Slater's Bleachworks, Bolton

Slater’s Bleachworks, Bolton

John was obviously a keen pupil of the religious doctrines he was taught in Bolton Parish School because he was eventually to become a religious ‘Sunday School’ teacher there. But John had to work too. At the time in Lancashire a type of unpaid child slavery still existed in the cotton milling industry.

As long as the English cotton manufacturers depended on slave-grown cotton, it could truthfully be asserted that they rested on a twofold slavery, the indirect slavery of the white man in England and the direct slavery of the black men on the other side of the Atlantic — Karl Marx, New York Daily Tribune, October 14, 1861

As well as the mills themselves, the cotton industry had many other associated trades. One of these was cotton bleaching – an extremely unhealthy job. The Grisdale family lived in Slater’s Lane, right next to Slater’s Bleachworks, and it was perhaps inevitable that John, and later his brother Levi, went to work there. He was perhaps in his early teens but could have been younger. John became an apprentice and he is listed as such in the 1861 census when he was fifteen. After completing his apprenticeship, we are told that “he was thrown out of work, and leaving Bolton in search of employment, he went to London”.

In the early to mid-1860s, thousands of Lancashire cotton workers had been thrown out of work, become destitute and even starved. It was the time of the so-called Lancashire Cotton Famine. This was a depression in the textile industry of North West England brought about by the interruption of imported baled cotton caused by the American Civil War. The North had blockaded the Southern ports. One historian writes:

The famine of raw cotton and the difficult trading conditions caused a change in the social circumstances of the Lancashire region’s extensive cotton mill workforce. The factories ran out of raw cotton to process, large parts of Lancashire region’s working society became unemployed, and went from being the most prosperous workers in Britain to the most impoverished.

Lancashire 'Cotton Famine' workers queuing for food

Lancashire ‘Cotton Famine’ workers queuing for food

That the Lancashire cotton mill workers were ever the most prosperous in Britain is ludicrous. They never were. But I’ll leave that to one side.

Rather than starve John Grisdale tried his luck in London and, when he had walked into the missionary meeting at Exeter Hall, his luck had been good.

We don’t know much about John’s five years of missionary training in Islington and I won’t try to reconstruct it here. But in 1870 John left the college and was ordained a clergyman in Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The Church Missionary Society then decided to send him to India; as a missionary to the heathens there. By the way, the word ‘heathens’ was the one used by the CMS, whose whole purpose, which was very explicit, was to convert the native “heathens” – the religious care of colonists generally being left to the SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), although the lines were often blurred.

We know something of John’s short career in India from letters he sent home to the CMS and from a talk he gave to the  ‘Anniversary Meeting’ of the local  CMS ‘auxiliary Society’ at their meeting in Colchester on 13 May 1872. It was reported that “owing to the exceedingly unfavourable state of the weather… the general attendance was very small”. A motion was taken and passed asking the speakers to tell the audience something about “the character and reality of the work being done by the society”. John Grisdale “proposed to give them in plain language the experiences of a young Missionary on his first arrival in the country which was to be the scene of his labours”. “It was”, he said, “one Sunday morning in December (1870) that (we) first steamed into the Harbour of Bombay.” He was met by a missionary friend and taken to his house. John “truly rejoiced to see 70 native Christians taking part in the Liturgy and Services of the Church of England, in their own tongue, and a native Clergyman who was once a Hindoo, reading the service for them”. The next day he “went to see a large and important school in Bombay – the Robert Money School”. The Roman Catholics, Protestants, Mahommedans and Hindoos were “all mixed together”. They had, Grisdale said, “all come to this School which had for its avowed object their conversion to Christianity; they nevertheless seemed to come to the School from some decide preference to the others in Bombay”.

John then moved “105 miles to the north, to the sacred city of Nassach, the very centre of Hindooism in India”. He talked a lot about the Mission there, but another incident caught his attention. It seems that having travelled much during the day he had taken a longer night’s rest than usual and about half-past five in the morning, “when it was just dawning”, he heard voices outside his window. “In that heathen land” he heard the words of Bishop Ken’s morning hymn: “Awake my soul, and with the sun, thy daily stage of duty run.” When he went out he “found that nearby were some thirty of the sable daughters of Africa”. He continued:

The Church Missionary Society had an orphanage there for the purpose of receiving the girls captured by the Queen’s ships from the slavers, who still carried on their trade on the Eastern Coast of Africa… When rescued, these slaves are taken to Bombay, and from thence to Nassach, and an attempt was made to civilize them, and afterwards many of them were taken back to their own country. It was hoped, in this way, that their bodily slavery might turn out to be the setting free, not only of themselves, but many of their fellow-countrymen, from the trammels of idolatry.

