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The Story of George Parsons

The Church Magazine
St. John, N.B.
Vol 2 No 9
January 1867


Missionary Recollections

The history of George Parsons has long been considered worthy of a record by the present writer. The manner in which the two persons alluded to became acquainted with each other was somewhat peculiar. It occurred nearly forty years ago and the party whose history the other is revealing has been dead thirty years at least.

The Scene

Forty years ago it was not difficult for a young clergyman to find an entirely new field for his enterprise. The mission selected by the present writer was in the then vast diocese of Nova Scotia; and it happened to be at one of the far ends of it, viz., in the northern part of Newfoundland. The old inhabitants of the place had one and all come from Dorsetshire in England. Hence it may be inferred that none there had been baptized but those who had emigrated from Dorsetshire; and therefore immediate arrangements had to be made for the administration of that sacrament on an unusual scale. The Missionary's plan was readily agreed too, that except in some urgent cases the baptisms to the amount of some hundreds should be postponed until the Easter Sunday in the following year. In the interim preparation was to be made by catechising the young each Sunday afternoon in the presence of the congregation, and by occasional lectures.

Introduction of George Parsons

After a tap at the study door, and the usual "come in," a very grey head was thrust in, and from the lips under the grey hairs the following words proceeded.

"Parson, may I ask you why you do not call me up to say my catechism?"

Missionary - Let me first ask your name, and then I will tell you; for I have begun to feel a liking for you already. The name given, the Missionary observed that he felt reluctant to call up so old a man because it frequently occurred that the memory of old people was impaired, so that what a man might know well, he could not suddenly call to mind. "Just try me, parson." And putting his arms strait down he went through the catechism without one single halt, some of the words not in common use, probably having been pronounced as they had rarely (if ever) been pronounced before. Of course, the Missionary felt astonishment; and on seeking information the explanation given was as follows. His parents lived in a parish near Poole, and the good Rector had not neglected the godly custom of catechising the children on Sunday afternoons. George Parsons had learned to read as well as to say his catechism. But one day while he was at a wrestling match a press gang made a successful descent upon the party, and several were at once marched off to a man-of-war. On his way the party was met by a merchant of Poole, who having some knowledge of him stopped to speak with him. The merchant had a vessel waiting for hands to sail for Newfoundland; and while a press gang was in the neighbourhood it was almost impossible to man a merchant vessel. By this merchant Parsons sent a message to his friends; and was told to look out sharp for an opportunity to escape that should be put in his way. The same evening a bumb-boat woman came alongside, and put into his hands a basket to hand up, which contained under some cabbages a gown and a bonnet. Those articles were soon put on, and the gown and bonnet with what they contained were passed down into the boat, and the boat put off - not, however to the shore, but to the vessel that wanted a hand of which the anchor was soon up, and the voyage begun. In due time he arrived in Newfoundland and was sent off far away up one of the bays with another man to conduct a salmon fishery. Neither of them possessed a book, and Parsons soon forgot his reading. But as he had said hi catechism every Sunday in England, he resolved to continue the practise, as the only religious service he had it in his power to perform. In time he picked up a wife, and took her to that retired spot. Still continuing his peculiar Sunday services, his wife thus learned the catechism - several children also acquired it exactly as the patriarch taught it, and the whole family could say it from end to end without a stutter. We thus see Parsons doing his best to train his family to love and fear God.

It is not to be wished that the same could be said of thousands more? For to whatever privations a man may be subjected, if he but use well the means at his command, the blessing of heaven will surely attend him; and when most needed, eighter an angel shall guide him to it, or a fountain of living water shall break forth for him even in his desert.

The former fell to the lot of George Parsons. With a family grown up, he left the salmon fishing and came to reside close to the Missionary.

It need not be said how regularly his seat in the church was occupied; nor how regularly he brought his sons and daughters to the Sunday services, or week-day lectures until the Easter Sunday came. That was a happy day for him, because his children were then to pass the first gate to the kingdom of heaven. If the administrator's memory fail not, George Parsons children were the first of a host who on that day received the sacrament of baptism.

A very neat marble font had opportunely just arrived from Italy - a most seasonable present from a merchant in the mission. And from that font, on that day upwards of two hundred were baptized. By the repetition of the baptismal for two hundred times the Missionary's strength was quite exhausted, although nearly a hundred remained for baptism on the succeeding Sunday. Shortly after that memorable day in the life of George Parsons, it pleased God that he should be visited with a disease in his legs which confined him to his bed, and of course the Missionary was called in. The legs were dreadfully swollen and ulcerated, and after a few visits he revealed the following tale. "Parson," he said. "when I was a boy, our chief amusements in Dorsetshire were wrestling and kickshins; and my endurance made me a proficient in the latter game. Inn-keepers in those parts used to offer a prize, which induced the champions to come forward, and attracted a crowd if spectators who amply rewarded them by the beer which was consumed. I have had my legs as large as your body, and had them wrapped n cabbage leaves for a fortnight together. And if I had not been captured by that press gang, I should in all probability have become a drunken beast. I see it now, although I have always gloried in my prowess hitherto. Now, I see my sin. God be merciful to me!"

For some months he suffered greatly, but the Missionary believed his life was protracted until by penitence and faith in the atonement of a gracious Saviour al his sins were blotted out. May it not be well for all members of the Church of England to read and rubic before the baptismal service in the Prayer-book? By obeying the order there given, ministers, you see, have trained the young to cleave unto God (in cases when no other means were available). And no parent can calculate the blessing which a knowledge of the catechism may prove to his offspring.

(signed) C.


Transcribed and contributed by Linda Elkins-Schmitt (June 2008)

Page Last Modified March 06, 2013 (Craig Peterman)

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