On this day … 25 February 1860

Pears' soap advert
Missionary work, colonialism and capitalism came together in bringing a cleansing light to darkest Africa in this Pears’ advert.

The Preston Chronicle carried a report about missionary work at home and abroad that perfectly captures a contemporary Anglican view of ‘heathens’, foreign, local and Roman Catholic.

It was the forty-fifth annual meeting of the Preston branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society and its Ladies’ Association. The vicar of Preston, the Rev John Owen Parr, president of the branch, addressed the meeting with a speech in which he labelled Roman Catholicism ‘a debased Christianity’ and described the USA as ‘peopled now by the very scum of the earth’s population’.

He was supported on the platform by the presence of twelve more Preston Protestant clergy, and his speech brought forth several calls of ‘hear, hear’ from his audience. He told them the work of the society was:

… still proceeding; and it must, because there are great things that remain. Look at the vast continent of South America, unpenetrated by the Word of Life and of Salvation, having no other knowledge of the God of that word than is communicated by a debased Christianity, founded upon the exclusion of that Word.

(Hear, hear)

Look at the northern half of that great continent, the eastern coast of North America, peopled now by the very scum of the earth’s population, by the off-scouring of all things; by men, taken in general, without religion. Look at the vast continent of Africa, still covered with Cimmerian darkness, with Egyptian darkness, with its teeming myriads sitting in the darkness and the very shadow of death.

Look at Asia—that vast continent—and how much is there of the knowledge of the true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He hath sent in the substitution of His revealed word known there? Amongst its millions how many are there that are acquainted with the saving truths upon which we build our hopes of everlasting life? How much, then, is there to be done? And if we look at home also, there is more to be done by this beneficant institution than has been done, perhaps, altogether abroad. Look at the amount of our domestic heathenism still.’

The Rev. R. Maxwell, in his speech, was greeted with laughter when he turned to the problems the Pope was facing in Italy, ‘that dark land’, and proposed a solution. He advised ‘those English and Irish Roman Catholics who were in love with [the Pope’s] rule, to colonise some island in the South Sea, and take the Pope with them thither.’

And yet, it would seem that the town’s Anglicans had not always practised what their vicar preached, for when Lady Shelley, the Winckley heiress, visited the town with her husband a few years earlier she observed:

I went with my dear Shelley to look at the old church where my earliest prayers were offered; and, as I knelt at the altar rails, I resolved to try and obtain in that church free sittings for the poor, who, owing to the pew arrangements, had been completely excluded. I spoke to the Vicar, to Lord Derby, and to Sir Henry Houghton without any success whatever.

She continued to write to Parr, pressing him to do something to give the poor of the town access to the parish church. In 1855, when the church was rebuilt, her prayers were answered, perhaps in a somewhat beggarly fashion, for the new church, which could accommodate 1,500, had just 250 free seats.

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