St John's College, Agra

St John’s College, Agra

John continued his journey across much of the breadth of India; visiting the missionary stations in Jubbulpore and Benares before eventually arriving in Agra. Here he was “attached to St. John’s College”, a CMS missionary establishment occupying a fine building. He was appointed Professor of Pastoral Theology. His “especial duty”, he told his Colchester audience, “was to teach the Bible, and afterwards (he had) also the English class”. Every morning about 50 gathered around him – some “Mahommedans, some Hindoos”. He would open his class with a prayer and when the reading was over he would say: “Is there anything you would like to say as to the bearing of this chapter on Hindooism or on Mahommedanism?” And after they had spoken he would try “to show the superiority of Christianity”.

Soon after he was “summoned down to Calcutta, and afterwards to Burmah”. But he was so unwell that he thought he would have to go to the hospital in Rangoon. However, an English gentleman took him to his house, where he was “obliged to keep to his room for some weeks”. He related how every morning a “Mahommedan” used to come and ask:” How is your Highness’s health?” It seems that “this little fellow was the grandson of that cruel king who was reigning in Delhi at the time of the Indian Mutiny”. Grisdale hoped that this young member of that family “would reach the Kingdom of Christ”!

Missionary John Grisdasle

Missionary John Grisdasle

Because the climate had affected his health so much, John had written to the CMS in London requesting a transfer. A little later, in June 1871, he wrote again from Calcutta to the Rev. Wright, the corresponding secretary of the CMS. He brought up the subject of his health and enclosed a letter from his doctor. He also mentioned for a second time his intention to marry. In view of both these facts he asked that the CMS sanction both the marriage and the transfer so that he would be “enabled to make the necessary arrangements”. The CMS were to agree to John’s request and he soon returned to London. His intended wife, Ann Chaplin, was a carpet dealer back home in Bolton. When John was “invalided” back to England they were married in late 1871 in Lutterworth, Leicestershire (Ann having been born nearby in Hinckley) to where her parents had returned after their many years in Bolton. Their first son, Robert Chaplin, arrived in Chelmsford, Essex in September 1872.

Where would be a more conducive place for John’s future health and ministry? Canada was decided upon. Not ‘old’ Canada, but rather Rupert’s Land, which had only just been acquired for the British Crown from the Hudson’s Bay Company and whose “capital” was the 300 person settlement of what was soon to be called Winnipeg.

And so it was that the 27 year old Reverend John Grisdale, his new wife Ann, twelve years his senior, and their baby son, stood on the docks in Liverpool one day in late April 1873 about to board the ship Algeria. They were bound for New York, from where they would make their journey to Winnipeg and their new life. And there I will leave them. I will tell something of John’s long and successful career in Canada in Part Two.

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Genealogists and family historians are normally concerned with blood relationships. Who was whose father? What became of the children? But names also get passed down in other ways. American and Caribbean slaves took the names of their masters. In Canada and America native Indians also took European names. These were quite often the names of the missionaries who had influenced, or pressured, them to convert to Christianity. It was therefore with much curiosity and interest that I discovered a family of Ojibway Indians called Grisdale in Manitoba, Canada. Many still live there to this day. What was their story?

In Manitoba there is a small river called Broken head which empties into Lake Winnipeg.

When the Indian people first came into this land, they camped at the mouth of this river. Before it was dark they looked out across the waters of the lake. As they stood there they could see a huge shape rising out of the water. They could see that it was a monstrous head with horns and covered with long black hair. To them it looked like a mighty Mis-ko-taypis- a-ka, that is a giant bull buffalo. The most fearless of the band snatched up his bow and quiver and ran down to the edge of the lake. In an instant he let fly at the head with one of his arrows. Its flint tip struck the fearful monster in the center of the forehead so hard that the head split completely in two. Then with a mighty splash the head disappeared beneath the waters of the lake. Never again was it seen, but since then this river has been called Pas-ka-ta-bay Cee-pee, the River of the Broken head.

Red River Indian Settlement in 1846

These were members of the Ojibway tribe. They first came into the area under their famous Chief Peguis in the late 1790s. He led a band of his tribe to the Red River . They weren’t of course the first Indians to live in the area, but as elsewhere in North American the white man’s diseases had taken their toll. Ojibway Felix Keuhn, upon whose writings I rely extensively in telling this story, and to whom I acknowledge a huge debt, says: “Many, many years ago, all of this land was the hunting grounds of the Cree and Assiniboine nation. Then the white people started to come here to trade furs. They brought with them many sicknesses that no medicine man had ever seen, and many, many Cree and Assiniboine died.”

