A Brief History of Our Church
UNDER BISHOP COLERIDGE (1824-1842), the first Bishop of Barbados, a building programme was carried out to construct chapels so that the coloured people of the island could be taught religion and educated. Fifteen of these newly erected chapels and many of the old parish churches were destroyed during the hurricane of 1831. However, through subscriptions raised locally and overseas, most of the churches were rebuilt before Bishop Coleridge demitted office.
Mr. John Mayers, a very active and public-spirited man who served as Clerk of the House of Assembly in the 19th century, realised the need for a church in the Hastings district. He gave three-quarters of an acre of land for this purpose, and in 1837 a contract was made between the Rector of Christ Church, the Rev. C.C. Gill, and Mr. Mayers for the building of this church. This contract was for the sum of £3,250. The contract failed in 1841, and a further agreement was made by the Rector to take over the unfinished building, and pay Mr. Mayers a further sum of £1,000. Bishop Coleridge laid the foundation stone.
In 1848 when Rev. A. Reece was appointed to St. Matthias, the church had not been completed, but by the end of October the interior was finished and an opening service was held, at which Chaplain of the Forces, Rev. W.W. Jackson, preached. Although construction of St. Matthias was started during Bishop Coleridge's episcopate, because of the failure of the contract and other delays, he had resigned before it was completed. The church was consecrated by Bishop Thomas Parry on August 2, 1850, and the burial ground was closed in 1854 after a yellow fever epidemic.
There are still several grim reminders of that epidemic in the churchyard at St. Matthias today. The most famous of these is the marble tomb erected in memory of those who lost their lives on board H.M.S. Dauntless, a frigate which made its way to Barbados from St. Thomas in November of 1852. The tomb contains the remains of 15 officers and the captain's steward. The Dauntless did not leave Barbados until March 1853, and during this time the epidemic spread within the island. Another tomb in the churchyard, that of Mary Ann Hutton, records her death from yellow fever in December 1852.
St. Matthias was used as a Garrison Chapel, since there was no place of worship in the Garrison itself. The British Government paid the sum of £75 per annum for the use of the chapel. The Chaplain of the Forces conducted a service for soldiers at 8:00 a.m. each Sunday, and the Vicar conducted one at 4:30 p.m. for those who had been on duty during the morning service. St. Matthias maintains these ancient links with the military to this day, since the church serves as the chapel to the Barbados Defence Force, and the Rector as its Chaplain.
The chuch is situated in close proximity to where the Marine Hotel, Barbados' first large hotel, was built in the late 17th century. St. Matthias is located in the heart of the south coast hotel district, and many visitors to the island still join the congregation for Sunday morning services during their stay in Barbados.
Rectors of St. Matthias Through The Years
- S.L.B. Richards 1844
- G. Sealy 1845
- A. Reece 1848
- J. Packer 1848
- C.H. Grayfoot 1857
- J.S. Mayers 1861
- C. Field 1870
- F.H. Barnett 1886
- J.S. Hughs 1908
- E. Hutson 1928
- Wm. Richards 1935
- I.H. Dowlen 1939
- G. Hutchins 1944
- M.E. Griffiths 1948
- A. Morallee 1960
- A. Jaggard 1962
- F. Layne 1963
- T.C. Worrell 1977
- P. Fenty 1984
- D. Murrell 1993 (Current)
Yellow Fever Markers and Memories at St. Matthias
Submitted by Dr. Sharon Marshall
A FATHER buries his nine-year old son. The following month he buries his seven-year-old daughter; and four days later, his four-year-old son. This was the burden borne by Capt. H.A. Turner of the British armed forces towards the end of 1852.
Captain Turner's second son, Frederick, was laid to rest in the churchyard of St. Matthias Anglican Church on October 1st, 1852. Frederick's sister, Matilda - Captain Turner's eldest daughter - found her final resting place next to her brother on November 16, and on November 20 Captain Turner's third son, Edward, was also laid to rest next to his two siblings.
The story of these young victims of the yellow fever epidemic which swept Barbados at that time is not as well known as that of some of the crew of HMS Dauntless, whose mortal remains are also interred at St. Matthias Church. The location of the remains of fifteen officers of the Dauntless, as well as the Captain's Steward, is marked by a marble tomb provided by the Royal Navy. It stands in the southern part of the churchyard. Yellow fever broke out on board the vessel on leaving the harbour of St. Thomas on November 10, 1852. Three seamen, six marines and one boy were buried at sea, while thirty-eight seamen, two marines and ten boys were buried at the Barbados garrison. The Dauntless did not sail from Barbados until March 1853, and during the time that it remained in port, the yellow fever epidemic
spread throughout the island.
St. Matthias, virtually from its inception, has had links with the military. In 1848, even before the church was completed, an opening service was held at which Rev. W.W. Jackson, Chaplain of the forces, preached. The church was consecrated on August 2, 1850, and permission was granted for St. Matthias to be used as a garrison chapel. The Chaplain conducted services for the soldiers at 8:00 a.m. on Sundays, while those soldiers who had been on duty in the morning attended services conducted by the Rector at 4:30 p.m. The British Government agreed to pay the sum of £75 per year for the use of the chapel. St. Matthias' association with the military continues to the present day, with the Rector serving as Chaplain to the Barbados Defence Force.
During the yellow fever epidemic of the 1850's, the military in Barbados indirectly suffered another loss which is recorded at St. Matthias. Fanny Emma Cleland, wife of A.B. Cleland, surgeon to the 69th Regiment, died on September 24, 1852, after an illness of five days. The editor of The Spectator newspaper, Richard Holt Hutton, also lost his wife to yellow fever. Mary Ann Hutton died during a visit to Barbados four days before Christmas of 1852. She too was buried at St. Matthias.
The losses of a widow and the pupils of two of the island's schools are also marked by other civilian tombs in the northeastern corner of St. Matthias churchyard. Thomas Salkeld, master of the Hastings Grammar School, died on October 12, 1852, at the age of 25. His pupils placed a marble tablet over his mortal remains as “a tribute of affection” and “in testimony of their high esteem”. At the age of 24, William French, master of the Highgate School, died on December 10, 1852. His sorrowing widow placed the marker on the tomb “as a last tribute of respect”. Another master of the Hastings Grammar School, Henry Williams, died on May 16, 1853, at the age of 25, and joined his peers at rest in the churchyard.
The burial ground at St. Matthias, which was consecrated at the same time as the church on August 2, 1852, was closed after the yellow fever epidemic.
As part of the celebrations to mark the 150th Anniversary of St. Matthias' consecration by Bishop Thomas Parry on August 2, 1850, a special thanksgiving service was held on August 2, 2000. The Barbados National Trust recently placed a plaque on the church building, designating it a place of architectural and historical interest.