FEILD, EDWARD, Church of England clergyman, inspector of schools, bishop of Newfoundland; b. 7 June 1801 at Worcester, England, third son of surgeon James Feild; m. in 1867 Sophia Bevan of Rougham Rookery, Suffolk, England, the widow of the Reverend Jacob Mountain; d. 8 June 1876 at Bishop’s Court, Hamilton, Bermuda.
Edward Feild was educated at Rugby, where he gained distinction in Latin composition, and at Queen’s College, Oxford, graduating ba in 1823, ma in 1826. He became a fellow of his college and after his ordination he served as curate at Kidlington, near Oxford, from which parish he rode into Oxford to attend to his university duties, thus reversing the practice of clerical fellows by lodging in his curacy instead of living in college and going out to his parish. At Kidlington, as at Bicknor, Gloucestershire, where he served from 1834 until 1844, Feild combined his parish duties with an interest in schools and teaching. Of this period a friend wrote, “He readily made up his mind, and was firm in execution; he was no talker, made no display, and all proceeded from him earnestly from the sober temperament and habit of his mind.”
Partly through the influence of Dr Charles James Blomfield, the reforming bishop of London, who was impressed by Feild’s reports in 1840 and 1841 as an inspector of schools for the National Society (a society for promoting the education of the poor in the principles of the established church), Feild was appointed bishop of Newfoundland in 1844. His consecration took place at Lambeth on 28 April 1844 at the hands of William Howley, archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the bishops of London and Worcester. Upon his arrival in St John’s on 4 July, he was greeted aboard ship by the two Church of England clergymen of St John’s, their wardens, and other church officials, as well as by the son and private secretary of the governor, Sir John Harvey*. On the wharf were the Royal Newfoundland Companies with their officers, and the carriage of Lady Harvey took him to his temporary residence at government house. Of his reception, Bishop Feild wrote, “I should have preferred a procession with litanies and holy services attended by priests and choristers leading me to church . . . yet the mixture of secular and ecclesiastical respect was not to be contemptuously rejected . . . though to me, personally, the whole proceedings were as distasteful as they were unsought for and unexpected.”
His dislike for secular display was soon forgotten in the larger task he found in Newfoundland. Some 24 clergymen of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel together with perhaps some 12 or 15 others were coping with the 43 churches scattered along its eastern and southern coasts. On the western French shore and Labrador coast were some settlements never visited by a clergyman. The area from Cape Ray on the southwestern corner of Newfoundland along the western coast to Cape St John near the port of Twillingate was treated as one of “non-settlement” by the government in keeping with a treaty with France, and no magistrates, excise officers, laws, or police were provided. Thus the settlers there, by their remoteness from any source of authority, tended to licentiousness in conduct and conversation. According to Archdeacon Edward Wix*, who visited the western coast and Labrador in 1830 and 1836, “acts of profligacy were practised at which the Micmac Indians expressed to me their horror and disgust. . . . I met with more feminine delicacy in the wigwams of the Micmac and Canokok Indians than in the tilts of many of our own people.” Archdeacon Wix warned that “unless some sympathy be excited for the improvement of our people in this and like places, they must fast merge into a state similar to that in which the first missionaries found the inhabitants of the islands in the South Seas.”
The new bishop’s diocese included not only Newfoundland and the coast of Labrador, but also the Bermudas. During his 32-year episcopacy, Feild consistently protested against this arrangement as it added immeasurably to his problems by forcing him to divide his time between two areas some 1,200 miles apart, whose problems were completely different. The difficulties of travel in Newfoundland were alleviated by the Reverend Robert Eden, the rector of Leigh in Essex, later bishop of Moray and primus of Scotland, who presented an 80-ton brig to the diocese to be used as a church ship. As this vessel proved too large, the donor permitted it to be sold. A smaller ship, Hawk, was purchased, and became a familiar sight along the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. Each summer Bishop Feild spent three to four months visiting fishermen in the isolated outports where he regularized marriages, baptized children, and consecrated graveyards and churches. Often he travelled as much as 1,600 miles each year, and continued to do so until a coadjutor was appointed in 1867.