When Peguis and his people arrived at the Red River they found many camps of the Assiniboine in which all the people were dead with smallpox. The Assiniboine’s who had not died with this sickness had left their hunting grounds here and gone far to the west where they hoped they would never see another white man. Peguis and his people made their camp where the Netley Creek flows into the Red River.

Chief Peguis

There are many excellent histories of Chief Peguis and his dealings first with the trappers and then with the increasing numbers of British settlers arriving in the area; I commend them to you. But as regards the Grisdales, the story starts with two Ojibway brothers who “came from the land where the waters of the mighty Lake Superior flow down into Lake Huron”. They said that would go to “this land where there were more buffalo than any man could count and the rivers were filled with the finest beavers”. “So they set out with their wives and children. One of the brothers had seven sons and a number of daughters. The other brother had five sons and some daughters. They made this trip in their birch bark canoes.”

Felix Keuhn continues their story as it has been passed down in the Ojibway Nation:

First they paddled along the north shore of Lake Superior. Then they came to the mouth of a river. When they had paddled up this river, they came to a lake that the white men called Rainy Lake. From here they paddled up another river into a lake now called the Lake of the Woods. That lake was drained by a mighty river flowing to the north and to the west. There were thirty thundering rapids on that river where the Indians had to make a portage. Finally, they came to a lake, wide and deep and very long, which is sometimes called Ou-in-i-peg (Winnipeg), that is ‘muddy water’.

Then they paddled along this lake to the south and to the west. In the evening they looked for a good place to camp. They saw a good place where a small river flowed into the lake. Here they camped for the night. The little river was the Broken head. The next day they continued paddling along the shore of the lake until they came to the mouth of the Red River. Then they paddled up that river until they came to the camp of Chief Peguis. Here there were many Indians living. Some of the camps were their own Ojibway people; others were the camps of the Cree. Here these families from the east lived for many years.

Finally, the families of the two brothers who came from the east said they did not want to live any longer at the Red River. Instead they would go to the mouth of the river where they had camped the first night many years before. There the river was full of fish and all along the banks of the river grew the maple trees from which they made maple sugar. The bush was filled with berries and with all kinds of animals that were good for food. Many water birds nested close by: there were many marshes filled with muskrats and the river and many creeks were filled with beaver. Here they lived for many years.

Broken Head

They moved back to Broken head. But why? At least in part the reason seems to have been to get away from the British missionaries who were trying to convert them to Christianity. A strange paradox given what was to later happen. Ojibway tradition tells us: “With the passing of time there was trouble among the Indians living along the Red River. There were too many there. Some were Ojibway and some were Cree and there was not enough hunting and trapping close by for both. Some of the Ojibway wanted to be away from the white praying masters who were always telling them they were bad people and that their prayers and dances and all their old ways were no good.”

It was one of the of the sons of the Ojibway brother who “had five sons” who was to eventually take the name Jacob Grisdale, but he only did so many years later. We don’t know his original Ojibway name, so unfortunately we’ll have to call him Jacob. He worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company “for 24 summers”.

In those days many, many furs were brought to the forts south of Chief Peguis’s camp. These furs had to be taken in big boats to Churchill on Hudson’s Bay. The crews of these boats were Métis and Indians. They took these boats down the Red River into Lake Winnipeg and at the north end of Lake Winnipeg they went down the Nelson River. The Indians rowed these boats when there was no wind and carried the bales of fur on their backs over the many portages. It was very hard work. The packages of furs weighed 90 pounds and the Indians were gone from home from the first of June until the end of October. On their trip back these boats brought whisky and supplies to the forts. The company paid them very little for this hard work.

“The White people called these Indians ‘trip men’. The Indian who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company for 24 summers later was called Jacob Grisdale.” He lived with his wife, who had come from Saskatchewan, and their nine children at Broken head. For a long time no missionaries, or “praying masters” as the Indians called them, had ventured as far as Broken head, “to tell them they should be baptized”.  The Ojibway people all had Indian names and “followed the old ways”. Of course they knew about “the white man’s God and how they should be baptized and give up their heathen ways” because they often visited Red River.

Signing Treaty Number One – 1871

Eventually the “praying masters” broke them down and individual Broken head Ojibway did start to convert to Christianity. The first “to give up the old ways” was an Indian lady who took the name Mrs. Thomas. Her three children were baptized as well, all by “the praying master called Rev. Cockrane” at Saint Peters (Red River). Then they came back to the Broken head. Soon others went to St. Peters to be baptized or to be married by the missionaries there. The first of the five brothers was baptized and took the name Richard Raven. He and his son were baptized in 1864, when the first Anglican missionary came to visit the Indians at Broken head. This was Rev. James Settee.

