KELLY, JAMES BUTLER KNILL, Church of England clergyman and bishop; b. 18 Feb. 1832 in Standish, England, son of — Kelly and Sophia Powys; m. 19 Oct. 1871 Louisa Bliss, daughter of William Blowers Bliss*, in Halifax; they apparently had no children; d. 15 May 1907 in Inverness, Scotland.
James Kelly was educated privately and at Clare College, Cambridge, where he received a ba and an ma. He was ordained deacon in 1855 and priest the following year. His first appointment was as curate of Abington, Northamptonshire. In 1856 he became domestic chaplain to Horatio Powys, bishop of Sodor and Man, a position he held until 1864. In addition, from 1860 he served as registrar of the diocese and vicar of Kirkmichael, Isle of Man.
In March 1864 Bishop Edward Feild* of Newfoundland issued an appeal in England for clergy. Kelly responded quickly; he was in St John’s by the end of June that year. Feild appointed him incumbent of the cathedral there and archdeacon of Newfoundland. His work and his personality seem to have pleased his new congregation as well as Bishop Feild, who in 1867 nominated him to be his coadjutor. Kelly was consecrated on 16 August by the archbishop of Canterbury, with right of succession to the see of Newfoundland. He attended the first Lambeth Conference that year and was awarded a dd from Cambridge. In 1870 he received a dcl from King’s College in Windsor, N.S.
As the diocese of Newfoundland then included Bermuda, Feild and Kelly made several voyages to that island, as well as to the Anglican communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, in their episcopal capacity. It was in Bermuda that they met army officer Joseph James Curling, who would subsequently join the clergy of Newfoundland. Sea travel was arduous and frequently dangerous. The diocesan mission ship, the Star, was wrecked in 1871, and Kelly and the crew barely escaped death. Three years later, on a long voyage to coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, Kelly became seriously ill. He found the physical demands on a missionary bishop, especially travel by sea, difficult to endure.
In St John’s, however, he remained involved in the social and instructional work of the church. He was a gifted preacher and a wise administrator. He helped organize a committee to oversee the completion of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, originally a project of Bishop Feild. After the great fire of 1892, Kelly would raise funds for the restoration of the cathedral, where there is a window to his memory.
On the death of Feild on 8 June 1876, Kelly succeeded him as bishop of Newfoundland. He had resolved before Feild’s death that he too would require the assistance of a coadjutor, because “it will spare me the sea-work which I find so trying to my constitution. I must either do this or give up the work to someone better qualified than I am for the amphibian life which a Bp. of Newfoundland must lead.” He did not succeed in having a coadjutor appointed, and a year later he resigned his position effective 1 July.
On his return to Britain Kelly held a number of positions until in 1885 he was elected coadjutor bishop of Moray, Ross, and Caithness, with right of succession. The following year he became bishop of that diocese. On 29 Aug. 1901 he was unanimously elected primus of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. He resigned this position three years later and, in poor health, lived in retirement until his death in 1907.
By all contemporary accounts, James Kelly was admired and respected by the clergy and people of both his dioceses as a sensitive and thoughtful priest. In Newfoundland he seems to have been somewhat overshadowed by the presence and influence of Bishop Feild.
[Two published journals of James Butler Knill Kelly’s voyages in the diocesan mission ship Star exist. A copy of Journal of a visitation by the Right Reverend J. B. K. Kelly, dd, coadjutor bishop of Newfoundland, in the church ship “Star,” July–October, 1869, printed for private circulation (London, 1870), is preserved in Queen’s College Library, St John’s, and The voyage [of] the churchship “Star,” 1870, intro. F. B. Gill, based on Kelly’s log for 1869–71, has been issued by the PANL ([St John’s, 1973]).
The Bodleian Library, Univ. of Oxford, holds a photographic reproduction of Kelly’s letters for 1864 to 1907 at ms Can vol.1, also available on microfilm at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Memorial Univ. of Nfld, St John’s. An additional collection of material relating to Kelly was transferred in 1992 from Scotland to the Anglican deanery of St John’s, but regrettably it sheds little light on his career. d.d.]
Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser, 15 May 1877. Times (London), 16 May 1907. J. J. Curling and Charles Knapp, Historical notes concerning Queen’s College, St. John’s, diocese of Newfoundland, 1842–1897 (London, 1898). Diocesan Magazine (St John’s), 19 (1907), no.7: 109 (copies in ACC, Diocesan Synod of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador Arch., St John’s, and Queen’s College Arch.). Encyclopedia of Nfld (Smallwood et al.). Prowse, Hist. of Nfld (1895), supp., 13. O. R. Rowley et al., The Anglican episcopate of Canada and Newfoundland (2v., Milwaukee, Wis., and Toronto, 1928–61).