Addington Robert Peel VENABLES (1827–1876) [commemorated but not buried here]
His son Thomas VENABLES (born and died 1863)
His daughter Anne Catherine VENABLES (c.1866–1875)
St Paul section: Row 33, Grave H18–19 [St Paul ref. P30]
This massive cross on a double plot is by far the largest in the cemetery, and was erected by the Revd Addington Venables, then Curate of St Paul’s, for his firstborn baby son in 1863. His biographer wrote: “in everything identifying himself with his people, he he laid his little son in a plot of ground where the poor who had died of cholera were buried. A tall churchyard cross marks the spot.”
IN MEMORY OF
ADDINGTON R. P. VENABLES
BISHOP OF NASSAU, WEST INDIES
[DIED 8 OCTOBER] MCLXXVI
Canon Bostock was also able partially to decipher more inscriptions between those of the father and daughter and on the horizontal stone in front, namely:
HIS SONS WALTER VENABLES DIED ?; HENRY VENABLES DIED 1870; ROBERT VENABLES DIED 1871; WILSON THOMAS VENABLES [?unlikely] DIED 1887
AND OF ANNE CATHERINE
HIS ONLY DAUGHTER 1875
A. R. P. V.
CURATE OF THIS PARISH
The Rt Revd Venables, Bishop of Nassau, and at least four of the sons listed on the block under this cross died in the USA or West Indies, and are not buried here. The grave contains only his son and daughter who died in England.
Addington Robert Peel Venables was born in St George’s, Westminster in 1827 and baptised at Aldenham in Hertfordshire on 16 September: his co-sponsors were Lord Sidmouth (Henry Addington) and Robert Peel: hence his three forenames.
His father was Thomas Venables of the Home Office, private secretary to Lord Sidmouth and Sir Robert Peel, and his mother was Anne King, daughter of John King of Grosvenor Place in London, and Coates Castle in Sussex, who had been Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
Venables was educated at Eton, and then went up to Oxford, where he was matriculated from Exeter College on 23 January 1845 aged 17. He kept a pair of horses at Oxford, and enjoyed hunting. He obtained an honorary fourth class in Classics in 1848.
His parents were now both dead, and his godfather Sir Robert Peel suggested that he should enter a diplomatic career, so he went abroad to study modern languages. Sir Robert died on 2 July 1850 while he was away, and the Revd Edmund Hobhouse suggested to him that he should instead enter the church.
In 1850 Venables duly entered the Theological College at Wells, and he can be seen there as a student at the time of the 1851 census, lodging in the home of a relieving officer. He was ordained deacon later in 1851, and served as Curate of Cuddesdon from 1851 to 1852, when he became a lifelong friend of Bishop Wilberforce.
Venables wished for more active work, and was transferred to a curacy in St Paul’s, Oxford in 1852. His biographer in 1877 described his parish thus:
[The parish of St Paul’s], better known to Oxford men by its soubriquet of “Jericho,” represented the lowest and poorest quarter of the university city. It was at that time one large parish, but has since then been relieved by the formation of the separate district and church of St. Barnabas. Here he continued for nearly eleven years — in fact, until his consecration to the episcopal order; and his pastorate for that time was an uninterrupted round of self-sacrificing devotion towards all classes and ages under his care. He was known amongst his people as “The Curate,” and was practically the head of the parish, as the incumbent, the Rev. Alfred Hackman, had but little stipend, and was forced to live by employment in the Bodleian Library, which used up all his daylight hours. On coming into the parish, Mr. Venables took up his abode in the house occupied by his predecessor, Mr. (afterwards Canon) Ridgway, one of a row of humble dwellings, amongst his own people, where his simple, almost ascetic life, in company with his one aged servant, was nearly that of an anchorite. To this it should be added that his services were wholly gratuitous, and one-tenth of his income was, by rule, always given to the poor, although in practice his charities amounted to considerably more. In such a populous and increasing parish there was necessarily abundance of work waiting for a willing hand, and many needs to supply from so generous a purse. In the first place, St. Paul’s had no boys’ school of its own. The university maintained its own free school in land situated in the parish, into which boys, at the age of ten years, were drafted, and who attended on Sundays at the parish church; but the clergy of St. Paul’s had only such a footing in this institution as the courtesy of the master might permit, and had no control whatever over its religious teaching. This Mr. Venables felt to be an anomaly which could not be allowed to continue. His own boys were being “taken out of his hands”; and to remedy the deficiency, a temporary building was run up, at Mr. Venables’ expense, in the garden behind his lodging, where, with the aid