Selwyn, John Richardson (DNB01)

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SELWYN, JOHN RICHARDSON (1844–1898), bishop of Melanesia, younger son of George Augustus Selwyn (1809–1878) [q. v.], first bishop of New Zealand, was born on 20 May 1844 at the Waimaté, in the Bay of Islands, in the northern part of New Zealand. He came to England in 1854, and was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a noted oarsman and not a very keen scholar, but graduated B.A. with a third class in the classical tripos in 1866; he proceeded M.A. in 1870. In 1867 he paid a visit to his father in New Zealand, intending to enter the legal profession after his return.; but the sight of his father's labours and the influence of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson [q. v.] inspired him with the desire to be a missionary, and decided him to seek ordination in the English church. He was ordained deacon on Trinity Sunday, 1869, by his father, who was then bishop of Lichfield. His first curacy was at Alrewns, where he remained for a year and a half. He then proceeded as curate-in-charge to St. George's, Wolverhampton, in the absence of the vicar, who was involved in a feud with his parishioners. Selwyn's tact and energy resulted in his becoming vicar of St. George's, but on hearing of Bishop Patteson's death in 1871 he decided to offer himself as a missionary to the Melanesian mission. He married Miss Clara Innes in January 1872, and in February 1873 husband and wife sailed for Melanesia. He reached his headquarters at Norfolk Island in October 1873, after a distressing attack of rheumatism, which was Selwyn's first warning that his vigorous frame was not to save him from severe illness.

Selwyn's energy and natural gift of leadership soon pointed him out as the proper successor to Bishop Patteson. He was nominated to the post, and the nomination was confirmed by general synod in 1877. On 18 Feb. 1877 he was consecrated bishop of Melanesia at Nelson. In December 1877 his wife, who had rejoined him after a visit to England, died in childbirth, and in the next year he lost his father. These blows abated none of his energy, but they brought about an indifference to personal comfort and a recklessness to exposure which laid the seeds of the painful illnesses from which he afterwards suffered acutely. In August 1885, when on a visit to England, he married his second wife, Miss Annie Mort, and returned hopefully to his diocese; but in 1889 his ague and rheumatism culminated in abscesses in his legs, which compelled his return to England in 1890. By operations cutting the sinews of his right leg he was permanently crippled and forced to give up all idea of resuming his work in Melanesia. On his recovering his general health he was asked to accept the mastership of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and he held the position till his death at Cambridge on 12 Feb. 1898.

Bishop Selwyn's manly endurance of pain and discomfort, his tact and practical ability in extending his missionary labours and gaining a footing on dangerous islands, and the simple sincerity of his religious faith made him in his generation a typical missionary bishop, and the peculiar circumstance of his appointment to the mastership of Selwyn College brought his career and personality home to Englishmen in an unusually vivid and familiar way. His influence at Cambridge was largely instrumental in starting the 'Cambridge House 'in London, and he recommended practical missionary effort, both at home and abroad, with exceptional success to the undergraduates. He published 'Pastoral Work in the Colonies and the Mission Field,' London, 1897, 8vo.

[F. D. How's Bishop John Selwyn: a Memoir, 1899; Life of his father, by G. H. Curteis, 1889; Luard's Graduati Cantab.; Times, 14 Feb. 1898.]

R. B.