Archive of the Month
Letters of Richard Mant, Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore 1823–1848
Archive of the Month – February 2013
For the detailed catalogue list of Bishop Mant letters, click here
Episcopal correspondence and other papers created during the course of the careers of bishops and archbishops are relatively rare survivals for documenting Church of Ireland history. Firstly, many episcopal papers were part of diocesan collections deposited for safe–keeping in the Public Records Office of Ireland, which tragically went up in smoke in 1922. Secondly, many bishops were inclined to consider materials created during their time in office as part of their personal possessions, which they either destroyed on retirement, or ordered to be destroyed after their deaths, not appreciating the value and long–term benefits of record–keeping and preserving an accurate record of the past.
The dearth of surviving episcopal material especially pre–20th century makes those that do make it through the ravages of time all the more significant. In 2006, the late Canon John Crawford, then vicar of the St Patrick’s Cathedral Group of parishes in Dublin and author of The Church of Ireland in Victorian Dublin (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005), acquired at auction a substantial collection of letters written by the Rt. Revd Richard Mant (1776–1846), Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, 1823–48 and generously gave the collection and related materials to the RCB Library – see this link http://ireland.anglican.org/news/548
The collection has now been catalogued, and as this month’s Archive of the Month presentation we provide online access to the detailed catalogue for the first time.
There are over 100 letters written by Bishop Mant commencing in 1823 – the year he was translated somewhat controversially from the see of Killaloe and Kilfenora to that of Down and Connor (Down, Connor and Dromore from 1842) where he would remain as bishop until his death in 1848 – just two years after the run of these letters ends in 1846.
An Englishman, born in Southampton on the 12 February 1776, Mant had served in the Church of England until 1820, when his intellectual ability and defence of Anglican evangelicalism came to the attention of Lord Liverpool who nominated him to the Irish see. His zealous promotion of proselytising to convert Roman Catholics together with a misguided and rather unpopular decision to employ English servants at his residence in Killaloe, resulted in a threatened attack on the house, forcing him to withdraw to England for a time. To safeguard against further difficulties during a volatile period in relations between the Irish Churches, the government pragmatically translated him to the north in 1823, where his outspoken views on the eradication of religious error caused less offence amongst the Protestant majority. He would spend the next 25 years as bishop of the united see until his death in 1848, and these letters cover the bulk of that latter part of his life.
Whilst papers of Mant’s do survive elsewhere, in the Public Record Office in Belfast, the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the British Library in London, these are rather more political and formal in nature. By contrast, it is the highly personal character of this collection now available at the Representative Church Body Library that make it of particular interest for researchers wishing to reconstruct the thinking and activities of a 19th–century Irish bishop.
The survival of the correspondence is due to the fact that the letters were addressed to the Revd William St. John Smyth, to whom they belonged and who kept them safe in the context of other personal letters and papers. Smyth, the son of the Revd James Smyth, was born c. 1794, where his father served as rector of Churchtown parish, near Carrick–on–Suir, in the diocese of Waterford. As a young man, Smyth entered Trinity College, c.1809 and had a distinguished academic career, prior to his ordination for the diocese of Connor as curate of Island Magee in 1816. He was given a general licence as curate by Bishop Mant’s predecessor, the Rt. Revd Nathaniel Alexander (bishop of Down 1804–1823), and as a young curate serving in Belfast, came to the attention of Alexander’s successor who succeeded him in March 1823. In addition to serving as a licensed curate for Belfast from 1820 to 1827, Smyth would also became related to Bishop Mant by marriage in 1827, when he married Mary Mant of Bath, a daughter of Mant’s brother Henry. The following year, Mant appointed him as precentor of the diocese of Connor, a senior clerical position within the diocese to which the rectory of Ballymoney, county Antrim, was annexed. In these positions, Smyth would continue until his untimely death at the age of 54 in 1847 – just a year before Mant’s own death.
With the passage of time, as Smyth’s clerical career progressed on the one hand, while his relationship with his bishop grew on the other, the letters he received from the bishop reveal less formal relations and a growing affection for the recipient, and his family. Regularly, for example, Mant asks after Smyth’s children (five sons and a daughter) and here we see him offering congratulations on the birth of the youngest in 1830.
The letters reveal a close and understanding relationship, particularly during a period of Smyth’s ill–health in 1844, which may have been the prelude to his early death in January 1847. In this example the bishop urges Smyth that endangering his health ‘is no act of duty either to God or man’.
As well as providing important biographical and family information – much of it about the health challenges facing his wife Elizabeth (who died on 2 April 1846) and that of his two surviving sons – Walter Bishop Mant, (archdeacon of Connor 1832–34, and archdeacon of Down 1834–69), and the Revd Frederick Woods Mant, who served his early clerical career in England, before his father appointed him preband of St Andrew’s (Down 1842–45), and then rector of Armoy (Connor) 1845–50) – the bishop’s letters cover a range of other interesting topics. They provide an insight to the demands of episcopal life in early 19th–century provincial Ireland – a constant round of visitations; confirmations; bishops’ meetings; the creation of new parishes and opening of new churches.
Mant’s interest in history is revealed by his History of the Church of Ireland from the Reformation to the Revolution, published in 1840 – just one of over 80 publications on historical and theological subjects, while his personal involvement in the restoration and improvement of Down cathedral is also documented in some of the letters, revealing that he helped to fund the said project.
There are also enlightening comments on the burning political issues of his day such as Catholic Emancipation, the Church Temporalities Act of 1833 and reform of national education with the creation of the Church Education Society in February 1839, as well as the nature of 19th–century travel. Mant writes from a variety of locations including London, Bath, Dublin, Killeshandra, Hillsborough, Lichfield and even Jersey, but the majority of letters are sent from the see house – often referred to simply as ‘D&C House’ – which he helped to re–build in the townland of Knocknagoney, located just three miles from Belfast.
In addition to the bishop’s letters received by Smyth – the first 11 sent to him in Belfast, and then almost all of remaining 95 sent to him at the ‘Parsonage House Portaferry’, where he resided following his promotion there are other smaller series of letters in his collection, covering Smyth’s early years as a student in Trinity College Dublin, after which he was ordained and appointed curate in Belfast, in 1820, which help to chart the evolving career of the young ordinand. Correspondence with other members of the Mant family, including four personal letters from the bishop’s wife Elizabeth 1824–45; several from the Revd Robert M. Mant (1785–1834), the bishop’s younger brother and archdeacon of Down and Connor 1828–34; one from the same archdeacon’s widow Mary (neé Lys) in 1840 help flesh out the family connections; whilst a revealing exchange of correspondence between Smyth and his parishioners at Ballymoney county Antrim, concerning a controversy over ‘innovations in conduct of service’, 1845–46 (which seems to have tested Smyth’s confidence and paralleled his demise of health) reveals a full–scale parochial conflict, the inter–personal fallout and some of the resulting challenges posed to a Church of Ireland cleric during a time of considerable social change.
A small run of miscellaneous items (for the period 1825–45 and undated) completes the Smyth collection.
For the complete catalogue list of the Smyth correspondence, click here.
For the detailed catalogue list of Bishop Mant letters only, click here.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
Churchtown Dublin 14