Sayfadaki görseller







PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS, Whoever attentively considers the peculiar situation of Great Britain, her extensive commerce and numerous colonies, must be convinced of the importance of that part of the system on which we are now about to enter. According to the Census of 1811, the number of seamen employed on board registered merchant vessels, was at least one hundred thousand; and if to these we add the crews of foreign ships resorting to the ports of Great Britain and Ireland, we may safely estimate the aggregate at one hundred and thirty thousand. The question that naturally arises from this simple statement, in reference to the subject before us, is, Whether such a numerous and interesting body of valuable men should be excluded, as objects or agents, in the mighty scheme of benevolence which has attracted the affections of all classes and denominations in our country?

This question derives additional importance from the peculiar character of seamen. Open and ingenuous in their disposition, warm and generous in their feelings, and too often careless and improvident in their habits; many of them are the dupes of artifices against which they cannot guard, or the victims of temptations, with which they have neither the strength nor the inclination to contend. Generally speaking, no means are provided for their religious instruction when on board; the few books with which they are supplied are not calculated to instil or to confirm correct principles; and if Religion be not contemned, it is too frequently treated as a matter with which they have no concern: and yet it is a

Origin of the Thames Union Committee.

remarkable fact, that in no body of individuals can you find more striking instances of firm and decided piety, of gratitude for kindness, and of a willingness to receive instruction. Whatever be the faults of a British sailor, he is rarely a hypocrite : you see him as he is; and to secure his attention and respect, it is only necessary to convince him that you have his interest at heart.

Extensive as was this field, and favorable as is the soil, it is a matter of astonishment, that measures were not devised at a more early period for bringing it under cultivation. This appears the more remarkable, when we reflect, that an admirable Institution—the Naval and Military Bible Society, established in the year 1780—had been engaged for more than thirty years in supplying the seamen of our ships of war with the holy scriptures, and had received the most unequivocal evidence of the happy effects of their distribution. It might naturally be supposed, that, by an easy extension of the plan, the merchant service could be included in the naval department of this valuable society; but its conductors found the sphere of action, originally prescribed, sufficiently large and arduous; and until the winter of 1812, no means appear to have been adopted for exciting a general interest in favour of the object of the Bible Society, among this numerous and important class of our fellow subjects.



1. Towards the close of the year 1812, the author had occasion to visit some merchant vessels lying in the Thames; and the result of his casual inquiries induced a belief, that an unexpected and deplorable dearth of the holy scriptures existed among the British and Foreign sailors resorting to the port of London. In order to ascertain the fact, eleven ships were indiscriminately visited by him, and only one Biblè found, and this on board a Swedish vessel. A subsequent and more extensive investigation followed; which led to a conviction,

It would be unjust, in connexion with this object, to omit the name of the Honourable Lady Grey, to whose ardent piety and indefatigable zeal many thousands of our seamen are indebted for their possession of the holy scriptures. A more distinct allusion to the extraordinary exertions of this inestimable Lady will be found in Chapter VII,

Establishment and design of the Thames Union Committee.

that, of the ships that entered the Thames, not one in twenty was furnished with a Bible. In pursuing this investigation, more than three hundred vessels were visited; and in no instance whatever were the inquiries treated with disrespect. The seamen appeared, indeed, surprised at these unwonted questions; but many of them expressed their grateful sense of the motive by which they were prompted, and declared their willingness to contribute towards the purchase of Bibles and Testaments.

With the assistance of the late Mr. BENJAMIN NEALE-a man whose memory is endeared by numerous evidences of ardent benevolence and genuine piety-a plan was prepared, and submitted to the Committee of the Southwark Auxiliary Bible Society, by which it was unanimously adopted. Copies were subsequently transmitted to the Committees of the City of London, Blackheath, and East-London Auxiliary Societies; and having received their cordial approbation, the first meeting of the Thames UNION BIBLE COMMITTEE was held on the 21st of June 1813. This society was composed of the secretaries and four representatives from each of the abovenamed Auxiliaries; and a temporary fund was raised, by a transfer, from the respective committees, of one tenth of the privilege to which they were severally entitled from the Parent Institution. Nearly twenty depositories were established on both banks of the Thames, from London Bridge to Woolwich, which were supplied with Bibles and Testaments in the several European languages hereafter specified, for sale to Mariners, at an agreed scale of prices, averaging about one half the costprice. At the request of the Committee, an " Address to Mariners,"* explanatory of the object in view, and intended to direct their attention to the sacred records, was prepared by the author, and published in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, and Danish. A framed notice, containing the words “ BIBLES FOR Sailors," in each of these languages, was placed in a conspicuous part of every depository; and the Committee secured a regular channel of distribution for the address, through the liberal assistance of a gentleman residing at Gravesend, whose official duty it is to visit every vessel which enters the port. A list of the depositories was annexed to the address; and sailors were thus informed where they might be promptly and cheaply supplied with the holy scriptures.