But the trip man who was later to be called Jacob Grisdale held out. In 1871, still holding on to the old ways, he was witness to an historic, and ultimately sad, event. This was when Canadian Indians from various Nations signed “Treaty Number one” with the British. This took place at the Stone Fort, Lower Fort Garry. Keuhn explains:

In 1871 the white people called the chief and the elders of all the Indians to come to the stone fort. Here the white people persuaded the Indians to sign Treaty Number One. This is when the Indians gave all their land to the Great White Queen. She promised to give them their own land and many presents each year. Those families who were living at Broken head were to have 1000 acres of land there. Jacob Grisdale was a councillor and he was at the stone fort for eight days. He stood at the door where the Indians and the white people were talking. He was sixty years old at the time and remembered every word that was spoken.

In future the Indians were to be restricted to small Reservations; the “old ways” were over. But at least the British gave them something. The treaty included the following gracious gift from the Crown:

And with a view to show the satisfaction of Her Majesty with the behaviour and good conduct of Her Indians parties to this treaty, She hereby, through Her Commissioner, makes them a present of three dollars for each Indian man, woman and child belonging to the bands here represented.

Keuhn writes: “After that Jacob Grisdale returned to his home at the Broken head. He still was not baptized. This did not happen until 1883. When he was baptised he took Grisdale for his name. This was the name of a missionary who had once been at St. Peters.” The missionary who baptized Jacob and his wife, who took the Queen’s name Victoria, was Rev. Crowley. But who was the “praying master” Grisdale from whom Jacob took his name?

Missionary John Grisdale

He was John Grisdale the son of a poor family of cotton weavers from Bolton in Lancashire, England. He was born on 25 June 1845, the son of weaver Robert Grisdale and his wife Alice Yates. He was in fact a member of the same extended Bolton Grisdale family I have written about on previous occasions. He was related to the weaver Doctor Grisdale, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1850, and to the two Bolton weavers, John and Jonathan, who “went America”. Other members of the family also ended up in Quebec, Washington State and Australia.

I will write in more detail about John Grisdale’s fascinating life at a later date (See here and here). He studied to be a missionary for five years at the Church Missionary Society’s College in Islington in London. He was ordained Deacon in Saint Paul’s Cathedral in June 1870. He was then sent to Calcutta to work as a missionary. But he found the climate unconducive and became ill, and so, after returning briefly to England and marrying Annie Chaplin, in 1873 he was sent as a missionary to the wild lands of “Rupert’s Land” in present day Canada. He was based at Winnipeg, served as Rector of Holy Trinity Church. Later he held positions at Christ Church and was professor of systemic philosophy at St. John’s College, canon of St. John’s Cathedral Winnipeg, then dean of Rupert’s Land and, finally, in 1894, the third Bishop of Qu’Appelle in Saskatchewan.

But John was always an evangelic missionary and it was probably in his early years preaching in the Indian settlements in and around Red River and Broken head that he had met and tried to convert the future Jacob Grisdale.

After he became a Christian, Jacob Grisdale gave half of his land – this was lot No. 2 – to the Anglican church and it was here that the St. Philips church was later built. His house stood here for many years. It was a two story log house with a piece built on one end.

Alex Grisdale

Jacob and Victoria had many children, all while still living in the “old way”. They all took the name Grisdale. They included: Andrew, William, Thomas, Oliver, Elizabeth and Beatrice. They have many living descendants in and around Manitoba today – still bearing the name Grisdale.

One of Jacob’s grandchildren was called Alex Grisdale. He was the son of Oliver Grisdale and his wife Catherine. He was born in 1895. But his mother died when he was only two and so he was raised by his grandparents Jacob and Victoria Grisdale. He was to learn the history and legends of his tribe and family from them. Later, his stories were published with the title Wild Drums. Here in his own words in the story of how John Grisdale  eventually baptized Alex’s grandfather:

My grandfather and grandmother were never baptized by any church at all, and never got married white man’s way. One day a minister came to Brokenhead. His name was the Reverend Grisdale. This man got after my grandfather to be baptized. At last my grandfather got sick of it and said he would be baptized next Sunday if the minister would give my grandfather his name. So Bishop Grisdale did this and my grandfather was named Jacob Grisdale from that day. The Bishop also gave my grandmother the name of the Queen – Victoria.

Jacob Grisdale himself  “died on the 20th of November, 1910 when he was 98 years old. He was sick for three months with lung trouble before he died. He was buried in the Anglican cemetery by Missionary Le Clair. His wife had already died in 1906. She was 70 years old”.