Gradually, under Bishop Feild’s powerful influence, the character of the church in Newfoundland changed. Most of the clergy, influenced by Feild’s predecessor Aubrey George Spencer, had inclined towards the low church; by the close of Bishop Feild’s long episcopacy, as D. W. Prowse* noted in his history of Newfoundland, “one of this school is now a rara avis in the diocese.” Bishop Feild’s firmness, or what some considered his intransigence, paralleled a similar hardening of feeling under the Roman Catholic bishops, Michael Anthony Fleming* and John Thomas Mullock*. The latter had forbidden the practice of “Catholics . . . going to Church in the evening . . . to compliment their Protestant friends,” after attending mass in the morning. Bishop Feild’s attitude towards Wesleyans and other Protestants was uncompromising. In a charge to the clergy in 1858 he warned of the “increase of the Wesleyans, now assuming the name and functions of a church, which makes but too manifest their desire and endeavour to draw away disciples after them.” His fear of Wesleyan activities amongst Church of England members was reinforced by reports from clergymen in the outports. At Moreton’s Harbour in Notre Dame Bay, he was told, the “Methodists, by their class-leaders and prophetesses, are busy everywhere, and have made such havoc in this mission, driving some out of their senses and many out of the Church.”
His attitude towards Roman Catholicism was indicated in a letter to the bishop of London, to whom he described his first visitation along the Labrador coast in 1848. He observed that there were as many as 1,000 permanent settlers and some 10,000 temporary fishermen during the four summer months, and he spoke of the “wolves . . . among them, not sparing the flock”; “had a Roman Catholic priest come along the shore before me, many would have sought baptism, at least for the children . . . this danger is always imminent.” He urged that a French-speaking clergyman be secured as “many of the men understand little English.”
Both Church of England and Catholic feeling increased in the controversy that arose over the General Academy, established in 1845 under a grant from the provincial legislature. Even though the headmaster of the new academy was a Church of England clergyman nominated by the bishop, Feild was far from satisfied with it. He continued his own school, which he had established immediately upon his arrival in Newfoundland, “to mitigate,” as he said, “the evil of a public academy established under liberal principles” that is, one having no religious instruction. Bishop Feild’s hostility to the new academy was shared by Roman Catholics and other Protestants. The teaching staff was composed of the Anglican headmaster, two Irish Roman Catholic masters, and an Irish Episcopalian secretary. Native-born Newfoundlanders objected that there should have been a Newfoundland master and other Protestant denominations were irritated by the Church of England and Catholic monopoly on the staff. An additional objection was the fee of £8 per child. By 1850 the General Academy was dissolved and three separate academies formed, one of which was a Church of England academy directly under the bishop’s control.
The same fears that led to the closing of the General Academy influenced Feild in his disapproval of the manner of distribution of the legislature’s educational grant of £5,100. This was divided between Catholics and Protestants in proportion to population, which meant, in effect, that half of it went to the Catholics and the other half was awarded to the Protestants with no special reference to the Church of England. Feild complained that “We are fighting the battle of Education . . . and the Church (as between Romanists and Dissenters is usually the case) is jostled out of her rights.” He also resented the share of the grant which was allotted to the schools of the Newfoundland School Society, a Church of England organization, but one which permitted Wesleyans on the staff of its schools. To Feild “Education could not be carried on without religion, and religion can never be truly and honestly taught without frequent recurrence to . . . those distinctive matters of faith . . . which each church recognizes.” For these reasons, Feild sought and eventually secured a subdivision of the Protestant educational grant according to denominations. Each denomination gained more direct control over its allotment, but the result was a proliferation of denominational schools and, in some cases, a lowering of teachers’ salaries.
Bishop Feild had incurred unpopularity by his uncompromising attitude towards any joint Protestant endeavours. In the spring of 1846 he refused an invitation to be a vice-patron of the newly formed Newfoundland branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society – an organization not exclusively Church of England. He claimed that there was no need for such a society in Newfoundland as Bibles could be procured already at the cheapest rate. Bishop Feild’s action was not popular with low church members of his flock and it produced dismay among many Protestants in St John’s who “lamented that the new Bishop . . . had made a terrible mistake, for they [Protestants] cried for unity as regards religion, the more so, indeed, as unhappily, by party strife, their [Protestants’] religious and political positions could not be separated.”