In addition to this general outline of the plan of the Thames

• This Address forms No. XI. of the Appendix.

By-Laws of the Thames Union Bible Committee.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Union Committee, it appears desirable to insert the Code of
By-Laws, by which their proceedings were regulated.

By-Laws of the THAMES Union Bible COMMITTEE.
I. The Committee shall meet at the Three-Tuns Tavern, Southwark, on
the second Thursday in January, March, May, July, September, and No.
vember, at six o'clock in the evening precisely; and five members shall be a

II. As soon after six o'clock as a quorum is present, the chair shall be taken, and the business commenced.

III. The chair shall be taken by the Treasurer, or, in his absence, by such member of the Committee as those who are present may elect. IV. The order of proceeding shall be1. To read the Minutes of the preceding meeting, and to dispose of any

business arising therefrom. 2. To call for a written Report from each District Committee; such

Report to be taken into consideration, and to be received if approved. 3. To receive the Treasurer's Report, and any official communication

which the Secretary may have to make. After which, fresh proposi.

tions shall be taken into consideration. V. The Committee shall be divided into the four following District Committees; to each of which a Secretary shall be appointed ; viz. 1. Southwark,

3. Blackheath, 2. City of London,

4. East London : which shall severally consist of the members deputed by these societies respectively.

VI. Each District Committee shall meet at least once in two months, and prepare a Report to the General Committee; which Report shall specify,

1. The stock of Bibles and Testaments at each depository within the

district, and the number sold since the last Report, specifying the

descriptions and amount received. 2. Any interesting facts or observations arising out of their inquiries at

the depositories. 3. The names and address of all persons who have consented to open

new depositories. 4. The amount of any subscriptions received for the purposes of this

Committee, with the names and address of the contributors. VII. Each District Committee shall take charge of, and superintend, the depositories situated within the bounds of that Auxiliary Society which they represent

VIII. Each District Committee shall frequently visit the several de. positories under their care, to inspect the state of the books; and, should any case appear to require it, they shall visit those mariners who have been sup. plied with the holy scriptures, and report the result.

IX. Each District Committee shall have the power of giving orders on the Secretary for such Bibles and Testaments as may be required by the depositories; and they shall arrange the proportion and the mode of gratuitous distribution.

X. No new business shall be taken into consideration after eight o'clock.

The numerous applications at the depositories speedily and amply confirmed the melancholy estimate which originally

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Beneficial effects of this establishment.

prompted the formation of this establishment; while they convinced the Committee, that the funds placed at their disposal were utterly inadequate to the increasing demand. The inability of foreign seamen to purchase copies of the holy scriptures, even at the very reduced scale of prices adopted by the Committee, was evident at an early period, particularly among the crews of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Greek ships; and it therefore became necessary to arrange some mode, by which the requisite supply of Bibles and Testaments for gratuitous distribution might be obtained, without encroaching on the annual income of the four Auxiliary Societies beyond the amount of their original agreement. The Thames Union Bible Committee naturally looked with filial confidence to the Parent Institution; and a liberal grant of Testaments in foreign languages was immediately made by the British and Foreign Bible Society, for the gratuitous supply of those destitute strangers. That they were most gratefully received and duly appreciated, the following anecdote from the Records of the Society will testify:

“The crew of a large Portuguese ship, consisting of nearly fifty persons of the Romish persuasion, had applied for, and been supplied with, Testaments from one of the depositories : the ship proceeded to the Brazils; but on her return to England was totally wrecked_near Portland, the crew, escaping with great difficulty. They proceeded to London; and, shortly after their arrival, went, accompanied by their Chaplain, to the gentleman who kept the depository, to whom they told their melancholy tale ; adding, that though they had lost every thing, even their clothes, they regretted most the loss of their Testaments, and earnestly ențreating a fresh supply; which was, of course, cheerfully granted.”

The following instance will prove that the influence of the sacred volume on the minds of British seamen is not less evident nor less powerful :

A pilot, residing in Southwark, called on one of the Committee for the purpose of purchasing a Bible. After he had obtained the wished-for object, he stated, that within the last few days he had witnessed two remarkable instances of the good effects of reading the holy scriptures. He had been engaged to conduct two vessels, successively, to the Downs; and being struck with the astonishing quietude and good order on board, he was anxious to know the cause : this he speedily discovered to be the same on board both ships : the morning's toil commenced, and the evening's labour concluded, by the respective captains reading a portion of Scripture to the assembled crew, accompanied with prayer to the Almighty Father for his blessing and watchful care over them.' From the Docks to the Downs he declared he did not hear a single oath nor profane expression ; and before he resigned his charge, he could not help acknowledging to the respective masters, that in no instance whatever had he beheld the duties of a sea-faring life so well and faithfully performed."

These and many similar instances of beneficial effects

« ÖncekiDevam »