of a trained master who lived with him (one of the first students of Culham College), a boys’ school was at once begun. The undertaking proved so successful that Mr. Venables was encouraged to commence building upon a larger scale, and the present admirable suite of school-buildings now standing in Clarendon Street was the result; their completeness in every particular, and their noted efficiency, rendering them for some time the typical schools in the neighbourhood. Class-rooms, workshop, garden, playground, and gymnasium were added; and from first to last no one was more active in seeing that everything necessary was provided than the founder of the school himself. The whole was crowned by his favourite verse — “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The result of this effort was the final abandonment by the university of their Free School, the curate’s new buildings not only providing an ample and sufficient education within their own radius, but so stimulating and raising the standard of other schools, that Mr. Venables’ far-sighted exertions may be said to have made him the pioneer of a higher and more extended system of education for the lower classes of the university city at large. These works were not achieved, as it may be supposed, without considerable cost; and in addition to his own munificent contributions, Mr. Venables was occupied at the time in raising the necessary funds in every way that he could devise. On one occasion (I am indebted to Mr. Moss, his old schoolmaster, for the story), while taking a country walk with a friend, Venables led the conversation to the subject of the buildings then in progress, and endeavoured to get a subscription out of his companion towards the school.
“No,” said his friend; “the school is not wanted, and I will not give you a halfpenny.”
“Well,” said Venables, bent on getting his money in some way, “will you bet me, then, ten shillings I can’t jump that hurdle?”
Athletics were not then much in vogue, and the curate of St. Paul’s had, moreover, no special reputation for hurdle-racing, so his friend instantly closed with him and accepted the bet. The curate took a short run, cleared his hurdle in very fair style, and gaily added his winnings to the school subscription list.
In connection with Mr. Venables’ work amongst the younger members of his flock, ought not to be forgotten the special services which he began soon after his arrival, for his own boys and the lads employed during the week at the University Printing Press. They were, in fact, “Children’s Services” — some of the earliest of the kind; now a popular and almost necessary adjunct of our Church worship, but then almost unknown. Every Sunday morning he gathered his boys together in the Chapel of St. Sepulchre, and a shortened form of Morning Prayer, with hymns and a plain address, constituted the service. These gatherings were most successful; and Mr. Venables’ addresses to his boys are even now remembered, for their simple, loving earnestness, by many who have long since grown up to manhood and passed away.
At all times his influence over the young, and particularly over young men, was very great; indeed his vocation seemed to a great extent to be that of “strengthening” his younger brethren; one of whom, recovered by him in Oxford days from an irreligious life, writes, after receiving the news of the Bishop’s death: “Your kind letter has quite distressed me. I had such a deep regard for the dear Bishop — and who that knew him had not? It was through him that I was baptized, and he confirmed me. I shall always remember him with feelings of thankfulness, and cherish his memory with affection. He is a loss to the Church and to the world!”
Amidst all these several avocations, the duties of the parish at large were not forgotten. In pastoral visitation Venables had indeed few equals. The whole day was spent among his people, and in times of violent sickness he was often up at all hours of the night besides.
“He found his work” (writes an old parishioner) “in every class. His time, from after Morning Service till his dinner, which he generally put late, was spent by him in the parish, calling occasionally at one or other of his parishioners for a refreshing cup of tea before going home; and thus it was,” continues the simple narrator, “that he won the hearts of so many among us.”
And nothing daunted him. The terrible infections from which most men pardonably shrink had little or no personal terrors for himself; indeed, as in the case of the awful scourge of cholera in his parish, they exercised upon him (as he once told me) a kind of strange and unearthly fascination, drawing him into the pestilence-stricken quarters, and within the houses and chambers of the dying, where he, perhaps the only watcher beside some rapidly ebbing life, soothed the last moments of the sufferer by his word and touch, and kissed the pallid brows upon which the dews of a horrible death were already gathering.