Since the introduction of representative government in Newfoundland in 1832, political parties had tended to reflect denominational differences. The Liberal party was almost exclusively Catholic, although its leadership contained a sprinkling of Protestants; the Conservative or Tory party was solidly Protestant. Any religious conflict among Protestants tended to weaken their political position, thus many Protestants were anxious to promote religious harmony and to have Bishop Feild assume the leadership of the British and Foreign Bible Society branch. But Feild preferred to confine his activities strictly within the Church of England.
To help alleviate the lack of clergy in the diocese, Bishop Feild concentrated on building up the theological college which had been begun by Bishop Spencer. In 1844 the college consisted of a poor wooden building in which six students met daily to receive instruction from the clergy of St Thomas’s Church. Bishop Feild required these students to attend daily prayer and to be instructed in church music, and he hoped for a theological college where the students would live under collegiate discipline. By 1847 he had formulated plans for Queen’s College (named for his Oxford college) and for a collegiate school, both to be endowed. Each was to have accommodation for 12 resident students, and by 1850 the bishop had expended some £3,000 towards the purchase of buildings and had secured the services of the Reverend William Grey as principal. Lack of funds made it difficult for him to secure a vice-principal or tutor.
From the beginning of his work in Newfoundland, Bishop Feild stressed the importance of church people in the colony contributing towards the upkeep of the clergy and parsonages, rather than depending entirely upon the generosity of members of the parent church in England. In 1846 the usual SPG stipend for a clergyman was £100 with another £100 raised locally. Bishop Feild contemplated trying to raise an additional £200 or £300 in the hope that “two or three might be found who would be ready to endure hardness for these poor fishermen and for Christ’s sake.” As an agency for organizing the financial basis of the church, he supported the Newfoundland Church Society, but his attempt to make a pledge to contribute to the Church Society the sign of church membership met with much opposition. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Barlow McCrae, the commanding officer of the garrison in St John’s in the 1860s, reported that “year by year the Bishop has to go down to the annual meeting [of the Church Society] and sorrowfully announce the amount of the subscriptions, in a place where the exports and imports of commerce amount to more than 3,000,000£ (the greater part of which is in the hands of Protestants) to be something over or under 800£, dividing some 40£ or 50£ a year among a number of half-starved clergymen, and leaving a pitiful balance in his hands for churches and parsonages.”
The 1860s saw the fisheries fail season after season, and in 1863 Bishop Feild asked the legislature to appoint a day of special “humiliation in which Christians of all denominations would unite in supplication for Divine favour . . . for the removal of these afflicting dispensations.” He observed that many of the old fishing establishments of the northeast coast, originally founded by Church of England people from Dorsetshire and Poole, had failed and “the owners have let their houses to young adventurers, who generally are dissenters . . . which is one of the ways in which our Church is now divided and desolated.”
In 1869, after a decade of severe depression, Bishop Feild published one of his most powerful pastorals in which he condemned the “supply system” by which fishermen were given provisions at exorbitant prices by suppliers in the expectation that payment would be made out of the season’s catch. This system, he claimed, led to recklessness and dishonesty on the part of many fishermen who tended to sell their catch to other suppliers for cash and evade payment to their own supplier by saying they had had a poor season. Bishop Feild not only deplored the dishonest practices of both fishermen and suppliers, but also regretted what he called the “continual withdrawal from the colony, every year, of wealth . . . to be wholly spent in other countries, cruelly hindering all material progress and improvement here.” No less caustic were his references to the moves towards confederation with the new dominion of Canada. “He must have greater faith in Dominion politics and politicians than I have, who expects to obtain much relief from that quarter.”
In spite of the financial and other difficulties which beset him during the 32 years he spent in Newfoundland, Bishop Feild could recount an increase of SPG clergy from 24 in 1844 to more than 50 in 1876, a large number of whom were trained under his close supervision. Of the 100 churches in existence in 1876, more than one half had been consecrated by Feild. In addition to the theological college and the collegiate school for which he had succeeded in raising endowment funds, he had also established schools for boys and girls, created a widows’ and orphans’ fund for the benefit of clergy, and built two partly endowed orphanages. In the last five years of his episcopacy, steps were taken to organize a synod to encourage the laity to take an interest in the affairs of the church.
