The Most Reverend Henry Jacobs (1824 -1901)

As a man of God, I’m sure the loss of your own child could be even harder to understand.  To be in the service of the Most High and still, your children don’t escape the harsh reality of being in the world, must be even more crushing.
Falling back on what had comforted him in the past and had brought him great joy in the present; the Rev. Jacobs took up his pen and let the words flow.  At the time his infant daughter passed away, he wrote:

“They’ve borne her to her narrow bed by Avon’s flowing tide…”

Henry Jacobs was born in the Isle of Wight in 1824.  After finishing his education – where he was a fine Greek Scholar – he steered his life towards service in the church.  In 1847 he was ordained as an Anglican Deacon and the following year ordained as an Anglican Priest by Dr. Samuel Wilberforce.
I am taking a wild stab in the dark here but I think it was through Dr. Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford – a member of the Canterbury Association – that Henry first heard about Canterbury, New Zealand.  The Doctor and Bishop are remembered today in the naming of the Wilberforce River, in Canterbury.

Henry was promised work by the Canterbury Association as a Classical Professor – he had been teaching for the two year previous – for the proposed new college of Christchurch.  So, with his wife Charlotte, they board the ‘Sir George Seymour’ – our third ship from our First Four – and sail for the end of world.  On each of the First Four Ships, there were certain items and professions that were a must and one of those was a Reverend to watch over the spiritual welfare of the passengers.  This was Henry’s job those 3 months at sea.

Upon his arrival at Lyttelton on the 22nd December 1850, he conducted the first Anglican Church service in Canterbury.  When Christ’s Church (now St Michael’s and All Angels) opened its doors in 1851, he was the first to preach from its simple pulpit.  It was after all, just a simple V hut.

In 1852, Henry becomes the Headmaster of Christ’s College Grammar School and remains at this post until 1863 when he decides to pursue a life within the Anglican Church. This pays off – just 3 years later, he becomes of the First Dean of Christchurch.  A Dean is the Chief Resident within the Anglican Community.
As an historian who went through the 22nd February 2011 earthquake, I will never forget the image of the (then) current Dean, Peter Beck, leaving the crumbled Cathedral with his dust covered arm covering his eyes…the Dean is an important icon in the church, the city and history.

With a daughter already buried, the Jacobs would next lose their infant son and soon after that, Henry would lose his wife too.  In a move that caused many frowns within the church, Henry remarries less than a year later to much younger Emily Rose Thompson.  In spite of the age difference, their marriage proves to be productive one as 8 children are born to the pair. But when St Michael’s and All Angels gets a remodel – in the form that we know today – Henry remembered his 1st wife by having a memorial window placed in the new church in her memory.

After a trip back to England in 1891, Henry became ill with Paralysis upon his return to Christchurch.  Over the 9 months leading up to his death in 1901, he spent most of the time unconscious.  On the morning of his funeral, the Cathedral Bells tolled over the city.  Henry is buried at Barbadoes Street Cemetery.

I will leave you with this interesting description of the Rev. written by Charlotte Godley (wife of founder Robert Godley) to her mother on the 21st March 1851:

“…an excellent little man but I feel convinced not precisely congenial society for him either, and with a very undecided manner, which I should think would nullify a great many of his other good qualities in teaching; but I am grateful in recording anything but praise of Mr. Jacobs today, for he is just returned from Akaroa, where he took last Sunday’s duty, and he brought me a bouquet which is worth far more than in London and a bunch of grapes.”

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