In many ways his resolute will was also shown: where a sin could be stopped, or a soul be saved from death, thither he went, whether it was to follow the “unfortunate” to the house of ill-fame, or the drunkard into the dram-shop. “A man” (says his schoolmaster), “well known for his violence and drunkenness, was one day making a great disturbance in a public-house. The “Curate” (he was always called so) went inside at once, and lectured the man before the people, and frightened him very much by telling him that if he died in one of his fits he would not read the Burial Service over him.”
Venables' “striking features were said to have been used, consciously or unconsciously, by Holman Hunt for the face of Christ in 'The Light of the World'.” in the early 1850s.
Venables was ordained Priest in December 1853, and continued to serve as Curate of St Paul’s.
Interior of St Paul's Church (now Freud's Café), c.1905
At the time of the 1861 census Venables was the head of the household in his “humble dwelling” in Walton Street, and Charles Moss, the schoolmaster who was in his employ, lived with him. They had a housekeeper and a housemaid.
On 1 July 1862 at Long Critchill, Dorset, Addington Robert Peel Venables married his cousin, Elizabeth Ann Venables King (known as Lilla): she was born in Long Critchill, Dorset in 1835/6), and her father William Moss King was Rector there. Following his marriage, Venables and his wife moved into a finer house in the Crescent, Park Town, and he continued to serve as Curate of St Paul’s.
They had the following children:
- Thomas Venables (born at Park Town Oxford on 30 October 1863 and privately baptised immediately by Ss Philip & James Church; survived only a few hours)
- Charles John Venables (born at Providence Island, Nassau, Bahamas on 21 January 1865)
- Anne Catherine Venables (born in Nassau in c.1866, died in London in 1875)
- Three sons died in childhood in Nassau: Walter Venables (before 1870), Henry Venables (1870), Robert Venables (1871): one of them is the unnamed son whose birth at Nassau, Bahamas on 1 April 1871 was announced in the press. Canon Bostock also deciphered a Wilson Thomas Venables who died 1887, but this is a mystery and seems unlikely.
- William Alfred Venables (born in New York in 1872/3)
- James Geoffrey Venables (born at Field Green, Kent on 23 July 1875 and baptised at Hawkhurst, Kent on 19 August).
Their first child Thomas Venables was born at Park Town on 30 October 1863 but died within a few hours:
† Thomas Venables died at Park Town when just a few hours old on 30 October 1863 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 2 November (burial recorded in the parish register of St Paul’s Church).
This tiny baby has the largest cross in the cemetery, and lies with the poor of St Paul’s parish who had died of cholera (the victims of the second and third Oxford outbreaks in 1849 and 1854).
A month after the funeral, on 1 December 1863, Venables was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury as Bishop of Nassau in the Bahamas, with the Revd Hackman of St Paul’s Church present at the ceremony. He was the second Curate ever to be raised directly to the episcopate. The Hull Packet & East Riding Times reported:
The New Bishop is about thirty six years of age and wears a long beard and moustache. He is a very High Churchman, St Paul’s Oxford, being noted for its “ritualism”.
On 4 February 1864 Venables was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Divinity in the University of Oxford, honoris causa. In the same month he set sail with his wife from Liverpool. The separate ship carrying all his books, papers, and personal effects foundered in the Channel; and the University of Oxford gave him a present of books, in recognition of his care of the boys at the University Press while curate of St. Paul’s.
His new diocese was scattered over many islets, including the Turks and Caicos Islands, comprising a population of about 40,000 on an acreage of 6,000 square miles, and he was aided only by fifteen clergymen.
Five children were born in his house in Nassau, and three of them died in infancy (Walter, Henry, and Robert).
Venables returned to England for the first time in 1869, and again in the early summer of 1875. He visited Jericho, and went to visit his Jericho parish, and wrote:
The “Jericho” people received me as heartily as ever. I am still “Mr. Venables“ to them, which I feel more than any amount of “My lord”-ing. I had a little meeting in the schoolroom, which was very pleasant. Mr. Noel has got hold of the people in a wonderful way. I never made anything like the way with them that he has done.
His only daughter Anne Caroline Venables died in London in 1875, not long before his return to Nassau, and her body was taken to Oxford for burial, probably in the children’s plot with her brother:
† Anne Catherine Venables died in the Marylebone district of London at the age of 9 on 8 December 1875 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 11 December (burial recorded in the parish register of St Paul’s Church: their reference P.30).