Feild was largely responsible for financing the construction of the cathedral in St John’s, which was consecrated and opened for service on 21 Sept. 1850. The foundation stone had been laid as early as 21 Aug. 1843 by Bishop Spencer. In 1846 Feild journeyed to England to obtain consent to the appropriation of £15,000 towards the completion of the cathedral, and much of the money was collected in English churches. Copied from a design of Sir George Gilbert Scott, the cathedral was built of grey cut stone in the Gothic style with a tower and spire 130 feet high. At its opening in 1850 only the nave was completed, but when finished the cathedral was considered one of the finest in British America.
Feild’s great contribution to the church in Newfoundland was in administration. Like his Roman Catholic contemporary in Montreal, Bishop Ignace Bourget*, Feild laid the groundwork for a firm church establishment, backed by a financial arrangement no longer dependent upon the bounty of the mother church in England. His was an uncompromising spirit in matters of church doctrine and discipline, which led to the accusation that he was “wanting in Christian charity towards ministers of other denominations.” This was too harsh a judgement. Rather, he permitted no compromise in matters which seemed to him to threaten the religious or financial position of the Church of England. A high churchman, Feild gradually influenced the character of the church and clergy in the colony away from the low church tendencies which had previously prevailed. For many years he was distrusted by a large section of Protestants, but eventually he won the esteem of all classes by his uprightness, modesty, and piety. In religious matters, he was not a controversialist. When refusing to join the British and Foreign Bible Society, he preferred to rest his case on the reasons given by the bishop of Salisbury for withdrawing from the society rather than to elaborate his own. In social life, he was described as a delightful companion, full of humour and pleasantness, and a great lover of children.
[There are neither Edward Feild papers nor memoirs, but many of his journals of visitations along the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador were published in their entirety. These include: Diocese of Newfoundland. A journal of the bishop’s visitation of the missions on the western and southern coast, August and September, 1845 . . . (Church in the Colonies series, X, London, January 1846). Diocese of Newfoundland. Part II. A journal of the bishop’s visitation of the missions of the northern coast, in the summer of 1846 (Church in the Colonies series, XV, London, November 1846). Journal of the bishop of Newfoundland’s voyage of visitation and discovery on the south and west coasts of Newfoundland and on the Labrador in the year 1848 (Church in the Colonies series, XXI, London, March 1849). Journal of the bishop of Newfoundland’s voyage of visitation on the coast of Labrador and the north-east coast of Newfoundland, in the church ship, “Hawk,” in the year 1853 (Church in the Colonies series, XXX, London, ). Some letters from Feild to the secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts are in the Report of the incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign parts . . . (London) for the years 1845–76. The biography of Feild by H. W. Tucker, Memoir of the life and episcopate of Edward Feild, D.D., bishop of Newfound/and, 1844–1876 . . . (London, 1877), is well written and valuable for its many extracts from his letters to clergymen in England and for its appendices which include his “Poor pastoral” of 1869. A number of his charges to his clergy and many of his pastorals exist in printed form; a partial list can be found in the British Museum catalogue.
Accounts of Feild’s life are found in: DNB. John Langtry, History of the church in eastern Canada and Newfoundland (Colonial church histories of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1892), 87–116. C. H. Mockridge, The bishops of the Church of England in Canada and Newfoundland: being an illustrated historical sketch of the Church of England in Canada as traced through her episcopate (London and Toronto, 1896), 101–11. O. R. Rowley, The Anglican episcopate of Canada and Newfoundland (London and Milwaukee, Wis., 1928), 217.
Other sources include: PANL, Morine papers; Alfred Morine’s unpublished history of Newfoundland including his memoirs; Newfoundland, Executive Council, Minutes, 14 Dec. 1861; Returns of an address to the House of Commons, 15 May 1862. Newfoundlander (St John’s), 16 June 1876. Royal Gazette (St John’s), 1843–76. M. F. Howley, Ecclesiastical history of Newfoundland (Boston, Mass., 1888). R. B. McCrae, Lost amid the fogs; sketches of life in Newfoundland, England’s ancient colony (London, 1869). Charles Pedley, The history of Newfoundland from the earliest times to the year 1860 (London, 1863). Prowse, History of Nfld. Philip Tocque, Newfoundland: as it was and as it is in 1877 (London, 1878). e.s.]
© 1972–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Elinor Senior, “FEILD, EDWARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/feild_edward_10E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Elinor Senior|
|Title of Article:||FEILD, EDWARD|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1972|
|Year of revision:||1972|
|Access Date:||June 8, 2023|