Of his daughter's death, Venables wrote: “I have no doubt the sorrow was needed, and I hope that I shall not, through any fault of mine, miss the lesson it is meant to teach. I am going back, somewhat drearily, to my old life the other side of the world, which has now lost so much of its sunshine.”
He did not spend much more time in the West Indies, however, as he became ill and for the sake of his health went to the USA from the West Indies, where he was nursed by the Sisters of St Mary in New York. He was then taken by his old friend, the Hon. W. E. Curtis, to his summer retreat in the hills of Connecticut, but was moved to the hospital in Hartford, where he died of bowel cancer in October 1876:
† The Right Revd Addington Robert Peel Venables, D.D. died at Hartford, Connecticut at the age of 49 on 8 October 1876 and was buried there.
He was buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Connecticut (see photograph of his grave), and the inscription on his grave reads: “Here lies the body of Addington R. P. Venables, D.D. of Exeter College Oxford, second Bishop of Nassau, West Indies, who fell asleep October 8 AD 1876.”
His effects came to nearly £10,000, and his executor was the Revd Francis King of Christ Church, probably the brother of his wife.
The following short obituary appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 28 October 1876:
THE BISHOP OF NASSAU.—We regret to announce the death of the Bishop of Nassau, at Hartford, Connecticut, on the 8th inst. Addington Robert Peel Venables was the eldest son of Thomas Venables, Secretary to the first Lord Sidmouth, Sir Robert Peel, &c. He was educated at Eton and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1848, and was ordained in 1851 to the Curacy of Cuddesdon, from which he was transferred in 1852 to the poor district of St. Paul’s, Oxford, where his name will be long remembered for his labours among the poor of that parish. In 1868 the lately founded See of Nassau fell vacant, and the appointment was offered by the Duke of Newcastle to Mr. Venables, who was consecrated the same year. Early in 1864 Bishop Venables arrived in Nassau, then, as the chief blockade-running port, sharing all the excitement of the American Civil War. In 1869 the Local Government, following the lead of Jamaica, disestablished and disendowed the Church in those islands, and Bishop Venables’s efforts since that time have been directed to the re-organization and re-endowment of the Diocese. In May last he was attacked with severe illness, which terminated fatally on Sunday, Oct. 8.
For more information about Addington Robert Peel Venables, see William Frances Henry King, Addington Venables, bishop of Nassau: A sketch of his life and labours for the church of God (London, W. W. Gardner, 1877): online here. His papers are held in the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth & African Studies at Rhodes House.
The widow of Addington Venables
At the time of the 1881 census Mrs Elizabeth Anne Venables Venables [sic] (45) was living in Hampshire at Packham House, Fordingbridge with her two youngest sons William (8) and James (5). She employed a governess, a housekeeper, and three other servants. Her other surviving son Charles John Venables (14) was boarding at Godalming School.
She married her second husband, Major General Charles Edward Cumberland, in Fordingbridge in the second quarter of 1883, and they went to live at the Manor House in Maidstone.
Her son James Geoffrey Venables died on 17 December 1887, aged 12.
Mrs Elizabeth Anne Venables Cumberland died less than eight years after her second marriage, on 14 January 1891, at 24 Ebury Street, London, aged 55. Her effects came to £1,779 17s. 5d., and her husband was her executor.
Surviving children of Addington Venables
- Charles John Venables (born 1865) entered the army in 1885 and reached the rank of Captain in 1892. He married Helen Margaret Terry in 1895. He served in South Africa from 1899 to 1900, and was mentioned in despatches, won the Queen’s medal with two clasps, and the DSO. In the First World War he served as a Major in the Gloucestershire Regiment and died at Gallipoli at the age of 50 on 8 August 1915. He has no known grave, but is remembered on the Helles Memorial. His effects came to £7,058 3s. 1d. His widow was living at 7 Palace Place Mansions, Kensington Court just after the war.
- William Alfred Venables (born 1871/2) probably married Marjorie Mary Mure in about 1903, and their son Peter Addington Venables was born in 1905. William died at the age of 48 on 4 March 1920 at Fords Farm, Pirbright. His effects came to £1,106 3s. 1d.